Judas Priest's Ripper--
metal messiah or regular joe?

By Naughty Mickie  notymickie@earthlink.net
Photos by John Raber

When vocalist extraordinaire Rob Halford left Judas Priest, many said that neither of the two could survive. Halford went on to new projects, like Fight, and new successes, like Halford, proving that there is a future in the music industry for his talents. Judas Priest, which was originally formed in England in 1970, kept motivated and found a new frontman, Tim "Ripper" Owens, for their wares. Still some fans were unhappy, complaining that Owens was merely a Halford copy, but he has managed to make his own path, adding his own expressions and style to the band's music. With the release of "Demolition," Owens has come of age, so to speak, and his bandmates, Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing, Ian Hill and Scott Travis, are as rockin' as they have ever been, showing that Judas Priest has not lost any of its punch.

Owen's story reads like a fairy tale-- mid-west boy from tribute band becomes lead singer for the mega-group of his dreams. His story was so compelling that it was snapped up by Hollywood and spewed out as the recent film, "Rockstar." Unfortunately, according to Owens, the film omitted some key facts. What's the truth behind the hype? I had the opportunity to spend some time with this nice, polite, humorous man, who not only spoke well, but struck me as very honest and down-to-earth, now let me share him with you.

As with most interviews, I find it best to start at the beginning. I ask Owens to tell me how he ended up singing with his favorite band.

"Well actually it was all a bit of luck really," said Owens. "I was in the tribute band; I was just about to end, I was doing my last show with them. And someone videotaped it and they knew Scott Travis, the drummer, so they got the videotape to Scott Travis. And he was on his way to England and they were going to start trying people out and they were doing some rehearsals and whatnot. They watched the videotape and called me that night, the management called me up. Which really was amazing to me. I wasn't singing for that band for a year --a year later-- I was doing a Seattle band at the time doing Soundgarden stuff. It's funny, the only reason why I did a tribute band was because I was in an original band called Winter's Bane, that was the only way to get gigs really and make a lot of money.

 "They saw the videotape and flew me to England," continues Owens. "A couple days later I sang one line of  'Victim of Changes' and they said, 'You've got the gig' right in the middle of singing the first line as I sang it, they said, 'You've got it.'

 "It's pretty lucky." Owens backtracks, "What's funny was that when I got the call and they said, 'Can you come over?' and I said, 'Yeah.' Then Sunday, I was laying in bed and I had to leave the next day and I could hardly sleep. At that time I didn't know I would be singing, I was just going to meet Judas Priest really because they said they wanted a meeting with me. The phone rings about 10 o'clock at night and it's Scott, the drummer, on the phone and I could hear them in the background. It's like three in the morning in England and he's like, 'Hey, the band wants to make sure that it's your voice on the videotape, that it wasn't something dubbed in there somehow.' I'm like, 'You're kidding me. Just fly me there and I'll prove it when I get there.' And I could hear them in the background yelling and I'm thinking I was the biggest Judas Priest fan in the world and here's these guys in Judas Priest, you know, in the background. At that time, just hearing their voices was pretty strange to me and not believing it's my voice on the videotape. Strange. I hadn't even seen the videotape, I didn't know nothing about it. I thought if it was a live show, somehow, maybe, I don't know. 'It was funny because in the video your voice just stood out and we're curious how that could have happened.'''

Owens sang throughout his youth in Ohio.

"It was a lot easier for me to go to school and sing than it was to go to do a math problem really," Owens says. "I sang in school, I sang in choir in high school, I did all that. I was the only one in choir to bring his Judas Priest records in and say, 'Hey we oughta do this song.' I would bring in this nice mellow acoustic song and it would be like falsetto and I'd say, 'Let's see if we could do that.' Back in that time, the kids in choir didn't really sing falsetto, the boys. Nowadays they do, they get a lot of the influence from rhythm and blues and they put the falsetto notes in there. But back then, they had their tenors and basses. 'You're not having no boy singing falsetto.' I wish I could have because I would've wailed.

"I graduated in '85, that was a long time ago. Man o' man," Owens shakes his head and goes on. "Right out of high school I worked at a law firm, I was a file guy. It wasn't a very big law firm. Then there was an opening for a purchasing agent. everything for the place, computers, everything, a million dollar budget. So I said, 'I'll try that.' And I worked for six years as a purchasing agent at a law firm.''

The love of music was still strong in Owens' heart, so he decided to pursue it.

"I got a little more serious. I quit and started doing some sales and I started selling printing; advertising. That way I could leave town. When I was with the band in Seattle we traveled quite a bit. We would go maybe from Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and then come home. I needed a job that I could make some money on the side. While we traveled around, I could still be selling stuff and make a commission on it. Of course I didn't sell much, but...'' Owens trails off.

When he's not busy with Judas Priest, Owens has a passion for sports, especially when it comes to the Cleveland Browns and other Ohio teams.

"I like sports, I like to watch sports, I'm a big sports fanatic. I watch boxing, baseball and football, I play golf actually. Just the average stuff," Owens says.

He also follows the current trends in music.

 "I think it's good, it's pretty freakin' heavy," Owens says of today's music scene. "What's funny is people think about Judas Priest and they think, if they're not familiar with it, 'Oh man, they're heavy. That's that heavy stuff.' Dude, you've got to get over that because we're like the mellow band now. It's amazing to me. I love Godsmack and I'll tell you I loved their first record and this new record I've heard, by Sevendust, the new song is absolutely killer. I just love the music scene, it's good. You know when 'Jugulator' came out in '97, it wasn't like this. The metal scene was definitely up and coming, the metal scene was coming back. But now it's just heavy stuff.''

When I ask Owens about the Internet, he first claims that he doesn't go online very much.

"I'd probably just get myself in trouble because I'd just look at dirty sites and stuff.'' Owens pauses and then admits, "I use it when I need to travel, get it mapped out. Every now and then I get on and see what people are saying on me. But it just gets me angry at times, so I don't read it. They don't say too much, I'm all right with that, but some of the rumors they say, it's the funniest thing.''

When we spoke, he had just been asked by Metal Sludge, an online publication, to participate in their 20 Questions column. The column often covers inflammatory topics and has upset some musicians, but fans seem to get a real kick out of reading it. Owens told me that he had heard this and planned to check out the site before agreeing to the interview.

Being a singer can be very demanding and fronting a group, like Priest, that involves such a wide range, Owens has to follow a strict regimen to keep his voice in top shape.

"I sleep a lot. It's my job now where I can't get drunk and go out after shows. I go back to my room and go to sleep. I have to get a lot of sleep," Owens explains. "I have some licorice root that I make a little spray out of that I spray in my throat. Black licorice is great for your throat. It's one of the best things actually, it's a natural lubricant. I try to do that. I don't drink too much tea, it sometimes roughens my voice up too much. To tell you the truth, what I've been doing really seems to work, this past year, on my tour, it's been great, is an enormous amount of juice. First of all, it's helped me to stay a little healthier. And before I go on, like during the day, I just start drinking a ton of water or juice. Not just before I go on stage. It's just seems to help the throat. It's unbelievable, I just seemed to sing so much better this time than I ever have. I'll take juice back to my room from the dressing room, when all the stuff's laying around, I start taking juice and I drink a ton of it. It helps a lot. I never thought that. It's just helped out a lot. I drink a lot of water. Before I go on, I'll just drink a ton of water, it helps, I think, to almost wake your throat up. It just coats it, it wakes it up.''

Being a vocalist myself, I was curious to find out if Owens warms up before his shows. Some singers, including Ronnie James Dio, don't, but others, like myself, find warm ups a necessity.

"I do a little bit. I have to start doing more I think," replies Owens.

"We've had some long soundchecks on the road this past tour, at the end of it, because there's a lot of new songs that we have to do for DVD. So we were having an hour soundcheck of singing, playing, singing before a two-hour show. Actually, I had a great night. It was almost like I sang so much during soundcheck that I sang almost as much as I would on a night. I'd go into the dressing room and sit a little bit and then I'd come out and it would be great. I think I need to warm up a little bit more. I don't do a whole lot because I was always, 'I'm saving the best for the show.' And it is still is."

I add that the voice can tire from singing for a long period of time.

"And it's a physical tiredness as well," Owens agrees with me. "Your natural voice starts to go a little bit lower, you can't quite hit that note. Falsetto is not as bad, but the natural voice and the highness of my natural voice starts getting a little bit lower so I don't want to tire myself out.''

Being the "new guy" in the band, it may seem that Owens lets the "big boys" do the work when it comes to writing new material, but he still puts his own stamp on the music.

"I didn't write too much on this new album," Owens says. "Obviously, I got to have a lot more of my own say; it was written for more of my vocals, my vocal style, but it was such a long year, such a long time off between albums. We're signing a new record deal, Downings dad was sick, it was a long trying time. I think the least of our worries was to get me involved with the writing. I would send them some ideas, but it was hard. But when I got there, I could say a lot more. I could sing the way I wanted to sing the songs. Even if I didn't like the lyrics and I didn't like the songs, obviously a got to put a lot of my own in. I still got paid for it.''

Okay, now for the moment of truth-- I ask Owens to tell me his side of the "Rockstar" movie story.

 "Well..." Owens drags out and takes a deep breath. "We weren't involved in the film whatsoever. The story was bought from the New York Times, an article about me and it just went the wrong direction. What the similarities of the movie is: tribute singer makes the real band. That's where it ends. Because they've made a Hollywood movie and they gave us the trailers of it, 'Oh lord, this isn't it,' we said. And so we said, 'We want to have some say; to be involved a little bit.' The movie company said, 'Nah, I don't think so. We're making a billion gadzilliion dollar movie here. We should do it how we want.'

"I guess I was too boring or something," Owens laughs. "So they made it their own way, so we pulled away and they pulled away from us. There's no similarities really except that. And they can say it was that with the idea, but other than that, it was not true. I have no hard feelings. I haven't seen the movie. I heard some people who have seen it and they liked it actually. It's like the big orgy scenes or whatever, I totally missed that. I don't know if I slept through the orgy or what, but I wasn't there. But it's a stereotypical movie about a musician. There's driving motorcycles through hallways, trashing hotels, the whole thing and it's not happening.''

The changes in Owens' life were not as depicted in "Rockstar," but they have been just as dramatic.

"On the aspect of flying to Greece and playing in front of 15,000 people at festivals and even people that I just love meeting like the guys from Pantera and I get to tour with Anthrax and play with Motorhead and Megadeth and met Ronnie James Dio, I think traveling around the world and doing this is an amazing thing," Owens rattles out.

We discuss Dio, who Owens says is ''the nicest guy'' and when he spoke with him he was in awe and Dio said "You're just like me now, stop it.''

"And then you have Dimebag and his brother, they're just great. It's a good feeling to meet all these people, it's just wonderful. I think it's the good part about my job," concludes Owens.

With more dreams fulfilled than most, Owens shares one of his wishes with me.

"Hopefully I'll go to L.A. and get on the Craig Kilborne show. I watch him every night," he says. "Last night he had Ron Howard on and they talked about 'Happy Days.' I want to get on that.''

So what else can excite this man other than an appearance on "The Late Show with Craig Kilborne"?

"I can't wait to tour America," Owens says.

To find out where Judas Priest is now, visit www.judaspriest.com or www.atlantic-records.com

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