Judas Priest Biography

This enduring heavy metal outfit was formed in Birmingham, England, in 1969, by K.K. Downing (Kenneth Downing, 27 October 1951, West Bromwich, Warwickshire, England; guitar) and close friend, Ian Hill (b. 20 January 1951, England; bass). As another hopeful, struggling young rock band, they played their first gig in Essington in 1971 with a line-up completed by Alan Atkins (b. 11 October 1947, West Bromwich, Warwickshire, England; vocals) and John Ellis (drums). The name Judas Priest came from Atkins’ previous band (who took it from a Bob Dylan song, ‘The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest’) before he joined up with Hill and Downing. Constant gigging continued, with Alan Moore taking over on drums, only to be replaced at the end of 1971 by Chris Campbell. Most of 1972 was spent on the road in the UK, and in 1973 both Atkins and Campbell departed, leaving the nucleus of Hill and Downing (in 1991 Atkins released a debut solo album that included ‘Victim Of Changes’, a song he co-wrote in Judas Priest’s infancy). At this point, their fortunes took a turn for the better. Vocalist and ex-theatrical lighting engineer Rob Halford (b. Robert John Arthur Halford, 25 August 1951, Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire, England) and drummer John Hinch, both from the band Hiroshima, joined the unit. More UK shows ensued as their following grew steadily, culminating in the addition of second guitarist Glenn Tipton (b. 25 October 1948, Blackheath, Warwickshire, England; ex-Flying Hat Band).

In 1974 Judas Priest toured abroad for the first time in Germany and the Netherlands, and returned home to a record contract with the small UK label Gull. The band made their vinyl debut with Rocka Rolla in September 1974. Disappointed with the recording, the band failed to make any impact, and Hinch left to be replaced by the returning Alan Moore. In 1975 the band’s appearance at the Reading Festival brought them to the attention of a much wider audience. Sad Wings Of Destiny was an improvement on the debut, with production assistance from Jeffrey Calvert and Max West. However, despite good reviews, their financial situation remained desperate, and Alan Moore left for the second and final time. A worldwide recording contract with CBS Records saved the day, and Sin After Sin was a strong collection, with Simon Philips (b. 6 February 1957, London, England) sitting in for Moore. The band then visited America for the first time with drummer Les Binks (b. James Leslie Binks, 5 April 1948, Wolverhampton, Warwickshire, England), who appeared on Stained Class, an album that showed Priest at a high watermark in their powers. Killing Machine yielded the first UK hit single, ‘Take On The World’, and featured shorter, punchier, but still familiar, rock songs. The formidable Unleashed In The East was recorded on the 1979 Japanese tour, and in that year Dave Holland (b. David Holland, 5 April 1948, Northampton, Northamptonshire, England) of Trapeze replaced Binks.

After major tours with both Kiss and AC/DC, Judas Priest’s popularity began to gather momentum. British Steel smashed into the UK Top 5, and included the Top 20 singles ‘Breaking The Law’ and ‘Living After Midnight’. After appearing at the 1980 Donington Festival, they began recording Point Of Entry. It provided the hit single ‘Hot Rockin’, and was followed by sell-out UK and US tours. The period surrounding Screaming For Vengeance was phenomenally successful for the band. The hit single, ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’’, was followed by a lucrative six-month US tour, with the album achieving platinum status in the USA. Defenders Of The Faith offered a similar potent brand of headstrong metal to Screaming For Vengeance. Turbo, however, proved slightly more commercial and was poorly received, Judas Priest’s traditional metal fans reacting with indifference to innovations that included the use of synthesized guitars. Ram It Down saw a return to pure heavy metal by comparison, but now the band’s popularity had begun to wane. Scott Travis (b. 6 September 1961, Norfolk, Virginia, USA; ex-Racer X) replaced Dave Holland for the return to form that was Painkiller. Although no longer universally popular, Judas Priest were still a major live attraction and remained the epitome of heavy metal, with screaming guitars matched by screaming vocalist, and the protagonists clad in studs and black leather.

The band was taken to court in 1990 following the suicide of two fans in December 1985. Both CBS Records and Judas Priest were accused of inciting suicide through the ‘backwards messages’ in their recording of the Spooky Tooth classic, ‘Better By You, Better Than Me’. They were found not guilty in June 1993 after a long court battle, Downing admitting: ‘It will be another 10 years before I can even spell subliminal’. Soon afterwards, Halford became disheartened with the band and decided to quit. He had temporarily fronted an Ozzy Osbourne -less Black Sabbath and recorded ‘Light Comes Out Of The Black’ with Pantera for the Buffy The Vampire Slayer soundtrack, as well as working on his Fight project. He debuted his new band the electronic rock outfit Two in 1996, and later formed the highly successful Halford.

Judas Priest returned to recording with 1997’s Jugulator, featuring new vocalist Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens (b. Timothy Owens, 13 September 1967, Akron, Ohio, USA). Owens had spent several years performing in Judas Priest tribute bands, and was recruited after performing just one song at an audition in London. He spent several years performing Halford’s old role with no little skill and energy, but was rather casually dropped when the Painkiller -era line-up of the band re-formed for a world tour in 2004. This unit then completed a new studio album, Angel Of Retribution.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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