Judas Priest's Rob Halford
Heavy metal is full of superstars and true characters that rise above the pack but none stands taller than Rob Halford. The iconic vocalist of Judas Priest is revered throughout the music industry as a top-tier singer and performer. With Priest relegated to the sidelines along with everybody else this year due to the COVID-19 virus, Rob had the opportunity to finish off his long-awaited autobiography, Confess, (Hachette Books).
The book is well-crafted, detailing Halford's early years and initial forays into the music biz. Fans will love the details of the rise of Priest along with the peaks and valleys along the way, of which there are many. It was a thrill, as always, to speak with Rob recently (as brief as it was) to talk about the book. Here's what he had to say:
antiMusic: Congrats on Confess. It was a great read. I really enjoyed every page. A lot of other rock bios I've read get trudged down in childhood detail that is unnecessary. Everything you included helped show a real informative blueprint of your background.
Rob: Well thank you, Morley, I really appreciate those kind words.
antiMusic: I think the thing that I took most from the book was how lonely you were during the whole rise of Priest, while the other guys were enjoying the company of many, you weren't free to live life the way you wanted. And particularly touching was the concern that you showed towards your band as you did not want any of your personal controversy to affect them. Is this a classic case of the audience just seeing the public face and thinking celebrities have the perfect life without ever really knowing the truth that sometimes things are not always what it seems?
Rob: I think that's the way with most celebrities when it comes to the nitty gritty of their lives, especially on a personal level. I was just trying to be me in the book and talking about all the experiences that I had. I think the main feedback we've received about the book is the conversational nature. It hasn't been laborious or kind of a trek or slog to get through it.
It's a very simple, straight-through kind of read-through because of the incredible way that Ian Gittins created the personality in the words that made up the page. I mean that's a real gift the way he was able to transcribe our conversations and put them to paper.
antiMusic: Something that is prevalent in the book is your acknowledgment of the influence of the Black Country area in Britain. Can you talk a bit about how growing up there helped shape your music?
Rob: Yeah...it's very blue collar. Tough people. Tough work. Working in the coal mines and with the metal foundries and metal works. Hard working people who will tell you straight to your face how they're feeling. They have strong points of view. And that's kind of instilled in you from a very early age. That's not to say that they are indifferent to emotions or how people feel and so forth. But I think that put some sort of resilience into me as a younger person that hasn't left me. A lot of things happen to people, especially as you go into teen years that stay with you...that are part of your makeup, especially your mental makeup.
And so I'm glad I had that kind of surroundings because it made me a person who could handle some of those difficult issues that come around.
antiMusic: I'm curious as to when you found the voice that Rob Halford is known world-wide for. The first record had "Run of the Mill" among others and you hit that falsetto like a banshee. I know Zeppelin and Purple were bands you favored as a young lad, but did stuff like Gillan in "Child in Time" kind of nudge you into letting loose with your upper register?
Rob: Yeah they were big inspirations to me and still are since I listen to them still. I think that is the way with any musician. We are standing on the shoulders of others. I've always been fascinated by the human voice. through singing or listening to people do animation, kid's cartoons and everything really. The human voice is just a really remarkable instrument. Even now I find little textures that I drag out of me and I have a lot of fun with it, exploring new things. And I'm blessed with it --- that it can do a lot of different things.
antiMusic: You were in Hiroshima and you recall that you could tell the band wasn't going to go far. Can you tell us a bit about going for that first rehearsal with Priest and when you first knew that this band was going to be successful.
Rob: Yeah, I can vividly remember going to the first get-together and feeling really excited and a little bit anxious because I wanted the audition to go well. Of course, there were me and the drummer that I was working with at the time, John Hinch and there was KK and there was Ian. And we just had a knock as we call it in England --- having a jam. I remember feeling those first expressions and we just felt so full of dreams and hopes like most bands have when you start. So that's just a great reflection that I enjoy pondering and feeling the great importance that the first jam resulted in.
antiMusic: Most bands develop their onstage personalities after slugging away in front of countless bar crowds, However Priest came up quickly after you and Glenn joined and began playing to bigger and bigger audiences. How long was it before you felt comfortable assuming the role of master of ceremonies along with your unique stage moves like in "The Ripper" or "Metal Gods" and did your brief tenure in the theatre assist you in this regard?
Rob: Working backwards in that really interesting question, I would say that the theatrical aspect was really utilized in a strong way because I can remember talking to the guys since day one about leaving a memory. It's one thing to stand on stage but it's another issue if you look strong and have something that people can visually attach to. So there was that and the constant push to get a bigger live set together, however primitive it might be. And so all of that lingered with me from the time I was in the theatre. It's all about leaving metal memories. Even now when you go to a Priest show. You don't remember right away what you heard. You really remember what you saw. So that's really important to us in Priest.
But as far as the master of ceremonies type of thing and feeling comfortable, that took a while, I mean you've got to be confident. Because if you walk out there like a deer in the headlights. the crowd can sense that. So whether you're walking out on a small pub stage in the UK or you're walking out there, opening up for KISS, you can't let anything interrupt the sentiment that you have which is to give everything that you've got. So it took a while before that it became secure and it's still the same now.
When we walk out there, we have a job to do. And our fans expect something special to happen. So you can't take your foot off the metal accelerator --- you just can't do that. You can't look like you just dropped by and you're not connecting. That empathy has to be very real, otherwise disappointment sets in. And it's your responsibility not to disappoint your fans.
antiMusic: I think a lot of people will be surprised by your admission that your leaving Priest was something you actually never considered and that it happened by mistake. Tell us a bit about your desire for a solo record and how that changed things dramatically for you.
Rob: Yeah, as I say in the book, around the Turbo time, I reached out to the guys as I was crashing with my addictions, I was finding a strong urge to express myself musically in another way and that's very common with a lot of bands. With a lot of lead singers especially. We know a lot of them do what they have to do and then come back.
But the core of the communication breakdown was something that, in hindsight, was something that didn't really need to happen. But music is so volatile emotionally that one misspoken word can lead to a massive fracture. So it's just part of life. Living through these things and experiences and trying to put everything back to something where everybody benefits.
antiMusic: What was sweeter --- the initial success of the band or your return which helped re-install Priest to its rightful place in the upper echelon of metal bands?
Rob: I think it's all got tremendous value. I just felt really complete when I returned to Priest because I had been on this kind of journey of figuring myself out musically and then after all the adventures I had been on. So all of that connects. I wouldn't say one is stronger than the other.
antiMusic: Considering you mentioned that you noticed the occasional mistake by Glenn on stage, were you surprised by his admission that he was sick and did you ever fear for the end of the band?
Rob: Well, we had always said, even Glenn, that Priest was about the united structure of the band. We all had vital roles to play and if anything starts to go in a different direction for whatever reason, then you have to look at that and make some adjustments. So I think that Glenn was heroic and very gracious to firstly accept the place that he was being forced into from Parkinson's and then doing something so selfless and then stepping away from touring so that the band could keep working. I don't know how many other musicians would do that. That's just remarkable. So he's a real hero in that respect.
Morley and antiMusic thank Rob for taking the time to do this interview.
Purchase Confess here
Visit the official Judas Priest website here
Visit the official Rob Halford website here