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Judas Priest’s Rob Halford on 50 Years of Metal, Handcuffing Andy Warhol, and Touring with Ozzy Osbourne

"I have nothing but gratitude to be at this point in my life, still doing what I love the most"

Judas Priest Rob Halford interview
Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, courtesy of Chipster PR
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    Fifty years of doing anything in the arts is impressive — even more so in popular music, and especially in heavy metal.

    It’s a rigorous and demanding genre, and certainly of a niche for faithful. But it’s proved resilient, welcoming to new directions and trends while continuing to revere its traditions and its long-haulers.

    Judas Priest have become the latest to join the golden anniversary club, and in its case a band that’s spent the past half-century rocking uninterrupted, weathering lineup changes and changing audience tastes. But anyone who’s seen the quintet as recently as this year’s “50 Heavy Metal Years Tour” — which came to an abrupt and unexpected stop on September 26th after guitarist Richie Faulkner suffered a ruptured aorta onstage and more than 10 hours of open heart surgery — can testify Priest is as potent today as it’s been at any point of its career.

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    That case is further made by the new box set 50 Heavy Metal Years of Music, a 42-disc spectacular that features all of the group’s studio and official live albums, two discs of rarities and five previously unreleased shows, along with a deluxe memorabilia book, band member photos signed by photographer Ross Halfin, a numbered “British Steel” razor bland more and more. A single disc “Reflections” that culls 15 tracks from the box is also being released.

    Heavy Consequence caught up with frontman Rob Halford by Zoom, at home in Arizona with some unexpected time on his hands, where he told us he quietly battled prostate cancer during the pandemic. Thankfully, the cancer is now in remission, but the singer was still “shook up, emotionally” by Faulkner’s heart emergency.

    In the wake of those serious health issues for both him and his bandmate, the Metal God was gracious in taking the time to speak with us about his band’s legacy, among other topics.

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    On Judas Priest turning 50

    Who knew? Fifty years of Judas Priest — it’s like an unreachable milestone in your mind ’cause you can’t imagine we’ve had these 50 glorious metal years in music. It absolutely is a blessing. It’s an incredible balancing act, and all of those 50 years on the precarious heavy metal wire, we haven’t really fallen off it. We may have been a little wobbly now and again, but we haven’t fallen off and that’s, again, a blessing.

    On staying relevant after half a century

    In today’s world, now more than ever, in some cases “new” only last for 24 hours, so to have us thriving in 2021, eventually ’22 and further on down the line is another great story attached to this band. We have this great bulk of support that’s been with us; Some of our fans have been with us for as long as the bands have, and then when I look down from the stage and I see all these younger metalheads barely out of their teens. That 50-year thread to be relevant, to show that even these guys — some of these guys have been around for seven decades — can still connect with the new horde of heavy metal maniacs, that’s a great feeling. We’re cool! All these great words and compliments fitting Priest now in our 50th year are just wonderful. It’s motivation, as well. It’s all very positive stuff. We thrive on positivity.

    On the 50 Years of Heavy Metal Years of Music box set

    Obviously the band was involved, but we had a great team of people on both sides of the pond to make something al little bit different, a little bit unusual. The feeling was if we’re gonna make this box set, let’s really try to give our fans something that has uniqueness about it. I think the content — especially with some of these live tracks — gives it a real solid stamp of that longevity. It’s one thing to have all these incredible [studio] recordings, but a song becomes its truest form when it’s played live, when you’re exchanging the emotion of the live performance with our fans and they’re giving it back. It’s just a beautiful thing. So this [box set] is a very powerful, potent time machine. It’s been so exciting to see it come together.

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    On the 1979 Mudd Club show included in the box set, and meeting Andy Warhol

    The Mudd Club was this kind of showcase presentation for our friends in the music business, everybody who had been working really hard to book Priest to that place we were at in our growth in America. They wanted us to do it after a couple of sold-out shows at the Palladium and we went, “Oh, do we really have to do that?” But we thought, “Oh, let’s do it,” because it’s a gesture of goodwill and thank-you for all the hard work people have done.

    So we do our show at the Palladium and we got to the Mudd Club in the early hours of the morning. It’s a very small place and we’re doing our bit and I’m dressed up with my leather and studs and orgy T-shirt. And as we’re playing I see this guy moving around. I said, ‘That’s not Andy Warhol?! For God’s sake, it can’t be Andy Warhol!’ Turns out it was. He had a little Olympus camera, taking pictures, and he stayed ’til the end, and afterwards we were just hanging around. And then Andy comes over and I say, “Hey Andy, thank you so much for coming. It’s so great to see you. It’s such a thrill, for me especially, all the great work you do.”

    And of course Andy was socially awkward, and he would always go “Oh really?!” to everything. So we’re talking and I’d had a few drinks. He was looking at my stuff and I take my handcuffs off and I’m showing them to him, and for whatever reason I put a cuff around me and a cuff around Andy, and he didn’t pull away or anything — submissive Andy Warhol (laughs). Then I go, “I’ve got some bad news, Andy; I’ve lost the keys to the handcuffs.” “Oh really?!'”Of course I hadn’t, but it was a nice exchange, and then he said to me, “I’m going to Studio 54. Do you want to come?” So we got into a Yellow Cab and went to Studio 54. Steve [Rubell] was on the velvet rope and he lifts the rope and we walk in — [Warhol] goes to the left, I go to the right and never see him again for the rest of his horribly short life.

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    I posted a picture from that night on my Instagram. On the comment attached to that I wrote “Date Night,” which it was. We had a mini-date.

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