They’ve known each other and been friends for decades. Rob Halford, lead vocalist for Judas Priest and Tony Iommi, guitarist for Black Sabbath, recently sat with Metal Hammer magazine and ruminated about their past, present and future.
Asked whether they could recall their first meeting, Iommi said, “I can’t remember exactly when, but it was a long, long time ago. Must have been the late 60s or early 70s.” Halford also wasn’t totally clear on dates, “It was around the time I joined Priest, which was in 1971. Or maybe just after.”
The two men have had an undisputed and influential hand in what has happened in the Hard Rock / Heavy Metal genre. It’s no exaggeration to say that Iommi was there at the birth of metal and that Priest took Sabbath’s blueprint and reimagined it. Most of the genre and its image, can be traced back to Black Sabbath or Judas Priest. Or, more likely, both.
The two iconic musicians acknowledged the influence the other has made to their career: “Sabbath’s most important contribution to music is the invention of heavy metal,” says Halford. “Tony was the guy that played the first heavy metal riff. And it all started from there.” Iommi added, “And Priest have made a tremendous contribution. To start from where they did and they’ve gone on and gone on and gone on. And they’ve flown the flag.”
An interesting topic raised during the talk was the 80’s and 90’s, and how their two bands survived decades of musical indifference. Iommi said, “The 80s was a big change for us. Ozzy went and we had Ronnie Dio come in. It pushed us, it made us work harder.” About the 90’s, he added, “It was tough for a while. A lot of people fell by the wayside. A lot of people started backing out and going in different directions musically. But that’s where you’ve got to believe in what you do, and follow it through. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth and get through it. That’s what we did. At the end of the day you come out the other side.”
Halford continued the thought, “I remember the day I heard “Man In The Box” on the radio, and the DJ goes, ‘This is this new band, Alice In Chains from Seattle.’ I thought, ‘Ooh, that sounds interesting.’ Then I heard something from this band called Pearl Jam, then something from this band called Nirvana. Then I thought, ‘Oh god, here we go again.’” Halford sensed that he was reliving another time all over again: “It was like the punk thing all over again. Everybody was going, ‘Metal’s over, it’s done.’ You couldn’t get any interviews, you couldn’t get on the radio. In America, the program directors at radio stations were told by the owners, ‘Don’t play metal any more.’” Iommi added, “They’ve tried to destroy metal so many times and it still comes back.” Halford continued, “That’s totally the truth. But you can’t kill metal. It just makes you stronger.”
As far as what’s in store for metal, the pair were asked if it was possible for a band starting out today to have the impact Sabbath and Priest had. Halford answered, “It depends what you measure success by. Popularity or records sold? To me, that doesn’t matter. Metal will always be there. That’s the thrill – the fact it’s always there.”
And what about the future for Iommi and Halford? Is it time for them to pass the torch to a new wave of musicians? Iommi said, “I bloody hope we’ve got plenty of years left!” Halford added, “You can’t turn it off. There’s always another riff, there’s always another song to make. The joy about where we’re at in our lives is that even though we’ve achieved so much, there’s still stuff to do. There’s no end in sight.”