Judas Priest’s Rob Halford sat with his family during Christmas dinner a few years ago and had an epiphany: They should record a Christmas album.
Due October 18, “Celestial” is credited to Rob Halford with Family and Friends—his brother, Nigel, on drums; his nephew, Alex (son of Judas Priest bassist Ian Hill), on bass; his sister, Sue, on bells; and twin guitar tandem of Robert Jones and Jon Blakey.
“This is a dream come true for me,” the Paradise Valley resident says. “Over the years, I’ve watched my brother play drums really well and Alex on the bass guitar. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to manage a song or two? That’s how it started.’
“These things we do in music start with a simple idea and grow into something special. It turned out just celestial. It’s a genuine family and friends experience at the heart of the music.”
The “metal god” takes on traditional tracks like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Joy to the World,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and originals such as the opening title track, “Donner and Blitzen” and “Protected by the Light.”
Halford will sign copies of his new album during an in-store appearance at FYE Arizona Mills in Tempe at 2 p.m. Saturday, October 19.
“I don’t think I’ve ever done an in-store in Arizona,” Halford says. “Oh wait, I just told a lie. I did do one many, many years ago at Zia Records. Outside of what we do as musicians, the physical side of vinyl and CDs are still really valuable. We all love the clouds, don’t we? But there’s nothing better than having vinyl, or a Phoenix Suns or Coyotes T-shirt. The more tangible it is, the more connected we feel.”
The 12-track “Celestial” is a complete story, one that cannot be grasped until every track is heard.
“The 12 in sequence tell a beautiful season story,” he says. “The way it opens with the reindeer and Santa, you can feel the Christmas excitement. The album goes into lots of different places, in terms of tempo, emotion and adventure.
“As you get older, everything changes, but the magic of Christmas is in all of us, I think. That’s the beauty of it. It crosses time. Kids get excited on Christmas Eve and they can’t sleep. ‘What was that noise outside?’ It’s the most exciting time ever for kids. A lot of those beautiful feelings went into making this record.”
Halford is also going to share this music at this year’s Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding at 7 p.m. Saturday, December 14, at the Celebrity Theatre with the likes of Joe Bonamassa and Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme.
“Alice works really hard to get a great bill,” he says.
Whether he’s at his in-store or at Christmas Pudding, Halford wants his fans to understand one thing.
“Music is about making sure the conviction of the emotion of the message is getting across,” he says. “Whether it’s ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ or ‘Away in the Manger,’ the words are incredibly powerful and important. You really have to get in the zone to work on those tracks.
“We have a punky, thrashy song—‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing—we made a video for at my house with a green screen when it’s 120 degrees outside. We were doing a Christmas song in the Valley in July. I remember being in the studio and it was full on. We barely had time to take a breath. I love that type of experience. It keeps you on your toes. You can’t afford to be lazy. You really have to go for it.”
Next year, Halford will hit a milestone with Judas Priest—50 years. The band will begin the year on the road with Ozzy Osbourne in the United Kingdom and England. Then he readies a “gigantic 50th anniversary presentation” that will take the band through Christmas 2020.
“I’m busier now than I’ve ever been,” he says with a laugh. “I thought I’d be slowing down, but I just whizzed past 68 years of age. I’m having the time of my life. Books are being written at long last. There are so many beautiful things. I’m blessed to have this opportunity for all this work.”
FYE Arizona Mills, 5000 Arizona Mills Circle, Suite 612, Tempe, 480.491.1146, stores.fye.com/az.html, facebook.com/robhalfordlegacy, 2 p.m. Saturday, October 19, free admission.