Robert John Arthur "Rob" Halford (born 25 August 1951) is an English singer and songwriter, who is best known as the lead vocalist for the Grammy Award-winning heavy metal band Judas Priest and famed for his powerful wide ranging operatic voice. AllMusic says of Halford: "There have been few vocalists in the history of heavy metal whose singing style has been as influential and instantly recognizable", possessing a voice which is "able to effortlessly alternate between a throaty growl and an ear-splitting falsetto". Halford was voted number 33 in the greatest voices in rock by Planet Rock listeners in 2009. In addition to his work with Judas Priest, he has been involved with several side projects, including Fight, 2wo and Halford. In 1998, he came out as gay in an interview with MTV news making him the first openly gay singer in heavy metal music.
Halford was born in Sutton Coldfield, but raised in Walsall, a town to the northwest of Birmingham in England's West Midlands. His early influences included soul screamers, such as Little Richard, Janis Joplin and Robert Plant. He sang for numerous bands including Athens Wood, Abraxas, Thark and Hiroshima.
Halford was introduced to co-founding Judas Priest member Ian Hill by his sister who was dating Hill at the time. Halford, a former cinema manager, joined the band as singer, bringing with him drummer John Hinch from his previous band, Hiroshima. In August 1974, the band debuted with the single "Rocka Rolla", before releasing an album of the same name a month later. The next albums were Sad Wings of Destiny (1976); 1977's Sin After Sin; and 1978's Stained Class and Killing Machine (released in America as Hell Bent for Leather). This point heralded the first style change when Halford (and Priest) shifted from gothic style robes to a leather and studs image. 1979 brought their first live recording with the now classic Unleashed in the East.
In 1980, the band released British Steel. The songs were shorter and more concisely structured, but retained the heavy metal feel. They released Point of Entry in 1981, featuring the song "Heading Out to the Highway". The 1982 album Screaming for Vengeance had a song, "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", which garnered strong US radio airplay, and the popular follow-up Defenders of the Faith was released in 1984. Turbo was released in April 1986, during the glam metal era. In May 1988, Ram It Down (which was supposedly the 2nd half of "Turbo") was released, with songs that were also recorded during the "Turbo" sessions.
In September 1990, the Painkiller album dropped the 1980s-style synthesizers for almost all of the songs. Along with a change in musical style, the band's look changed as well. Halford emerged with all-new tattoos, including a bent Judas Priest cross on his right arm and ring around his other, as well as a few on his shoulders. He also began shaving his head for the first time, claiming that his receding hairline was getting annoying to keep up with.
During the tour for Painkiller in August 1991 at a show in Toronto, Halford rode onstage on a large Harley-Davidson motorcycle, dressed in motorcycle leathers, as part of the show. He collided with a half-raised drum riser and fell off the motorcycle, breaking his nose. After regaining consciousness, Halford returned and performed the whole concert. In the band's Behind the Music episode, Halford named the accident as one of the events that caused the rift between him and the rest of the band that would eventually force them apart. However, during an interview with Bernard Perusse of Montreal's The Gazette (1 August 2007), he is quoted as saying "And it absolutely did not [lead me to leaving the band]. It was just an accident."
After spending nearly 20 years with Judas Priest, Halford announced to the band on 4 July 1991 that he was leaving, and he also sued their label, Sony, for restrictive practices. Halford would leave the band in May 1992. During this period, Halford had recorded 12 studio and two concert albums with Judas Priest.
Fight, 2wo and Halford
He first formed the band Fight with Judas Priest drummer Scott Travis, bassist Jack "Jay Jay" Brown and guitarists Brian Tilse and Russ Parrish, recording two albums between 1993 and 1995: War of Words (1993) and, after Parish's departure and his replacement by Mark Chausee, A Small Deadly Space (1995). While the first one was a straightforward tough and solid metal record, the second record had a grungier sound, making it less appealing to fans who had developed a taste for his debut album.
In between both albums, Fight released an EP, Mutations, featuring War of Words studio versions, live cuts and alternate mixes. Immediately before this, Halford had recorded a track called "Light Comes Out of Black" for the 1992 movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The song featured music provided by Pantera, although their contribution is uncredited.
Halford returned to his metal roots in 2000 with his band Halford and the widely acclaimed album Resurrection (2000), produced by Roy Z. He joined the Metal 2000 tour with Iron Maiden and Queensrÿche to support the album. A live album in 2001 was followed up by 2002's Crucible.
Reunion with Judas Priest
Halford's reunion with Judas Priest had been speculated about when he was no longer in the line-up, at least since the release of the Resurrection album, which some critics claimed sounded more like Judas Priest than the band's previous album Jugulator (1997). Halford initially ruled it out, then reconsidered stating in 2002 that "Gut instinct tells me that at some point it will happen".
In July 2003, Halford returned to his former band, and they released Angel of Retribution in 2005. The world tour that accompanied the release marked the band's 30th anniversary.
In 2008, Halford recorded Nostradamus with Judas Priest, and appeared with the band on the Metal Masters Tour. Long in the works, Nostradamus fuses heavy metal and operatic elements while relating events in the life of the 16th century French prophet of the same name.
In 2011, Judas Priest embarked upon what was billed as their final world tour as a group, titled the "Epitaph" tour. Subsequent to the tour's announcement, Halford stated that he will continue to move forward with his solo band.
Despite the "final tour" announcement in 2011, Halford and Judas Priest (minus K. K. Downing, who left the group prior to the Epitaph tour) recorded another album, Redeemer of Souls, which was released in 2014, and Halford and Priest have been on the road in support of that album through much of 2014 and continuing into 2015.
Halford has performed as the vocalist for Black Sabbath at three shows. He replaced Ronnie James Dio for two nights in November 1992, when Dio elected not to open a show for Ozzy Osbourne. Halford also filled in for Osbourne in Black Sabbath on 26 August 2004 (one day after Halford's 53rd birthday) at an Ozzfest show in Camden, New Jersey, since Osbourne could not perform due to bronchitis.
He provides his voice to the video game Brütal Legend, released in October 2009, where he voices General Lionwhyte, as well as the leader of the Fire Barons, he also heavily influenced the appearance of the latter.
Halford developed the clothing line Metal God Apparel with plans to develop retail sales through 2010.
Halford had a brief cameo in a recent commercial for Virgin Mobile, appearing as a priest. His line in the commercial is "Let us pray". Judas Priest's 1977 album, "Sin After Sin" contained a song titled "Let Us Prey/Call for the Priest".
In 1998, Halford publicly revealed his homosexuality: "I think that most people know that I've been a gay man all of my life, and it's only been in recent times it's an issue that I feel comfortable to address ... something that I feel has a moment, and this is the moment to discuss it."
In a 1998 interview with the Editor in Chief of The Advocate, Halford broke down in tears and told Judy Wieder, "It's a wonderful moment when you walk out of the closet. Now I've done that and I've freed myself. It's a great feeling for me to finally let go and make this statement—especially to The Advocate, because this magazine has brought me so much comfort over the years. Obviously this is just a wonderful day for me."
In Behind the Music Halford stated that hiding his sexuality during Priest's career caused him a lot of depression and isolation which led to his alcohol and drug abuse.
In addition to the sound, Judas Priest are also known for being revolutionaries in heavy metal fashion. During the band's first few years in the 1970s, they sported the typical fashions of the period such as floral-print shirts, leather fringes, and bell-bottom pants (for example, in one of their very early performances on the British TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975). Starting in 1978, Halford introduced the leather-and-studs biker/S&M look that would become the band's hallmark. He claimed on Behind the Music this was an attempt to find an outlet for the angst caused by his hidden sexuality and gave him a professional reason to frequent S&M shops. His personal struggles are reflected in the gay and S&M themes of some Judas Priest songs such as "Raw Deal" and "Pain and Pleasure".
As of 2012, Halford lived in Phoenix, Arizona, though he also maintains residences in San Diego and Amsterdam as well as a home in his native Walsall in England.
Although he is able to play several instruments, including guitar, bass, harmonica, keyboards, and drums, he does not consider himself enough of an accomplished instrumentalist to play while performing on stage, though he played harmonica on Priest's debut single "Rocka Rolla".
In an interview with Motor Trend, he revealed that he has owned a variety of classic cars, including a 1970s Aston Martin DBS, a Chevrolet Corvette and a Mercury Cougar, although he didn't have a driver's license until the age of 38; his current daily drive is a 2006 Cadillac DTS.
He has been clean and sober since going to rehab following a painkiller overdose in 1986, stating that, before that point, he heavily abused drugs and alcohol. He was born and raised in a Christian home, and states the following about his upbringing: "On a religious, more spiritual foundation, that really, for me, has become more important since I became clean and sober on january 6 1986. That was 25 years ago and I think that’s probably more important to me now, on a daily basis."
Singing style and influences
Halford possesses a powerful voice with a large vocal range which is marked by his high-pitched screams and strong vibrato. However, his lower range has matured and become more powerful. Along with Ronnie James Dio and Bruce Dickinson, Halford is one of the pioneers of the operatic vocal style later to be adopted by power metal vocalists and regularly appears near the top in lists of the greatest rock vocalists/front-men of all time. Halford describes himself as "a huge Queen fan" since they began and saw their very early shows. He has called Freddie Mercury, the late lead singer of the band, his "ultimate hero" and expressed regret that he never got to know him. Halford listened to and was influenced by Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin and Robert Plant as a vocalist.
- Rocka Rolla (1974)
- Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)
- Sin After Sin (1977)
- Stained Class (1978)
- Killing Machine (1978) (released as Hell Bent for Leather in the USA 1979)
- Unleashed in the East (1979)
- British Steel (1980)
- Point of Entry (1981)
- Screaming for Vengeance (1982)
- Defenders of the Faith (1984)
- Turbo (1986)
- Priest...Live! (1987)
- Ram It Down (1988)
- Painkiller (1990)
- Angel of Retribution (2005)
- Nostradamus (2008)
- A Touch of Evil: Live (2009)
- Redeemer of Souls (2014)
- K5 – The War of Words Demos (1992) (released in 2007)
- War of Words (1993)
- Mutations (1994)
- A Small Deadly Space (1995)
- Voyeurs (1998)
- Resurrection (2000)
- Live Insurrection (2001)
- Crucible (2002)
- Live in Anaheim (2003) (released in 2010)
- Halford III: Winter Songs (2009)
- Halford IV: Made of Metal (2010)
- Krokus – Headhunter – vocals on "Ready to Burn" (1983)
- Surgical Steel – Surgical Steel (demo), vocals on "Smooth And Fast" (1984)
- Hear 'n Aid (1986)
- Ugly Kid Joe – America's Least Wanted – backing vocals on "Goddamn Devil" (1992)
- Skid Row – B-Side Ourselves – vocals on "Delivering the Goods" in a live version (1992)
- Background vocals on the song "Hex 'n' Sex" for the album with the same title by the German band Brings (1993)
- Bullring Brummies, a studio session line-up that came together to contribute to the Nativity in Black tribute compilation album of Black Sabbath cover songs (1994).
- Recorded the song "Light comes out of Black" with Pantera for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundtrack (1992)
- Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R – vocals on "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" (2000)
- Furious IV – Is That You? (2002)
- Spun motion picture (2002) – "Pornclerk" character
- Brütal Legend (2009) – Voicing the main villain Emperor Doviculus' minion General Lionwhyte, who is strongly based on the culture of glam metal. Also voiced the leader of the Fire Barons, who was directly modeled after his younger appearance.
- Five Finger Death Punch's album The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Volume 1 (2013) – vocals on "Lift Me Up", performed live in Revolver Golden God Awards (2013).
- The Simpsons – Singing a rendition of "Breaking the Law" in the episode "Steal This Episode" (2014).