The Harley-driving, leather-lunged singer Rob Halford has been leading Judas Priest off and on since 1973. But in all those years, 2022 stands out as one of his most memorable.
On Nov. 5, the pioneering British heavy metal band was finally inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, prompting Halford to remark, “Am I the only gay metalhead in the Hall of Fame? How cool is that?”
The year also marked Halford’s first big tour since a major health scare. The vocalist, 71, underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 2020, and he also had an appendectomy. The cancer is now in remission.
This month, the singer released his second book in two years, Biblical: Rob Halford’s Heavy Metal Scriptures, the follow-up to his memoir Confess.
We spoke with Halford on Monday by video call from his hotel room in San Antonio, where Judas Priest was performing that night. The group will play Friday at The Factory in Deep Ellum. Our conversation has been edited for clarity.
What was it about hard rock that attracted you to it in the late ‘60s?
It’s very difficult to describe, isn’t it? There’s this uncontrollable feeling when a certain style of music hits you for the first time. It triggers a tremendous amount of excitement and curiosity, and as a younger guy developing my musical tastes, I was drawn to something that was loud and brash and exciting.
To be at the very beginning of the heavy metal scene was wonderful, and now, on this particular leg of this tour, I look out from the stage and see a guy holding up this kid who’s barely 8 or 9, and the kid’s going like this (Halford flashes the “devil horns” hand gesture). It’s a joy to see. It’s an absolute joy.
Judas Priest got huge in 1980, when you were in your late 20s. How prepared were you for that type of success?
I wasn’t prepared. I embraced it in all its possibilities … some of them great, some of them not great. Who knew I was going to become an alcoholic and a drug addict? I didn’t know.
I don’t blame music for that. But I was certainly in the right environment for excess, in all of its dimensions.
A lot of musicians have addictive (personalities). We love to get onstage and show off in front of thousands of people. But then how do you handle it when you go back to your hotel room, close the door, and it’s just you and the TV or the Internet?
You overcame those addictions in 1986 and have been sober ever since. Do you have any advice for musicians working in a business where few people care if you’re sober, as long as you show up and perform?
The one message I always try to push out is this: You are not alone. When booze and chemicals creep into our lives, we think it’s only happening to me. You’re completely lost, wallowing in self-pity and shame and guilt, and you don’t think you can tell anyone.
But there are an enormous number of places you can go to get help. Pick up the phone. Do a Zoom call. Go to an AA meeting. You are not alone.
I think it’s great that things are different now for many musicians. When a tour bus pulls up these days, the Pelotons and exercise ropes come out of the luggage bay. When I used to get out of the bus, I’d fall out with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a six-pack of Budweiser.
The “Gay 90s” were a pivotal era for LGBTQ rights, but not so much in heavy metal, which has always been rife with homophobia. How did you get the courage to come out as gay in an MTV interview in 1998?
It was tough, because I was always about pleasing other people. I didn’t want to make a fuss.
My sexual identity could have been the end of the band in the ‘80s, because as you point out, the climate at the time was all “Girls, Girls, Girls” and Mötley Crüe or whatever, which I always think is ironic because a lot of guys in bands were looking like drag queens.
It took my sobriety to bring me to a place where I wanted to step forward and say, “Enough is enough … I’ve got to stop pretending, because I’m doing too much mental damage to myself.” When I did that, it was such a relief.
For anybody that’s dealing with that life-changing decision, I say, “Just do it.” Just do it for yourself, because you’ll find out who really loves you and who accepts you with no boundaries.
A few weeks ago, Judas Priest was finally inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in the band’s third time on the ballot. Why do you think it took so long?
I don’t think it’s dissimilar to, say, the Baseball Hall of Fame. You have to have enough time and achievements for them to be able to sit back and debate: “Are you worthy enough?”
I do think it’s great that we’re only the third band in the Hall of Fame that plays heavy metal music, aside from Black Sabbath and Metallica. The day after we did the induction, I got a text from (Metallica drummer) Lars Ulrich saying, “It’s about time.”
It was a beautiful night. We are a British heavy metal band in this great American rock ‘n’ roll institution. We’re thrilled.
Judas Priest and opening act Queensrÿche will perform Friday, Nov. 25, at 8 p.m. at the Factory in Deep Ellum, 2713 Canton St., Dallas. axs.com.