HALFORD

By Robb Flynn

This is awesome.  No bullshit, I got a little verklempt looking at this.

When I was 16 years old I had a poster hanging in my bedroom of Rob Halford sitting on a Harley Davidson.  Amongst that gem I also had other various Judas Priest pictures from Hit Parader magazine adorning my walls, including one of the full band “gettin’ it on” with a girl dressed in semi-bondage clothing in some hotel room. 

The other day my friend Jimmy Duff, who runs Duff’s Brooklyn sent me this photo from the other nights’ NYC Priest show where Halford is wearing a “Machine Fucking Head“ patch on his battle trenchcoat.  It was a pretty cool moment to see my band on his jacket, after his band adorned my walls for so long

Halford was one of my earliest singing influences (not that you would ever know it by how I sing), but I literally spent a year trying to mimic his inflections, his moves in his videos, his style (I can still do damn good "You Got Another Thing Comin'" impersonation).  

About the same time that I had that poster hanging on my wall I decided I wanted to be a singer, and my dad was like “hmmmm…”. Then he said "why don’t you take a couple lessons and see how it goes?" So we took the 25 mile drive from Fremont to the Oakland/ San Leandro border where we took lessons from a man whose name I have long-since-forgotten.

He was a trained opera singer though. He knew his shit! So when I walked in, I busted out my TDK cassette-rip of ‘Stained Class’ and played him “Beyond the Realms of Death” and said, “I want to sing like this!"

I had been obsessing over the song, and couldn’t stop listening to it.

Now the first Judas Priest that I had heard was the “Screaming For Vengeance” album, that plus their “hit” songs that were played on Bay Area radio stations KOME and KSJO back then such as “Living After Midnight” / “Breaking The Law” etc. I hated (and still hate) the radio songs from "Point Of Entry”, but it was "Stained Class” and the EPIC live album "Unleashed In The East" that truly enthralled me for the rest of my life.  

The vocal coach gave a little chuckle, and said "let’s give it a shot!”  We quickly realized that my vocal range was never, ever, in-a-million-years going to reach Halford’s majestic howl.  But he was upbeat and taught me a lot about diaphragm strength.  

One of the techniques that he taught me was to lay on the floor and sing-a-long to the songs that I loved, the extra weight of laying on the floor would help strengthen the diaphragm muscles in my stomach.

After a week spent laying and singing on the floor I was more determined than ever to sound like Rob Halford!  With teenage testosterone raging and a cocksure attitude, I marched into the vocal teacher’s house, certain that it would be an easy feat for me to pull off. 

Near the end of the lesson, the vocal coach was very kind and let me down as gently as he could. It was something to the effect of “...ya know… this guy is one of the best singers I’ve ever heard...” He also added that “there are... very, very, very, very few people that can sing this well.” 

Me: Huh?

I wasn’t really getting the nicely dropped hint.

He let me down even more gently “look kid, you got a good voice, you can definitely sing, and if you work at it, and work at it, and work at it, you can get good... really good... but you may want to try a different singing style than this Judas Priest guy”…

Me: Oh.. uh... ok...

I was kinda crushed.

It was my last vocal lesson until 2011, about 30 years later

That being said when I got home from the (at-the-time) soul crushing reality that I probably would never sing like Halford, I got back on the floor and I must’ve sang “Beyond The Realms Of Death" about 20 times! I was certain that I could absolutely nail it if I just kept trying.

Goddamn? How the fuck does he sing so high??!!

As I moved into my first band, the first show I ever played was as "just-a-singer” (no guitar), at the old Holiday Inn on Decoto Road in Union City, CA across the street from the Drive In (now an In-and-Out Burger). It was an OK “talent show” but not long after the guitar soon grabbed ahold of me. And when it did it consume me, I let go of my dream of sounding like Halford.  However as fate would have it, the first band that my friend Jim and I put together we hired a Rob Halford-sounding maniac from Southern California named Russ Anderson… and we would later become the Bay Area thrash metal band Forbidden.

Now back in the 80s it was not openly known that Rob was gay. Obviously it was suspected/debated, but even most of the press photos that came out at the time often showed Rob pimpin' with a super hot chick, to throw everybody off the scent.

By the time I was in high school, my parents had moved us from Oakland and San Lorenzo, to a suburb 45 miles away from San Francisco. My parents had a gay friend name Merle, I had gay cousins, and when my dad and I would travel to San Francisco's Chinatown to buy illegal fireworks for the Fourth of July, the exit we’d take would pass through the area around "The Stud”, the notorious, San Francisco bondage/gay club.  I quickly assessed the people looked & dressed reminiscent to the clothes that Halford was wearing on stage.

My friends and I would often debate whether he was gay or not, I never really cared too much, but my friend Paul’s brother was a freaking diehard Judas Priest-lunatic! He was vehemently opposed to the idea, we would often egg him on just to wind him up about it, adding to his torture!

Me: no dude, I really think he’s gay… 
Him: no fuckin way dude, shut the fuck up, don’t ever say that again!!
Us: *howling with laughter*

And as a teenager, there was something very sexual about the way that he carried himself.  I couldn’t really figure it out, but it had an effect on my hormone filled, confused, teenage mind. I jerked off to that Rob Halford poster once (didn’t everybody?).  Not that I really read too much into it, shit, I would pretty much jerk off to watching 2 blades of grass rubbing together, or the equally “erotic” sight of a bar of soap!  It was a multiple-time-a-day thing for a few years there…

What can I say, I was a horny bastard!

After getting into the music business, several people informed me that, yes, he was indeed gay. I was a little surprised.  Maybe it was just the angry, drugged-out, drug-dealer state I was in, but it didn’t sit well with me.

Later on in 1998 when Halford was in his Trent Reznor-produced industrial band Two, and admitted on MTV that he was in fact, gay… It really wasn’t that much of a surprise. 

And by that point in the late 90’s, I really didn’t give two shits. 

In fact, I thought it was incredibly courageous of him to come out so publicly. Knowing that he might lose A LOT of fans in the process.  I think it did a lot for the Metal community to hear that. To be shocked like that. And while some people still silently frown on it, it definitely brought a new awareness and ultimately made a better metal community.

Last year, I met Rob Halford for the first time… Believe it or not after all these years of touring and festivals, and hanging backstage with Glenn and/or KK -who I first met on the BME tour- we had just never crossed paths.

I rarely go out of my way to find famous folks or rock stars and meet them.  It’s just difficult for me to bring myself to do it… baggage in my own head.  I’m an extroverted-introvert, someone who forces themselves out of their shell and into public/social situations because I know how rewarding it is, (a great conversations is the best thing in the world), but it’s still feels odd for me to do.

So, back to being in the same room with the Metal God. It was really the perfect situation, made perfect by? Well, by Rob Halford!  I was in Phoenix last August in Slayer’s dressing room and there were quite a few people around so it was very chill and I think it was either Rob or Kerry that wanted to get a picture.  Nergal from Behemoth (also on the tour) had stopped over to hang, Rob Dukes former-Exodus vocalist was there, and it was just a great pre-show gathering. Everyone was in a good mood and after we took the picture I was in a one-on-one conversation with Halford!

It was short, to the point, dude still has an edge to him, and it was all I needed.

A lot of times I ask myself, "if what I do matters…?”  If the music I/we create really ever gets through to anyone? What my purpose is in the world as an artist/musician? Is there a butterfly-effect, or is it just all bullshit?  

I’d like to think that we matter, but the hard truth is that in 20 years no one will remember me, or Machine Head.  Let’s face it, we’ve never had a huge hit(s).  Most people can’t remember the president from 60 years ago, how the fuck they gonna remember us?!

We’ll probably be remembered in the same context as the classic rock bands like Foghat, or Krokus, cool but…

And no disrespect to their music, but it’s not the way that Led Zeppelin, or The Beatles, or Metallica are remembered.  They were first.

Those bands stories are told and over-told.

Judas Priest changed shit.  They made a massive mark on the world of metal.  They were first at a lot of things. Sabbath get a lot of the credit, even Zeppelin, but it's Priest who invented the sound we now know as metal.

There would be no Slayer without Priest, and certainly no Machine Head.  In 20 years when we talk about the bands that pushed metal forward, it will be Priest, Maiden, Metallica, Slayer.

Judas Preist mattered.

And if you ever wondered if you mattered Rob Halford…

You did.

The butterfly effect happened.

All hail Judas Preist and The Metal God.