There is no rest for the wicked – or at least not for Rob Halford. As Judas Priest continues jetting around the world on their 50 Heavy Metal year tour and preparing their 2022 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, the metal god has released his second book, Biblical: The Heavy Metal Writings of Rob Halford.
The follow-up to his memoirs from 2020 Admit, Biblical finds Halford offering his opinions and anecdotes on all aspects of the heavy metal lifestyle, from the professional (touring, releasing albums, making music videos) to the profane (sex and drugs galore), headlining various books. The Bible for a narrative framework. “The Book of Psalms and Testaments,” for example, details the songwriting process, while “The Book of Lamentations” delves into the band’s tensions and physical and mental health issues.
Halford spoke with UCR to discuss milestone concerts, midlife crises and more.
In the book you mention that Pain reliever the tour was a huge success and the album was a huge win. But I found it interesting and surprising that the priest/Alice Cooper/Engine head tour, which was a year later and still in support of Pain reliever, was not so well attended relatively. I thought it was such a bizarre thing because on paper it sounds like it would be a huge success.
Yes! You have to laugh because, well, what did we do wrong? We have bands, we have the tour, we have shows. Where are the people? I don’t know if it was the economy of the time. There was just, I think, probably a certain philosophy. When you think about it – it’s just something that just popped into my head – it was before Ozzfest. This is before [music festival promotion company] Danny Wimmer presents. This was like a one day traveling festival event when you think about it. I mean, I know it was in one room, one building, but they were all playing in an arena or a shed. So why didn’t it work? I think maybe it was just the attitude at the time that fans specifically wanted to put their money down for this particular artist. You know, “I only want to see Motorhead. I don’t want to see Priest, I don’t want to see Alice Cooper, blah, blah, blah.” Maybe those kinds of perceptions were creeping in. Because we were all confused. We were all [thinking], “Have we done something wrong? Have we offended anyone?” Everyone worked with us. Radio, especially, worked with us, all the magazines, Metal maniacs and Metal edge and Cremewhatever was out at the time. [There was a] tremendous support. In the end it just didn’t connect.
I also loved hearing you talk about playing American festival in 1983 and how to play to 300,000 people at a time, at a certain time, it just gets a little silly how huge the crowd is.
Yes, and even today there is a turning point. When we just headlined Wacken in Germany, [we played to] 80,000 people and you’re on stage and it’s like this sea of humanity. But what you pay attention to are these big, gigantic, massive screens. They get right up your nose, so everyone sees every tiny, microscopic detail. And that’s what we talked about as a band from the early days. Before the big screens and all that, you were literally like a little ant on stage and nobody could see what was going on. You could hardly hear what was happening. And now it’s so beautifully done with technology that you have to be aware that even the guy who’s way out back by the hot dog cart, he can see you as close as [if he was] in front of your face. So the mental ability to find a balance and connection in those kinds of ways of acting is important to note.
Watch Judas Priest perform at the 1983 US Festival
Is it hard to find ways to personalize the huge festival crowds?
Well, you just have to do what you do. Because if I look at Richie [Faulkner] over there and I can see the sweat and I can see the intensity, I know everyone out there can see it too. It is the connection between the engagement that takes place. So you don’t really do anything else that you wouldn’t normally do. … The interesting thing is that it doesn’t matter how many metal maniacs there are out there; our stage size is always the same. So we work within the diameters of space available wherever we play. Whether it’s an arena or a theater, the stage size is still the same. So the performance, which naturally takes on a life of its own in terms of, “At this point I’ll be standing over there, and at that point I’ll be standing over there,” those things tend to generate themselves while you’re performing in a tour. And of course it is also connected with the performance. When you leave the stage to be changed when you come back. This happens with some lighting effect, whatever that may be. So all that happens within this, we call it the office. You’ve probably heard rock ‘n’ roll and metal people say, “Oh, did you have a good day at the office?” “Yes.” It is your office, the place where you work. So again, you have to understand that there is almost like an anchor, something like a comfort factor, so there are no surprises. You know when you go out, these things are going to be there working with you as far as all the amazing people that are behind the scenes. We’re all working together in that moment and you know hopefully it’s going to be the same every night.
This isn’t mentioned in the book, but it’s one of your favorite shows because I’m a huge glam metal fan. On Skid Row‘s The B-side ourselves EP, you join the band on stage for a cover of “Delivering the Goods”. I’d love to know if you have any memories of being with those guys and recording it.
Yes, I have vague memories of what happened in the studio, but I have very, very vivid memories of the live performance. I think we did something too MTV, didn’t we? And I think it was at the beginning of my … we’re talking midlife crisis in Biblical? Because we should have. Because when I look at myself and how I perform and how I’m dressed, it’s very much a “hold on to the chair and take a sharp breath” kind of thing. [moment]. Because I know my heart is in the right place, but it is complete out of the ordinary—let’s not say the ordinary—but the world you know, “This is Rob Halford, the lead singer of Judas Priest. And he’s got this backwards baseball cap, and he’s got this sleeveless hip-hop vest, and he’s got these pants with holes in them [them]. What is he trying to do?” And I love the visual personification because I know internally where I am in my own chaotic mid-life crisis moment. It was just very profound for me. I learned a lot about myself through that time. I love the band’s performance they did a great job especially with Sebastian [Bach]. I watched Sebastian on YouTube last night when he made a couple Black Sabbath sing on LA Forum to Taylor [Hawkins]. I love Seb, he’s just crazy, still just [flaunting] the hair whip and [performing] full on. He’s never let that get lost in his life and I’ve known him since he was 16. So I just love his tenacity in that regard. But yeah, I wouldn’t say it was glam rock, but I know what you’re saying, as far as Sebastian goes, because … is it a Motley Crue poster behind you?
Guilty as charged – and a little Guns ‘n’ Roses one at the top.
When you think about the glam rock movement, what it was, specifically, two bands that really pushed for me were Motley Crue and Married – and to some effect, Cinderellamaybe some winger, LA Guns. There was a lot of stuff coming through at that time in the glam rock era. And definitely Sebastian, you know, when guys looked like girls, he said with a smile on his face. And it worked. And I could never quite figure it out because of the homophobic stuff that was going on in the 80s. And there’s all these guys with makeup on and looking… I have to watch my words here, but you know what I’m saying? Seeing in a specific way that everyone else is like, “Yeah, man, they’re really hardcore,” and all that kind of stuff. And then me as a gay man in the closet, it’s like, “Am I missing something here? How can I not come out for fear of losing my career and my band, but these guys go out there and look like they do, and all fall upon them?” Not everyone, but you know, just the general perception of the pictures was just that everyone should look like that. Everyone should dress that way. That [was] a remarkable time in heavy metal and rock to think about more broadly.
Watch Skid Row and Rob Halford play ‘Delivering the Goods’
It was a really interesting grant, for lack of a better term. Because, like you said, at the same time these guys basically dressed like women and put on all the makeup and stuff, but then they’d act like it was an insult if you questioned their masculinity.
There is a book. There is definitely a book.
It could be your third.
You never know, it could be, yes. And I love those guys. As we speak, I must get the message across that I love those guys. I love their music, I love what they achieved and everything. They are very, very important. And maybe there was a sense of opportunity in the LGBTQ community because these guys were there then, doing what they did. Maybe they opened a small hole in the door for acceptance. Because a lot of guys used to go to shows and look like that. A friend of mine here in Phoenix in the 80’s used to do the makeup and the hair and everything. They wanted to look like that, and then they went out to see those bands. So in terms of the anthropological aspect, the social correlation between looking like that and being cool and accepted without any kind of pushback was pretty remarkable. It’s a really interesting part of that time in heavy metal. And I include myself – not quite in that regard, but if you look Turboyou look the way we look, look that way Glenn [Tipton]has his hair and Ken [Downing]got his hair, we were all in the same melting pot, really. The 80s were a remarkable time for metal, glam rock, rock, whatever you want to call it. The visual presentation was extraordinary.
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