When Metal Edge catches up with Rob Halford, the first thing the Judas Priest legend wants to talk about is, well, Metal Edge.
“That was my go-to magazine back in the day,” Halford says, speaking over Zoom from his home in Phoenix. “I would get every issue. So it’s just so cool you’re back. It reinforces the importance and the relevance and the need to spread the metal gospel. Plus, it’s just a really great name!”
Indeed it does, and indeed it is. But kind words aside, what we’re really here to talk about is not Metal Edge, but rather the Metal God. And given his long, long career – Judas Priest, after all, are about to embark on another leg of their 50 Heavy Metal Years world tour, which will take them everywhere from Peoria to Poland – Halford has plenty of wisdom to impart. Which makes him the perfect subject for Infamous Firsts. And while we can’t say with any certainty that retracing the life path outlined below will lead you to a similar kingdom of metal glories, it does seem to have worked out pretty well for Halford himself.
“To get to this place 50 years later is just… it’s literally unbelievable if you really sit back and think about it all,” he says with amazement. It makes you head go, poof!” But, Halford adds, “At the same time, it's the absolute proof about living the dream and believing in something so passionately that you can't let it go. Like, ‘Yeah, this is what you should be doing 50 years later. This is it, man!’ ”
First Band I Fell in Love With
My aunt gave me an old record player she wasn't using anymore, and in the record player there were singles from three artists – Little Richard, Bill Haley & His Comets and Elvis Presley. So that was my first jolt of electricity as a really young kid to the power of music, and rock ‘n’ roll in its very early stages. But I was born and raised in the U.K. and I was only surrounded by popular music, as it was called, at the time. And the Beatles were there for me right from the get-go. Things like “She Loves You” and “I Wanna Be Your Man,” which the Stones did as well. Back in the day the press would pitch the bands against each other, and of course, the Stones and the Beatles were the best of friends. So I’d add the Stones in there, too! Those were the first bands that really drew me in and really started to connect with me emotionally.
First Time I Saw Judas Priest
I'd been asked to consider joining the band, and I have this vague memory in the back of my head of seeing them play at some college venue in Birmingham city, just wanting to go and see what the vibe was about. Because there was no other band making the kind of sound that the early Priest were doing. And you know how it is when a new band comes on the scene – something's going on that draws you to them as a fan. And I can just remember being very excited and very curious about what this band potentially was going to be, and the place it was going to go to musically.
So I went and saw then, and it was just great. Because firstly, I needed a gig. I was looking for a job! And I was curious about those very early, kind of exploratory types of sounds. Because they used to just jam. That was thing in those days – you had a beginning and an end, and a lot of stuff went on in the middle. It was a lot of freeform spontaneity. And it's difficult to do that and to be entertaining. When you start noodling a lot of people go, “Ahh, boring...” So that was just another part of what they were doing that drew me to them.
First Time Judas Priest Heard Me Sing
I don't believe they ever came to see me with the band I was with at the time, which was called Hiroshima. Because I don't think we ever played a live show. We used to jam a lot and we would invite friends over to listen, but I don't think we ever did a gig. But my sister, Sue she put the opportunity out for me, because she was dating [Judas Priest bassist] Ian [Hill] at the time: “My brother's got a pretty good voice, you should come and check him out…” So it was as much in good faith as anything else. And the first thing that we did, of course, was they came to my house and we just talked about music, which is important for any band to do – you have to have a balance, you have to figure out what you dig and what your ideas are, your ambitions and all these kinds of things. So that was the core of the beginning of my time with Priest. And of course when I joined I took the drummer that was in Hiroshima, John Hinch, with me. He was the drummer on the first album [1974’s Rocka Rolla].
First Shitty Job
Well my first job was working the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton. I was barely 16 and had just left school. And I adored that job because I got to be so close to all the talent. As a teenager it was just mesmerizing to see all of these different artists, whether it was theater or variety or music in every sense of the word – classical performances, opera, ballet… it was all over the shop, you know? But shitty job… that would be when, up until the time I was working in Priest, I was in the inimitable Spinal Tap world where I worked in a menswear clothing store. It was like, “Do you like this hat, sir?” “We have it in your size, sir.” “I think this is the perfect color for you, sir.” It's so fucking Spinal Tap! That's what I love about that movie, that it's satirical on the purity of real life. And I did that for a number of years. Because I had to get some money in to pay the rent and to buy food and to buy these cheap ass microphones that I used to destroy in every performance because they couldn't take this voice. So that was pretty shitty. But you do what you gotta do, man. A job is a job.
First Time I Got Drunk
It was when I worked at the Grand Theatre. After every show we would go to the bar upstairs, and for whatever reason, I used to drink rum and black, which is rum with black currant juice, because I was still a kid and I didn't like the taste of rum by itself. So you ordered a rum and black, which made it sweet, but then you have the inevitable Dimebag “Black Tooth Grin,” because when you grinned all your teeth were blacked out with black currant juice. But I was 16 and I used to get out of my skull. I mean, I was an alcoholic from day one because I couldn't just drink to enjoy the pleasure of it, like, "This is a fine wine, sir. Would you like to try this one? It's a nice Chablis." It was none of that. It was, “Give me the fucking bottle, dude.” And I just knocked it back. So yeah, I was out of my tree a lot.
First Time I Remember "Breaking the Law"
That's a pretty loaded question! I don't know whether taking a dump in an envelope and throwing it in the canal in Amsterdam is illegal, but I was in the back of the van with Priest on one of our early tours of Europe, we were in Amsterdam, and back there were no public toilets. And I was desperate for a shit! So, you know, I found a large Manila envelope, did a poo in it, licked it, closed it and threw it in the canal. So I think that's probably illegal. [laughs]
But generally I’ve been a very good boy when it comes to my mates. I mean, I did all those drugs… it's unbelievable the drugs we used to do in plain view. I think people still do that now, although that's not my world anymore. But doing a line of coke behind the stacks or in the middle of a tune, I guess that was illegal. But I'll go with the poo story.
First Time I Met Bob Dylan
I was in New York with the Fight band to do a semi-acoustic performance at Sony Studios. We got back from rehearsals and we're just hanging out, and one of the label people says, “Bob Dylan is around the corner.” Because he was on the same label – Columbia, Sony, CBS, Epic, Legacy, on we go. It’s a great family. And who wouldn't want to meet Bob Dylan? “Yeah, let's meet.” So he takes me through a couple of corridors and we go into the room, like a green room. And Bob Dylan is in the room… with a lot of women. [laughs] A lot of women and a lot of fruit. So there's the women, there's the fruit, and there's Bob Dylan. And we walk in, and the label guy says, “Hey Bob, this is a guy from a band that's on the same label, his band's called Fight. This is Rob Halford. And Bob goes [in Bob Dylan voice], “Hey man, what's goin’ on?” I go, “Hey Bob, it's a real pleasure to meet you.” “Where you from?” “Oh, I'm from a place called Birmingham, in the Midlands.” And Bob Dylan looks at me and he goes, “Yeah, yeah… how’s Ozzy doin’?” And that was my one-and-only-time meeting Bob Dylan.
First Thing I Bought With Money Made From Judas Priest
One of the very first shows we ever played after Glenn [Tipton] joined us was at the Birmingham Town Hall, opening up for god knows who. And we were all told to go and buy something to wear because it was going to be a big show. There used to be a place in Birmingham, still there, called Oasis. This was a time when stacked heel boots came into fashion, and so I bought a pair of white clogs, these very strange trousers and what looked like a cricket-playing sweater. I don't know where the fucking hell my mind was at. But I actually wore it for the show. I think I was trying to be different and cool and hip and I looked absolutely ridiculous. So that was probably the first thing I ever bought with my connection to Priest, which is kind of sweet because you're putting the money back into something you believe in.
First Time I Wore Leather With Judas Priest
We had this great song Glenn wrote called “Hell Bent for Leather,” and we were playing a venue in the Midlands. And when we pulled up, down the side of the alley to the club were all these motorbikes. And I said to the guys, “It would be great if we could bring a bike out onto the stage with ‘Hell Bent for Leather.’ ” And so I borrowed like a classic Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront black leather motorcycle jacket and wore it. And I came roaring out – well, not so much roaring out, because the stage was no bigger than a postage stamp – but I came out onstage on the bike and the crowd went nuts. And just wearing that jacket, it was like it was inevitable. For a lot of bands, you have an epiphany moment, and it could be with your music, your look, or just anything going on. That really was a moment for me, and it was definitely the first time we got into the… Wonderful World of Leather!
First Time I Felt Like I Had “Made It”
My honest answer to that is that I don't really know. I mean, how do you define that? Do you define that by selling out a venue that was maybe a famous place in the U.K.? Do you define it by the first time any of your records go into the charts? Do you define it by leaving your home country and going on the Channel ferry to Europe to play some shows in a different part of the world? It's a mixture of things, really. I can't honestly say that there was a “This is the day that we made it,” because with Priest, and I guess with a lot of bands, you just chip away. And you keep chipping away and chipping away, and then you look behind you and you see where you're at now and you say, “Yeah, we've moved from A to B. We've progressed.” So I think progression, as far as building up your fanbase and traveling more and just seeing more of the world, that’s the process of making it.