Judas Priest’s Rob Halford Is ‘Hell Bent’ for Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp: Exclusive Interview
Long before Rob Halford of Judas Priest became known as the “Metal God,” he was just another young struggling musician who had his own dreams of future success. Now more than four decades later, he’s reflecting on those experiences at Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
The camp gives fans a chance to live out their rock ‘n’ roll fantasies, learning the ins and outs of performing, playing music and more — all taught by rock stars who’ve been through it all.
After 2014’s successful run, Hell Bent for Vegas, Halford and members of the legendary British heavy metal group are returning for a second round. This time, they’ll head out on the highway to Hollywood on Aug. 4-7 for Vol. 2 — Hell Bent for Hollywood, and the veteran vocalist is looking forward to sharing some of the wisdom he’s accumulated over the years.
“Being in a band is very much like being in any kind of teamwork organization, if you want to look at it in that respect,” Halford tells Ultimate Classic Rock. “It’s all about working together, learning how to be in a band and that incorporates so many nuances of emotions, getting along with each other and getting your points across and being accepted, how to deal with rejection, how to deal with failure. These are all life lessons that you get from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp. So it can be quite deep at a certain level, although the top side of it is that it’s so much fun. That’s the other reason why we decided to do it again: We had such a great time last time.”
After spending so many years sharing their music from the concert stage, Halford is grateful for the opportunity to give back in a different way.
“I think that’s important, especially when you’ve had such an amazing time as we have in Priest,” he says. “We’re always looking for these kinds of opportunities, more than ever now. It’s just such a great display of joy and affection and love and support that you’re involved with through the whole thing. It was the first time for all of us the last time we did this in Vegas, and no matter what you’re told by your fellow musicians, to experience it for the first time yourself is just remarkable. To see what can be achieved in such a short space of time as well is quite amazing. Somebody who didn’t know how to play guitar can be taught the basic rudiments in just a few hours to play the songs that need to be played.”
For both Halford and the fans, the Fantasy Camp experience is one that is different than the interactions they’ve shared previously.
“[There are a lot of] great fans who have either seen a band like Priest live or listened to our music. To actually kind of be with each other, face to face, it’s a thrill not only for the fans of Priest, but also for us, because you get to kind of experience a different side of your fan base. This is what’s so cool about it. Because you don’t necessarily have to have an ability to play an instrument — that’s what you’re actually taught at the Fantasy Camp, which is great, you know? I always thought that the fans that were coming in were already kind of proficient musicians and you don’t have to be a proficient musician. You don’t even have to be a musician. That’s one of the many joys about it. So you’re actually involved in something quite bigger than the music itself and so that’s really appealing not only for us, but I would imagine for all of the other musicians who have been involved with the camp over the years.”
The event will culminate with the camp attendees getting the chance to jam with four members of Judas Priest — Halford, guitarist Richie Faulkner, drummer Scott Travis and bassist Ian Hill — at the legendary Whisky a Go Go, a room that holds special times for Halford.
“If my old metalhead memory serves me well, that was one of the first venues that Priest ever played when we came to America,” he says. “The Whisky is a legendary venue. It’s the equivalent of what CBGB’s was in New York City, which is now sadly gone. The Whisky is just this remarkable small building that just has a stunning history of rock ‘n’ roll. I haven’t been in the Whisky forever, so going back there will be a thrill and a treat as well. I think we’ll all be a bit of the deer in the headlights.”
Halford also recalls that his group might have also shared the Whisky stage with Van Halen, a band that blew him away — especially hearing young Eddie Van Halen for the first time. “It was stunning. I have a great memory of a couple of people that were looking after Priest in the very early days, they came into my house one night and they said, ‘You’ve gotta listen to this cassette, man. It’s this band and they’re new from America and you’ve got to check out this guitarist named Eddie Van Halen,’” he says.
“I didn’t have a cassette player in the house, because I was poor, so I sat in the car and listened to a cassette and the opening of Eddie’s ‘Eruption,’ and you just sit there going, ‘Oh, this is a game changer.’ There are specific guitar heroes of mine that have always been revolutionary, and Eddie was definitely one of those guys. So to go from sitting outside my house in the car listening to Van Halen to actually opening up for them at that time at the Santa Monica Civic, not too long right after that memorable night, was a real thrill. And America at that time, was really rumbling heavily with the roots of what would be the American versions of metal and hard rock that was coming over from the U.K.”
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Judas Priest are now celebrating another successful run of touring with the release of Battle Cry — a new live release available on DVD, Blu-ray, CD and digital download — which commemorates the shows that the band played in support of the Redeemer of Souls album, capturing a specific gig that found the group onstage at Wacken in Germany in front of 85,000 fans. Halford says that Redeemer of Souls was another important chapter in the long-running history of the group.
“This was the first time that Glenn [Tipton] and I sat down with Richie to write. We had a great time on the Epitaph tour, which was a really cool thing the way that the cards were dealt,” he says. “For Richie to have the opportunity to come out and do that big world tour with us, it must have paid dividends in the respect that by the time we got into writing sessions for Redeemer of Souls, Richie was well and purely embedded in the band. And I think that really helped. Because when you’re writing music, it can either go extremely well or be incredibly difficult and challenging. In this instance, because there was this connectivity in the trio writing aspect of Priest, it was just very, very fluid and it was very instantaneous.
“Things were happening immediately and we weren’t in a position of like, “What are we going to do? What do we need to say?” It was already there,” he continues. “So the back end of that Epitaph tour definitely played a role in the writing of Redeemer of Souls. That record came together quite quickly by writing standards, especially for a band that has lived so long as Priest. You don’t know how long the record is going to take to make, obviously. We’ve always set ourselves some parameters. We always try and look at the calendar and be specific, because we know it’s not only what we have to do, it’s what our label has to do globally as well. There are so many pieces [that go] into making a release. Looking back now, it was a lot of fun and really exciting, and I think that we made a really good statement with Redeemer of Souls, particularly coming as it did, so many years after Nostradamus, we had to get back to what we felt we were and are as a band. We’re a classic British metal band and I think a ton of what that is about for Priest was in the music of Redeemer of Souls.”
With the arrival of Battle Cry, Halford and the members of Judas Priest are now starting to turn their collective gaze toward planning for the next studio record.
“There have been a few things exchanged back and forth, particularly through me and Richie, because we’re iPhone freaks and we’re always sending each other little memos, zipping them across to each other,” he says. “It could be again, I would imagine, very much the same tone, very much the same kind of emotion and straight forwardness as the last sessions that we did, but just speaking for myself, I do not want to make a Redeemer of Souls part two. I think it’s very important that we make another stand alone record again, a heavy metal record that’s going to have its own legs and just be as different as all of them have been so far.”
Continuing to make new music is something that remains extremely important to all of the members of the band, Halford explains. “We’re having a blast right now. It had been some time since Nostradamus before we went back out on the road extensively with the Redeemer of Souls tour,” he notes. “It’s really important to be a working band and by that, I mean, packing your suitcase, locking the door and getting in the van, if that is what it is.
“You’re still getting in the van, you know? As daunting as that can be at this time of life sometimes, it’s still the biggest thrill, privilege and honor to be able to take a band like Priest and play to millions of our fans around the world,” he concludes. “Making a record is important to support that. I don’t think we’ve ever gone on the road for any other purpose, because we want to see our fans again, but mostly, just to show the significance of this band, that we’re still out doing what bands should do when they’re working bands, which is like showing off your new material. If you’re able to still write and record and release, I think that’s a bonus, it really is, at this juncture. Priest is continually out there proving their point.”
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