As frontman of metal pioneers Judas Priest, Rob Halford, AKA The Metal God has been delivering the goods for almost fifty years and inspiring countless other metal bands for decades. There have been many music autobiographies written, just about every musician you can imagine, so it’s with great anticipation that we have finally been treated to the memoir Confess from one of music’s most loved and respected icons. The book is a collaboration with Ian Gittins who has written books with other musicians such as Nikki Sixx, Carmine Appice and Cliff Richard to name a few. The book covers everything from the early days in Walsall in The West Midlands of central England through his struggles with his sexual identity and the height of Judas Priest’s popularity to his solo career and back again with a reunited Judas Priest that continues to enjoy huge popularity and new generations of fans.
Hi Rob, it’s a great pleasure talking with you today. I remember seeing you for the first time at Cobo Arena Detroit in 1982. You riding out on a raised ramp on your Harley to The Hellion is still a vivid memory for me.
Oh wow, those were some crazy times for metal music back then! Nobody was doing things like that back then. The Harley became a part of the show that the fans expected and we still do it.
It’s been a crazy year and a lot of political upheaval and division. What’s your take on that?
Well, there’s two sides right now and one definitely does not represent me or my best interests. I have friends that support that side and I’m ok with that, we still remain friends.
I think though that I should be able to sit down with someone and be able to have a conversation about it and ask, what is it about homosexuality you don’t like? I’d like to be able to understand why they have these feelings and be able to discuss it. It’s not only here in the U.S. that this is happening, it’s also happening back in England and elsewhere. It seems lately all there is, is a lot of yelling and screaming and that doesn’t get anyone anywhere, we need to be able to talk about it.
I really enjoyed your book Rob! I found it very emotional at times reading about your struggles with your sexuality and your relationships but also some fun stories and humour. It was a very easy read and I didn’t want to set it down once I started. I know you’re a very good writer as a lyricist but you had some help with the book, didn’t you?
Well thank you for that, I’m glad you enjoyed the book. I didn’t feel this was something I could tackle on my own. I worked with a fellow named Ian Gittins and he really helped me open up and navigate some of those really heavy events that were really important to talk about. I asked him if there were any subjects that we would get in trouble talking about, if there was anything off limits. He said, no, just tell everything.
Early on, it becomes apparent that there may be a Spinal Tap connection when the band makes a switch to their fifth drummer in about just as many years.
Rob Reiner has said he went to one of our shows as part of his research for the writing of Spinal Tap. It is possible that we may have been the inspiration for that bit about the drummers. I love satire, you know it takes really big events to create satire and metal is full of big events. 2020 was supposed to be a big year for Judas Priest and for many of us really.
How is the new album coming along? Have you been able to work on it during COVID?
We had some great sessions just before COVID started and brought everything to a stop. We wrote some really great songs, very very powerful metal that I’m very excited about. We came off of a big tour last July with Firepower. We toured around the world four times and played about five hundred shows and we carried the energy from that tour into the writing for the new album. Richie’s guitar playing on the last tour was incredible. If you compared him from ten years ago to today, he just keeps getting better and it really shows in what he’s bringing to the sessions we’ve had. We’re still working on it but it’s a bit of a challenge right now with me in Phoenix and Richie in Nashville and everyone all over the place but we’ll get it done eventually when we can get together again and record.
Your voice still sounds great to me! A lot of singers start to lose their voice as they age but I don’t hear it with you which I find very impressive. Do you do anything special to take care of it or is it just good fortune?
Thank you for saying that, it is a bit of good fortune but I do take better care of myself these days. I honestly don’t know how I even sang some nights before my sobriety. Your voice is a muscle and you do need to exercise it. For a singer, vocal rest is important, I have to discipline myself. I really have to reach down deep to deliver when we’re performing.
You talk about your spirituality in your book. You said you went in a church one day and talked to a statue of The Virgin Mary when you were struggling with your sexuality and it was then that you realized that it was going to be ok. You also talk about Pearl, the Jamaican medium who spoke to you at a club in New York and had a message from your ex lover Brad. That blew my mind, it made me believe. Tell me about that.
That means a lot to me that it had that affect on you. That’s something that I hadn’t anticipated when writing the book, how it would affect people like yourself and others in such a way. It’s very rewarding when I hear you and other people say that you’ve taken something positive from these stories or even the music. I do believe there’s a life after this and that experience in New York was a reaffirmation for me. I think it’s important to have an open mind and that was a powerful moment in my life.
You’re laid back in your personal life. You say in the book that when you and Thomas are home in Phoenix you prefer to spend the evenings watching Netflix and your days having lunch at the local strip mall and hanging by the pool.
I’m very comfortable with this time in my life I used to be very materialistic but I’m not anymore. We watch a lot of BBC shows. I’m a big fan of Charles Dickens and we like to watch the show Dickensian. It’s an interesting take, it’s the characters from the books but written into new stories.
Word is you’re working on a blues album. How did that come about and how is it coming?
It’s a really great project I’m doing with my brother Nigel and my nephew Alex, Ian’s son, the same group of people from last year’s Christmas album, Celestial. It’s been something I’ve been wanting to do for some time and it’s finally starting to come together. We’ve been going back and forth choosing songs and trying to cover different styles with each song. We have a number of songs already and they have been working on it at my house in England so it’s progressing.
You have a lot of different musical influences.
I start every day listening to classical music. Music is such an important part of my daily routine, it gets me motivated for the day.
You also talk in the book about some pop songs Priest recorded a number of years ago. Do those recordings still exist and will they ever see the light of day? I would love to hear them!
Those are in a vault somewhere, I don’t know if we’ll ever release them. I’m pretty sure there’s a snippet of one out there on YouTube. We did “You Are Everything” by the Stylistics and “I Will Return” and I can’t recall the third song but at that time I don’t think the fans would have been very accepting of it but times have changed and I think bands can get away with a lot more creatively now. A song like Diamond and Rust (Joan Baez cover) is a great metal ballad and it’s a staple at our shows.
That song brings to mind Nazareth’s cover of This Flight Tonight, a Joni Mitchell song. I think it’s interesting you both covered songs by female folk singers.
I don’t think I’m familiar with that one, Love Hurts I know, I’ll have to look that one up and give it a listen.
You mentioned your Christmas album Celestial and you also did an album called Winter Songs about ten years ago. I love the Christmas stuff, it’s very cool. I know you love Christmas, what is a good Christmas for you?
Well, I hope to be able to go back to the U.K. to visit my brother and sister, and their spouses and family. We’ll have the usual get-togethers and exchange gifts, that sort of thing. The thing I like most about Christmas is it’s celebrated all over the world and it’s about coming together. Every country has a Santa Clause. That kind of togetherness is something that we don’t have right now, there isn’t very much unity and Christmas brings us together. I usually have six Christmas trees in the house. I’m hoping to break my record this year.