In The Days Before Metal – A Chat with Judas Priest’s Ian Hill

In the days before metal, hard rock was the heaviest game in town. Judas Priest and a handful of other emerging bands of that era broke away from the album-oriented rock of the day, refusing to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors and contemporaries, in search of a new, heavier sound they could call their own. Priest was one of these rebel troops jamming in the front line of the rock & roll revolution that forged the way for heavy metal’s evolution.

Most of us weren’t around to witness or remember those days before metal, but that really doesn’t matter. Music has repeated this same story many times over since then. Genres don’t just appear out of thin air; rather, they are built on the backs of those who influenced the innovators of the next new wave of music.
Think about it this way. Heavy metal, thrash, and grunge all have one thing in common. They all became genres because their originators refused to follow the herd, and they took a creative risk to follow their vision in the pursuit of finding a unique sound/direction without knowing where it would lead. If it weren’t for taking those risks, there would be no metal and–most likely–no thrash or grunge. The same could be said for the R&B of the 1950s, which eventually spawned funk, soul, hip-hop, and rap.

Judas Priest’s bassist Ian Hill is the only remaining founding member (following the retirement of original guitarist KK Downing in 2011). Ian remembers those days leading up to metal’s birth, when it was still in its visionary stage, waiting for bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead and many others to give it form. Ian recently recounted those early days in the following clip.

Ian and I go on to discuss the Judas Priest covers of  “Green Manalishi” and “Diamonds and Rust,” two of Priest’s biggest singles. These fan favorites embody the hard-driving intensity for which the band is famous, and they are a complete dichotomy from the  original versions by Fleetwood Mac and Joan Baez, respectively. Ian explains how Judas Priest chose these particular songs to cover, and he answers other questions of a more personal nature, ending with the biggest lesson he has learned in music–a must-hear for all aspiring musicians.

As happens with all living things on this planet, music evolves vicariously through the will of those who create it. For aspiring musicians, take the information to heart that is given in this walk through “nostalgia park,”  and realize that music ebbs and flows. If you’ve headed off the beaten path and are getting frustrated or starting to panic, don’t pull out your hair. Rather, heed Ian’s advice, and learn from his experiences. And most of all, have faith in your music!

I was raised with the metal genre and its sub-genres, so in a sense, Judas Priest was one of my nannies. I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation for their influence on my life. The phrase that comes to mind is: “Hail to the Priest, Hail to the Kings of Metal!”

Click here to check out BAM’s review and pics from the Judas Priest concert in San Jose, CA.


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