A short biography of Bloxwich’s great heavy metal hero – Rob Halford of Judas Priest
Rob Halford in 1978 (left) and 2009 (right, pic by Stuart Williams)
This article looks at the life of a local man who has had an enormous influence on music world-wide. Appropriately, June sees the beginning of a season of events, ‘Home of Metal’, celebrating the music for which he is justly famous – heavy metal – and its origins in Birmingham and the Black Country.
Born 25 August 1951, in Sutton Coldfield, Robert John Arthur ‘Rob’ Halford lived his early youth at his parents’ home in Kelvin Road on the Beechdale Estate, Bloxwich. He attended Hatherton Lane Infants School from 1956, moving to the Junior School when it opened in 1960.
His childhood friend Tony Cooley recalls that at junior school Rob, who later became world-famous for his extraordinarily powerful and wide-ranging voice, was a good singer. He always featured in the nativity play, usually as one of the three kings, and Tony recalls seeing him made up with a deep tan and drawn-on Fu Manchu moustache, no doubt predicting his future in the entertainment business!
Richard C. Thomas School, Field Road, Bloxwich (Pic: Stuart Williams)
In 1962, Rob and Tony went to Richard C. Thomas Secondary Modern School in Field Road, Bloxwich. Far from today’s heavy-metal hard man image, young Rob was a gentle soul given to artistic eccentricity. His singing voice meant he featured in many school events and plays,
and sang in the school service at All Saints Church, Bloxwich.
Bloxwich Market and All Saints Church, 1969 (WLHC)
Charles Taylor, an England Athletics Coach and English Literature teacher, helped Rob try to pursue a career in the theatre when he left school, also giving him the job of school librarian. After leaving in 1967, Rob went to work at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, then later
worked for gent’s outfitters Harry Fenton in Digbeth, Walsall. He eventually left to join a band, which was the real beginning of his musical career.
Digbeth and High Street, Walsall, 1964 (WLHC)
In those early days, Rob sang for numerous small bands including Athens Wood, Lord Lucifer, Abraxas, Thark and Hiroshima. But he is best known today as the legendary front man and lead vocalist of Judas Priest, the band which, following Black Sabbath, defined the archetypal heavy metal sound and look, having world-wide influence even today.
Athens Wood poster
Halford was introduced to co-founding Judas Priest bassist Ian Hill (Priest’s founding lead singer was Al Atkins) by his sister Sue, who was dating Hill at the time. Rob joined the band as a singer, bringing drummer John Hinch from ‘Hiroshima’.
In August 1974, Priest issued their first single ‘Rocka Rolla’, later releasing an album of the same name. Not entirely successful, ‘Rocka Rolla’ was followed up by Sad Wings of Destiny (1976), Sin After Sin (1977), and 1978’s Stained Class and Killing Machine (released in America as Hell Bent for Leather), The 1970s concluding with Unleashed in the East in ‘79.
Judas Priest, Rob Halford centre, mid 1980s
In 1980, Priest released British Steel, a heavy metal legend followed by Point of Entry (1981), Screaming for Vengeance (1982), Defenders of the Faith (1984) and Turbo (1986), during the glam metal era. The 80s wound down with Ram It Down in ’88. By now Judas Priest, and
especially Rob Halford, had defined the black leather and studs look of classic heavy metal.
The 90s saw a change in musical style and look for Priest and Halford. The Painkiller album (1990) mostly dropped 1980s-style synthesizers, and Halford emerged with all-new tattoos, and began shaving his head.
But disaster struck during the 1991 Painkiller tour, at a show in Toronto, when Rob rode a Harley-Davidson motorcycle onstage, dressed in leathers. Colliding with a half-raised drum riser he fell off, breaking his nose. Regaining consciousness, Rob returned and performed the whole concert. But the accident, according to some sources, caused a rift between him and the band.
Rob’s US band, Halford
After almost twenty years with Judas Priest, Halford announced on 4 July 1991 that he was leaving, and sued their label, Sony, for restrictive practices. Leaving in May 1992, he moved on to other bands ‘Fight’, ‘2wo’ and his own band, ‘Halford’.
In 1998, Rob Halford ‘came out’ publicly as being gay on an interview with MTV News. He was now not only the “metal god” but a gay icon. Hiding his sexuality during Priest’s career apparently caused him depression and isolation, leading to alcohol and drug abuse. But he has been clean and sober since going to rehab in 1986, stating that his Christian upbringing has since become even more important to him.
Rob Halford on the Judas Priest Retribution 2005 Tour in Moline, Illinois (Pic: Zach Petersen)
There were always rumours Judas Priest might reform over the years, and in July 2003 Halford rejoined them, releasing Angel of Retribution in 2005. A world tour marked the band’s 30th anniversary.
Judas Priest at the LG Arena, 15 February 2009 (Pic: Stuart Williams)
In 2008, Priest recorded Nostradamus, appearing on the Metal Masters Tour. That year, I contacted Rob via his sister after attending a Home of Metal event, and he later visited Walsall Local History Centre. Amongst other places, Rob lives in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, but he still
owns a home in Walsall, being proud of his roots here, including his accent!
Although Rob will continue his own music, and the band say they will still undertake a new album and the occasional live show, this year marks the end of a remarkable era as Judas Priest embark upon their ‘Epitaph’ tour – their last ever world tour.
One thing is certain, though. As a legendary singer, songwriter and world-wide cultural icon, Rob Halford has put Bloxwich, and Walsall, firmly on the musical map for all time.
This article will be expanded upon when time permits.