Rob Halford on Milestone Concerts, Midlife Crises and Motley Crue
There's 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 Years Tour and preparing for their 2022 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, the Metal God has released his second book, Biblical: Rob Halford's Heavy Metal Scriptures.
The follow-up to his 2020 memoir Confess, 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), co-opting the titles of different books of 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 band tensions and physical and mental health issues.
Halford caught up with UCR to discuss milestone concerts, midlife crises and more.
In the book, you mention that the Painkiller tour was a smashing success, and the album was a huge victory. But I found it interesting and surprising that the Priest/Alice Cooper/Motorhead tour, which was a year later and still in support of Painkiller, was not so well-attended comparatively. I thought that was such a bizarre thing because, on paper, it sounds like it would be an enormous success.
Yes! You've got to laugh, because yes, what did we do wrong? We've got the bands, we've got the tour, we've got the shows. Where are the people? I don't know whether it was the economics of the time. There was just also, I think, probably a certain philosophy. When you think about that — this is just something that just popped into my head — this 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 that maybe it was just the attitude at the time that fans specifically wanted to put their money down just for this particular artist. You know, "I only want to see Motorhead. I don't want to see Priest, don't want to see Alice Cooper, blah, blah, blah." Maybe there was that kind of perception coming in. Because we were all baffled. We were all [thinking], "Have we done anything wrong? Have we offended anybody?" Everybody was working with us. Radio, especially, was working with us, all the magazines, Metal Maniacs and Metal Edge and Creem, whatever was out at the time. [There was a] tremendous amount of support. In the end, it just wasn't connected.
I also loved hearing you talk about playing US Festival in 1983, and how playing to 300,000 people at a time, at a certain point, it just gets a bit silly how enormous the crowd is.
Yes, and even today, there's a tipping point. When we just headlined Wacken in Germany, [we played to] 80,000 people, and you're standing on the stage, and it's just like this sea of humanity. But what you're aware of are these big, giant, massive screens. They get right up your nose, so everybody's seeing every tiny, microscopic detail. And that's what we talked about as a band from the early days. Before the big screens and everything, you literally were like a little ant on the stage, and nobody could see what was going on. You could barely hear what was happening. And now it's so beautifully done with technology, that you have to be aware that even that guy that's way out in the back by the hot dog stand, he can see you as close as [if he was] in front of your face. So that mental ability to find a balance and connectivity in those kinds of ways of performing is important to note.
Watch Judas Priest Perform at the 1983 US Festival
Is it difficult to find ways to personalize those enormous festival crowds?
No, you just have to do what you're doing. Because if I'm looking at Richie [Faulkner] over there and I can see the sweat, and I can see the intensity, I know everybody out there can see that as well. That's the connectivity of the commitment that's taking place. So you don't really do anything else that you wouldn't ordinarily do. ... The interesting thing is, it doesn't matter how many metal maniacs are out there; our stage size is always the same. So we're working within the diameters of space that exist no matter where we play. Whether it's an arena or a theater, the stage size is still the same. So the performance, which naturally takes on its own kind of life with regards to, "At this point, I'm gonna stand over there, and at that point, I'm gonna stand over there," those things tend to kind of generate themselves as you perform in a tour. And it's also connected to the performance, obviously. When you leave the stage to get changed, when you come back on. This happens with a certain lighting effect, whatever it might be. So all of that happens within this, we call it the office. You've probably heard rock 'n' roll and metal people go, "Oh, did you have a good day at the office?" "Yeah." That's your office space, the place that you work on. So, again, you have to understand that there's almost like an anchor, something like a comfort factor, so there are no surprises. You know when you walk out, these things are gonna be there working with you, in terms of all the great people that are behind the scenes. We're all working together at that moment, and you know that that's gonna be the same every night, hopefully.
This is not mentioned in the book, but it's one of my favorite performances of yours because I'm a huge glam metal fan. On Skid Row's B-Side Ourselves EP, you join the band onstage for a cover of "Delivering the Goods." I'd love to know if you have any memories of getting together with those guys and recording that.
Yes, I have vague memories of it happening in the studio, but I have very, very vivid memories of the live performance. I think we did something for MTV, didn't we? And I think that was at the start of my ... do we talk about midlife crisis in Biblical? Because we should have. Because when I look at myself and how I'm performing and what I'm dressed like, it's very much a kind of "hold on to the chair and sharp intake of breath" [moment]. Because I know my heart's in the right place, but it's completely out of the normal — let's not say normal — but the world you know of, "This is Rob Halford, the lead singer for Judas Priest. And he's got this baseball cap turned backwards, and he's got this sleeveless hip-hop vest, and he's got these pants with holes in [them]. What is he trying to do?" And I love that visual personification because I know internally where I'm at in my own chaotic midlife crisis moment. That was just very profound for me. I learned a lot about myself through that time. I love that performance of the band. They did a great job, especially with Sebastian [Bach]. I saw Sebastian on YouTube last night when he did a couple of Black Sabbath songs at the L.A. Forum for 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 like 16. So I just love his tenacity in that respect. But yeah, I wouldn't say it was glam rock, but I know what you're saying as far as Sebastian because ... is that a Motley Crue poster behind you?
Guilty as charged — and a small Guns N' Roses one up top.
When you think about the glam rock movement, what it was, specifically, two bands that really pushed that for me were Motley Crue and Poison — and, to some effect, Cinderella, maybe some Winger, L.A. Guns. There was a lot of stuff coming through at that moment in the glam rock era. And definitely Sebastian, you know, when guys looked like girls, he said with a smile on his face. And that worked. And I could never quite figure that out, because of the homophobic stuff that was going on in the '80s. And there's all these guys with makeup on, looking ... I have to watch my words here, but you know what I'm saying? Looking in a specific way, that everybody else is like, "Yeah, man, they're really hardcore," and all that kind of stuff. And then me as a closeted gay man, it's like, "Am I missing something here? How am I not able to come out for fear of losing my career and my band, but these guys are going out there looking like they do, and everybody's falling over them?" Not everybody, but, you know, just the general perception of the imagery was just, everybody has to look that way. Everybody has to dress that way. It [was] a remarkable time in heavy metal and rock to think about in a broader sense.
Watch Skid Row and Rob Halford Play 'Delivering the Goods'
It was a really interesting bit of appropriation, for lack of a better term. Because, as you said, simultaneously, these guys were essentially dressing like women, putting on all the makeup and whatnot, but then they would act as if it were an affront if you were to question their masculinity.
There is a book. There's definitely a book.
It could be your third one.
You never know, it could be, yes. And I love those guys. While we're talking, I must get the message across that I love those guys. I love their music, I love what they achieved and everything. They're very, very important. And maybe there was a sense of opportunity within the LGBTQ community because these guys were there then, doing what they did. Maybe they opened a little tiny chink in the door for acceptance. Because a lot of guys used to go to the shows looking like that. One of my friends here in Phoenix in the '80s used to put the makeup on and the hair and everything. They would look like that, and then they'd go out to see those bands. So in terms of the anthropological aspect, the social connection between looking like that and it being cool and accepted without any pushback was quite remarkable. It's a really interesting part of that time in heavy metal. And I include myself — not entirely, in that respect, but if you look at Turbo, you look at the way that we're looking, look at the way Glenn [Tipton]'s got his hair and Ken [Downing]'s got his hair, we were all in that same melting pot, really. The '80s was a remarkable time for metal, glam rock, rock, whatever you want to call it. The visual presentation was extraordinary.