By: George Varga
Judas Priest singer Rob Halford launched his own band, Halford, 10 years ago, a well-documented fact that recently came as a surprise to him.
“Has it been 10 years?” asked the veteran heavy metal vocal star, a native of England and a longtime San Diego resident, who concluded a North American concert tour on Dec. 19 and heads back out on the road in January with Halford as the opening act for Ozzy Osbourne. “In my (heavy) metal life, careening about as much as I do, I tend to lose track of things. Wow.”
For the record, “wow” also captures the reaction of many fans to the Dec. 7 announcement that Judas Priest will embark on its “farewell tour” in 2011. The tour, which Halford predicts will stretch into 2012, comes 40 years after the band was formed near Birmingham, England, where he grew up.
With estimated worldwide album sales of more than 40 million and an enduring status as one of metal’s longest-lived and most popular bands, Judas Priest’s members hardly seem like candidates for the retirement home. Or do they?
“There really are a lot of reasons, (including) I suppose, retirement or slowing down, if you want to call it that,” said Halford, 59, from a recent tour stop in Chicago. “I think you have to face mortality, that’s for sure. Some bands keep going and going, some ease off a bit and some stop altogether.
“It happens to all bands, eventually, and now this is something we’re facing in Judas Priest. So, what we want to do is leave on what we feel are respectable terms, musically.”
But why retire now?
It’s what I call the ‘Muhammad Ali syndrome,'” Halford said. “If you get in the ring too much, the whole thing can become really sad to look at and listen to. And you have to ensure that doesn’t happen as a musician, especially in the extreme world of heavy metal, because it’s very demanding to carry these old bodies all over the place. You try to do the things you could easily do 30 years ago, and it’s not so easy. What we would like our fans to do is consider that this something to celebrate and not feel sad or depressed about. It won’t be all over in a flash.
“I suppose the way I perceive my life as a musician is that I’ll just continue doing what I’ve always done. Of course, the bulk of my metal life has been with Judas Priest, and, yes, we are making this farewell tour next year and probably into 2012. But we do have a few more things we want to say. What we’d rather do, for the time being, is let this information settle, because it’s very big news for a lot of fans. So, we want to let the firestorm settle down. For all intents and purposes, it is the farewell tour.”
Farewell or not, the bearded singer proudly noted that he regularly provides free concert tickets to men and women in the military for many of his concerts with Judas Priest and Halford alike.
“I was given a private tour of the USS Milius, which is a destroyer (in San Diego), and I’ve always been a very strong supporter of what people in military service do,” Halford said. “It was very emotional for me, because I’m really very strong in my support for what these strong men and women do for us. So to go up the gang plank and be met by the captain, in his white uniform, and all the crew, and get a two-bell welcome was a real thrill. … We, as civilians, can’t do enough in return for them, so it’s been kind of an exchange going on, particularly in Judas Priest, over the years. We try and hook up as many military members as we can, to give them free tickets, backstage passes, photo opportunities and T-shirts and swag.”
And how does Halford, the first openly gay heavy-metal star — he came out 12 years ago — feel about the current controversy surrounding the proposed congressional repeal of the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gay service members?
“Well, just talking as a gay man and not as an American citizen,” he said, “just as a guy that’s traveled the world extensively and has been in countries where gay and lesbian people can serve openly — like in the U.K. and throughout most of Europe, South America, Australia and elsewhere — the actual debate about the effectiveness of the morale in the military being disrupted by openly gay individuals who are serving is an absolute myth. You just have to look at what’s going on around the rest of the world and that deflates the argument.
“But America is America, and you can’t do something just because another country does. The way this is proceeding is the way it should, through the right channels. It’s slow, but it’s the most democratic process. The vast majority — not all — of people serving in the military could care less if someone’s gay; that’s the most encouraging thing I’ve seen. If you’re bleeding to death and there’s a gay medic serving who’s working to save your life, what’s the difference if they’re gay or not?”
A fan of classical music, Halford is also an admirer of such decidedly non-heavy-metal singers as Michael Buble and Michael Feinstein. Might there be an album of jazzy classics from the American songbook in Halford’s future?
“I don’t know where I’m going to end up,” he said. “It will still be a combination of the love I have for metal music — but there are so many things I don’t enjoy. I’m still very inquisitive, a curious adventurer, when it comes to singers and the way they sing their songs. I’m glad I feel that way, after being in rock ‘n’ roll for almost 40 years.”
Photo courtesy of Eddie Malluk Photography.
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