Judas Priest have been eligible for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for a quarter century, and they appeared on the ballot three times before finally making it in this year as one of the winners of the Musical Excellence Award, but frontman Rob Halford isn’t even remotely bitter that it’s taken this long.
“Third time’s the charm,” he tells Rolling Stone via Zoom, beaming with delight. “We left the launchpad and now we’re headed to the hallowed halls. It’s a great day for Judas Priest and a great day for heavy metal.”
Halford spoke to us about what the honor means to him personally, why he’s willing to reunite with estranged guitarist K.K. Downing on the big night, what metal bands he hopes to see follow them into the Hall, and what the future holds for Judas Priest.
How are you doing this morning?
I’m doing good. My phone has been blowing up. It’s a good thing I had it switched off last night. I was looking at the times. It started to go “ping!” crazy at 6 a.m.
What does this mean to you on a personal level?
It’s a validation, more than anything else, of the importance and the relevance of Judas Priest. Fifty years we’ve been doing this. To have this opportunity as we continue to celebrate our 50th anniversary is just a beautiful thing. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.
It’s definitely a validation of Priest and the importance of heavy metal music. I’ve been championing the need for more heavy metal in the Hall of Fame. You look at the list of people that have been in since the Hall started in 1986: “They’re not metal, they’re not metal, they’re not metal …”
It’s basically Black Sabbath, Metallica, Deep Purple, and now you guys.
That’s it. I guess that’s better than nothing. I’ll tell you what, since you mention those great friends of ours. To be in the company, the prestigious hall of artists, characters, and influencers, all of these wonderful people … it’s the real deal, man. I can’t really describe it in words. I’ve always said that Judas Priest always let the music speak for itself. Words are great. Words are good. Expressions, emotions … but what really matters is sitting in front of your stereo with your headphones on and listening to the music.
I’ll tell you what’s particularly extra sweet is this statement that we’re getting inducted as Musical Excellence. I love that. I didn’t expect that. When you investigate what they mean by that, it’s another great statement about this band and the music we’ve been making for five decades.
The rock-critic establishment didn’t get metal for a long time even though the fans have always loved it. Why do you think that was?
I’ve said forever that metal has always been perceived by the academia of rock & roll … we’re the underdogs. We’re the black sheep of the rock & roll family. That certainly doesn’t appear to be the case now. I think with Priest being put in the Hall and you see the extraordinary list of people that have been inducted, hundreds of people, yes, we matter. We’re important. We have something to say. It’s a reference to the millions and millions and millions of metal fans around the world that adore this kind of music.
You sure got a lot of votes in the fan vote.
I just put a couple of things on social media thanking the fans for that. This would never have happened without them. All of us in the Hall of Fame, our foundation is built on our fan base. Our fans have kept us in that spotlight. Our fans have kept the focus on us. We make the records, we make the tours, but you’re nothing without your fans. You have to acknowledge and respect and send the love back to the fans.
It’s a cool class with Eminem, Carly Simon, Duran Duran, Dolly Parton, Pat Benatar, Lionel Richie, Eurythmics. Are you fans of all these people?
I am. I absolutely am. I say that with truth and honesty. I don’t know their music that deeply, although I’m aware of Lionel Richie’s songs. I’m aware of Eminem. He’s the only rap artist I can really connect to. I’ve always been an advocate of taking the blinkers off for music. You don’t know what you’re missing if you push certain music out of your life as a musician. There could be something there, a source or an inspiration or an idea.
All those people that you said, yes, I know their music. They are so equally well-deserved to be here. And I’m especially pleased for Dolly. I’ve been watching her references since she was first nominated.
It was interesting. At first she was like, “I don’t want that. I’m country.” Then at the very end, she changed her mind and was all for it.
[Laughs] I think, again, if you look at everyone in the Hall, it makes perfect sense to have Dolly Parton in there. I think it’s just this “rock & roll” thing. Should it be called the Music Hall of Fame? I don’t know. It started out with rock & roll, and roll & roll is everything and anything. It’s just a phraseology.
I’m sure you never thought you’d be honored the same night as Dolly Parton and Carly Simon.
This is what I love about the Hall. It really is this kaleidoscope of talent. That, to me, gives the Hall more relevance because of what the foundation is built on. There’s a tremendous amount of pride and power. Talking as an openly gay metalhead, am I the only gay in the village?
I don’t know if you know this great show in the U.K. called Little Britain. [Laughs] It’s a Welsh guy that goes, “Am I the only gay in the village?” Am I the only gay metalhead in the Hall of Fame? How cool is that?
They decided to take in you, Les Binks, K. K. Downing, Ian Hill, Dave Holland, Glenn Tipton, and Scott Travis. Did they make the right calls there?
Absolutely, yes. Absolutely. In terms of ticking the boxes of how long you’ve got to be in, and this, that, and the other, yes. Whoever has been attached and related to Judas Priest has had a role to play. I think the significance of the way they’ve chosen these particular musicians is correct.
A lot of bands play with ex-members at the Hall of Fame. Are you open to performing with K.K. Downing and Les Binks?
Absolutely. As I said before, you’ve got to push aside anything that gets in the way. You’ve got to remove the emotional clutter and just reference this great celebration. Otherwise, if you don’t do that, and you leave the building, a couple of years later you’ll go, “What the hell? Why didn’t we do that?” It’s a few hours, but those few hours last forever.
We’ve seen it time and time again with the Rock Hall. “She’s coming, he’s not coming, why isn’t he coming? He said this, and he said that.” All this drama. The music matters. It’s all about the music. It’s all about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction.
They’ve had miracles take place on that stage. Led Zeppelin, Cream, Talking Heads, and all sorts of other bands came back together just for that one night.
That shows the clout of the Hall, the way it brings people together. You can’t ignore that. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?
There tends to be a big all-star jam at the end of the night. Are you able to imagine a scenario where Judas Priest is playing alongside Pat Benatar and Duran Duran and Carly Simon and Dolly Parton?
I was onstage last weekend with Larry the Cable Guy! [Laughs] It was at Alice Cooper’s blast for his great institution the Solid Rock Foundation. If I could stand alongside my buddy Larry and sing “roll, baby, roll” [from the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”], I can certainly stand next to Dolly Parton on my left and Lionel Richie on my right.
How do you think you’ll feel when you stand at the podium that night and accept the honor?
I’ll be full or pride and emotion. I’ll be thinking of all of the important people instead of going, “Me, me, me.” Each of us will process the event the way we process it. But just trying to think ahead, it’s happened. It’s real. It’s here. You look around the room and you see all the other extraordinary talent in front of you, there’s this immense feeling of pride that we’re still here. We’re still working. We still have something to say.
It just reaches out to all the other important parts of who you are as a person, your family, your mom and daddy in heaven. All of the other important people that have been somewhere alongside you in your life. Everybody plays a microcosm part of who you are and where you got to. You can never make life’s journey by yourself. It’s impossible. There are people with you every step of the way. I think I’ll be reflecting on all that as we go through the night together.
What other metal bands do you hope to see get into the Hall of Fame in the future? The Iron Maiden fans are quite crazed about them not getting in yet.
That would be my first shout-out. Motörhead deserve to be in, even posthumously. Are Scorpions in?
Well, Scorpions … and I don’t want to get into the differences between metal and hard rock. As far as I feel, it’s who deserves. And I’d have to have a think on others.
You just finished a big tour a few weeks back. How did it go?
It went great. We were able to reschedule the dates when [guitarist] Richie [Faulkner] was going through his ordeal. [Note: Faulkner underwent emergency heart surgery in 2021 after suffering a rupture of his aorta while the band was playing a show in Kentucky.] It’s an absolute miracle God kept him with us. There’s no doubt about that.
We were able to make up all those dates, which was great. I got Covid near the end of the tour. Meh! Fortunately, we had two or three days off and I was able to recuperate and get negative tests. That was a bonus. And this weekend I’m going over to the U.K. to start preparing for the European run. There’s a lot of festivals. Then we’re coming over here to do another run in the States to wrap up the year. What a great year it’s been. We’re all blessed and we’re all grateful.
What else do you hope to accomplish now that you’re finally in the Hall of Fame?
The music drives you. We’re making another record. We started tracking. This last tour was probably the only one we ever did where we weren’t supporting new music. Pretty much every other tour we’ve done since [our 1976 LP] Sad Winds of Destiny has been to reinforce, “This is the music we’re making now.” That’s what’s next. There really is no end in sight.
What I love about Priest still is this genuine hunger and desire and love of making metal and writing songs. That’s never diminished. That’s never been a chore. That’s never been an obligation. That’s never felt like, “Oh, the label has called for this.” We absolutely thrive on seeking out new metal that we’re hoping to forge in the big metal factory.
This is almost my 71st trip around the sun. I’ve got my health. I’ve got my band. I’ve got my fans. I’ve got my metal. That’s it for me. I’m just relishing every single moment and opportunity that life is providing.