50 years of Judas Priest: ‘Things couldn’t be greater for the band’

Judas Priest is about to turn 50.

That said, the version of the metal band that will celebrate their golden anniversary next year looks and sounds nothing like the one that emerged from the British industrial town West Bromwich back in 1969. Bassist Ian Hill is the sole founding member left in the group.

Still, vocalist Rob Halford — who joined the group before their 1974 debut album, “Rocka Rolla,” left in 1991 and rejoined a dozen years later — said all is well within the band, despite 2010-era talk about calling it a day.

“Retirement has kind of been pushed way, way back off the burner and onto the floor,” Halford said during a phone interview from a tour stop in New York. “We’re having the time of our lives right now. Things couldn’t be greater for the band.”

Judas Priest is wrapping up a dual-headlining tour with Deep Purple that lands at Treasure Island Casino Amphitheater on Sept. 20. Here’s what else Halford had to say about the tour, new album, band lineup changes and being an openly gay man fronting a heavy metal band.

On the decision to tour with Deep Purple:

“It’s an opportunity we ran to. You’re seeing Purple and Priest together, side by side, under the same roof. This is quite an event and you’re seeing and hearing some heritage here, some of the very early beginnings of hard rock and heavy metal. I think we are putting out something quite special and quite unique.”

On the warm reception given the band’s most recent, and 18th overall, album “Firepower”:

“It’s the perfect example of doing something creative that you love and have a passion for, and I’m definitely (speaking) for all of us in the band. It’s never diminished, from Day 1. It seems to be getting stronger, which is peculiar. Our opportunities are open and endless, we can do anything. Some bands tend to stay with one defined (sound). We’ve gone everywhere, that’s part of the story of what’s kept us vital. In writing sessions and in the studio, we can do whatever we want and it will still be Judas Priest and still be heavy metal.”

On working with producers Tom Allom and Andy Sneap:

“You have to appreciate that no matter how long you’ve been in the business, a producer is vital in getting the best performances out of the band. Their encouragement and laser focus on production was extremely important.”

On guitarist Glenn Tipton, who revealed he had Parkinson’s disease earlier this year, and Sneap filling in for him on the road:

“Glenn is out in terms of long-term touring. He flies in (to play the encore) when he can, but it’s sometimes difficult for him. Glenn presented the opportunity to Andy. He was very happy to have Andy pick up the guitar and play his parts.”

On guitarist Richie Faulkner, who replaced founding member K.K. Downing in 2011:

“He’s blossomed into an incredibly strong performer. It’s like bringing a new team player into a championship NBA team. He really shines on ‘Firepower’ and on stage. He’s fabulous to watch. Looking at the broad picture, things couldn’t be better.”

On what it takes to keep a band like Judas Priest going for 50 years:

“Bands are made up of very emotionally charged human beings. You’re living your life on emotions and that’s what you do as a performer. Music is directly connected to your emotional well-being. It’s about trying to find some balance. When you go back to the hotel room after a show, you close the door and it’s just you and the TV or you and the iPhone.”

On the band’s plans for 2019:

“We just announced a U.K. tour with Ozzy Osbourne, which is a great way to kick off our anniversary. Between us, it’s 100 years of rock ‘n’ roll, which is kind of amusing to think about. We have some exciting things planned after that as a headlining act through the end of the year. It’s going to be a party. What a great moment for Judas Priest and heavy metal music.”

On what it’s like to be an openly gay man in America circa 2018 (Halford splits his time living in Arizona and England):

“Where do I start? I knew I was gay when I was 8 or 9. I’ve been through a lot. Stonewall in New York, many, many similar things in England. It’s been a f—— slog. When I was a teen coming to terms with it, I thought when I was an old man, all of this will be forgotten, the color of your skin, your orientation, your religion. Boy, was I wrong.

“With the current administration, it doesn’t look particularly healthy right now. On the other side of it, (much has changed) so we can reach this level of equality. There is still a hell of a lot more to be done and it’s taking forever. Sometimes it’s like one step forward, two steps back. But these types of challenges only make us stronger, you know?

“When I walk out on stage, the last thing I think about is that I am a gay man in a heavy metal band. And to me, that is a victory. There’s something to be said about standing there and not saying a word. On the flip side of that, I make a hell of a lot of noise on that stage.”

On the importance of coming out:

“When people realize they know gay people, it makes them confront their own intolerance and homophobic tendencies. They’re the ones who have to deal with it and face up to their prejudice. That is a win/win situation. We win every time.”

If you go

  • Who: Judas Priest and Deep Purple
  • When: 7 p.m. Sept. 20
  • Where: Treasure Island Casino Amphitheater, 5734 Sturgeon Lake Road, Welch
  • Tickets: $89.50-$42 via 877-849-1640 or ticasino.com

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