Judas Priest circa 2018
Legendary singer Rob Halford leads Judas Priest into Milwaukee on April 3rd at the Riverside Theater for their 2018 FIREPOWER tour. Having recently shared the news of guitarist Glenn Tipton and his 10-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease, the future of Judas Priest is uncertain.
Due to the nature of Parkinson’s disease, Glenn has asked that Andy Sneap step in to fly the flag on stage for him, “I want everyone to know that it’s vital that the Judas Priest tour go ahead and that I am not leaving the band - it’s simply that my role has changed. I don’t rule out the chance to go on stage and when I feel able to blast out some Priest! So, at some point in the not too distant future I’m really looking forward to seeing all of our wonderful metal maniacs once again.”
With line-up changes and a world tour underway, I spoke with one of British metals founding fathers, Rob Halford, about the new Judas Priest album FIREPOWER, the tragic news of Glenn Tipton and his personal plea for a new motorcycle.
Maximum Ink: Let’s start off with the news about Glenn Tipton. He’s been dealing with Parkinson’s disease for about 10 years. Tell me how you’re dealing with the fact that he is stepping away from the FIREPOWER tour.
Rob Halford (RH): Thanks for asking about me. I think Glenn shared it best when he told us that the show must go on. That’s all I needed from Glenn. He kept everything on track when he brought on Andy (Sneap). The emotions are a more settled now, as it was extremely raw for the first few days, as you would imagine. Particularly for Glenn, this is a major life changing decision that he made for his life. So, it’s good, as the show will go on. Life throws these things at you. Glenn has been battling with Parkinson’s [disease] for over 10 years. He’s a hero, with all these years of writing, recording and touring. Touring is grueling for us. It’s bitter sweet, but we are feeling good, really good, and we are ready to rock.
(MI): You also have had to overcome personal struggles in your life when you came out and being clean & sober since 1986. You guys are used to dealing with adversity as a group.
(RH): It’s cool to hear you say these words, Tommy, because you know the embodiment of what we represent in terms of the heavy metal community and the unity and spirit of support. This is how we help get each other through the difficult times; it couldn’t be any stronger than what it is right now. We have seen such an outpouring of love for Glenn and the band, that it just gives us the resilience to forge ahead. All the support, it gives you the confidence more than anything else. You lay awake at night, and you know you must carry on, and figure out a game-plan. When you have a support system in place, like we have with our fans especially, and family of the band, that’s all you need. That’s the rock that you plant yourself on.
(MI): Tom Allum who previously co-produced “Breaking The Law” and “Screaming For Vengeance” returns to help out on this album. FIREPOWER has that perfect balance of classic old-school Priest with a modern feel. Was that something Tom helped with, or was it a collaborative effort?
(RH): We were excited to work with two really talented producers, Tom and Andy (Sneap), in the same control room. To make this music in the production sense was tremendously exciting. When you hear the drums and guitars with the other components. We have Tom’s classic guidance on the older albums and he has his finger on the pulse of more recent metal productions as well. It was a great idea to work with two producers, which paid back big time once we got under way in the studio.
(MI): Speaking of those older Priest albums, which one is your favorite, or which one are you most proud of?
(RH): I’ve got two really. One was produced by Tom, and another produced by a guy who is no longer with us (Christopher Tsangarides). I will always love ‘British Steel’. If you want to get a grip on the basic components of metal in a strip-down bare fashion and to see what you need to make a strong, metal statement, then it would definitely be ‘British Steel’. Then equal to that, on the more extreme aspect is ‘Painkiller’. ‘Painkiller’ has become quite an icon over time. There is something very very special about that album for me.
(MI): “Lightning Strike”, the first single of FIREPOWER sounds a lot like the early JP songs, with dueling guitars and your power vocals. You still sound great, does it still come naturally, or does it take work?
(RH): Most singers will tell you that you are stuck with what you’ve got [laughter], it’s the voice inside of you. It moves on in life as you do. I count my blessings really, I’m just a lucky guy. Some of my friends in the singing world of rock & metal have had to “bump-up” against a few things to get rowdy. With me, I don’t know what it is. Its these metal pipes that still do what I tell them to do [laugher]. Andy [producer] beat the hell out of my pipes on the sessions for FIREPOWER. I’m so glad he did. The longer you make your living as a professional musician, you may get the “I know it all” attitude. That’s not the fact. I think there is always something new you can learn in music, no matter how far along you are.
(MI): No pre-recording or pre-concert ritual?
(RH): [I have] a cup of tea then go to work. I don’t do any warm ups, I just go out there and hope for the best [laughter].
(MI): Even though this album shows no signs of slowing down, you guys have hinted at retirement a few times before. Is this something that could be contemplated now that Glenn is taking a break?
(RH): We know what Glenn has been up against, and he has showed us the absolute proof that there is no such thing as retirement in the Priest plan. Glenn has been forging ahead for the last 10 years with Parkinson’s disease and he never once mentioned retiring or quitting. This is really a strong signal from Glenn and the rest of us, why should we even consider retiring now? We still feel that there is another song to do, another show to do, and always our beautiful fans to see again & again. You retire when things get too shaky and a bit of sadness. That’s not the case with Priest. We’re probably stronger now than we have been, and I think Glenn would agree with that.
(MI): You have been referred to as “The Metal God”. That’s not something you take lightly, is it?
(RH): It’s not something I take lightly at all. The great fans have bestowed that upon on me years ago. I’m representing metal, and that’s how I perceive it. I’m proud of it, as it brings a bit of responsibility to it. I love it and I put a trade mark on it a few years ago.
(MI): On April 3rd, you guys are playing the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee, home of Harley Davidson. You still ride your motorcycle out on stage and get the crowd fired up. You remember the first time you did that, and how did that iconic tradition start?
(RH): Hey, where’s my complimentary Harley, that’s what I want to know! [laughter] You couldn’t buy this kind of free publicity. It was the ‘Hell Bent for Leather’ tour and we were playing a show in the UK, a small place. There were a lot of bikers there. When I was in the dressing room, I remember thinking how great a biker song ‘Hell Bent for Leather’ was and how cool it would be to bring a bike out on stage. We went to the promotor and he said he had people who were begging us to use their bike. There were all kinds of bikes: Triumphs, Harleys, Norton’s. We brought a bike out on stage and it stuck. Then when we went to America, I brought my 1981 Harley Lowrider with me. We became the heavy metal poster for Harley Davidson ever since. I still bring out my original ‘81 Lowrider, but I think it’s about time they give me one. I’d love a Harley Crossbones, I love that bike. I know that Harley riders are hardcore metal fans, and maybe my pleading voice will get me a Harley Crossbones [laughter].
• Website • Facebook • Wiki
CD: FIREPOWER Record Label: Columbia
• Purchase FIREPOWER on Amazon
• Download FIREPOWER on Amazon