Judas Priest’s 50 Years of Firepower

Next year will mark 50 years since the first lineup of legendary heavy metal band Judas Priest debuted. Even more impressive is that the band remains as heavy and ferocious as ever—their eighteenth studio album, Firepower, proves it. But the tour in support of the album will be the band’s first without guitarist Glenn Tipton due to his recently revealed battle with Parkinson’s disease. (The album’s co-producer, Andy Sneap, will step in for him on stage.) Priest’s other guitarist, Richie Faulkner, spoke about Tipton and the band’s legacy before they rock Nassau Coliseum on March 17.

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Firepower is your second studio album with Priest. How is it similar or different to Redeemer of Souls?
From the side of creating the songs, it was the same kind of vibe. We’d go our separate ways, and then we’d put down ideas in our spare time at home. Then me, Rob and Glenn would get together to put those ideas together and embellish them…It was an extension also of the relationships built over the last seven years, creatively and personally. The trust grows, the respect grows and it frees you up creatively.

What was different was that we set out to say, “What can we do differently this time around? How can we make a better record? How can we write better songs?” We got two producers in—Tom Allom and Andy Sneap—and they wanted us to play live. They wanted us to rehearse these songs that we had, refine the songs and get that live energy going that you can only get by playing in a room together. Through that, you get the spontaneity, the natural push and pull of the music. And you capture that energy in the recording, which was fundamental in getting that ferocity and vibe that comes through on Firepower.

The announcement of Glenn’s health came as a surprise.
Glenn has been fighting it for years and we have all been aware. Glenn is a very private guy and he kept it to himself; he didn’t go public with it. But it got to the point where we were in rehearsals, and in true Glenn Tipton fashion, he’s fighting to the last minute. He’s pushing, he’s trying because he wants to give a 1000 percent to the fans. And in the end, he just had to hold his hands up and say that he wasn’t able to tour. But Glenn is by no means leaving Judas Priest. He is still in Priest, he is still involved in Priest and he is still going to be involved in creative decisions and creating new music. And he will be coming out as and when he is able to do various appearances with us. That will be great.

Has there been any discussion if the band can continue beyond this album and tour without Glenn performing with the band?
There has been no discussion yet. I think the focus is dealing with the challenges that we’ve got at the moment, and getting out on the road with the Firepower record. And doing what we do best: playing live for our fans around the world. Anything beyond that is a discussion that still needs to take place. The focus is very much on now, the tour and the record.

Was there any discussion of possibly K.K. Downing [a Priest member from 1969-2011] joining the band again?
As far as I’m aware, he left the band. He didn’t want to be a part of the band, and as far as I’m aware, I don’t know if the band thought that he’d want to come back. He gave his priorities to other things and that’s fair enough. Glenn wanted Andy to step in and cover his live stuff and that’s what we’re doing. The great thing about Andy is he doesn’t want to be seen as “the new guy in Judas Priest.” He’s there covering Glenn. I think that’s a noble attitude for someone to have and I think that’s when you know you’ve got the right guy to fill in.

Recently, Priest was one of the nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but missed getting in.
I’ve got split views on this. First of all, I am not eligible to be included in the Hall of Fame; you have to have a 25-year history [Richie joined in 2011]. To be putting out music like this—after 50 years—to a fanbase that is so loyal is affirmation enough. I don’t think a band like Priest needs any award or any ceremony. The proof is in the pudding; the proof is in the fans; the proof is in the music; and the proof is in the band forging forward after 50 years. That is the only accolade anyone can ever wish for.

What can fans expect at the upcoming Nassau Coliseum show?
It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be proud, it’s going to be Rob Halford on a Harley. There are going to be new songs, classic songs, some deep cuts and it’s going to be a celebration of what we call “the Priest family.”

greg prato

greg prato

Greg Prato has lived almost his entire life on Long Island. He has written for Rolling Stone, and has penned many a book on either rock n’ roll or sports. See what he’s up to on Twitter @gregpratowriter.