Judas Priest…almost 45 years of history coming from the legendary streets of Birmingham, just like Black Sabbath did, the “Metal Gods” are saying farewell to their millions of fans around the globe after half a century of a successful career. Judas Priest, in many ways, defined the genre of heavy metal along with others, having influenced thousands of bands throughout the years. This legend of heavy metal will, in a few years, go into the books of history but their legacy will remain with us to guide the new artists and define the future changes in all genres of heavy metal, just because, either a great fan or not, Judas Priest is a basic startup that you have to go through when you enter the world of heavy metal.

So let’s walk along with these legends and see how things were working out for them back in the beginning of this very long trip on their way to glory and fame and also during the most strange and peculiar aspects of their career…for the rest…put on one of their records and you will know what we’re talking about!

The Beginning

The band”s classic line-up consists of vocalist Rob Halford, guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, and bassist Ian Hill. However, their story began a little bit differently. Their original members were, back at the beginning, Al Atkins (vocals), K.K. Downing (guitars) and Ian Hill (bass) and their music also started out a little bit differently as the band, back in October of 1970, was strongly influenced by artists like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Cream or The Yardbirds.

After some time of transfers and jamming along with other fellow musicians, the band came up with its first line up with Atkins, Downing, Hill and John Ellis (drums) somewhere around 1971. Their first gig took place on 16 March 1971 at St John’s Hall,Essington, S. Staffordshire…a legend was born…

With Downing as acting leader, the band moved away from their original blues influences to play hard rock and what later came to be defined as heavy metal. This quartet played around Birmingham and the surrounding areas with various drummers until 1974, sometimes opening for bands such as Budgie, Thin Lizzy, and Trapeze. Eventually, financial difficulties and problems with their management, Tony Iommi’s company, IMA, led to the departure of Alan Atkins and drummer Alan Moore in May 1973.

At the time, Ian Hill was dating a woman from the nearby town of Walsall who suggested her brother, Rob Halford, be considered as a singer. Halford joined the band, bringing drummer John Hinch from his previous band, Hiroshima. This line-up toured the UK, often supporting Budgie, and even headlining some shows in Norway and Germany.

Halford got his start in music by singing in his high school choir, often standing out as exceptional to the other students. Then in 1966, at age 15, Rob joined his first band, Thark, which included his classroom teacher on guitar! Next, he joined Abraxis before becoming an assistant lighting designer at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton:

“When I left school, I did a little bit of amateur dramatics. I worked in a theater as a lighting electrician, but it’s always been the draw of the stage. I was earning quite a good amount of money at the time for some one my age, so the decision to go into music professionally was a main one. My parents thought it was very silly, purely from an economic point of view…” – Rob Halford, Sounds, February 11, 1978

On April 1974, Judas Priest signed with Gull Records and Glenn Tipton joined the band, making Priest one of the very first hard rock bands having two lead guitarists. While touring Scandinavian, Priest received news that Gull Records wanted to sign them. On April 16, the band arrived in London to sign the contracts and thus begin their long-sought professional recording career… At this point in time, Judas Priest were still a four-piece, one-guitar band. But David Howells (owner of Gull Records) wanted something different than the standard rock quartet that was so common in the day; he more-or-less insisted that an additional instrument had to be added to the sound. And while the band members were intrigued with the idea, they also had their apprehensions:

“We thought it was just another mouth to feed and that was pretty tough at the time.” – K.K. Downing, HEAVY DUTY official biography, 1984

Howells proposed several ideas, including adding a horn player (!), but Ian Hill shares that after the band played a song for the label, it was clear that a second guitar would be the perfect fit. John Hinch recalls that David Howells and producer Rodger Bain came up with the idea for making the additional instrument a guitar, and Downing supported the decision, agreeing that a two-guitar approach would be best for the band as well: Roger Bain, strongly influenced the band to add a second guitar to the line up: Bain had been the staff producer at British label Vertigo Records, where he produced Black Sabbath’s first three albums on a shoestring budget and minimal equipment (he recorded Sabbath’s debut on a 4-track deck in only 16 hours!), and thus, more by accident than technical prowess, helped shape Sabbath’s heavy, evil sound – most notably, Tony Iommi’s raw guitar tone. But around the time that Gull Records signed Judas Priest, Vertigo Records had also signed another group called The Flying Hat Band, and were in the process of finishing their debut album.

Featuring Glenn Tipton on lead guitar and vocals, The Flying Hat Band evolved from the group Shave And Dry (where Glenn handled guitar and keyboard duties, as Glenn has actual training in piano). Shave And Dry briefly changed their name to Merlin before settling on The Flying Hat Band, and after several lineup changes, Glenn took over the lead vocal duties and made the band into a power trio. But after laying down some tracks for Vertigo Records, the project got shelved for sounding too similar to label mates Black Sabbath. Management and financial struggles soon brought about the band’s demise and Glenn was ready to make his next move…

So this is more or less the beginning of a legendary band that managed to make millions of people, its loyal fans around the world but for the shakes of a 100% full tribute, we feel it’s obligatory to make a brief history notice on what happened during the next years…

The Priests Through The Years:

The 70’s:
Their first record, “Rocka Rolla”, came out in 1974. That year they were signed to a small record label and Rocka Rolla had very poor sales. But things changed with the huge underground success of their second album, Sad Wings of Destiny. The album did so well that they received a record deal from Columbia Records in the US. Columbia released Judas Priest’s next album, Sin After Sin.

The 80’s:
Hell Bent For Leather, released in the UK with the title Killing Machine, was Judas Priest’s US breakthrough album. It gained the band a lot of success within the metal community. After touring with the likes of Kiss, they quickly headed back into the studio and released British Steel, which entered the UK chats at No. 3.
In 1982, Judas Priest released Screaming for Vengeance. The album entered the US charts at No. 17 and in time went platinum. In the next couple of years Judas Priest would release Defenders of the Faith and Turbo. These were considered by most critics as a more mainstream pop-metal because of the electronic effects and keyboards. By the late 80’s the band was loosing its British fan base but was still popular in the US.

The 90’s:
In 1990 the band released Painkiller. Even though the band was well known because of the trial, the popularity of heavy metal was waning and the record did not sell well. In 1993 Rob Halford left the band to form a new group, Fight. He was replaced by Tim Owens. Owens was previously fronting a Judas Priest tribute band. The band, back in action with a new singer, produced three albums with Owens.

The 00’s:
In 2003 the band announced the return of Rob Halford after a long of period of rumours around a possible reunion. Tim Owens, who was working on a project with Iced Earth, was let go upon Halford’s return.

Victim Of Changes:

The breakup with Rob Halford – Hiatus – The Ripper Years:

Seriously, what lead to the breakup of Judas Priest with Rob Halford, after their tour on “Painkiller” album in 1991? That days, surely there was bad chemistry among the members as Rob Halford was already starting a project along with drummer Scott Travis, in the street thrash area, named “Fight”. As he said, some years later, he felt the need to gain some personal space between him and the band as well as exploring new music territories. For three years the band went into hiatus…

In 1996, Tim Ripper Owens who had previously sang in a Judas Priest tribute band called British Steel, was hired as Judas Priest’s new singer. The band released two albums under that line up, “Jugulator”, which separated fans of Priest into those who wouldn’t imagine anyone else on vocals and those who had no issues with Tim Ripper Owens. “Jugulator” went on further, on “Painkiller’s” heavy concept but 2001 “Demolition” was didn’t gain respect from the fans, even if the album was pretty good.

Rumors say that…Owens’ move from fan and weekend tribute band singer to frontman for the actual band was the inspiration for the film Rock Star. Because the film’s content bore only a tangential resemblance to Owens’s actual history with the band, Judas Priest later moved to disassociate themselves from the film.

Judas Priest On Court

In the summer of 1990, the band was involved in a civil action that alleged they were responsible for the self-inflicted gunshot wounds in 1985 of 20-year-old James Vance and 18-year-old Raymond Belknap in Sparks, Nevada, USA. On 23 December 1985, Vance and Belknap, after hours of drinking beer, smoking marijuana and allegedly listening to Judas Priest music, went to a playground at a church in Sparks with a 12-gauge shotgun to end their lives. Belknap was the first to place the shotgun under his chin. He died instantly after pulling the trigger. Vance was the next to follow suit but only blew away the lower half of his face. This was possibly because the weapon was slippery with blood.

The men’s parents and their legal team alleged that a subliminal message of “do it” had been included in the Judas Priest song “Better By You, Better Than Me” from the Stained Classalbum (actually a cover of a Spooky Tooth number). They alleged the command in the song triggered the suicide attempt. The trial lasted from 16 July to 24 August 1990, when thesuit was dismissed. One of the defense witnesses, Dr. Timothy E. Moore, wrote an article for Skeptical Inquirer chronicling the trial.

The trial was covered in the 1991 documentary Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance Vs. Judas Priest. In the documentary, Halford commented that if they wanted to insert subliminal commands in their music, killing their fans would be counterproductive and they would prefer to insert the command “Buy more of our records.” Regarding the plaintiff’s assertions that the statement “do it” was a command to commit suicide, Halford pointed out “do it” had no direct message.

Rob Halford At Metalpaths.com

Rob Halford talks about the “Painkiller” album in an interview with Metalpaths:

“I think the feeling that we had in terms of what we wanted to do next, to do something, not exactly extreme, but to have a record that had a tremendous amount of energy on every track, that kind of started to be “Painkiller”, the title track, and really went through the whole set of dynamics. Even “Touch of Evil”, which is just the way that metal records are made, there’s always a time when, at least for us in Priest, you take a bit of a breather and then you take off again. So, I think there was an intent to make that kind of record with that type of excitement level, which I believe we succeeded in.”

Read the whole interview here.

Did You Know That…

* “Kenneth Downing Jr. is my real name. A girl in Denmark couldn’t pronounce it,(during a run in Norway and Denmark in the 70s) so she called me ‘K.K.’ and it stuck.” – K.K. Downing, Rockline magazine, 1984

* Judas Priest have sold over 50 million albums worldwide.

* They were named the 78th greatest artist of all time by VH1 in 2010 and 2nd Greatest Metal Band by MTV (Black Sabbath).

* The band got its name from the Bob Dylan song “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”, according to original vocalist Al Atkins.

Studio albums:

Rocka Rolla (1974)
Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)
Sin After Sin (1977)
Stained Class (1978)
Killing Machine / Hell Bent for Leather (1979)
British Steel (1980)
Point of Entry (1981)
Screaming for Vengeance (1982)
Defenders of the Faith (1984)
Turbo (1986)
Ram It Down (1988)
Painkiller (1990)
Jugulator (1997)
Demolition (2001)
Angel of Retribution (2005)
Nostradamus (2008)

Judas Priest, forever in our hearts, hail to The Metal Gods!

Chris “Wild Child” Zarkadakis.