Rolling Stone’s interview series King for a Day features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and singers who had the difficult job of fronting major rock bands after the departure of an iconic vocalist. Some of them stayed in their bands for years, while others lasted just a few months. In the end, however, they all found out that replacement singers can themselves be replaced. This edition features former Judas Priest singer Tim “Ripper” Owens.
When the Mark Wahlberg/Jennifer Aniston movie Rock Star hit theaters in the fall of 2001, the filmmakers said that it was loosely based on the life of Judas Priest singer Tim “Ripper” Owens. The key word in that sentence is “loosely.” Both Owens and Wahlberg’s character Chris “Izzy” Cole did make the miraculous leap from the lead singer of a tribute band to the frontman of the actual group they were imitating, but the similarities basically end there.
In Rock Star, Cole joined the fictional metal band Steel Dragon in the middle of an arena tour and faced minimal resistance from fans. In real life, many Judas Priest fans were despondent over the absence of original singer Rob Halford, and the band had to downscale from arenas to clubs. The two albums they recorded with Owens (1997’s Jugulator and 2001’s Demolition) sold poorly, and he was ultimately pushed out to clear the way for the return of Halford.
But Owens earned a loyal following during his time in Priest, and those fans have stayed with him throughout his time with Iced Earth, Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force, Charred Walls of the Damned, the Three Tremors, and his many solo projects. More recently, he’s brought his career full circle by reuniting with former Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing in his new group K.K.’s Priest.
We called up Owens at his home in Green, Ohio to talk about his early life, his tenure in Judas Priest, how it all ended, his life in the aftermath, his exclusion from Priest’s upcoming Hall of Fame induction, and what the future holds for K.K.’s Priest.
What’s your earliest memory of hearing music that really left a mark on you?
It was probably my dad’s rock and roll records when I was a little kid. It was Elvis and Dion and the Belmonts. He had the vinyls of Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash. I was always like, “Man, this stuff is great.”
When did you start singing?
I was a big choir singer at school and at music class. I started very young. My first music teacher, Mrs. Thompson, was really funny. I still talk to her on Facebook. She called my parents in first or second grade and said, “I just want to tell you that I started playing something on the piano, and Tim walked over and plucked out a couple of the notes. I thought that was pretty amazing.”
I loved choir and music classes at that age. At sixth grade, I used to get in front of the class every Friday and sing a song. People remind me of this all the time. The music teacher would learn a song and I’d get in front of the class and sing it.
When did you discover hard rock and heavy metal?
Well, Kiss was definitely the start. Again, my dad was listening to Aerosmith and even Bachmann Turner Overdrive. And then I got into REO Speedwagon’s High Infidelity record and my brother got Judas Priest’ Screaming For Vengeance. I thought, “Wow, look at those guys. They look crazy.” Then I listened to “Electric Eye,” the first song, and that was it. This is probably 1983. That’s when I became a metal fanatic.
This is when Quiet Riot was happening and a lot of the hair metal bands. Were you into that stuff, or were you more into the earlier, classic stuff?
I was into all that stuff, Quiet Riot and Twisted Sister. I started leaning towards even heavier bands like Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Testament, Death Angel. I didn’t get into the stuff where they started dressing up like women and were putting out love ballads. I wasn’t into that as much. Now that I’m older, I like it more. But at that time, you had all those bands like Krokus and Helix and Lizzy Borden. It was a fun time.
Those are some band names I haven’t heard in a while.
That’s what was big then. My kids or even my girlfriend haven’t heard of half the bands I talk about. They have their own music now. You have to figure, this was 40 years ago almost. Forty years from now, when they tell their kids about the music they listen to, they’ll be like, “What?”
The funny thing about hard rock from that time is that even though it went through some hard times in the Nineties, they’re all still around. They all still tour. That’s the difference between them and a lot of one-hit wonders or bands that have a little success. It’s hard for them to keep going when they get older. But with hard rock, it’s different.
When did you discover that you could sing like that?
What’s funny is that I could sing the Rob Halford stuff in the Eighties when I first heard it and realized I had high notes, but I couldn’t sing much of anything else. Voices like Maiden and Dio and Anthrax, I couldn’t sing those songs. They had higher natural voices.
The first two bands I tried out for after finishing high school, I didn’t make them. They were like, “You’re no good. You can’t do it.” It’s really because every song I sang, I sang like Brian Johnson in AC/DC. If I was singing Scorpions, I sounded like Brian Johnson. These were cover bands, so you have to sound like the singer. But if I was singing AC/DC or Judas Priest, I could do it.
I had to train myself to widen my range of vocal abilities and get a higher, natural high voice. Then I realized early on I could sing just about anything. My vocal range goes from really heavy Slayer or early Metallica or Pantera, and I could sing something mellow. It was kind of uncanny.
How much of that is hard work and how much is natural talent, do you think?
The whole start of it was definitely natural talent. Listen, I wish I was talented as a brain surgeon or professional golfer. Unfortunately, I had to be talented as a singer. [Laughs.]
If you have natural talent, you have to run with it. We all know naturally talented people, whether it’s writing or whatever, that screw something up along the way and don’t take it seriously. I took it seriously and always tried to get better. I still do.
Along the way, I got better by listening to Chris Cornell and what he did. I always tried to get better, but without a doubt, it was natural talent that started it.
I gave vocal lessons to a kid once. I gave him a couple of vocal exercises and some tips. And then I said, “Now go home and listen to ‘Outshined’ by Soundgarden.” He wanted to sing high notes. I said, “If you can’t sing that song in a week, then it’s not your style. You can’t do it. You can’t suddenly hit high notes if you have no high notes.”
Tell me about your early brand Brainicide and how you grew as a singer during that time?
That was a really awesome time. We started out as a band called Damage Incorporated. We did covers and then we said, “We have to get original.” We named it Brainicide. It became heavy with these jazzy parts filled in. It was like Slayer meets Anthrax meets some sort of jazz band. And I sang normal. I didn’t sing heavy.
It was great. I’m still friends with all the guys. It was a great band. Back then, you couldn’t make the recording very good. We went into the studio and I have it on cassette tape. I really wish we had the technology we do nowadays. Then guitar player was K.K. Downing’s guitar tech the whole time I was in the band. And now he’s the main guy that sets up stuff for the Black Keys, Dan Johnson.
How did you wind up in the Judas Priest tribute band British Steel?
I quit music for a bit. I had a kid. And then I joined a band called US Metal. They were like the local equivalent to Judas Priest. They had this good-looking singer that sang all this trendy music. Then I joined and we opened up with, like, “Painkiller” and King Diamond songs. All the girlfriends were like, “What the hell is this?”
While I was in there, I joined a band called Winter’s Bane. We signed a deal with Massacre Records and we went to Germany to record it. This was 1993. Metal was dead. Nothing was going on. Some agent said, “Why don’t you start a Judas Priest tribute band? They’re not together. The singer sounds like him. You can open up as Winter’s Bane and then you can get paid good money, as opposed to getting $50.”
That’s what we did. We only did it for about a year. Winter’s Bane broke up. I had a whole new band. We weren’t very good. I wasn’t singing very good, and so I quit and joined a Seattle tribute band.
Were people in your life telling you to quit trying to make it music and focus on an actual career?
No. No one was. I wasn’t planning on being a musician. I wasn’t sure what I’d do. I worked at a law firm for five or six years. I became a purchasing agent at a very big law firm. I was a file clerk and worked my way up. Then I quit that to try and do a little bit of music, but I got a job in sales. I sold printing and stuff like that.
Out of everyone else in my family, I had the worst career path. No doubt about that. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I remember when Winter’s Bane got signed and I had to tell my job. “Can I go for three weeks to Germany?” They said, “Absolutely. You don’t even need to use your vacation days. You can do it without pay. We’ll give you three weeks off.” They were very supportive. I went to my dad and said, “What do you think I should go?” He went, “No matter what, even if you lose your job, you should go to Germany and record the record.”
My parents are older now and they don’t go out a lot. My mom has MS. But when I was in US Metal, my mom used to come out and sit with all the fans. They weren’t drinkers, but they were supportive. Everyone was supportive. I think it’s because that wasn’t the only thing I was doing. That wasn’t my career path at the time. I just got lucky.
How did you feel about the grunge bands that killed the metal bands off?
In my opinion, I don’t think they killed the metal bands off. I think the metal bands killed off the metal bands. It went from these songs with some balls and substance to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” I’m not saying this is bad stuff. I’m saying metal became pretty and cliched and there were so many ballads out. I think that killed it.
Pantera and Metallica kept going. But listen, Soundgarden was more heavy metal at the time than most of the metal bands. It’s just they wore flannel shirts and not flashy outfits. That’s what offended metal fans. “You can’t do that. You can’t wear shorts and flannel shirts.” But when you listen to “Outshined” and “Jesus Christ Pose,” the first Pearl Jam record, Alice in Chains, they were amazing.
I liked it. I thought it was good. It was ballsier than some of the stuff coming out. I didn’t mind it. And when I joined Judas Priest, the metal scene was absolutely horrible. Listen, it was a good time to [join] Judas Priest, but it was a bad time for people to accept it, because people weren’t playing the same size venues. It was totally different.
To go back a bit, how did Judas Priest hear about you?
When I was in the Judas Priest tribute band, the next-to-last show we played was in Erie, Pennsylvania at a place called Sherlock’s. These girls came out that were fans of ours and they knew [Judas Priest drummer] Scott Travis as well. Actually, Scott jammed with us one day in Virginia Beach, where he lived, so he knew of me. And these girls videotaped that show and gave the tape to Scott. He took it to Priest and said, “Check this out.” This was in 1996. I got the call that February.
The thing is, we weren’t very good then. I sang well, obviously, that night, but the band wasn’t playing very good. We just kind of lost it. They didn’t learn the songs well that time. And so the band called me and said, “Is that really you singing or are you miming? The music doesn’t sound right, but your voice sounds spot on.” I said, “No, no. It’s really me.” It was really crazy. I just got a call.
You must have been shocked.
Yeah. The person said at first, “Judas Priest is trying to get ahold of you.” My number was unlisted and I happened to be at my parents’ house. They looked that up. They said, “Jayne Andrew is trying to get ahold of you. She works with management. Here’s the number.”
I was like, “There’s no way it’s true.” I looked up her name on the Painkiller record and there it was. I was like, “Okay, I better call.” I called and they said, “We’re interested. You don’t have to sing. Do you have a passport?” I said I did. She said, “You’re on a plane in two days.”
Tell me about first meeting the guys. What was that like?
It was amazing. I went to this place in Wales. It was a big studio. You spend the night there. I got there around lunchtime. I heard music going on, some drums and guitar. Jayne opens the door and there’s Ian Hill, the bass player, sitting there at the kitchen table. I’m like, “Holy shit.” These guys were everything to me in high school. I had their posters on my wall. I was like, “This is amazing.”
They walked me in and Glenn [Tipton] is sitting there playing guitar. Scott is playing drums. I think K.K. was still asleep. He looks at me and goes, “It’s nice to meet you. Your voice sounds great. I think it can be a good fit. How about we get dinner tonight and tomorrow we’ll get you to sing?” I thought, “You guys said I wouldn’t have to sing.”
I hadn’t sang a Judas Priest song in a year at that point. I actually quit the Judas Priest cover band since I wasn’t singing really well. Usually if you try out for something, you get to practice. “Here’s three songs to learn.” I was just thrown into the fire. I said, “You guys are crazy. How about I just do it today? I’m not going to be able to sleep.”
And so they did. They went into the studio, put on an old version of “Victim of Changes,” which happened to be my favorite Judas Priest song to sing. I got lucky with that. It was a live performance. They took out Rob’s voice and went, “Go ahead, sing it.” That was it. I sang one line, “Whisky woman, don’t you know you’re driving me insane.” I hit the high note and Glenn pushed the button and went, “Owens, you got the gig.”
How did you feel in that moment?
I was pretty nervous. I didn’t know what was going to come out of my mouth. I think the year off in the Seattle band was pretty good for me. I was singing Chris Cornell, and that kept my chops up, since he’s got high notes just the same. I can’t remember my exact feeling at the time. It’s been a long time now. I’m starting to forget the things that happened.
But I just remember I was amazed. And after Glenn went, “I was just kidding. Sing the rest of the song.” I always joked to people, “I could have almost made Judas Priest and then lost the gig, if I sang the rest of the song and was terrible, all in five minutes.” But I walked into the control room after that. They went, “You know what, Owens? You got the gig.”
What happened next?
I said, “I’ll sing another one.” They put on “The Ripper.” I went and sang it. That’s kind of where the name came from.
Who gave you that name?
I think it was Glenn. They were joking. We went to dinner that night. There’s a famous photo of us sitting at the table. We look so young in that photo. It’s kind of funny. He was joking, “We need to change that first name. No more Tim. We’ll leave Owens since that’s your family name. You’re proud of that. We need to get you something evil. We’ll call you Evil Owens or something.” I’m like, “Oh my God. No.”
Then he somehow joked about Ripper. The next day when I left, he let a note that said, “This is awesome. We’re excited.” And he wrote “Ripper” on it. That was it.
The funny thing was, they didn’t want people to know my first name. This wasn’t the day of social media and Internet. You could hide things. They said, “We’re just going to call you Ripper Owens. That’s it.” And the very, very first article that came out said “Tim ‘Ripper” Owens.” The very first one.
I can’t imagine the feeling of going back to Ohio after you’ve been hired by Judas Priest.
I could’t tell anybody. I could tell my parents and my family. They picked me up at the Cleveland airport. I said, “I got the whole band’s autograph.” I signed it too and said, “Dreams do come true.”
My mom had been to a Judas Priest concert. When I worked at the law firm, we had the lodge at the [Richfield] Coliseum. I said, “I got their autograph.” She goes, “Oh my gosh, maybe some day.” I went, “No, mom. I’m the lead singer.” She goes, “No, stop. Maybe some day.” I said, “No.” Then she started bawling. That was it.
The first thing you did was record Jugulator. Walk me through that process.
We did it at a couple of studios. When we first started, we did about three songs. I know we did “Burn In Hell” and “Death Row” at a studio owned by the drummer from Jethro Tull, Barriemore Barlow. We recorded some of it there. Then we went to this other place that was close to Guildford, England. We recorded the rest of it there.
It was pretty hard and trying. It was a whole other world. It wasn’t the days of Pro Tools. I forget what they called it. It was the Otari or something. I had to sing over and over again. I would spend weeks there just recording all day. It was a lot of tea and biscuits, and it was just hard. I’d be in the middle of this room and just sing.
I think what made it harder was they were seeing what else they could get out of me. Glenn eventually realized that anything he asked me to sing, I’d eventually sing it. “I need this to be like death metal.” I’d say, “My brother listens to that.” “OK, make your brother proud.” And then he would just go over and over it again. It taught me a lot and brought a lot out of me, but it was over and over. Man, was it frustrating and hard, but also very satisfying when I heard the finished versions.
It’s a pretty intense record, kind of different than anything they’d done before.
It is. Pantera was around. Painkiller was heavier than their other stuff as well. I think it was a natural progression. What made it a little heavier was some of the vocals that I used. There was this heavy undertone.
How did your life change after they announced you as the new singer? What was it like to get all that attention at once?
It was crazy. At first it leaked out that I tried out for them. I’d go somewhere and my buddies would say, “I heard you tried out for Judas Priest and didn’t make it.” It was a long time. I tried out in February and I don’t think they announced it until May. I had to keep quiet. But it was pretty cool since you’d be in line at a club or something and people would start talking to you. “Did you make Judas Priest?”
Again, it was different since there was no social media. The hype would have been way bigger if there was social media and stuff. You had to talk to someone to know about it. You couldn’t open up Facebook and go, “Tim Owens did this…” I get recognized more now than any any time in my life. My kids used to say, “Dad, you never get recognized.” And now it’s like, “We can’t go anywhere.”
What really kicked it into gear for me back then was the promotional trip for the album. Before I did that, I never realized how hard that was, and how long it was. Again, you couldn’t be doing Skype or anything like that. You’d be in a room and you’d be there for eight hours and they’d shuffle people in and out all day. I did that for two months. They’d bring in Glenn with me for a couple of weeks and K.K. and Ian for a couple of weeks. They’d shuffle them in and out, but I was there the whole time. It was two months of just non-stop. It was so hard.
Tell me about the tour. It started at the Boathouse in in Norfolk, Virginia. How did it feel to walk onstage that night?
I was so ready, not nervous. I was so ready to do it. I was vocally in top shape, mentally good shape, ready to go. It was great. I remember knowing that people were ready to hate me. They were there not to accept me, the Rob fans. I understood it. I have a cassette tape of the show that someone gave me years later. You can hear people saying before I come out, “This guy is going to suck.” Then I start singing and they’re like, “Holy shit. Wow!”
But the first show is the first time I ever got the chants of “Ripper.” And I understand that people weren’t going to like me. They wanted Rob. But I was ready. It was a great show. It was Scott Travis’s hometown. And it was a jam-packed venue. It was fun.
These were smaller venues than they’d played in a long time. It must have been fun for you to play with them in venues like those.
Yeah. It was fun for me. I don’t think it was fun for them. [Laughs.] Nobody [in hard rock] was doing that at the time besides maybe at Ozzfest and some big festivals. The bands I grew up listening to, like Ratt and Death Angel, were hardly even touring, They were smaller venues, but that’s just what was going on. I would love to have been in bigger venues. I’m sure the band would have too.
The tour schedule was pretty brutal with so many consecutive months out on the road. Did it start to wear on your voice?
I had a bad show in Europe, but it wasn’t because of the schedule. I just totally lost my voice for the first time ever. That was just from getting there and the time change. I did pretty good though. The band realized I could do a lot in a row. The last tour I did with them, I remember doing six in a row, day off, six in a row. I thought that was too much. I think for them, it was, “Man, I don’t want to do this.”
Now that I tour solo, I’ll do 10 or 11 in a row, whatever is going to pay my bills. But it’s also my band and my set, so I can do whatever I want. It was tough, but I didn’t really know anything else.
Did you feel like part of the band on this first tour? Did you feel at all like an outsider?
No. I didn’t. They couldn’t have treated me any better. We were a family and friends. It was really amazing. We always hung out together. We’d eat dinner together. I never felt like a stranger or an employee. It always seemed to go good.
How did you first hear about the movie Rock Star?
They contacted me. I was on the golf course…A New York Times article came out. It was the front page of the Arts and Entertainment section. That was pretty unusual. I’m at Turkeyfoot golf course here in Akron. My mom calls and says, “Hey, this movie place called. An independent movie place.” I went, “OK…” And then she called again and said, “Someone from Warner Bros. called.” I said, “You better give them the management number.”
That’s how it started. It’s basically a movie about me, my life story. They wanted to do it. But it didn’t really work out very well, but they wanted to do it.
Did you ever talk to the creative team that made the movie?
We tried. That’s where it departed. The guys in Judas Priest saw the draft and they were like, “No, no, no. You can’t do that.” They were making them look older and do some things they didn’t want to happen. That wasn’t how the movie finally came out. They had to change other stuff. Judas Priest said, “We want some sort of creativity. We can’t just sit here and do nothing.” And my understanding is Warner Bros. said, “No. You can’t have anything to do with it.”
We were going to have music in it. It was going to be called Metal Gods. They eventually said, “You have nothing to do with it. It’s going to be loosely based now, so we don’t have to pay you.”
How did you feel watching it the first time?
Well, it came out with pretty good numbers, but it was the weekend before 9/11. I was in Mexico on 9/11 and got trapped there for about a week. I didn’t see it for a little bit. I then went to the movies and saw it. I mean, there were similarities since it was about a tribute singer that makes a band. I guess the way they portrayed the band members were pretty accurate even if they looked different. But it was just a Spinal Tap kind of movie. A serious movie would have been much better. They just made it with all the cliches of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. That’s just not what was out there at the time. That wasn’t what was going on.
They didn’t show all the hard work it took to relaunch the band. In the movie, he joins an arena tour midway through like it was nothing.
My mom was diagnosed with MS that year. There were so many things going on. I also wasn’t that crazy fan. First of all, like I said, I wasn’t in the Judas Priest tribute band at that time. When I was in high school, I had the posters on my wall. At this point, I was on my own with a kid. I was working. I didn’t go around like that.
They made it like a stalking fan. There were so many things that were different, but obviously they had to change it. I heard they went out with other bands like Pantera and they took a lot of ideas from that. That’s how I can see the sex and drugs coming into play, because their backstage was like that.
I know it’s not a great movie and they didn’t pay you or use your name, but are you flattered on some level that a big studio made a movie inspired by your life that starred Mark Wahlberg?
Absolutely. First of all, it’s the first time in my life I ever had abs. Whenever people ask about “that movie Mark Wahlberg made about you,” I always say, “Do you mean Boogie Nights?” [Laughs.] But no, I love that I inspired a story. I have a poster of it on the wall. It also makes me mad to look at the tagline: “The story of a wannabe who got to be.”
I wasn’t doing [the Judas Priest tribute band] to act like them. I was doing that to pay the bills. But I always say that now they can make a real movie about me that gets into the actual struggles. Inside of that movie, they can make the movie [Rock Star]. I think that could be great.
Sometimes when you see a movie like Almost Famous, that hits home to me a lot more. You see what actually goes on. Then they make this and it has all these cliches.
Tell me about the plan going into your second Priest record, Demolition. It has more of a classic Priest sound to it.
I love that record. I actually like Demolition better. It’s just great. People that know Judas Priest know they only ever had two albums that sounded the same. That was Screaming For Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith. They always changed with every record. That’s what they do. They don’t stay the same.
Demolition was more experimental. I had more melody vocally. It was a more melodic record. Again, I think it had a wider range of vocals with songs like “One on One.”
The recording process was different. I recorded my parts at the recording studio at Glenn’s house. We’d stay there and I’d get up the morning, have coffee or tea…he lives in this beautiful area with all this land…then we’d go and record.
Again, I would get very frustrated. It was a long recording process. But when the nights would end, we’d go down to a pub and have a good meal and a couple of pints. But it was long. I might have done at least two months there.
You co-wrote “What’s My Name.”
I kinda did. They wouldn’t let me write and I totally understood it. It was Judas Priest. And so they kind of credited me, but I think it was more like they handed it to me and said, “Here, we’re going to let you have some writing credits.” I did put my own stamp on it, but it wasn’t a real writing thing.
How was the 2002 tour? Did you enjoy that one as much as the one in 1998?
Well, you could see the writing on the wall on that one. It was even more difficult at times. I think the shows were great, but it was really strange. They picked really strange places to play. During that time, we turned down Ozzfest. There were a lot of suspect moves. We turned down an Iron Maiden tour, and this is when Bruce Dickinson was back in the band. Listen, this is supposedly. This is what I was told by them.
Getting along-wise and sounding [musically], it was fantastic. We got along great. We sounded great. I had a lot of fun. We had a lot of great shows. I think one of my last shows might have been at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
You played in Akron at the rib festival too.
I used to joke about that. I rememberer going there and seeing REO Speedwagon, the Temptations, Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I was like, “Man, I’m not playing here.” Then we played there and it was so awesome, so good. It was right by a very tall hotel and people were all sitting in their windows watching the concerts. It was great.
During this whole time, are you always thinking in the back of your head that Rob would come back at some point and you’d be out of the band?
Well, yeah. I almost wanted it at the very end. At that time, Glenn said to me, “I just want you to know, we’ve been offered millions of dollars to get Rob and do a tour.” I think he was mad at me for something. He said, “If you don’t want to wear that jacket, someone else might.”
But I knew it. After we toured, I was like, “I know the writing is on the wall, but I’ll never quit.” I knew I had to do something else financially. At the end, I couldn’t live off what I was getting paid. I’m not saying it was bad, but I wanted to do other things. I wanted to write.
This is when Iced Earth called, and this is when I knew the writing was on the wall. They called me up and said, “Do you want to sing on this record The Glorious Burden?” Matt [Barlow] had left the band. I was like, “Let me call management for Judas Priest.” They were like, [cheerfully] “Yeah, go ahead!” I was like, “Uh-oh.” I knew.
How did you hear about Rob’s return?
I think I got a fax. I can’t remember. I don’t think it was an e-mail. It was 2003 or 2004. I got a fax that just said, “You’re out of the band.”
How did you feel?
I felt all right. I just recorded The Glorious Burden. It’s funny. I knew it was coming. They had to get Rob back. I think Rob needed Judas Priest and Judas Priest needed Rob. I was in Iced Earth. At to be honest, at the time, Iced Earth was as big as Judas Priest. We were headlining festivals. We were playing to the same venues. I think it was pretty cool.
I felt pretty good. Nobody else was. My family and my friends were all pissed at Judas Priest. I kept telling them, “Listen, right off the bat I got offered more money to join Iced Earth.” I got lucky that I was able to move onto something else. Maybe that’s why it was easier to stomach at the time.
I understood it. It’s a business. When you think of Judas Priest, you mainly think of Rob, Glenn, and K.K. I was all right with it.
Your life now would had been totally different if they hadn’t selected you. They gave you a whole new career.
Absolutely. I tell people Judas Priest was like my college. I went to the school of Judas Priest. And I ran with it. I still do. That opened it up and made it where I could do whatever I wanted.
Did you enjoy your time in Iced Earth?
Yeah. It was good. I mean, it was different from Judas Priest. I was probably more friends with the Judas Priest guys. And the end of the Iced Earth thing was not good. But it was cool music and doing The Glorious Burden was like a history lesson. We went to Gettysburg and did all this stuff. It was pretty awesome.
It was a similar in the end since they brought back Matt Barlow.
That was different since we were doing good. I just think John [Schaffer] thought it was going to be even bigger and we were doing the exact same thing. It’s funny. I just did an interview with Matt. We’re friends. He’s doing a podcast.
At the end, John said to me, “I’m going to make you into a really good frontman and singer.” I was like, “What? What are you talking about? I sang with Judas Priest.” I was on the way to his house in Indiana to record. I happened to look at an e-mail. He actually sent me the same e-mail that he sent to Blabbermouth telling me that I was fired.
But you met Richard Christie in Iced Earth. He’s so beloved for his comedy work on The Howard Stern Show that a lot of people don’t realize he’s this incredible drummer.
They don’t. Fortunately we were able to go on and do Charred Walls of the Damned together. He’s just a great guy and a great drummer, and funny as well. And that’s where I met him.
Then you went to work for Yngwie Malmsteen.
This is the weirdest thing. It was just like Judas Priest. Just before I was fired from Iced Earth, I got the call from Yngwie asking if I’d like to sing on his record. So I was able to move right on to something else.
It was great. I loved him growing up, but his fans weren’t my kind of fans. I thought, “This will be a great adventure for me. I can earn some new fans.” The whole experience was fun. I mean, he’s got a bad reputation, but for me, he was very easy to worth with.
How long did that last?
A few years. There were two records, but I actually recorded all the stuff at one time. I didn’t even realize they were going to do that. They kind of broke it into two records. Then I just quit one time because he was trying to book dates, and this is when I was booking a lot of solo dates and doing events. I’d always have to tell him. I eventually said, “Go get another singer. You can pay him less and he can be there for you.” So I don’t think he likes me anymore.
During this time, are you talking to the guys in Priest at all?
Little bit. Maybe a few threat e-mails after some promoter in Brazil used the Jugulator artwork. I got a threatening e-mail like, “Stop using that!” I was like, “Call the promoter. I don’t know what to tell you.”
I was still friends with the guys and I’d see them every once in a while. Any time I played solo in England or anywhere close…I was opening for Heaven and Hell once and Glenn and K.K. came out. When I play within two hours of where K.K. lived, he’d always come. He’d bring a case of beer and hang out.
That’s the thing. Even with the threats and “you can’t do this or that,” it’s still a good relationship. They still do the threats, but that’s just part of business. You kind of lose track though. You don’t talk as much. Glenn and I will e-mail every now and then. I’ll see Scott every now and then. I even saw [guitarist] Richie [Faulkner] in Florida.
My girlfriend and I actually went to Nicko McBrain’s Rock N Roll Ribs restaurant to meet Nicko, and Richie was actually sitting there eating. You stay friends. I don’t burn bridge. That’s even true with Yngwie. I know he talks bad about all the singers all the time, but if he called me to do a record, I’d do it, because I’m a musician. I love it.
Did you see any of the Priest shows after Rob came back?
I saw one. That’s because I’m never around. But I saw one at Blossom [Music Center] when they first came back. I was with my ex-wife Rhonda. And at the third song, he hit a high note that was pretty short, but the crowd went crazy. My ex said, “Jesus, Tim, you’d have to hit a high note for like 30 seconds to make them happy.”
But they sounded great. I gotta be honest, vocally, Rob sounds amazing. He sounds even better now compared to then. I’m still a fan. I’m happy for them. I wish K.K. was in the band. It’s hard to see Glenn with Parkinson’s. It would be nice to see Glenn and Richie up there doing it.
Did you ever meet Rob?
Yeah. We became friends. I met him when I was in Judas Priest. He was playing Blossom solo and was on the local radio station, 98.5. They said, “Ripper lives around here.” He said, “Ripper, if you’re out there, come to the show.” And so I did. We took a photo. We crossed paths when I was touring South America. I saw him again at a Dio benefit a few years back. He saw me and came over and talked to me.
That’s the great thing about this. We might have said a few bad things about each other in the press over the years, but overall it’s been really good. I know that makes the press unhappy that we talk good about each other and have respect for each other. It’s Rob Halford. But it’s nice to know that he was following what I was doing. He said to me, “I see you’re in Russia all the time. How’s Russia? How are the people?” I’m like,”Wow, you’re checking out what I’m doing?” That’s pretty cool.
Tell me about the formation of K.K.’s Priest.
K.K. and I stayed friends. He knows that I stayed active in music, like with the Three Tremors. I’ve put out so many records. There’s Spirits of Fire, A New Revenge…people can Google me to check since even I don’t know what I’ve done.
But what happened is that he messaged me. [Megadeth bassist] David Ellefson was doing a show at K.K.’s venue in Wolverhampton. He said, “Hey, Ken, why don’t you come jam with me? Why don’t we get Ripper to fly in?” We got [former Priest drummer] Les Binks on drums and we did a show. I think it really kicked it for K.K. that, “Yeah, we would really do something.”
I think right after that, he got the final word: “Judas Priest are doing their last tour, and they’re not going to do anything with you. We don’t want you to play.” He was like, “All right. I’ll do this record.” That’s when he called me and asked if I wanted to do it with him. That’s how it started.
I remember doing a Three Tremors show in that area and Ken came to the show. He was playing me the demos and I was like, “Holy crap, this is really good. This is old-school metal.” People say, “That sounds like Judas Priest.” No. It sounds like K.K. Downing.
Tell me about that show you did in Wolverhampton. How did it feel to stand next to K.K. again after all the years and sing “Hell Bent For Leather,” “Metal Gods,” and all those other songs?
It was great. We also played “Hell is Home” and “Burn in Hell.” It was great to do it. Here’s the difference: I’ve been doing this for years. I’ve played Jugulator in its entirety on tours. I’ve been playing these songs for years. K.K. hasn’t. It’s almost like when I joined Judas Priest. They hadn’t played those songs in, like, seven years. I have.
It was great to see him and be up there with him. Like I said, we get along really well. There’s nothing like playing those songs with him. I love playing them with everybody else, but when you play them with the guy that wrote them and played them, it’s a whole different animal. And it was a lot of fun.
Fans are hoping you guys will go on tour. Is there talk of that?
There’s definitely talk of it. The problem people don’t realize is that the album was actually done before Covid. I finished my stuff in March . I flew home and they closed everything down. People were wearing masks in the airport already when I was flying home. Then they just shut it all down.
All the tours of the size we want to do were already booked before Covid. A lot of these bigger shows out there now, like the Stadium Tour [with Def Leppard, Poison, Joan Jett, and Mötley Crüe], was pre-Covid and now it’s finally out there.
That’s why it’s hard. We’re not just going to jump on anything or play the wrong venues. It has to be right. I’ve listened to what the agents have said. It’s just hard to book it in the venues we want since they’re already booked up. I guess the best part is, in the meantime, hopefully we can record another record. Then when we do the proper tour, we’ll have two records under our belt and we can go out there and worry about nothing but touring. We’ll do all touring and that’s it.
What are your thoughts on Judas Priest entering the Hall of Fame? I know some fans were hoping you’d get in along with them.
It’s a shame that they can’t bring in members that were in the band almost 10 years and had a Grammy nomination, two studio records, two live records, a DVD. It’s a shame that they can’t do it. What gets me more than anything is that I haven’t even gotten a call from Judas Priest on it. I did get a call that an Australian agent was using the name Metal Gods. “We’ll let it slip this time, but in the future you can’t let them use it.”
That’s your phone call? How about the guys in the band getting into the Hall of Fame that deserve it? There’s never been a call saying, “You were a big part of this. Here’s the reasons you’re not being inducted, but you were a big part of us and you’re a big part of the family.” There wasn’t even a phone call. Not getting in, whatever.
Here’s how I look at it: I’m in the Hall of Fame. I was in the band for almost 10 years. When someone says that Judas Priest is in the Hall of Fame, I sang for Judas Priest, so I’m basically in the Hall of Fame.
There are bands like Metallica or the Chili Peppers where they brought in members who had practically just joined at the time of the ceremony.
Yeah. If there’s a reason, I get it. It just would have been nice to get an e-mail or a call. The only e-mails I ever get are threats. It’s a shame because we’re friends. It’s a shame that’s all management is worried about, instead of, “We should probably send a letter to Tim or a bottle of champagne to thank him for his years in the band.”
Do they really think the cover of Jugulator on a concert poster is going to cost them one penny? It’s pretty ridiculous.
Well, they don’t sell the record. What the hell’s the deal? It’s not even out. But that’s what they’re worried about. I’m still friends with them. This show was called Metal Gods since it was me and [former AC/DC and Dio drummer] Simon Wright. We’re doing 10 Dio songs and 10 Judas Priest songs. I didn’t have anything to do with the name, but the agent/promoter called it Metal Gods because he looked at both of them as metal gods. It wasn’t a Judas Priest tribute show.
And so my attorney said, “They need to deal with this agent. I don’t know how much they want to deal with suing someone in Australia. I don’t even know if the trademark is protected in Australia.” They told me I could use it this time. I was like, “Why are you threatening me? I didn’t have anything to do with this.” But so be it. They’re more willing to threaten me than thank me.
Why isn’t Jugulator on Spotify?
I don’t know. It’s funny. I won’t make any money from it if they’re being sold on Amazon and Spotify. I wouldn’t make any money from sales. But the guys in the band would. I’m dumbfounded. They would sell. I don’t know if they realize that. They must not need any more money.
It’s easier to find Demolition, but that was recorded on Atlantic in America and SPV in Europe. Jugulator was on CMC International. That was a new label that went under. But it’s strange to me. I know I’ve talked in the past about re-recording them, but I’m just so busy now. It’s the last thing I want to do.
It is shocking though that they’ve kind of erased my time. At least Maiden plays Blaze Bayley stuff live.
They didn’t erase the fans’ memories. They still love those records.
Yeah. That’s cool. It’s grown with time. It’s part of it, like it or not. Listen, there are other records that Judas Priest made that people don’t like, like Turbo or whatever. This is just how it goes. It’s just a shame. I’ve never erased it. I get to play it live.
I’m getting ready to go to Latin America now. I have like 15 shows in 17 days. Every time I see a flyer for a show in Colombia or somewhere and I see a Judas Priest logo or an old photo, I’m thinking, “Oh shit.”
It shows they’ve never forgotten me either. They know how to get ahold of me to tell me not to do stuff. That being said, I’m not talking bad about anyone in the band. This is what happens. I can’t help that. But the time in Judas Priest was fantastic. They treated me so good.
People ask me what I miss about Judas Priest or if I miss playing all over the place with them. I don’t. I play more places now on my own. I go to Israel, Africa, gosh, you name it. I’m just getting ready to go to Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Mexico. I miss the friendship. I miss hanging out. I miss that time.
The good news it that you and K.K. are working together again. You’ve gone full circle.
Yeah. It’s great. We talk all the time. It’s funny. Ken doesn’t like to text or send e-mails. He likes to send voice messages. Then I’ll get it and be like, “Holy shit, this thing is, like, 15 minutes long.” He told me once that one was so long he had to break it into two parts. It’ll be so long that my screen will turn off. I’ll have to start over and be like, “Where was I at in the message?” It’s funny though. He likes to talk.
As a fan, it’s pretty baffling that they won’t take him back, especially since Glenn can’t tour.
I think he burned bridges. The truth hurts. I know people say, “Why won’t you stop saying it?” Well, he said it in a book. Now he gets asked the questions all the time by journalists. He answers them. He’s not bringing it up. He won’t sit down and go, “Let me tell ya…” You ask him a question and he answers it.
I read the book. The parts of it that I read that I know, there’s truth. What he said is what’s true. It happened. I don’t know what else to say.
But I get it. He’s burned his bridge. It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. And it makes no sense to me as a fan. Listen, they’d draw more people. The attendance would go up. It would be be fantastic.
If he called me tomorrow and said, “I’m going on tour with Judas Priest,” I’d be tickled pink. I would love it. I would think it was fantastic. Then I’d say, “Do you need an opener?”
I’ll wrap here, but I really think you’re right that a real movie about your life could be incredible. Not a cartoon version that makes everything up, but the actual story.
Yep. As long as they put more hair on the actor’s head, maybe a couple of pounds lighter, and make him muscular. That’ll be perfect.