Judas Priest formed in 1969 in industrial West Bromwich, in the Black Country, by vocalist Al Atkins and bassist Brian "Bruno" Stapenhill, with John Perry on guitar and John "Fezza" Partridge on drums. Perry soon died in a road accident, and amongst the replacements the band auditioned were future Judas Priest guitarist Kenny "K. K." Downing; at the time, they turned him down in favour of 17-year-old multi-instrumentalist Ernest Chataway, who had played with Birmingham band Black Sabbath when they were still called Earth. Stapenhill came up with the name Judas Priest from Bob Dylan's song "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" on the album John Wesley Harding. No member of that early line-up lasted long enough to play on the band's recordings, though several songs co-written by Atkins appeared on their first two albums.
The band gained a three-album recording contract with the label Immediate in late 1969 after a gig in Walsall,[a] but the label went out of business before an album could be recorded, and the band split in 1970. Late in the year, Atkins found a heavy rock band rehearsing without a singer called Freight, made up of K. K. Downing on guitar, his childhood friend Ian "Skull" Hill on bass, and drummer John Ellis. He joined them, and they took on Atkins' defunct band's name. Their first gig was on 6 March 1971. Ellis quit later that year and was replaced with Alan Moore. Early shows included Hendrix and Quatermass covers, and in 1972 the set list included the originals "Never Satisfied", "Winter", and the show-closer "Caviar and Meths".
Moore left and was replaced with Christopher Louis "Congo" Campbell, and the band joined Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi's management agency Iommi Management Agency.[b] Atkins continued to write material for the band—including "Whiskey Woman", which became the base for the Judas Priest staple "Victim of Changes"—but as finances were tight and he had a family to support, he played his last gigs with the band in December 1972. Campbell left soon afterwards, and the band enlisted two members of the band Hiroshima: drummer John Hinch and vocalist Rob Halford, the brother of Hill's girlfriend.[c] Judas Priest made their first tour of continental Europe in early 1974 and returned to England that April to sign a recording deal with the label Gull. Gull suggested adding a fifth member to fill in the band's sound; they took on as a second lead guitarist Glenn Tipton, whose group The Flying Hat Band were also managed by Iommi's agency.
Rocka Rolla (1974–1975)
Judas Priest went into the studio in June–July 1974 with Black Sabbath producer Rodger Bain. The band released their debut single "Rocka Rolla" that August and followed in September with an album of the same name. The album features a variety of styles—straight-up rock, heavy riffing, and progressive.
Technical problems during the recording contributed to the poor sound quality of the record. Producer Rodger Bain, whose resume included Black Sabbath's first three albums as well as Budgie's first album, dominated the production of the album and made decisions with which the band did not agree. Bain also chose to leave fan favourites from the band's live set, such as "Tyrant", "Genocide" and "The Ripper", off the album and he cut the song "Caviar and Meths" from a 10-minute song down to a 2-minute instrumental.
The tour for Rocka Rolla was Judas Priest's first international tour with dates in Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark including one show at Hotel Klubben in Tønsberg, one hour from Oslo, Norway, which scored them a somewhat negative review in the local press. The album flopped upon release, leaving Priest in dire financial straits. Priest attempted to secure a deal with Gull Records to get a monthly pay of 50 pounds, however, because Gull Records were struggling as well, they declined. Rocka Rolla (1974) has been for the most part dismissed by the band and none of its songs were played live after 1976 except for "Never Satisfied", which was revived during the Epitaph Tour in 2011.
Sad Wings of Destiny (1975–1977)
The band performed "Rocka Rolla" on BBC Two's The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975, as well as the "Dreamer Deceiver"–"Deceiver" pair the year before the songs appeared on Sad Wings of Destiny. Hinch left the band for reasons that are disputed and was replaced with Alan Moore, who returned to the band in October 1975. Finances were tight: band members restricted themselves to one meal a day—and several took on part-time work—while they recorded their follow-up album on a budget of £2000. The group intended to make an album mixing straight-ahead rock with a progressive edge.
The band recorded Sad Wings of Destiny over two weeks in November and December 1975 at Rockfield Studios in Wales. The band stayed sober during the 12-hour recording sessions. The cover depicts a struggling, grounded angel surrounded by flames and wearing a devil's three-pronged cross, which became the band's symbol. The album was released in March 1976, with "The Ripper" as lead single. The band supported the album with a headlining tour of the UK from April to June 1976. By this time Halford joked that fans should burn their copies of Rocka Rolla.
The album had little commercial success at first and had difficulty getting noticed due to critical competition from the rise of punk rock, though it peaked at No. 48 in the UK and had a positive review in Rolling Stone. Fans, critics, and the band have since come to see Sad Wings of Destiny as the album on which Judas Priest consolidated their sound and image. It features heavy riffing and complex song arrangements that Tipton and Downing have said were inspired by the factories of The Black Country. The album's centrepiece "Victim of Changes" evolved from a combination of Atkins' "Whiskey Woman" and Halford's "Red Light Woman", and went on to become a fan favourite.
The band grew dissatisfied with Gull; the tight finances led Moore to leave the band a second time—this time permanently. Sad Wings of Destiny caught the attention of CBS Records, and with the help of new manager David Hemmings, the band signed with CBS and received a £000 budget for their next album. The signing required breaking their contract with Gull, resulting in the rights to the first two albums and all related recordings—including demos—becoming property of Gull. 60 Gull periodically repackaged and re-released the material from these albums.
Major label debut (1977–1979)
Judas Priest recorded their major-label début in January 1977 at The Who's Ramport Studios, with Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover as producer. Moore left again during the sessions and was replaced with session drummer Simon Phillips. The album features significant developments in heavy metal technique, in particular its use of double-kick drumming on tracks such as "Dissident Aggressor", and includes a pop-metal cover of "Diamonds & Rust" by folk singer Joan Baez.
Sin After Sin appeared in April 1977. It was the first Priest record under a major label, CBS, and the first of eleven consecutive albums to be certified Gold or higher by the RIAA. Phillips declined to become a permanent member of Judas Priest, so the band hired Les Binks on Glover's recommendation. Together, they recorded 1978's Stained Class, produced by Dennis MacKay, and Killing Machine (released in America as Hell Bent for Leather). Binks, credited with co-writing "Beyond the Realms of Death", now regarded as one of the band's classics, was an accomplished and technically skilled drummer and his addition added a dexterous edge to the band's sound. Binks also played on Unleashed in the East (1979), which was recorded live in Japan during the Killing Machine tour. While the first three Judas Priest albums had considerable traces of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple in them, as well as ballads, Stained Class did not contain any ballads aside from "Beyond the Realms of Death". Killing Machine was the first nod to a more commercial sound, with simpler songs that brought back some blues influences. At about the same time, the band members adopted their now-famous "leather-and-studs" image.
Mainstream success years (1979–1991)
Following the release of Killing Machine (1978) was the live release from the supporting tour, Unleashed in the East (1979). It was the first of many Judas Priest albums to go platinum. There was some criticism of the band's use of studio enhancements and overdubbing in what was marketed as a live album. By this point the playing style of the band had grown progressively heavier, with live versions of songs such as "Exciter" and "Diamonds and Rust" sounding much heavier and faster than their studio counterparts.
Les Binks quit in late 1979, as he was unhappy with the band's desire to move towards a simplified radio rock sound, so they replaced him with Dave Holland, formerly of the band Trapeze. With this line-up, Judas Priest recorded six studio and one live album, which garnered different degrees of critical and financial success.
In 1980, the band released British Steel. The songs were shorter and had more mainstream radio hooks, but retained the familiar heavy metal feel. Tracks such as "United", "Breaking the Law", and "Living After Midnight" were frequently played on the radio. The next release, 1981's Point of Entry, followed the same formula, and the tour in support of the album featured new songs such as "Solar Angels" and "Heading Out to the Highway".
The 1982 album Screaming for Vengeance featured "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", which became a major radio hit in the US. Songs such as "Electric Eye" and "Riding on the Wind" also appeared on this album, and proved to be popular live. "(Take These) Chains" (by Bob Halligan, Jr) was released as a single and received heavy airplay. This album went Double Platinum.
On Sunday, 29 May 1983, the band played on Heavy Metal Day of the US Festival, a music festival in San Bernardino, California sponsored by Steve Wozniak. The band was fourth in the line-up that also included Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Triumph, Scorpions, and Van Halen.
Downing and Tipton performing in San Sebastián
, Spain, during their Metal Conqueror Tour of 1984
Priest continued their success through the mid-1980s. "Freewheel Burning", released in 1983, was a regular on rock radio. Its album Defenders of the Faith was released the following year. Some critics dubbed it "Screaming for Vengeance II", due to its musical similarity to the previous album.
On 13 July 1985, Judas Priest, along with Black Sabbath and other performers, played at Live Aid. The band played at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Their setlist was "Living After Midnight", "The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)" and "(You've Got) Another Thing Comin'".
Turbo was released in April 1986. The band adopted a more colourful stage look and gave their music a more mainstream feel by adding guitar synthesisers. The album also went Platinum and had a successful arena tour in support, with 100 concerts in North America, Europe and Japan in 1986. A live album recorded on the tour, titled Priest...Live!, was released the next year, offering live tracks from the era. The video documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot was created by Jeff Krulik and John Heyn in 1986. It documents the heavy metal fans waiting on 31 May 1986 for a Judas Priest concert (with special guests Dokken) at the Capital Center (later renamed US Airways Arena) in Landover, Maryland.
Rob Halford in 1988. One of Priest's trademark stage stunts was to have Halford ride a motorbike on stage.
In May 1988, Ram It Down was released, featuring several reworked songs left over from Turbo, in addition to new songs. The band recorded three tracks with pop producers Stock-Aitken-Waterman: two originals, "Runaround" and "I Will Return", and a cover of The Stylistics' hit "You Are Everything"; however, they were ultimately not included on this album due to a management decision. A reviewer has called Ram It Down a "stylistic evolution" that resulted from the band's "attempt to rid themselves of the tech synthesiser approach ... and return to the traditional metal of their fading glory days". The reviewer argued the album showed "how far behind they were lagging ... the thrashers they helped influence" in earlier years. In 1989, longtime drummer Dave Holland left the band.
In September 1990, the Painkiller album used a new drummer, Scott Travis (formerly from Racer X), who gave the band an edgier sound thanks to his heavy use of double pedals and blast beats. This comeback album also dropped the 1980s-style synthesisers for all songs except "A Touch of Evil". The tour used bands such as Annihilator, Megadeth, Pantera, Sepultura and Testament as opening bands, and culminated in the Rock in Rio performance in Brazil in front of 100,000+ fans.
Part of the Judas Priest stage show often featured Halford riding onstage on a Harley-Davidson motorbike, dressed in motorcycle leathers and sunglasses. In a Toronto show in August 1991, Halford was seriously injured as he rode on stage, when he collided with a drum riser hidden behind clouds of dry ice mist. Though the show was delayed, he performed the set before going to a hospital. Hill later noted "he must have been in agony". In a 2007 interview, Rob claimed the accident had nothing to do with his departure from the band.
Subliminal message trial
In 1990, the band was involved in a civil action that alleged they were responsible for the self-inflicted gunshot wounds in 1985 of 20-year-old James Vance and 18-year-old Raymond Belknap in Sparks, Nevada, USA. On 23 December 1985, Vance and Belknap, after hours of drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana and allegedly listening to Judas Priest, went to a playground at a church in Sparks with a 12-gauge shotgun to end their lives. Belknap was the first to place the shotgun under his chin. He died instantly after pulling the trigger. Vance then shot himself but survived, suffering severe facial injuries. Following numerous complications, Vance too died in 1988, three years after the suicide pact.
The men's parents and their legal team alleged that a subliminal message of "do it" had been included in the Judas Priest song "Better by You, Better than Me" (a cover of the Spooky Tooth number) from Stained Class (1978). They alleged the command in the song triggered the suicide attempt. The trial lasted from 16 July to 24 August 1990, when the suit was dismissed after the judge ruled that the so-called "do it" message was a result of an accidental mixup of background lyrics. One of the defence witnesses, Dr. Timothy E. Moore, wrote an article for Skeptical Inquirer chronicling the trial. The trial was covered in the 1991 documentary Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance Vs. Judas Priest.
Comedian Bill Hicks ridiculed the lawsuit as part of his act, pointing out the absurdity of the notion that a successful band would wish to kill off their purchasing fanbase.
Ripper years (1991–2003)
After the Painkiller Tour in 1991, Halford left Judas Priest. In September 1991, there were indications of internal tensions within the band. Halford went on to form a street-style thrash metal group named Fight, with Scott Travis on drums for the recording sessions. He formed this band to explore new musical territory, but due to contractual obligations, he remained with Judas Priest until May 1992.
Halford collaborated with Judas Priest in the release of a compilation album entitled Metal Works '73–'93 to commemorate their 20th anniversary. He also appeared in a video by the same title, documenting their history, in which his departure from the band was officially announced later that year.
In a February 1998 interview on MTV, Halford came out as gay.
Tim "Ripper" Owens, who had previously sung in a Judas Priest tribute band called British Steel, was hired in 1996 as Judas Priest's new singer. This line-up released two albums, Jugulator (1997) and Demolition (2001), as well as two live double-albums – '98 Live Meltdown and Live in London (2003), the latter of which had a live DVD counterpart. Although Jugulator sold relatively well, it was given mixed reviews.
Reunion and Angel of Retribution (2003–2006)
The reunited Judas Priest performing in 2005
After eleven years apart, faced with an ever-growing demand for a reunion, Judas Priest and Rob Halford announced they would reunite in July 2003, to coincide with the release of the Metalogy box set (despite Halford's earlier insistence that he "would never do it"). They did a concert tour in Europe in 2004, and co-headlined the 2004 Ozzfest, being named as the "premier act" by almost all US media coverage of the event. Judas Priest and "Ripper" Owens parted amicably, with Owens joining American heavy metal band Iced Earth.
A new studio album, Angel of Retribution, was released on 1 March 2005 (US) on Sony Music/Epic Records to critical and commercial success, earning the band a 2005 Metal Hammer Golden Gods Award for Best Album. A global tour in support of the album ensued. As for the band Halford, writing for the fourth release was cut off. After the Retribution tour in June 2006, however, Halford announced he would create his own record company, Metal God Entertainment, where he would release all his solo material under his own control. In November 2006 he remastered his back catalogue and released it exclusively through Apple's iTunes Store. Two new songs allegedly set for the fourth release, "Forgotten Generation" and "Drop Out", were released through iTunes as well.
Along with Queen, Kiss and Def Leppard, Judas Priest was an inaugural inductee into the "VH1 Rock Honors". The ceremony took place 25 May 2006 in Las Vegas, Nevada, and first aired on 31 May. Their presentation was preceded by Godsmack performing a medley of "Electric Eye"/"Victim of Changes"/"Hell Bent for Leather." Judas Priest then played "Breaking the Law", "The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)" and "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", before which Halford rode a Harley onstage.
In a June 2006 interview with MTV.com, Halford said of the group's concept album about the 16th-century French writer Nostradamus, "Nostradamus is all about metal, isn't he? He was an alchemist as well as a seer – a person of extraordinary talent. He had an amazing life that was full of trial and tribulation and joy and sorrow. He's a very human character and a world-famous individual. You can take his name and translate it into any language and everybody knows about him, and that's important because we're dealing with a worldwide audience." In addition to digging new lyrical ground for the band, the album would contain musical elements which might surprise fans. "It's going to have a lot of depth", Halford said. "There'll be a lot of symphonic elements. We might orchestrate it, without it being overblown. There may be a massive choir at parts and keyboards will be featured more prominently, whereas they've always been in the background before." The album Nostradamus was released in June 2008; the band began a support tour in that same month.
In early February 2009, the band joined the ranks of bands speaking out against ticket-touting ("scalping"), issuing a statement condemning the practice of selling tickets at well above face value, and urging fans to buy tickets only from official sources. In the same month, Judas Priest continued their tour, bringing their "Priest Feast" (with guests Megadeth and Testament) to multiple arenas in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland in February and March 2009. From there the tour progressed to multiple venues in Sweden. Later in March, Judas Priest performed in Portugal (at Lisbon on the Atlantic Pavilion), which they had not visited since 2005. The tour then continued to Milan, Italy, and then Paris, France; Halford had last performed with Judas Priest in Paris in 1991.
From June through August 2009, Judas Priest completed a North American tour to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the release of British Steel (1980); the album was performed in its entirety on each tour date, with some other songs thrown in. This tour was to be a joint effort with fellow Englishman David Coverdale and Whitesnake. Unfortunately, Whitesnake would have to leave the tour after the show in Denver, Colorado on 11 August 2009 due to Coverdale falling ill with a serious throat infection; he was advised to stop singing immediately to avoid permanently damaging his vocal cords.
On 14 July 2009, Judas Priest released a new live album, featuring 11 previously unreleased live tracks from the 2005 and 2008 world tours, A Touch of Evil: Live. The performance of "Dissident Aggressor" won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance.
In May 2010, Halford said the band had been offered a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but "we've just never been there when they wanted to do the ceremony." He also revealed that a Nostradamus tour was still being contemplated: "We were in Hollywood recently and met with some producers and agents, so there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes."
Downing's retirement and Epitaph World Tour (2010–2011)
Judas Priest announced on 7 December 2010, that their Epitaph World Tour would be the band's farewell tour and would run up until 2012. In a January 2011 interview, Rob Halford said about the band's impending retirement: "I think it's time, you know. We're not the first band to say farewell, it's just the way everyone comes to at some point and we're gonna say a few more things early next year, so I think the main thing that we just want to ask everybody to consider is don't be sad about this, start celebrating and rejoicing over all the great things we've done in Judas Priest."
Judas Priest performing at the Sauna Open Air in 2011
On 27 January 2011, it was announced that Judas Priest was in the process of writing new material; the band also clarified their plans for the future, saying, "this is by no means the end of the band. In fact, we are presently writing new material, but we do intend this to be the last major world tour." Speaking at a press conference in Los Angeles on 26 May of the new material Glenn Tipton said: "It's quite a mixed bag. Really, there's more sentiment on this album. In a way, I suppose, it's also our farewell album, although it might not be our last one. There are some anthems on there, which pay tribute to our fans".
On 20 April 2011, it was announced that K. K. Downing had retired from the band and would not complete the Epitaph World Tour. Downing cited differences with the band and the management, and a breakdown in their relationship. Richie Faulkner, guitarist for Lauren Harris's band, was announced as his replacement for the Epitaph World Tour. Downing's retirement leaves bassist Ian Hill as the only remaining founder member of the band.
On 25 May 2011, Judas Priest played during the finale of American Idol season 10 with James Durbin, making it their first live performance without K.K. Downing. The band played a mixture of two songs: "Living After Midnight" and "Breaking the Law".
On 7 June 2011, the band announced that it planned to release the box set Single Cuts, a collection of singles, the following August.
Redeemer of Souls (2011–2015)
In an August 2011 interview with Billboard, Halford explained that he and Tipton had "about 12 or 14 tracks completely mapped out" for a new studio album, with four of those tracks already recorded and mixed. The band made a point to take its time with the album, with Halford explaining "I'm of the attitude it'll be ready when it's ready ... I don't think we're going to slack off. We're determined to do a lot of work and be just as dedicated as we've always been and take a lot of care and attention with all the songs. We're not going to just bang this one out, so to speak."
On 13 September 2011, Priest announced its plans to release a new compilation album, The Chosen Few, a set of Priest songs chosen by other iconic heavy metal musicians.
On 5 June 2013, Rob Halford confirmed that the Epitaph World Tour would not be the band's final tour. On 22 December, Judas Priest released a short Christmas message on their official website, which confirmed that they would be releasing their next album in 2014.
On 17 March 2014 at the Ronnie James Dio Awards in Los Angeles, Rob Halford announced that the band's 17th studio album was finished. On 28 April, the band released the album's title track "Redeemer of Souls" for streaming on their official website. On 14 May 2014, the band's original guitarist Ernie Chataway died at the age of 62 from cancer, as reported by vocalist Al Atkins. Redeemer of Souls was released on 8 July 2014. It sold around 32,000 copies in the United States in its first week of release to land at position No. 6 on The Billboard 200 chart, the band's highest charting position in the US after the double-disc concept album, Nostradamus, debuted at No. 11. This was the band's first top 10 album in the US. The band went on tour in support of the album which ran from 1 October 2014 until 17 December 2015. The Redeemer of Souls Tour led to the sixth live album Battle Cry, which was released on 25 March 2016 after being recorded at the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany on 1 August 2015.
Firepower and Tipton's retirement from touring (2015–present)
Judas Priest at The Warfield Theater in San Francisco on the Firepower tour, 19 April 2018. Photo: Aaron Rubin
Richie Faulkner of Judas Priest at The Warfield Theater in San Francisco. Photo: Aaron Rubin
In a November 2015 interview with Reverb.com, Richie Faulkner said that the band would start work on a new album in 2016. In April 2016, Loudwire posted a photo showing Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton and Faulkner himself in the studio beginning the process of the album, with Halford confirming in a radio interview that it would be ready by early 2017. During an interview at the 2016 edition of the Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp, Halford expressed dissatisfaction on making an album similar to Redeemer of Souls. Faulkner then stated that the band would begin recording in January 2017 and also said that they would not go on tour until 2018.
In March 2017, the band entered the studio to begin the recording process, with support from long time producer Tom Allom, along with former Sabbat guitarist and producer Andy Sneap and engineer Mike Exeter, who worked with the band on the previous album. This marked the first time since 1988's Ram It Down that they had worked with Allom. In an April 2017 interview with Planet Rock, Halford said that the band was "coming to some of the final moments" of completion of the new album. He also promised "a very exciting 2018 period" with a world tour taking place in 2018. In a post on Instagram in June 2017, Sneap said that the band completed tracking.
In October 2017, Judas Priest, along with 18 other artists, were nominated for induction in the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but lost to Bon Jovi. They later announced their eighteenth album Firepower, which was released on 9 March 2018, with a world tour taking place thereafter, beginning in North America with Saxon and Black Star Riders as their support acts. The cover artwork was then unveiled along with a 15-second audio sample of the title track.
On 12 February 2018, Glenn Tipton revealed that he had Parkinson's disease, with which he was first diagnosed in 2008, and would step down from touring. According to the band, the disease's progression left him unable to play the more challenging material. Tipton stated that he was still a member of the band despite his diagnosis and did not rule out future on-stage appearances. Sneap was then announced as his replacement for the tour. Faulkner later assured fans that Tipton would perform with the band "at some point in the tour." At the 20 March 2018 show in Newark, New Jersey, Tipton joined the band on stage to perform "Metal Gods", "Breaking the Law" and "Living After Midnight". He would continue to perform variously on tour as his health allowed.
In April 2018, Judas Priest were announced as co-headliners with Deep Purple as they would tour North America in the fall of 2018. In September 2018, the band were announced as special guests for Ozzy Osbourne's final world tour as they would tour Europe for early 2019.