You might expect Rob Halford to be calling from England, since the roots of the hard rock band he’s fronted since the ‘70s is deeply entrenched there.
Or maybe a U.S. coast that seems to beckon many rock stars.
But the gregarious frontman for Judas Priest decided many, many years ago that his dream locale would be Phoenix, where he could revel in the desert scenes he always associated with American life.
The iron-lunged singer and the rest of the band that brought “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” “Heading Out to the Highway,” “Breaking the Law” and dozens of other fist-thrusting crunch rockers to life, will play the Fox Theatre on May 8.
It will be the first time at the venue for Halford, 67, and bandmates Ian Hill (bass), Scott Travis (drums), Richie Faulkner (guitar) and Andy Heap (guitar) and Halford is thrilled to be back in the U.S. to support their 18th studio album, “Firepower,” the highest-charting entry of Judas Priest’s 45-year career.
“Priest is embedded now in the music culture of America,” Halford said. “We’ve had this musical love affair for as long as we can remember.”
In conversation with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Kaedy Kiely of 97.1 The River (listen below), Halford spoke openly about the health of Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton (still a member of the band, but unable to tour), what fans can anticipate on this new round of dates and the status of his autobiography.
Q: You’re doing a lot of theaters on this leg of the tour, and it’s your first time playing the Fox (as headliners). Is it weird bringing Priest’s music into a stately theater?
A: I love the Fox – there is so much history. This is the fun we’re having now. We love these opportunities to get close to our fans. They’re our lifeblood.
Q: Will we be seeing the trademark bike on stage?
A: The motorcycle will be rolled out at some point. It’s part of the rich history of Priest. It’s a pinnacle of the night. It’s a representation of noises, smells, it (ticks) off some people. It has all of the great attributes of heavy metal! It’s also got a wonderful connection to Glenn and his foundation (guitarist Glenn Tipton suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and cannot tour with the band). We put the bike out front for our fans to jump on and take a picture and the money goes to Glenn’s Parkinson’s Foundation.
Q: And how is Glenn doing?
A: He’s doing great. I’m sure we all have someone in our lives or know someone who is challenged by this battle. It’s always uplifting to hear and meet individuals going through this moment. We’re having a blast right now. This is our third American leg - it takes three trips to get around the U.S.! - and we’re happy to go out with our good friends Uriah Heep, so get there early. We’re great friends and fans of each other. It’s an opportunity to catch two British bands who are still going strong. We’re just thrilled and happy to be seeing all of fans again. People fly in from all over the world.
Q: If fans saw you on an earlier leg, what might they expect this time?
A: We’re shaking up the show. We have a new set, new lights, new costumes, everything is new. We’re doing “Out in the Cold,” jamming to “(Take These) Chains.” (We’re exploring) the rich history of hundreds of songs, diving in and out of different albums.
Q: And of course the standards as well?
A: If we didn’t do “Breaking the Law” there would be a riot! If you’re a fan of any band, you want to hear those songs that are part of your life story. There are certain elements of Priest we will never dismiss. We know there will be fans coming to see us for the second or third time, so we’ll be mixing it up. This will be the last time you’ll see Priest this year in America.
Q: It must be crazy to think that “Firepower” is the most successfully charting album of your career, 40-plus years into a career?
A: This is the joy of music. To me, it’s all under the label of rock ‘n’ roll. Great things can happen at any moment for you. What’s really cool is it’s so inspiring; it motivates you. This is a wonderful time given to us from or beautiful fans. We worked hard in the studio to make the best record we could, but the fans really elevated it and it really propels us.
Q: Many of your peers have embarked on retirement tours. How are you feeling about the future?
A: I don’t think we’ll ever say, “This is the end.” If and when it happens, it will be a graceful exit. When you start thinking about (retirement) internally, you start to decompress. Glenn is back in England putting some new songs together right now.
Q: You recently mentioned you’re thinking about an autobiography. True?
A: It is true. I kinda said it half-jokingly, but it will be “Lord of the Rings” volumes because my life has been all over the place. When it is done it will be very deep, very personal. I’ll be sharing some stories that happened to me that the world doesn’t know about it. I’m comfortable in my own skin to share those details. I live an open life when it comes to my music, so if you’re going to do something like this, you have to do it properly. I want it to be the real deal. It’s slowly but surely coming along.
Q: How do you keep your voice in form?
A: That’s smoke and mirrors (laughs)! My workout is on stage. It’s a very physical band. Scott is going bananas on the drums and me and Richie… it’s an hour and a half of very physical effort. I just have a nice cup of tea and go to work!
Q: You sound as if you still really enjoy performing.
A: It’s a joy. For as long as we’ve had Priest, it’s always been about the show. You always say you’re going to see a band not hear a band. From day one we tried to give fans something to remember visually - the bikes, the leather, the whips, the chains, they’re all the embellishments. But first and foremost it’s the music, and if you can wrap it up with these other dimensions, that just gives a kick to what you’re doing. … It’s a thrill, it’s a thrill. We’re having a blast. I tell you what’s great about this - I don’t even think about (age). Age is a number, that’s exactly what it is. It’s all about living your life to the fullest, sharing what you can with people, being grateful. What a privilege it is to be a musician and go around the world and share with our fans.
With Uriah Heep. 7:30 p.m. WednesdayMay 8. $31.25-$146.25. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, foxtheatre.org.
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