Rock Icons: Rob Halford by Whitfield Crane

Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford
The Metal God (Image credit: Joey Foley\/Getty Images)

The first time I heard Judas Priest I must’ve been 13 or 14 years old. I was living in my mom’s house in Palo Alto, California, which was walking distance from Klaus Eichstadt’s house – we’d end up in Ugly Kid Joe together later on.

Klaus’ sister was a great corrupter of us in many different ways, including rock ‘n’ roll; she’d turn us on to AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and all sorts of great bands. Sometimes their parents would leave us at the house too, so we’d have parties and all the cool kids would cruise over and we’d crank all kinds of metal music. But the band that really touched me was Judas Priest.

I think the first notes I heard must’ve been The Hellion/Electric Eye track from 1983’s Screaming for Vengeance album, and I was like ‘Oh my god!’ – if you know that record, you know they were peaking right there. It’s a very special album.

Of course what you do once you’ve found your particular band – whoever that might be – is you go back and listen to all of their albums. So I went back and listened to Rocka Rolla, Sad Wings of Destiny, Sin After Sin and Stained Class. It was a very special moment.

I was into Black Sabbath around this time as well, but Priest were dimensional and they had this layered genius about them. Then they had this singer, Rob Halford, who sung in this incredible, operatic, demonic, gorgeous, angelic way. And he was such a powerful singer.

I talked to the Priest guys later in life, and [Glenn] Tipton [Judas Priest guitarist] said that Priest were tailor made for North America. He said North America really saved the band. I guess they were struggling in the early years at a higher tier, but all the suburban kids in places all over North America – including Palo Alto, California – really ate it up.

I was definitely touched by their music. I’d sit in my room and listen to Rob Halford just crush it. If anyone wants to know what I’m talking about, and you can probably find this on the internet now, go and look up the Judas Priest 1983 show in Memphis, Tennessee. We used to watch that show every day after school. There’s a song they play called Desert Plains and in the middle, there’s a breakdown where Halford screams, ‘Are you high? I will take you higher.’ It’s insane.

I actually really like the early Priest, before they found their metal costumes and all that. They were kind of like thespians back then. Those are some crazy songs too, with crazy vocal constructs; Halford goes from baritone to crazy high notes effortlessly. He’s such a rad dude.

In 1992, Ugly Kid Joe were recording an album with Mark Dodson, who was our dear friend and producer, and Dodson had worked on Sin After Sin and Defenders of the Faith with Priest. That’s why we hired him, because he knew Judas Priest and he knew Rob Halford.

Halford came into the studio one day and sung Goddamn Devil, which is a song off Ugly Kid Joe’s America’s Least Wanted album, and I got to stand there and watch a real singer sing. When you see Rob Halford turn into Rob Halford and sing right in front of you, you realise who the boss is. He’s the fucking boss. He’s going to go down as one of the greatest vocalists of all time. He’s also a survivor, a highly intellectual man, and a great guy that has entertained and inspired us all. He’s the Metal God.

Whitfield Crane was speaking to Matt Stocks. Ugly Kid Joe tour the UK in October.