THE MEMBERS OF JUDAS PRIEST DISCUSS MANY TOPICS INCLUDING: THE EARLY DAYS, JOBS OUTSIDE THE BAND, SPINAL TAP MOMENTS, FAVORITE ALBUMS AND MORE
Dave Everley of Classic Rock spoke with Judas Priest members singer Rob Halford, bassist Ian Hill, guitarist Glenn Tipton, drummer Scott Travis and guitarist Richie Faulkner, highlights from the interview appear below.
Q: Your dad worked at the local steelworks. Was there ever any chance of you following him and going to work there too?
A: I think there was a very good chance. That’s what lads did in the West Midlands – they went to work where their dad worked. I went to my dad’s place a few times as a younger lad. I saw enough of it to think: “This is where I’d end up until I retire and they give me a gold watch.” That’s a motivation for a lot of musicians – you don’t want to end up where your dad’s working.
Q: Were you a show-off as a kid?
A: Yeah, I think we all are, us singers. Anything for attention. I remember once on a Sunday afternoon when I was five or six, I went into my grandmother’s handbag and found her make-up and did myself up as a drag queen. I remember coming in and my grandma going, “Oh, it’s a nancy-boy!” I was grinning, with the rouge and the eyeliner, looking like Dusty Springfield on crack. It was hysterical.
Q: You spent a few years acting in your late teens. What was the attraction?
A: I was just enthralled by everything to do with escapism, breaking away from the reality of life…
Q You also managed a friend’s adult bookstore for a couple of weeks. What are the upsides of working in a porn shop?
A: [Laughing]…you learn to read people – you can tell what they’re going to go for as soon as they walk through the door: “He’s going to go for the bondage”; “He’s going to go for the big tits…”
Q: You joined Judas Priest in 1973. Did you ever see them play with Al Atkins?
A: I have a very murky memory of seeing the band play at the Birmingham College Of Food And Art. I think they’d been together for about three weeks at that point and already the word was buzzing…
Q: Priest’s debut album, Rocka Rolla, came out in 1974. Did you think: “This is it, we’re heading for the big time?”
A: Oh yeah. I was living at my parents’ house, and I remember the postman knocking at the door and handing me my one copy of the record. I was, like, “Ker-ching!” If only I knew.
Q: It was [guitarist] K.K. Downing who hit on the idea of dressing up in leather. You’ve always said that you never made the connection with the gay scene or the S&M scene. Is that true?
A: I swear. [Points at himself] Look at this naive little Walsall-lad face. I never drew a parallel. I was clueless about the filth and the depravity and the debauchery…It was purely this great experimentation, just seeing what worked. Something happens when I put my gear on, it’s just a wonderful feeling, you change.
Q: Raw Deal, from Sin After Sin, was the first in a long line of songs you wrote about sex: Evil Fantasies, Eat Me Alive, Jawbreaker, Pain And Pleasure… People always overlook what a randy band Priest could be.
A: I think you’re focusing a little bit too much on a few of the hundreds of songs we’ve written, but I do take your point. Raw Deal was a remarkable song for me as a lyricist. People sometimes reference it as the “coming out” song, because it mentions [New York gay mecca] Fire Island. But it was never intended to be that. It was just a great bunch of words about this place I’d never been to – and still haven’t. But yes, some of those songs have sexual innuendo…
Q: British Steel, in 1980, was the band’s big leap forward. What was it like being in Judas Priest around that time?
A: That was a special time. It took exactly thirty days to make that whole album, from the day we went into the studio to the day it was mastered. And of course that’s when Priest became a household name in the UK. But there was never any intent on our part to write songs that would take us to that place. We were just having a blast. Every day was a good day.
Q: A couple of years later, Screaming For Vengeance kicked everything to the next level for Priest, especially in the US. Did you enjoy that degree of fame?
A: We worked really, really hard in America, and because of that hard slog we got to that point where we were successful. But once you’re in it, you can’t let go of it. You can’t take your foot off the accelerator. We were doing five, six, seven shows a week, traveling hundreds of miles overnight…Some people have said that Priest never cared about the British fans, that America meant more. That’s not true. We did great things for British heavy metal in America. But we couldn’t walk away for even six months. We had to keep coming back here to keep the momentum going.
Q: Do you know the term “F–k-you money?” It means you’ve made enough money to be able to say “f–k you” when people ask you to do something. When did Priest start earning f–k-you money?
A [Laughs] Hand on heart, I don’t think we’ve ever been able to say we’ve had f–k-you money. One of the most beautiful moments I had was when I got my first big royalty check and I bought my little house in Walsall. Which I’ve still got. I was able to buy that house, cash, for thirty grand. That’s as probably as close as I got to f–k-you money. Until the tax bills started coming in and I had to give half my money away.
Q: You were out of the band for eleven years. Did you think, “I don’t need those guys, I can do it on my own,” or did you miss them?
A I missed them from the very start, I never once had that “I’ll show you” mentality. I remember talking to the guys around the time of the Turbo album, saying, “I’ve got this idea of doing some stuff on the side.” They were like, “‘Yeah, we might do that ourselves. Just make sure it doesn’t clash with the band.”
That was the green light we gave each other back then. So, I felt that once I’d made the Fight album, War Of Words, to me that was it, “I’m ready to come back, let’s go.” But there were some people working for me who were not making the appropriate things happen in terms of communication, so it wasn’t to be.
Q: Did you listen to the two albums Priest made with your replacement, Tim “Ripper” Owens?
A: No. I still haven’t, this might sound selfish, but because it’s not me singing, I’m not attracted to it. I sound like a t-at, but I’m really just not interested. And that’s no disrespect to Ripper, cos he’s a friend of mine.
Q: Where did you first meet him?
A: When the band went through Ohio he came to the show. Was it awkward? Not in the least. We gave each other a hug. He’s a massive Priest fan, and when the opportunity came for me to go back, he was like, “Thumbs up, it’s great. I’m happy for the band, I’m happy for Rob.” I respect his chops, he’s a great singer.
Q: Does it feel to you that Priest have had the recognition and respect they deserve?
A: Yes, it does and it’s beautiful. Your music has permeated all around the world…It only reinforces you even more to continue flying that flag of British heavy metal.
Q: What did you make of Rob Halford the first time you met him?
A: The first thing I heard was his voice. I was going out with his sister, Sue, and he was still living with their mum and dad. He’s always been an easy-going guy, a pragmatist, a bit like myself.
Q: Priest caused a riot at Madison Square Garden in 1984. What was it like being in the middle of it? [Dana’s note: That was my first ever rock concert]
A: It was surreal. Someone tore the foam out of a seat and threw it on stage, then somebody thought, “That’s a good idea.” Suddenly there were whole seats coming up on stage. It was hilarious. We got banned from playing there.
Q: When were you un-banned?
A: We haven’t been. But [original guitarist] Ken [K.K. Downing] and Glenn [Tipton] went a few years later to see something or other. One of the stewards nudged them and said, “Thanks for the new seats, lads.”
Q: How did you feel when Priest’s Eat Me Alive ended up on the PMRC’s Filthy Fifteen?
A It was nonsense, it was a bunch of ignorant politicians’ wives. They didn’t have the slightest idea about poplar culture – it was all evil and must be eliminated. Same with the court case we went through. Subliminal messaging? That was just a trumped-up charge.
Q: Do you care that Judas Priest aren’t in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?
A To be honest, no…
Q: How many more Priest albums do you have in you?
A: There is one in the pipeline at the moment. These days you have to take things one step at a time. We’ll carry on as long as we can give quality performances. If the quality starts to fall off, there’s not much point going on.
Q: What were those early days like, when you were all crammed into the back of a van, living on virtually no money?
A: It was worse the grim. When we recorded Sad Wings Of Destiny [’76] we slept in a Transit van outside the studio in London. We were issued meal tickets by the label – I think we were allowed three a day. But, it did build our inner strength as a band and bought us close together. Especially in the Transit van.
Q: Did you have any Spinal Tap moments during those early days?
A: It was all Spinal Tap. One time we were rehearsing at Pinewood Studios and we had bed and breakfast in a nunnery. The nuns were in shock – they thought Judas Priest was some kind of religious sect. But, when we left them they were quite sad. They asked if we’d play at their summer fête. We thought it better to pass.
Q: Priest played the US Festival in California in 1983. What was that like?
A: It was an incredible day. We flew in by helicopter over 320,000 people – there was a sea of people. It was so hot that the guitars kept going out of tune during the show, and our guitar techs had to keep retuning them. But it was metal history.
Q: Have you ever come close to quitting Priest?
A: Only in the early days when we’d be on tour for six months with no money. I questioned whether it was worth leaving my family and my children for. But thankfully I stayed and it was all worthwhile in the end.
Q: In the past few years you’ve had to step back from playing with Priest. How difficult was that for you emotionally?
A: It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my career and my life. When I stepped on to the stage after making that decision, the fans’ reaction was immense. So warm and emotional. It was very rewarding. But you have to get on with life – accept and suddenly see things in a different perspective. Never surrender.
Q: Were you a big Judas Priest fan growing up?
A: Absolutely. A friend of mine had Unleashed In The East on cassette, and one time we were riding around in my car and he ended up leaving it. So I borrowed it and I loved it. Then, like most fans, I went backwards and started. The first time I saw them was on [1981’s] the Point Of Entry tour. Iron Maiden with Paul Di’Anno were opening up for them.
Q: How did you end up becoming Priest’s drummer nearly ten years later?
A: I was in the band Racer X. Our singer, Jeff Martin, had been in a band called Surgical Steel, in Phoenix, and he’d known Rob from just hanging out on the local rock scene. So when Rob mentioned to Jeff one day that they were looking for a drummer, he said, “You gotta check out my guy Scott.” He threw my name into the hat, and then the band flew me over to Spain in the latter part of 1989 to audition.
Q: You were in Rob’s side-project Fight as well as Priest. Wasn’t that awkward?
A: No, it was really cool. Rob asked me if I wanted to be part of Fight. I asked Glenn and Ian and K.K. if they were okay with it and they said absolutely. They thought it was good to keep at least two members of Priest in the same solo project.
Q: Who’s arse-kicker-in-chief in Priest these days?
A: Well Glenn’s always been the one, musically speaking. He’s the one going:,“Here’s the ideas, here’s what we want to do.” But you can’t do anything in rock’n’roll without a singer, and Rob’s a great songwriter and a great lyricist.
Q: What’s Rob Halford really like?
A: [Laughs] Well, he’s a big fan of his own flatulence. No, one thing I’ll never forget is when I flew to Spain to audition. I had a long, long flight back. I’m getting ready to leave, and he calls me, “I can’t say for sure you’ve got that gig, but I want you to feel confident, wink wink.” He knew I had long flight, so that was a classy thing to do.
Q: What was your Priest album growing up?
A: Painkiller. I knew Breaking The Law, Electric Eye… but when Painkiller came in with the drum intro, I was like, “What the hell is that?”
Q: You work closely with Glenn. What’s he like?
A: He’s one of the loveliest people in the world. People say, “Is he a father figure?” He’s more like an older brother. You can mess up together with him and he’ll laugh about it. He’s an incredible teacher. And he wears very cool white loafers
Q: Which is your favorite Priest album now?
A: Defenders Of The Faith. The Sentinel, Freewheel Burning… There’s something about that album that hits me in a different way.
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Judas Priest are currently celebrating a half century of being existence with a tour, and a limited-edition box set called, 50 Heavy Metal Years. It will include every official live and studio album to date plus 13 unreleased discs and will be released on October 15th. To read all about this special release, please go here.