Glenn Tipton says that Rory Gallagher made him pick up the guitar


By Steve Newton

Judas Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton waited 12 years for original vocalist Rob Halford to hook back up with his band. But when the Straight calls him at his room in a swanky Ottawa hotel, he can’t spare 12 minutes to talk about the reunion. Now that the venerable British metal act is back in a big way, everybody wants a piece of the action.

“Fire away, man,” he urges, “’cause I’ve got a really tight schedule. I’m sorry to rush you, but I’ve got another interview comin’ in five or 10 minutes.”

It’s nice of Tipton to apologize like that for giving me the bum’s rush. You don’t always expect good manners from a guy who regularly dons more leather and studs than Blackie Lawless circa 1985. Following his cue, I quickly start rattling off questions.

The first thing I want to know is whether or not he was surprised when Halford, after more than a decade, finally decided to re-enlist with Priest.

“Not really,” he replies. “I mean, we’d patched up all our differences, and we were working together on boxed sets and that. I was surprised that we just made a spontaneous decision one afternoon, though. We went over there with no thought of reunion discussions and before we knew it we were back together again.”

Before Halford’s return, the members of Judas Priest had toured and recorded with vocalist Ripper Owens, who-in a move that inspired the uninspired flick, Rock Star-they’d acquired from a Priest tribute band. The reunion last year with famed screamer Halford resulted in a new CD, Angel of Retribution, and a massive tour that hits the Pacific Coliseum on Sunday (October 23), but Tipton claims its motivation wasn’t purely financial.

“We genuinely love Judas Priest music,” he declares, “and I think the fans know that.”

Whatever was behind the reformation, it was surely time for one of the prime purveyors of British metal to deliver a master class in old-school ear-busting. With scorching tracks like “Deal With the Devil” and “Wheels of Fire”, the new disc is an impressive return to the band’s melodic, mid-’80s period, when albums like Defenders of the Faith and Turbo had them packing arenas far and wide.

“If you wanted me to criticize,” says Tipton of the current metal scene, “I think there’s a lack of identity out there. But I’ve learned to respect the younger bands. My mind’s very open to all forms of music and metal, and my son’s 19, so he turns me on to bands. I keep my ear to the ground.”

Apart from Scott Travis–who replaced long-time drummer Dave Holland in 1990–the current lineup of Halford, Tipton, co-guitarist K.K. Downing, and bassist Ian Hill is the same as on the quintet’s 1974 debut, Rocka Rolla. Looking back, Tipton points to the albums British Steel (1980), Screaming for Vengeance (’82), Painkiller (’90), and the new Angel of Retribution as landmark releases.

As far as his extensive catalogue of recorded riffs goes, he says that die-hard fans most often rave about his intense lead breaks on “Painkiller” and “Beyond the Realms of Death”, but he’s not keen on pinpointing fave solos himself. “I just play guitar,” he relates, “I never really give it much thought. I play from the heart, and I do what I can, you know. Live on instinct and a little luck.”

And a little inspiration, too. Tipton cites Jimi Hendrix and Rory Gallagher as his two main guitar influences growing up. While it’s common for heavy-metal players to mention Hendrix as crucial to their development, Gallagher’s name rarely comes up.

“I used to go and watch him in a club in Birmingham,” says Tipton of the underrated Irish bluesman, who died in ’95, at age 47, from complications after a liver transplant. “I was just stunned by his use of an old battered Stratocaster, a Vox AC-30 [amp], and a Rangemaster treble booster. The guitar had so much energy that I think he’s the guy, really, that made me pick up the guitar.”

And he doesn’t plan on putting it down anytime soon. After more than 30 years, Tipton is still content to drape himself in the prototypical metal outfit of black leather and silver studs and head out on the highway.

“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it,” he claims. “I mean, travel can be an ordeal sometimes, and I’m a homeboy-I love my home-so the travel side of touring can be a bind. But every night we step on that stage and don the leather and studs it’s magic.”

So what can local headbangers expect when Tipton and his mates take the Coliseum stage in all their macho finery? For one thing, they can count on the big honkin’ Harley that Halford revs up over the PA before riding onto the stage. “It’s a big production,” says Tipton, “so we’ve got a few surprises in store. There’s plenty of costume changes, plenty of lights, plenty of classic Priest.”

And plenty of volume? “Oh yes,” he stresses. “Always louder than before.”

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