FORGING THE METAL
From the American steel horse to the steel mills of Birmingham - the birth of Heavy Metal:
Origin Of The Term Heavy
In the mid '60s, free-love, flower-power, corporate pop rock was the sound of the American airwaves and UK hit charts, but hard rock was moving in on the territory. America seems to have the first dibs at the heavy metal title, with the Blue Cheer remake of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" in '68 being the first song believed to be called "heavy metal". And Alice Cooper's Spiders of the mid '60s has been acknowledged later on as possibly being the first heavy metal band ever. But were these true examples of heavy metal, as we know it? Both America and Britain had a musical uprising in the mid '60s fueled by "...heavy drums and bass, virtuosic distorted guitar, and a powerful vocal style that used screams and growls as signs of transgression and transcendence" (Robert Walser, RUNNING WITH THE DEVIL), as well as flashy outfits, elaborate stage and light shows and rebel attitudes that have all been a big part of the genre. But a quick comparison of history shows such bands to be better suited as "hard rock", "acid rock" and "power blues" than "heavy metal". Many of these bands also showed a marked distaste for the "heavy metal" moniker. But in the beginning of 1969, in Birmingham, Britain's second largest city, a doom band appeared on the scene with their experimental brand of shock-rock they dubbed at the time "scary music" (inspired by the observed attraction people had to horror films), that could truly and rightfully be deemed "heavy metal":
While other bands had been merely loud and rebellious, it was Tony Iommi's raw guitar tone and spellbinding riffs, Bill Ward's primal drum assault, Geezer Butler's titanic bass support and occult-meets-fantasy lyrics, and John "Ozzy" Osbourne's sinister vocal delivery, that helped Black Sabbath birth the true sound of heavy metal upon the musical landscape with their self-titled album debut in 1970.
And the term was so well-fitting to the "heaviness" of the music as it was to the "metal works" of the dark industrial area from which it came: the West Midlands - known also as the "Black Country", due to all the smoke and soot that covered the place from its many backstreet metal foundries...
Sabbath forged the metal, Priest sharpened the steel
Black Sabbath had inspired a new genre in rock music, but it would be Judas Priest who would come along shortly thereafter to add the drama, speed and a leather makeover...
The original Judas Priest is formed
In late '60s Birmingham, progressive blues rock was the sound of the day. A lad by the name of John Alan "Al" Atkins was already well known on the Midlands scene, having previously fronted The Bitta Sweet (who opening for such legendary names as Cat Stevens, David Bowie, and even for a band that featured Elton John and Rod Stewart together, as well as playing alongside 'Robert Plant and The Band Of Joy' in 1965!). Other bands Al led were Sugar Stack ('66 - '67), Blue Condition (1967) and The Jug Blues Band (1968). Returning from a failed deal in 1969 with the band Evolution, Al gathered some of his past associates to form a new venture. On bass was long-time friend Brian "Bruno" Stapenhill, who had been by Al's side in each of the former groups Al performed in. Drums were handled by John "Fezza" Partridge, who was previously with Al and Bruno in Sugar Stack, and joining on guitar was John Perry from The Jug Blues Band. This new group of Bromwich lads began rehearsing toward the end of the summer of '69, when only a few days later, John Perry was killed in a suicide-related automobile accident. Shaken, but not deterred, the band vowed to carry on and auditions were held to find a replacement.
A young upstart named Kenneth Downing (who would not go by the name of K.K. until early 1974) had been practicing guitar along to his favorite Jimi Hendrix albums for about two weeks and thought he'd give it a shot, but was turned down due to lack of experience:
Another Birmingham lad, 17-year old Earnest Chataway auditioned as well and was given the job. Ernie was a natural musician who played not only guitar but also harmonica and keyboard. Bruno Stapenhill vaguely recalls that Ernie was actually in a band that used the same artist agency as Black Sabbath, and that he sat in with them on harmonica back when they were still called Earth. Having an experienced musician such as Ernie who had connections to Earth, it interested this new lineup when Earth changed their name to Black Sabbath.
Ju'das Priest': an exclamation of exasperation or disgust.
The dictionary may define the term as such, but it was more than a mere curse word alternative to the band! Perhaps their idea was closer to Bob Dylan's idea of the devil in the song which the band got their name from. It was both sinister and contradictory: A Judas is a betrayer thanks to the Judas of the Bible who betrayed Christ. A priest is revered in the church as an advocate to lead man to Christ... Thus Judas Priest would be a "Betrayer-Advocate"... The name instantly drew attention and would go on to both fame and infamy. So here is he story of how the band actually came upon the name:
The quintet were taken by the sinister religious overtones of the name Black Sabbath and wanted something similar that would grab attention:
Future vocalist Rob Halford would also share how the name represented the band musically:
As many bands would do when seeking a name, Bruno had been looking at song titles on the back covers in his record collection when he pulled out Bob Dylan's 1967 John Wesley Harding record and saw "The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest". Bruno proposed Judas Priest to Al, who agreed to the name. As the band began to get around and gain some exposure, Kenny Downing was watching from the wings and kept the name in his memory:
This early formation of Judas Priest began writing their own material and in late November they landed a deal with Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate Records, but financial problems caused the label to fold early in the new year. The band continued to struggle on the local club circuit on into June, when Ernie Chataway departed and the rest of the guys agreed to disband over musical differences:
Had Al Atkins quit there, the story of Judas Priest would have ended before it ever got started!
NOVEMBER 1970: Judas
Priest, round 2
Al Atkins still wanted to explore the harder side of rock music , so he spent the rest of the year searching for a band of like mind. Then one November night while scouting rehearsal rooms, Al happened upon a trio of schoolmates: bassist Ian "Skull" Hill, drummer John Ellis, and the blonde guitarist Alan once rejected: Kenny Downing! The teenagers had formed a hard rock/progressive blues trio, but were in need of a singer to complete the lineup. Atkins was just what they were looking for. To hone their skills, they had been rehearsing for the past six months at Holy Joe's, an old Church of England school which had been converted into a rehearsal complex:
The lineup now complete, they were undecided about a name. The threesome were indeed proposing 'Freight', but Al didn't care for it, and as Kenny actually still preferred the name of Al's former band (as well as it had already gained a small following), Al asked his former band mates who agreed to allow the Judas Priest moniker to be revived.
This new version of Judas Priest began playing covers around their home area, and once they got a few gigs under their belt, they started adding their own compositions, calling their brand of rock music "goodanloud". David Corke became the band's manager and encouraged them to cut a demo:
Ellis leaves, Moore joins
briefly, Campbell joins
The sketchy demo did not gain them recognition with the labels, but it did help them obtain better gigs, so most of the members left their jobs in order to keep up with the demands and see Judas Priest succeed. John Ellis was the only member to hold onto his day job, but the increasing number of gigs and conflicting work schedule was placing too much pressure on him, so he left the group in early October:
Drummer Alan "Skip" Moore temporarily filled the spot vacated by Ellis. Before joining Priest, Alan had partnered with UK folk performer Nick Evans. In fact, Alan was the second guitarist of a duo guitar team with Nick (pre-dating Priest's Downing and Tipton collaboration) before turning to the drums.
For the remainder of the year, Judas Priest maintained their rigorous tour schedule throughout the Midlands, playing for just 10 pounds per night (their price would later rise to 25 pounds). Five guys living on such tight wages continued to take its toll and at the end of '71, Alan Moore found a better situation with the band Sundance (plus a stint using the last name "Moor" with Pendulum, a band specially formed to fulfill a 6 month contract with the Moroccan Tourist Board in the summer of '72). Black drummer Christopher Louis (Chris) "Congo" Campbell filled the vacancy in December and by January, the band began to play outside their local area for the first time, including shows as far away as Scotland.
FALL 1972: Taking the next step
Judas Priest's status steadily began growing on the home front, but to obtain the success needed, the band would have to come to London. As the labels were all located in London, only bands that could showcase in London were given a chance.
Black Sabbath manager and promoter Jim Simpson worked for a Birmingham company called I.M.A. (Iommi Management Agency), an artist agency run by Simpson, Norman Hood and Sabbath's own Tony Iommi. Former Priest bassist Bruno Stapenhill's new band Bullion and future guitarist Glenn Tipton's Flying Hat Band were also among the artist signed to the I.M.A. agency... Judas Priest soon signed on with I.M.A. as a support act to bands such as Status Quo, Thin Lizzy and others. Dave Corke continued to manage Priest and as they continued to gain in popularity, Simpson began to promote the band heavily in the London market. With Simpson's help, Judas Priest reached the point where they had visited every known club in England, including the Cavern in Liverpool and the legendary Marquee in London. Their set included popular cover tunes as well as several of their own numbers. In fact, it was during that late '72 growing period that some of the Rocka Rolla tracks were written, including "Winter", "Never Satisfied" and a ten minute-plus epic, complete with lyrics, called "Caviar And Meths":
JANUARY 1973: Heavy Thoughts
On January 19, 1973, Judas Priest renewed a contract with Tony Iommi's now Tramp Entertainments agency, effectively keeping Dave Corke and Norman Hood as the sole management and agency representatives of Judas Priest. Shortly afterward, Atkins wrote "Whiskey Woman", (which would play a significant role for Priest down the road) and a song called "Heavy Thoughts" (an unfinished '73 demo existed, which Al would later record as a solo artist in 1995 and release in 2003). In fact, the members of Judas Priest planned to call their 1973 tour the "Heavy Thoughts Tour", but then the band lost a couple of key members...
MAY 1973: Atkins and Campbell leave, Halford and Hinch join
Despite the growing success, the lack of a record deal, as well as poor finances, continued to burden Judas Priest, as they barely made enough to cover their tour and living expenses:
In order to earn some extra money, band members would go to the clubs on their own and introduced themselves as signed artists for Atlantic Records (though, 30 years later, they would actually find themselves signed to Atlantic)! One night Priest were in Liverpool and had no gig scheduled, so they used the approach to set up a gig across the cavern in a Greek tavern for 15 pounds and good quantities of traditional Greek dishes!
But the grim cash-flow situation had taken its toll on both Al and Chris, and in May, both would leave the group:
And carry on they did! Though things looked bad for the pair as they found themselves once again without a drummer and a vocalist, a turn of fortune came while Ian was dating a girl by the name of Sue Halford, close friend of Carol Hiles who was Kenny's girlfriend at the time. Sue suggested that her brother Bob (he would go by Robert in '75 and shorten it to Rob after that) might make a good vocalist for Priest.
Halford got his start in music by singing in his high school choir, often standing out as exceptional to the other students. Then in 1966, at age 15, Rob joined his first band, Thark, which included his classroom teacher on guitar! Next, he joined Abraxis before becoming an assistant lighting designer at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton. But Rob soon found himself wanting to be in the spotlight, rather than behind it!
While London was the hotbed of the English music scene, a new wave of British musicians was on the rise in the Midlands:
As far as Rob's own memory goes, the bands he was in were a building progression leading up to the heavier Judas Priest:
Featuring Halford on vocals and harmonica, Paul Watts on guitar, Ian Charles on bass, and John Hinch on drums, Hiroshima was a local hard rock band making the rounds and sharing the '72/'73 Midlands club circuit with Priest for the better part of a year. After Ian Charles was later released, Halford took over his bass duties(!) and a few demo tapes were possibly recorded, but the group never did take off.
During this time, Ian Hill was dating Rob's sister Sue, who suggested to Ian that her brother might be the perfect candidate to fill the open vocal spot. She then had to convince her brother to follow through. Rob had actually seen the band once before, so he had an idea of how their former vocalist fit in, but it was the fiery Hendrix-influenced Ken Downing that captivated Rob's interest in the band:
Rob brought John Hinch, his drummer from Hiroshima into the picture as well and off they went to Kenny and Ian's apartment. The apartment was crowded that day, so Rob and John were brought to the bedroom to wait for Kenny and Ian. As Rob sat listening to the radio, Kenny overheard him singing harmonies to a musical program, and the rest is history in the making:
Though John claims Rob successfully changed Judas Priest for the better, it was really a team effort, as Rob had become a key writing partner with Ken, and the band as a whole began defining their sound and role in the hard rock genre by straying from the blues-rock elements that were so common at the time:
The new abilities afforded by Rob's vocal prowess and Kenny's increasing talents and vision to expand beyond the norm led Kenny to write his first number - and it was to be a gem in the rough: "Run Of The Mill" was a dark gothic number that revealed a lot of Black Sabbath influence, yet also managed to have a stamp all its own that cause many fans of the early days to still hail it a top favorite from the debut album! Al Atkins' last work before leaving the band, "Whiskey Woman", was proving to be a successful show opener and Rob also contributed a number he wrote while in his former Hiroshima, the atmospheric "Red Light Lady". A demo was soon cut at London's Sarm Studios in 1973 that reports say also contained a track called "Ladies", though no other details of the song are available (this was probably "Red Light Lady", under a shortened title).
A reel-to-reel tape containing "Run Of The Mill" and "Whiskey Woman" recently turned up in the possession of former band agent Norman Hood. Al Atkins confirms that this recording features Rob Halford on vocals and that "Run Of The Mill" is the first song K.K. ever wrote. An interesting side-note: Basing Studios, used on the recording of Killing Machine, was later changed to the now famous Sarm West Studio and Sarm Studios, where the Priest demo was made, then became Sarm East Studio.
Manager Dave Corke shopped the demo around and it caught the attention of a small UK label called Gull Records, headed by label President David Howells:
David Howells had been in the record industry in one way or another since 1956, and had even been an executive in A&R for CBS and MCA Records during the mid '60s and early '70s. Howells was heavily involved with record sleeve designs as well, and in the early '70s he teamed up with graphics designer John Pasche to form Gull Graphics, which produced album covers for many of the era's biggest names. That venture brought in Derek Everett and Monty Babson, to form Gull Records and Songs (a record and publishing company subsidiary of Decca Records), which Howells ran from 1974 to 1982.
With Gull Records struggling and a top UK hit-making team known as Stock, Aitken and Waterman (better known as S/A/W, the team would play a role with Judas Priest in 1988) knocking at the door, David was appointed Managing Director of Pete Waterman's PWL Records in 1982 while continuing to license the Gull Records recordings to subsidiaries through his Gull Entertainments company. In 1994, David left PWL to return to his own music publishing ventures again, with his company Darah Music, managing the likes of top hit producer Steve Mac, among others.
In the early part of '74, while Priest were playing a series of British club dates, Corke invited Howells and his Gull Records associates to come see the band perform on the 11th of February at the London Marquee, as openers for the popular hard rock act Budgie. At the end of the night, Priest joined their fellow Birmingham friends onstage for a rousing encore of "Running From My Soul" that had the place going wild:
Priest sign with Gull Records;
After their London showcase for Gull Records, Judas Priest traveled abroad for the first time, touring in Germany and Holland through the beginning of March, then returning for two more weeks of British shows. At the end of March, the band left for a run in Norway and Denmark, where Kenny received his now-famous nick name of "K.K.":
It was also while touring Scandinavian that Priest received news about Gull Records wanting to sign them. On April 16, the band arrived in London to sign the contracts and thus begin their long-sought professional recording career...
At this point in time, Judas Priest were still a four-piece, one-guitar band. But David Howells wanted something different than the standard rock quartet that was so common in the day; he more-or-less insisted that an additional instrument be added to the sound. And while the band members were intrigued with the idea, they also had their apprehensions:
Howells proposed several ideas, including adding a horn player(!), but Ian Hill shares that after the band played a song for the label, it was clear that a second guitar would be the perfect fit. John Hinch recalls that David Howells and producer Rodger Bain came up with the idea for making the additional instrument a guitar, and Downing supported the decision, agreeing that a two-guitar approach would be best for the band as well:
Perhaps Rodger Bain played the biggest hand in the decision for a second guitar: Bain had been the staff producer at British label Vertigo Records, where he produced Black Sabbath's first three albums on a shoestring budget and minimal equipment (he recorded Sabbath's debut on a 4-track deck in only 16 hours!), and thus, more by accident than technical prowess, helped shape Sabbath's heavy, evil sound - most notably, Tony Iommi's raw guitar tone. But around the time that Gull Records signed Judas Priest, Vertigo Records had also signed another group called The Flying Hat Band, and were in the process of finishing their debut album. Featuring Glenn Tipton on lead guitar and vocals, The Flying Hat Band evolved from the group Shave And Dry (where Glenn handled guitar and keyboard duties, as Glenn has actual training in piano). Shave And Dry briefly changed their name to Merlin before settling on The Flying Hat Band, and after several lineup changes, Glenn took over the lead vocal duties and made the band into a power trio. But after laying down some tracks for Vertigo Records, the project got shelved for sounding too similar to label mates Black Sabbath. Management and financial struggles soon brought about the band's demise and Glenn was ready to make his next move...
Four of the scrapped Vertigo tracks were unofficially released in 1992 by German re-issue label SPM International and English label Worldwide Records on a split CD, sharing tracks with a 1972 recording by Antrobus. This out-of-print CD is titled Buried Together. Two more untitled Flying Hat Band demo tracks also exist as bootlegs, while others remain locked away.
With Rodger Bain and Glenn Tipton both coming out of Vertigo Records, it would seem a good bet that Rodger probably offered the name of Glenn Tipton for the additional guitar spot, though K.K. and the rest of Priest were already aware of Glenn, as The Flying Hat Band was a respected rival on the Midlands club scene and both bands were being handled by Tony Iommi's agency. Once the decision was made to open a second guitar spot, K.K. approached Tipton in a local music shop and asked him to join:
Since there was nothing else going on at the time, Glenn felt it would just be a temporary move to help Judas Priest with their recording, after which, he figured to move on to other opportunities. But once he teamed up with K.K., it didn't take more than an instant for Glenn to recognize the potential that combining their differing styles (K.K.'s thinner Strat tone and whammy bar madness vs. Glenn's fatter, blues-flavored melodic runs) and reinforced rhythms had to offer. They would stay together and go on to forge what has been well-dubbed the "twin-axe attack"!
Priest were now ready for the big-leagues. A then unknown Rod Smallwood (who would go on to form Sanctuary Group and manage Iron Maiden and Rob Halford) was working for London's MAM Agency, and Judas Priest was one of the acts Rod signed before he moved on...
With Glenn now on board, a new deal and a new booking agency, Priest play a series of UK gigs to give the guitarist a chance to work with the band before they enter the studio to begin recording...
TOUR DATES 1969:
Atkins - v, Ernie Chataway - g, Bruno Stapenhill - b, John Partridge - d
George Hotel Walsall
Their very first
gig, a band competition as a showcase for Harvest and Immediate Records; Led Zeppelin's Robert
Plant is in attendance
Their very first gig, a band competition as a showcase for Harvest and Immediate Records; Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant is in attendance
TOUR DATES 1970:
Al Atkins - v, K.K. Downing -
g, Ian Hill - b, John Ellis/Alan Moore/Chris Campbell - d
"I remember the show
well - it was before electricity and when Al Atkins was singing in the band.
It was the first and only time we shared a stage with Sabbath. And we said
never, ever again... Just kidding, Tony."
"I remember the show
well - it was before electricity and when Al Atkins was singing in the band.
It was the first and only time we shared a stage with Sabbath. And we said
never, ever again... Just kidding, Tony."
TOUR DATES 1971:
Al Atkins - v, K.K. Downing - g,
Ian Hill - b, John Ellis/Alan Moore/Chris Campbell - d
Al Atkins - v, K.K. Downing - g, Ian Hill - b, Chris "Congo" Campbell - d
SETLIST (Orange titles are from the current album)
Spanish Castle Magic - A Jimi Hendrix cover
Rob Halford - v, K.K. Downing - g, Ian Hill - b, John Hinch - d
Rob Halford - v, K.K. Downing - g, Glenn Tipton - g, Ian Hill - b, John Hinch - d)
Thanks to Jari and K.K. Downing for
providing tour dates from K.K.'s scrapbooks; also to Michael Liljhammer and Al
Atkins for providing tour dates from
Al's personal scrapbook and contracts.
Steel & Leather Productions, U.S.A.