Being in a heavy metal band – and a Classic Heavy Metal band at that – is all glamour, surely. The studios, the exciting tours, glamourous locations, groupies, you name it.
But is that true? What does it really take to make it in the Classic Heavy Metal world? Let’s check out a typical Judas Priest tour from back in their early days to find out the truth.
On a Repeating Loop
Write, record, rehearse, tour. And repeat. And repeat again.
Keep busy. Keep your foot on the gas pedal at all times, in case people should forget who you are. So there’s plenty of pressure and there’s plenty of dull routine alongside the glamour. Always hoping that people will buy into what you’re doing, really dig it. Classic Metal Hawk always feels a bit of pressure to come up with the next article, but at least he can do it from the comfort of his own nest.
Did you know that when Judas Priest released British Steel, widely acclaimed as a breakthrough album for them, that was already their 6th studio release? Priest fans will know all about that already, but to The Hawk, it was somewhat surprising to count them all up. In 1978 alone, 2 albums hit the racks – Stained Class and Killing Machine (or Hell Bent for Leather as the US title). Both followed up with tours including inter-continental shows in the USA and Japan.
Paying Their Dues
In his autobiography ‘Confess’, Judas Priest singer Rob Halford says the band were ok with the schedule and saw it as proof that they were getting somewhere. Also, the routine was turning the band into a well-oiled machine when it came to both writing and performing. The band were all still young, still ambitious, set on growing and chasing world domination. The first US tour in support of the 1977 Sin After Sin album had been especially eye-opening for them – showing the world of possibilities outside of Walsall.
Still, as a young band without much money, it wasn’t exactly 5-star luxury all the way. On the tour to support their first album, Rocka Rolla, the band had gotten hold of a second hand touring van which promptly broke down in a blizzard near Stuttgart. Guitarists KK Downing and Glen Tipton staggered out into the storm to get help – and got lucky. In a local café, the locals treated them to food and plenty of booze, and, much later, a place to sleep for the night. They staggered back to the van the next morning to find Rob Halford and Ian Hill huddling under blankets in the van, almost on the point of hypothermia.
On the same tour, Halford once had to take a dump in an envelope in the back of the same moving van (promptly throwing the sweet smelling package out through the back door). No swish touring buses with bathrooms in those days.
Still, signing with a bigger label in CBS for Sin After Sin meant things did start to look up financially, as did comfort levels. And this wasn’t any special situation for Priest. Many young acts before and since have gone through the same workloads and sometime deprivations in the hope of making it big – or at least making a living. Music is a tough business, and hard work, perseverance, and making do can all be just as important as talent in eventually breaking through.
Besides, most bands have no end of interesting stories and experiences that crop up in the beginning, and The Hawk highly recommends the aforementioned Confess as a classic in the genre.
There was the time Rob Halford cracked his head open on a metal door frame in the recording studio when rushing to tell the others that a heavyweight fight between Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks was starting on the telly. He ended up in hospital and missed the fight. Or what about the row with Marie Osmond over whether Halford would be allowed to use his bullwhip during a TV special. Or the time he let off a fire extinguisher as a prank in a hotel room in Japan, (I know, the originality!!), and then pretended to have been asleep the whole time when the manager called the police.
Out the Other Side
Anyway, speaking of British Steel, the band’s by-now slick routine combined with a wider alignment of the planets. There was a nod to the still banging punk scene, with shorter, sharper, attitude filled songs like ‘Breaking the Law’. Plus of course, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) scene was getting into full swing at the same time, bringing more and more fans with it who were on the lookout for new music to listen to.
The support act on the UK leg of the British Steel tour was a young, upcoming and hungry band from London by the name of Iron Maiden, which goes to prove the point. At that time, Judas Priest were very much the bigger, better established band. Maiden singer Paul DiAnno set the cat among the pigeons by bragging that they would blow Priest off the stage every night – who knows if that happened, but having a ticket for a show with those 2 at the time would have been an extra special night out.
The Next Level
So yes, write, record, rehears, tour. Then repeat.
But Classic Metal Hawk for one is grateful that they were all willing to put up with it all – after all, that’s why we all have access now to such an amazing back catalogue of albums and songs. Glamour and excitement. Routine and Drudge. All come together to form part of life at the best of times, and The Hawk is willing to wager that none of those bands would change a thing. And special shout out to Priest, who blazed the trail well before most of the others. Let’s head back to British Steel and see what made them Metal Gods.
Since this is a fan blog, The Hawk invites readers to comment on the most debauched thing they’ve ever done as a follower of heavy metal. Is it worse than shitting in an envelope? (For really juicy stories, don’t forget you can submit them to our Community blog – no need to hide out in the comments section.)
Anyway, share your thoughts in the comments below, or check out the normal channels to send feedback direct to The Hawk.