By: Ben Tyree
During the mid-70s America was hit with a second coming British Invasion, the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal.” Following in the feral tracks of British metal pioneers Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple was a new branch of metal that was raw and velocity fueled and included groups like Iron Maiden, Motorhead and Judas Priest.
Judas Priest became known for their twin lead guitarists who drilled into complex duets that are now basic ingredients for heavy metal. Some fans say that the group was formed early, in Birmingham, England, when guitarist K.K. Downing and bassist Ian Hill got together, but the group needed a few personnel changes to become the legend it is today. By the time they released their first album, Rocka Rolla in ’74, the JP line up delivered with the now legendary figures, vocalist Rob Halford and guitarist Glenn Tipton.
The band skyrocketed to the pinnacles of heavy metal-dom through the late ‘70s and the ‘80s while releasing seminal and incendiary albums including Sad Wings of Destiny, Killing Machine (released in the U.S. as Hell Bent For Leather), and the classic British Steel.
After decades of near constant studio time and touring, Priest began to skid off the tracks in the early ‘90s, falling on hard times and suffering from the consequences of drastic personnel changes that led to a breakup. Tipton’s creativity kicked in during this tumultuous time and he was inspired to create several batches of new solo material, pairing up with a short list of young hotshots, along with some rock legends.
His 1996 release, Baptism Of Fire, was recently re-reissued by Rhino/Warners. Tipton followed up his re-mastered Baptism with a set of material he had stashed in his vault that included unheard sessions with the late bassist John Entwistle (The Who) and drummer Cozy Powell (Jeff Beck Group, Rainbow, et al) titled Edge Of The World.
In addition to Tipton’s solo work, the original and now classic Judas Priest lineup have reunited and produced their critically acclaimed CD Angel Of Retribution.
Ben: How different is it working with Judas Priest on an album now compared to what it was like in the past?
Glenn Tipton: It’s no different, really. We’ve always worked in the same way. We get our ideas as individuals. We’re doing that at the moment and we’re meeting up in about two weeks. Then we sit down and we pool all the ideas and as soon as the room lights up, we know we’re on to something. Then we pursue that until it’s in a rough format, we’re happy about it and we’re excited about it.
We move on to another idea before we start to fine tune things, we just like to know the direction that this particular album is going in, so we usually sort of rough a few things out first and then get a feel. If we like the general direction, then we go with that.
Ben: So the feeling of enthusiasm is the same, more or less, as it was in the ’70s?
Glenn Tipton: Yeah. It’s even more exciting now because we were apart for so long from everything. The magic is still there! We’re very lucky we’ve got a formula, a writing formula that works.
I’ve said this many times. There’s a lot of people in bands, a lot of musicians better than me that just weren’t fortunate enough to fall in with a band where everything locks together. Then you’ve got a recipe for success, really. I don’t just mean on the writing level. I mean on the band’s performance level, as well. I’m just privileged to be in the band, really, and proud to be in Priest, proud to be part of it.
Ben: Do you feel that you work better when you stick to formulas?
Glenn Tipton: Not really, no. I mean, I feel that every album of Priest has got its own character. It’s all unmistakably Judas Priest, but I do feel that every record has got its own identity. I think it would be boring, really, if you wrote the same album with different lyrics, which a lot of bands do. They’ve got a formula that works and then tend to stick to it. Too regimented. It hasn’t always worked. We’re quite an adventurous band, really, when it comes to writing and recording and we’ve paid the price with albums like Point Of Entry or Turbo.
When they first came out, they came under fire and maybe quite rightly so, because you can’t always experiment and always get it right, but I think you’ve got to do that. I think you’ve got to push those boundaries further so that you’ve got room to maneuver more as a band.
Ben: What percentage of your guitar solos would you say are improvised versus stuff that you work out when you go into the studio?
Glenn Tipton: With Priest, really very little. Going back to when I was in a blues band, every night was improvisation, and you get good at improvising if you do it regularly. With Priest, the solos have become part of the song. They’ve become what people expect. I’ve gone to see people like Clapton and they rearrange songs and I’m disappointed. I want to hear the song that I’m familiar with.
In our songs, the solos are actually an integral part of the song. So, we don’t vary it that much. There are little bits and pieces, though, that I’ve never quite put together in a set way and I’ll just do my own little thing through them. But the actual format of the song, in the solo in the song, remains the same basically.
Ben: Obviously the blues has had a big influence on your playing. How about other genres like classical or jazz?
Glenn Tipton: Well, classical, yeah. I’ve always really loved classical music and that has mainly to do with my mother. She was a pianist, and therefore a lot of the stuff she did was classical. That was embedded in me from an early age. That’s probably why I don’t play scales, really, because I’ve been indoctrinated with classical music, so I sort of know what’s right and wrong. I don’t need to know musically if this fits into that, or whatever. I just know instinctively.
So, right from an early age classical music has always been important to me. But I also love film scores. I love the big scope of film scores. There are some great composers, as well, that are little known because their compositions are in films. I’ve always been intrigued by the amalgamation of film and music and what it ends up as. It’s a very, very powerful thing. Those are the main things, really.
Ben: Do you feel that playing in a situation with dual lead guitars has enhanced your musicianship, more than say a situation where you’re the only guitar player?
Glenn Tipton: Yeah, definitely. It certainly enhances the band because what you’ve got is a great, fat stereo rhythm sound when we play. We’ve got a really full sounding band where one is playing rhythm and the other’s playing lead, you’ve got a trade-off situation which is very exciting. You’ve got harmony in the guitars, which is another aspect of the band. Then going down to quieter passages where one’s doing one thing kind of quiet and the other can play some really nice melody over it.
So, it just gave the band so much versatility. You know it made us more versatile, more flexible, really and it teaches you that what counts is the band, and the music, and the songs, not your individual playing. That’s not important at all. It’s the band that counts and it’s the songs that count.
Ben: Tell me about your current gear that you use when you’re touring.
Glenn Tipton: On stage, I use Marshall power amps, Hamer Guitars predominantly, Ernie Ball strings, EMG pickups, some DigiTech effects, pre-amps which I am always experimenting with but I use Piranhas. And I’ve got a Godin pre-amp that I’m messing around with and I’m working with a couple of people on the design of a pre-amp.
Pre-amps are things that change and, at the moment, that’s what I’m using and a JMP that I’ve used as well. Um, SPX 90′s, various reverbs, and Graffix. Simple stuff, really.
I don’t use anything, you know, that spectacular. It’s all digital programmed, MIDI programmable. I’ve got a switching board on stage; simple switching board for, you know, different settings on the pre-amp, mainly and any effects I want to switch with, Marshall cabs, 4×12 cabs with vintage speakers. It’s quite a simple rig.
I feel that on stage, your setup should be quite simple because if it’s too complicated; One, you’re asking for trouble and two, is if it goes down, you can never really get through the show. That’s the trouble though, too. It has to be very robust, but more than anything, it has to be reliable.
If you over complicate things, and Priest aren’t a complicated band anyway, then you really only have a 50/50 chance of getting through a show, which is pretty important for Priest.