“Giddy” isn’t a word often tossed about in heavy metal circles, but that’s pretty much how Rob Halford, lead singer of Judas Priest, says he felt when he got to meet — and sing with — fellow legend Dolly Parton when she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year. When approached with the offer to perform alongside her during the ceremony, Halford was stunned. “I’m like, ‘Let me sit down for a minute,’” he told Total Rock’s Dawn Osborne of the unforgettable moment that led to him being asked to contribute to the country queen’s Rockstar album, which dropped on Nov. 17.
“I was over the top, cause I was all over [her] like a rash. I was, like, a total fanboy,” Halford shared of his heady state following their group performance, which also featured Pat Benatar, Sheryl Crow, P!nk and Annie Lennox.
Things got even more surreal for the rocker when he was approached to collaborate on Rockstar, which was just in its planning stages at that point. He, of course, jumped at the offer and “Bygones,” one of the CD’s nine original tracks, was born.
“It is one of my very favorites on the whole album,” Dolly Parton says of the hard-rocking track, on which Rob Halford sings while Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx and John 5 play guitar. “The song fits with so many couples, and coupling my voice with Rob, one of my all-time favorites, made it even more special,” the Nashville icon added.
True to form, for the two consummate performers, the song is earning raves. “Our Metal God and the Queen of Country sound fantastic together, trading lines over a dark, brooding verse that builds with energy before their two voices inevitably intertwine over a catchy, soaring chorus,” raves Loudwire, adding that “it’s downright fun and irresistibly catchy, just the way rock should be.” Vulture, meanwhile, dubs Dolly a “Judas Priestess” and hails it as a “headbanger of a track that wouldn’t be out of place on British Steel,” Judas Priest’s iconic 1980 album that featured the classics “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight.”
When “Bygones” was released in June, the head-banging tune impressively and deservedly debuted at No. 1 on the Mediabase Classic Rock Songs chart.
“I am so excited to see the response ‘Bygones’ is receiving,” Parton posted online in excitement. “To debut at No. 1 on the Rock charts is such a thrill for me, and it makes it even sweeter to share this with Rob, Nikki and John 5.”
The metal icing on the cake for Halford was that the creative and recording process with the music legend didn’t disappoint. “She is the epitome of just being so beautiful and pure. Everything you know about that woman, she’s like that 24-7. I don’t think she ever takes her wig off,” Halford quipped. “She’s incredible; she’s absolutely incredible.”
Rob Halford changing the image of metal
The British-born Halford has proved that he’s also pretty incredible. In fact, the icon also received Musical Excellence honors from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2022 along with his bandmates in Judas Priest, the metal outfit that was formed in 1969. And in 2010, he and the band took home the Grammy for Best Metal Performance for their single “Dissident Aggressor.”
Nicknamed “Metal God” by fans and known for his penchant for leather, studs, tattoos and motorcycles (he’s even rides one onstage at every show), Halford, 72, is one of the most revered performers in his genre. He’s hailed for his mind-blowing vocal prowess he’s displayed throughout his 50-plus year career, “when many of his peers and even younger shriekers blew theirs out eons ago,” as noted by the Observer website.
As Alice Cooper raved of Halford’s four-octave range when Cooper inducted the band into the Hall, “What can you say about Rob Halford’s voice? Is there any emotion that he can’t express, a note that he can’t hit? Or one that he can’t hold seemingly forever? He is simply one of the greatest singers in heavy metal industry.”
Halford’s further revolutionized the rock world when, in 1998, he bravely came out and spoke about his homosexuality, becoming the first openly gay heavy metal musician. As he explained to Louder’s Metal Hammer, he’d felt isolated for years due to his sexuality, but relief came when he found the courage to be true to himself, which has inspired others. “I know it’s a little bit easier now, but it’s still tough, especially in the world of heavy metal. Although, that said, I like to think I’ve exploded that particular myth.”
He can take pride for the change he’s making in the industry. When he matter-of-factly noted “Hello, I’m the gay guy in the band” during Judas Priests’ acceptance speech at the Hall of Fame, the audience erupted in an enthusiastic round of applause. “You see, that there is what heavy metal is all about,” he continued. “We call ourselves the heavy metal community, which is all-inclusive: It doesn’t matter what your sexual identity is, what you look like, the color of your skin, the faith that you believe — or don’t believe in. Everybody’s welcome.”
Overcoming addiction and inspiring others
The musician has also been refreshingly open about his battles with drug and alcohol addiction, and he’s even addressed mental health struggles. “For many years, we glossed over those parts of what goes on in our industry,” he told NBC News in 2020 of why he feels strongly in being transparent. “In recent times, it’s been very apparent the issues that we have to deal with in rock ’n’ roll, whether it’s booze or drugs or some kind of mental issue. We’re losing beautiful people.”
He himself attempted a drug-related suicide in 1985 during a particularly turbulent period, which he chronicled in his raw and revealing 2020 autobiography, Confess. Fortunately, a friend was able to rush him to a hospital, saving his life. A 1986 stint in rehab helped him kick his addictions for good, allowing him to focus on his life, his musical side projects (Fight, 2two, and Halford), interesting collaborations (with the likes of Five Finger Death Punch, Parton and more), and perhaps one other unusual passion: cats!
Halford shares his heart for furry felines
A visit to his Facebook or Instagram pages reveals the Metal God’s fascination with fabulous felines. The heavy metal rocker with a heart of catnip has proven to be an active supporter of Los Angeles’ Kitten Rescue organization, donating signed shirts and other merchandise with cat and metal artwork on it to raise money for the volunteer-run nonprofit and the cats and kitties they adopt out.
And he often takes to social media asking fans to “post your kittens and critters” where thousands share photos of their beloved pets.
“They’re beautiful creatures,” Halford, a multi-cat pet owner, told the Cobras & Fire podcast. “I think the reason why we like ’em in our metal community is because they’re fiercely independent. You think you know your cat, [but] the cat knows you better than you do. And they’re so full of character and knocking things off the shelf and looking at you as if to say, ‘Look what I can do.’ But I love ’em for that.”
In April 2022, he even stepped up to name an intake of stray kittens at Kitten Rescue, bestowing upon them Judas Priest-inspired names such as Turbo (after the song “Turbo Lover”), Angel (for “Angel of Retribution”) and Mama Rose (for “Last Rose of Summer”), among others. “Check out this bunch of hellions I have christened in metal!” he posted online to help raise funds for the organization and to help get the cats adopted.
And in September 2023, Halford — along with Guns N’ Rose’s Slash, Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee and others — donated items to be auctioned off at Kitten Rescue’s 15th Annual Fur Ball Charity Event, which went on to raise more than $160,000.
No wonder why Dolly Parton found Rob Halford to be the purrfect duet partner for her foray into rock!
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