Rob Halford Interview
They're original. They're
legendary. They're still around. They're Judas Priest. More than any other group
that ever graced the heavy metal scene, Judas Priest defined what heavy metal
is all about. "Ram It Down" (Columbia Records) marks the 13th album from this
Lead singer Rob Halford spoke with us about the history of Judas Priest.
Q. Over the years there have been a number of acts who have
tried to steal your act, or maybe in their eyes try to improve on it. What
goes through your mind when you see and hear a Judas Priest clone group?
A. I think you have to look at it in two different lights. First of all, whenever
you're emulated by anyone else in the business, or the musicians, to a degree,
it's a compliment. There's nothing nicer for us to hear than people are doing
cover versions of Priest or Priest fans or what have you. My feeling on drawing
the line on that kind of thing is that no one really wants an imitation. Nobody
really wants a copy or a second best. More than that, it's important for any
band, whoever they might be, to try and be as original as possible. Taking
too much away from another band for that inspiration to the extent it begins
to show is certainly not the thing to do. The most important thing to do, more
than ever, is to come across with an original appeal as you can, and that's
both musically and image-wise. You're probably aware as much as I am, that
recently there's been a couple of bands that have been blatantly taking people's
music from them, and cashing in on it to a certain extent. It does surprise
me that the public is duped into accepting that type of situation. In one respect,
I suppose, it might kind of fulfill the attitude that a certain band's music
and style is so much wanted, that there's room for more than one of them. It
puts a smile on my face in one respect and gives me a puzzled expression in
Q. With the exception of a change in drummers, the line-up
of Priest has pretty much stayed the same. What accounts for that? How come
everybody in the group isn't out there putting their own record out?
A. Dave Holland has been with us since British Steel and we kind of feel the
band came into being from that point on. Although, as you probably know, Priest
originally came about in 71. Since Dave has been with us, the band has been
consistent, and as I understand it, for now we're the longest surviving heavy
metal group that has stayed together with this particular line-up for some
amount of time. I think the first thing we never really lost sight of is the
fact that we've got something very special and very unique here to offer people.
For the sake of an argument, to throw that all away, would've been a really
petty and trivial thing to do. We've been extremely lucky from a personal point
of view, that we get along extremely well together both off stage and on stage.
Because we started where we did and because we've taken time and looked at
everything we've done and we've grown slowly but successfully, we've been able
to maintain that situation of staying together.
Q. How would rock fans react if a band came onstage with only
the basic sound and lights? It would seem bands have to be in show business
more than the music business today.
A. It's an interesting question. We as a band have never lost sight of the
fact that essentially we're five musicians playing music. You find Priest a
room with an electrical outlet, and we'll pump out some heavy metal. The fact
is, this band should be able to work without, quite frankly, the amount of
elaborate staging and lighting and what have you that is part and parcel of
a heavy metal show. We did a show about 3 or 4 weeks ago in Birmingham where
we're from, a very small club kind of set-up, with a minimum amount of equipment
and lights. We just went up there and played some heavy metal. Judas Priest
is primarily the music. Everything beyond that is an extension to what we do.
To a degree, and we have to include ourselves in this, it's become-a bit like
Barnum and Bailey out there these days. You wonder when the elephants or the
lions and tigers are gonna come on. It's gotten really out of control. We've
taken that in consideration for this particular tour. We've just completed
a very successful European tour where we used a very simple stage set, although
we have put a little bit of an emphasis on the lights, as we always have done
in the past, but a little bit more so these days. Essentially, what we're bringing
through the U.S. tour this year is what we feel is a very exciting, very powerful,
very visual and dynamic performance. We've put the props a little bit to one
side. We're still using the Harley-Davidson. We're trying to pull the reins
in a little bit and put across to people the importance of the music. It must
always come first.
Q. You freely admit that Priest is a metal group. Why are
so many groups reluctant to admit that fact, when they are a metal act? .
A. I guess some bands tend to live by what they see in the charts, and what
they hear on the radio. They tend to go with the climate. If they call themselves
a heavy metal band they're not going to be seen on MTV or they're not going
to get played on the radio. That might be the way they wanna go. We've maintained
from day one that this has always been and always will bea heavy metal group.
We've never drawn shy of that fact or been intimidated not to admit it. Judas
Priest will be a heavy metal group until it's over.
Q. Would you say that 1982 was the year you broke through
A. Yes, I would say so. I think from 'Screaming Vengeance' onward that was
really when Priest kicked into fifth gear. We really got the revs up and we
were really burning down the highway. Fortunately, we're still doing that.
There seems to be no end to Priest mania in the U.S., thank goodness. Without
America, Priest would never have survived as long as we have done. This country
certainly gives us all the energy and enthusiasm, and the commitment to go
back into the studio and make another record, and go back out on the road again.
So America has always been very important to Judas Priest.
Q. What do you remember about the U.S. Festival in '83?
A. I have very strong memories of it. Of course it was the first event of its
type, especially to have a complete heavy metal day as it did. But the vivid
memory I have of course is by taking off by helicopter from the hotel which
was some 5 or 6 miles away from the actual festival site, and noticing the
acres and acres of cars that were parked. It looked like the biggest parking
lot on this planet. Hundreds of thousands of cars. But, just going over the
brow of this hill into this massive natural amphitheatre setting and seeing
all of those hundreds of thousands of people, was just a remarkable sight.
It was just a remarkable memory that will live with me forever. Of course
we have it on video tape as well. It was a real feather in our cap that day. "Screaming
For Vengeance' had gone platinum. We had a hit single with 'Another Thing
Coming.' It was a real high for the band, and still remains a vivid memory
to this day.
Q. Let's go back to 1977, when Priest opened for Led Zeppelin
at Oakland Coliseum. That must've been some show.
A. .It was. The one thing I remember vividly from that event was the fact that
we ate breakfast before we went onstage. I think we went out there at some
ungodly hour in the morning. I think it was 10 or 11 a.m. The coliseum was
still full of bodies 'cause most people had spent the night there. There was
so much fog in the stadium coming out over the bay. It was like a huge field
of dry ice. By the time we kicked into the set, it had cleared and lifted,
and the sun was shining. It was a remarkable 2 days, because Zeppelin did have
2 shows there. It was 80,000 people a show. As it turned out, it was the last
2 shows I believe, they physically played together. In all events, that was
a very memorable experience. To actually be on the same bill with someone like
Zeppelin was a remarkable achievement. As a footnote to that, of course, now
it's a great pleasure that Robert (Plant) is managed by our manager, Bill Cur-bishley.
Robert has come back with a tremendous album, 'Now And Zen' and he's doing
in¬credibly well here in America. We're all very, very pleased for him.
So, we're back in each other's company, nowadays. We see each other quite a
Q. I recall reading an interview in which you stated you walk
around in your hometown of Birmingham, England, wearing the same clothes
you wear onstage. Rob, somehow I just can't believe that. That would create
all kinds of problems for you, wouldn't it?
A. There's probably a slight journalistic flair that might've come into that
story. I don't actually recall having read that recently. I wouldn't welcome
that kind of attention if I was walking around in my hometown anyway. Quite
frankly, when Rob Halford is offstage, he is offstage. I'm not one of these
performers who is constantly onstage, no matter where they might be. I take
that freedom from being out of the public eye with a great deal of determination
to remain as anonymous as possible. My private life is extremely important
to me and so is my privacy as it is for everybody in Judas Priest. When we're
not working, we're not working like most people. We would never invite that
kind of attention.
Q. An organization out of Lakemont, N.Y. known as Freedom
Village U.S.A. calls your song, "Devil's Child" off the "Screaming For Vengeance" album,
an example of "murder music."
A. Murder music? Oooo... that's a new one. (Laughs).
Q. And that's not all.
A. There's more?
Q. They quote Glenn Tipton as saying, "Onstage I curse my
brains out and we drink and meet women until the early hours of the morning."
A. Oh yeah? (Laughs).
Q. There's more.
A. Tell me.
Q. They've identified your song, "Eat Me Alive," off the "Defenders
Of The Faith" album as an example of a song that contains explicitly sexual
and violent lyrics. O.K. Rob, here's your chance to defend your songs. Is
Judas Priest promoting "murder music?" Are your lyrics explicitly sexual
and violent or have they just been misinterpreted? "
A. We're basically five musicians coming together under the headline of Judas
Priest, playing heavy metal music. We don't want to be involved in any way,
shape or form with any political or religious or social group or anybody of
that matter. We don't feel that this band has ever or will ever want to be
associated with anything other than simple, straight-forward, plain, honest,
heavy metal music. We're simply out there to write the songs that we do, to
make the shows that we do and to make the records that we do. I'm completely
bemused by the new term 'murder music' That's a new one for me. I shall tell
the rest of the boys about that. I'm sure it'll put a smile on their faces.
The fact is, you do have to deal with these bodies of people. The great thing
about America and most of the western part of the civilized world, is it's
a very democratic situation, where everyone has the opportunity to speak their
mind, to say their piece, to put across what they believe in their mind is
right. I'm the last person in the world to stand up and start jumping down
their throats and saying they haven't got that right to do it. They can do
it as long as they want. However, the point where I do draw the line is when
they do make these false and quite frankly blasphemous kind of reactions back
towards us, that if we so wanted we could take to court, for defamation of
character. Now, the songs that they've quoted: I for one think there's nothing
wrong with oral sex. I think that a lot of people do it, but a lot of people
don't talk about it. And, for that matter, who am I to say they should or shouldn't
want to. Again, I think your sex life is a purely private situation. I think
whatever you want to do sexually is entirely up to you if you're of a mature,
sensible and adult type of person to make that conscious decision for what's
good for you and for your partner, then go ahead and do it. My attitude is,
as long as you don't do it in the street and in front of your grandmother,
it's okay. Those two songs are examples of heavy metal that we took to a limit.
The whole song "Eat me Alive" is a pure sex fantasy kind of thing. It was very
much a tongue-in-cheek kind of number that was by no means to be as literally
taken by these people that have taken them that way. What this whole thing
pins on is this belief that these people have that if you hear something or
you see something, then you're gonna copy it. It's the Rambo situation. People
think if you see the movie, you're gonna buy a machine gun and mow down communists
wherever you look. It's completely stupid you know.
Q. Now, Michael Jackson has sold 45 million copies of "Thriller." Why
can't a heavy metal group sell that many copies of one album? What's the
A. I think possibly the main problem is there's only one Michael Jackson. (Laughs).
And there is only one Judas Priest. I read something interesting that Paul
Stanley said; the fact that you can't really calculate a band's success by
the amount of albums they sell, because it's either a question of so many people
liking a bunch of songs that you do or so many people liking another band's
songs more than your songs. I think we've all got something to offer in one
way or another. To me, it doesn't matter whether you sell 50,000 or 50 million
records. The essence of an artist's integrity, belief, and performance in their
music is basically what we're talking about.
Q. Listen to what Ozzy Osbourne said recently: "The bad thing
about heavy metal is that it's musically limiting. Musically, 1 want to expand
all over the place without going avant garde. Because I'm stamped heavy metal,
no matter what 1 do, even if it's a ballad, it's gonna be considered heavy.
I want to try something different because I want to make myself happy, but
1 can't go far from what the audi¬ence wants or expects."
A. You see, that's wonderful. That's Ozzy speaking from the heart again. I
do take what he says with a tremendous amount of sincerity because what he
says, there in a nutshell, what he's consistently through to bands like Judas
Priest. We are essentially 5 heavy metal musicians, but beyond that we're capable
of doing a whole variety of different types of music in the form of rock. It
is a little bit limiting, but then we made this conscious decision when we
came together. The fact is, I'm not going to throw insult into our dedicated
fans and give them anything less than what I feel they want to hear from Judas
Priest. I think it's a small price to pay for the amount of success, fame and
education, and of course money we're given by our fans around the world, to
do that kind of thing.
Official Website: judaspriest.com
© Gary James All Rights Reserved