15 Minutes with a rock God – Ian Hill of Judas Priest

Ian Hill, founding member of Judas Priest

Whatever your opinion of Judas Priest’s sturm und drang music, you’ve got to love lead singer Rob Halford – for his common sense, if nothing else.

A 1990 lawsuit accused the band of inserting subliminal messages into their songs, and driving two disturbed young men to suicide.   Bollocks, was Halford’s retort.  Urging fans to kill themselves is counterproductive.  Better to secretly urge them, he said, to “buy more of our records.”

Sunday, ‘Priest’ hits Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion in Gilford for the final night of their American tour with headliner Whitesnake.  The show will feature a complete performance of the band’s most successful album, “British Steel.”

Bass player and founding member Ian Hill spoke recently spoke with Michael Witthaus:

MW: Any favorite moments on the tour?

IH: We’ve done so many places; the main thing is the show, which we always enjoy.  Days off are few and far between.

MW: You’re ending in Gilford.

IH: Beautiful part of the country, New Hampshire, it’s our first time playing in Gilford. We’re looking forward to somewhere with a bit of scenery.  Last time around, we went to Lake Champlain in Vermont.  We rented speedboats and motored from one end of the lake to the other, peered through people’s back windows.

MW:  How has the response been to the nightly performances of British Steel?

IH:  Fans know what to expect, which is great.  Though really, it’s something we’ve never done. Someone pointed out it was the 30-year anniversary; when you play the songs every night, you tend to forget which album it came from.  British Steel was the first one we had a U.S. tour with where we were the headliner.

MW: When did you first come to America?

IH:  In 1977; in 1980 we opened for REO Speedwagon. Then we were special guests with Foghat and Journey. We began British Steel as special guests with KISS – damn good start that – and then went on our own.  We must have done something right.

MW: How did you start the band?

IH:  We were both about 17 when we started playing together in 1969. Kenneth [guitarist K.K.” Downing] and I weren’t really close friends until we realized our common interest in music. We formed what was really a school band, with a chum called John Ellis.  Judas Priest was another band. Their lead vocalist, Alan Atkins, came round and asked to sing.  Family commitments caused him to leave, but we kept the name.

MW:  What were your influences?

IH:  Honestly, I listened to white boy blues – Eric Clapton, John Mayall.  But my big influence was Jack Bruce, and Cream.  I thought their live recordings were stand up.  I still listen to Wheels of Fire today.

MW:  You moved away from finger picking your bass in recent years.  Why?

IH:  Clarity, really – it’s a cleaner, sharper sound.  When you have a couple of distorted guitars, you need that clean sound to put it through.

MW:  How has the second time around with Rob Halford been?

IH:   All was well when Rob came back.  Everything clicked into place like an old jigsaw puzzle.  We did some good material with Tim (“Ripper” Owens, who replaced Halford from 1996-2003).  He’s a great vocalist, great bloke.  But being a fan of the band, he could see the sense of it.  In every interview, we were asked if Rob was coming back.