Metal Emeritus and Judas Priest founder Allan Atkins speaks. Let us listen.
For those not in the know, Judas Priest has a history so long and glorious the roots stretch back into the late 60s. They are one of the very few bands in the genre that can claim to have existed as architects of the genre before the name was even applied by outraged critics. Astoundingly, even the longest serving acting members of the band were not there in the earliest, formative stages. Allan Atkins was there at the very beginning, the original lead singer of Judas Priest. For deep knowledge fans, this is the mysterious “Atkins” credited on Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings of Destiny. A name seen, but not heard. Most fans know the story (or a version of it!) of how Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing staged the of-necessity, emergency recruitment of Rob Halford to cover an important gig at which record company poobahs would be in attendance. The story of the man he replaced has been lost metal lore. The tale is worth the telling, and no better source than the man himself.
Where did you grow up, and what was life like for Allan Atkins as a young man?
I was born in a small town called West Bromwich about eight miles outside of Birmingham City in October 1947, just two years after World War 2 ended. As a family, we were pretty poor but so were a lot of others, as the whole country was trying to rebuild and get back on its feet. We were very religious. I had to attend my father’s Baptist Church every Sunday morning, say prayers at night, and also attend Catholic church midweek because my mother was brought up and taught by Catholic nuns. I would eventuall turn my back on religion and become the black sheep but my older brother went on to become a preacher.
What were some of your important, early musical influences?
Growing up, I listened to a lot of American artists, my favorite was Eddie Cochran. Later in the 60s, I followed The Who, The Yardbards, and Cream. That’s the type of music that called out to me to follow…
What bands were you with before you founded Judas Priest? Did they achieve any degree of success?
I was in several bands in the swinging 60’s, one of the first was The Bitta Sweet who opened up for many bands like Long John Baldry, Cat Stevens, and David Bowie, to name a few. Another band was The Sugar Stack and also Jug Blues Band, then in 1969 along with bass player Bruno Staplehill who had played in all these bands alongside me, we formed Judas Priest.
You are one of the rare artists who were a part of the Heavy Metal scene before the term was coined. What were things like in those days?
Judas Priest was classed as a Progressive Rock band like many other loud and adventurous bands around. We were inspired by another Birmingham band called Black Sabbath and thought “let’s find a double-barrel name like that and Bruno took it from the Dylan album “John Wesley Harding”. The song was “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest.” Another West Bromwich friend, Robert Plant, had just formed Led Zeppelin with Jimmy Page and was sounding pretty damn good so it was an exciting time to be in music. Another band at this time was Deep Purple. Having watched them live, I thought they were the loudest heavy rock band around.
Tell us about the early, formative days of Judas Priest.
A lot of people say Judas Priest were a blues oriented band but that period had passed and it was now getting very heavy. I was writing nearly all the songs and they were influenced a lot by Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. The idean when I wrote “Whiskey Woman” was taken from from Led Zep’s “Black Dog” with the vocals in between the main riff. It was later titled “Victim of Changes” when recorded on the “Sad Wings of Destiny” album. “Winter”, one of my other songs, was more Black Sabbath. We went from playing small clubs to large venues in a couple of years and were opening for top bands like Thin Lizzy, Spirit, Slade, Budgie, and Status Quo to name just a few so this was a good learning curve for what the band would eventually achieve. I left them in May 1973 due to personal reasons and in came Rob Halford as my replacement.
Let’s discuss your musical output post-Judas Priest. Where should interested fans start?
I have recorded six solo albums to date, my latest, titled “Reloaded”, was released just last year and features a host of name guests from around the world including guitarist Stue Marshall from Australia, Roy Z Ramirez from Mexico, bass players John McCoy, and Judas Priest’s Ian Hill. I have also recorded on self-titled album with my band “Holy Rage” and three Atkins-May Project albums with guitarist Paul May.
What do you say to those who consider Metal a legacy genre?
Someone said Metal was dead? Well, he has been proven very wrong with Judas Priest’s new album hitting the charts worldwide with their biggest sales in 34 years. I did feel at one time, though, that metal music was shooting off into different avenues like death metal, grunge metal, black metal and so on and it could burn itself out. This has never happened in music like melodic rock that has kept a steady ship for decades without hardly any change. My other concern is that we are losing big name Metal arena bands who are all getting older and eventually who will take their place? We lost Motorhead and maybe AC/DC last year. There are a lot of good young metal bands around but they are small club bands and it’s a big step up.
What’s in the future for Allan Atkins?
Paul May and myself will be recording our fourth Atkins-May Project album this year and I will be looking forward to doing that. And beyond that? Who knows. Any which way the wind blows. Long Live Metal!
The author wishes to humbly thank Mr. Atkins for his kind assent to this interview and the time he took to conduct it.