Point of Entry
Rob Halford unleashes Judas Priest on Fun Fun Fun
"Tell the world" are words normally reserved for revealing who's really in those Bigfoot photos or the ingredients of hot dogs. Rob Halford can use the phrase because his 45-year-old band remains so high in the heavy metal stratosphere that you don't ask the singer those questions anymore, just prompt him on the history and dates, like Judas Priest not having played Austin since 1988.
"Somebody reminded me as soon as we were able to tell the world that we were doing the Fun Fun Fun Festival," says Halford, 63. "It's been quite a while. Which kind of floored us, because we've been coming through Texas since the late Seventies."
In fact, the Birmingham, England, institution's very first U.S. show was in Amarillo in 1977.
"We already had a base following when we came through in those early years, because of rock & roll radio. I remember getting off the plane in New York, going to the hotel, and the first thing I did was turn on the radio. For hours I just listened to all these stations.
"Back home in England we only had one."
Austin Chronicle: Judas Priest is credited with bringing dual guitars into metal, but I think you'd agree that started with Wishbone Ash.
Rob Halford: Definitely. They were a great band and one of the first to utilize that twin harmony guitar effect. To the best of my knowledge, we were the first band calling itself heavy metal to feature that dimension. Normally, it was just one guy that played lead and rhythm, or one guy playing lead and the other guy that only played rhythm. So to have two guitar players featuring their lead skills was definitely different in those days. We always thought that was a very important choice – two lead guitarists.
AC: Glenn Tipton is more the blues guitarist, while K.K. Downing had whammy bar things happening. Do you think Richie Faulkner fits into Downing's position as far as more shredding?
RH: We wanted Richie to put out his own style and technique. Overall, there's a different texture coming from the lead guitars. It's obvious that there are elements in [July's Redeemer of Souls] that have never been there before. Having said that, I don't think we're lacking anything live. When we play, Richie encapsulates the recorded piece, puts his own technique, and brings it to life in a different way.
AC: The Priest symbol of a pitchfork/cross first appeared on the cover of your second album, 1976's Sad Wings of Destiny, around the neck of a fallen angel. It's come to symbolize the triumvirate of two guitars and you.
RH: I think you've got your own interpretation of it. That symbol was created by a guy named John Pasche, who designed the art for Sad Wings of Destiny. And I hope I'm not making this up, but I can remember saying to John, "Can we stick something around his neck?" I said, "Maybe you could do a crucifix, but not a crucifix, something a little bit different." It's famous now, isn't it? I mean, whenever you see a wall with graffiti or whatever, people go, "That's Judas Priest." That symbol says a lot, visually. Your mind kind of clicks into gear and you go, "I know exactly what that represents."
AC: You maintain a residence in Phoenix. Do you like the desert?
RH: It's a culture change for me. I grew up watching Westerns on TV in England, movies like The Cisco Kid and Champion the Wonder Horse and The Lone Ranger. And I always dreamed of going to America where they were all set. I remember the first time I went to Arizona. It was like a dream come true. It's an unusual state when you go into the politics of it, but pushing all that to the side, it's just a vibrant city with a lot of cool things happening culturally. I feel very at home there in that part of the world. And it's nothing like where I'm speaking to you from right now. [Just outside of Birmingham.] It's like going to the moon, or to Mars.
AC: That's something that comes up over and over in your lyrics – the motorcycle heading out into the desert.
RH: It's symbolic of freedom. As a lyricist, I was very motivated by the American way of life. Seeing the big, massive freeways and big cars and big Harleys, and taking that feeling of when you're in a car and listening to the radio. It transcended a lot of things I didn't experience back in my own country. They're symbols of escapism and individuality and power and rebelliousness and going against the grain. I think that's what's in the heart of rock & roll, really. When you break it down, you're supposed to have those kinds of songs with that kind of expression. On [2005's] Angel of Retribution, there's a song called "Worth Fighting For" and I talk about tumbleweeds and kerosene, which is a very Americanized kind of stylistic visual. So yeah, I love America. I love the opportunity that America gives me as a lyricist to put those worlds into my lyrics.
AC: Now it symbolizes Priest – four and a half decades of heading out to the horizon.
RH: Yeah, well, absolutely. That's a great euphemism. Just imagine me going off in the distance on a Harley. That's a great kind of euphemism for heavy metal I think. Heavy metal, this beast, this roaring beast that's unstoppable, getting bigger and stronger and giving people great times and great memories.
Judas Priest headlines the first day of Fun Fun Fun Fest at Auditorium Shores: Friday, Nov. 7, 8:10pm.