The other members of Judas Priest are old enough to be his father. Starting as a youngling familiarizing himself with the guitar, all the way through his professional music career, Priest’s heavy metal thunder has remained ever-present and ever-strong for 34-year-old, London-born Richie Faulkner. “My musical background was a healthy dose of Priest, Sabbath, UFO and Maiden, and twin guitar harmonies. That was an early master class on how to play heavy metal guitar. And then that led into the live scene, cover bands around London, growing up playing Priest and Sabbath live every week around London.”
The boy who once stared at his bedroom ceiling fantasizing about rock star success has achieved exactly that by replacing K.K. Downing, one of Priest’s founding members, who left the band in 2011.
Judas Priest is arguably the greatest metal band of all time. What cannot be argued is the fact that they are trailblazers, true forefathers of the genre standing side-by-side with their Birmingham brethren in Black Sabbath. Their ongoing relevance is evident not only with their far-reaching influence, but also with their growing body of work, including Redeemer of Souls, their seventeenth studio album, a release that debuted in America at number six on the Billboard 200 chart in its first week of sales. It’s also Richie’s recording debut with the band.
But before Priest, it was up to another metal icon to “discover” Richie’s talent. Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris asked him to play with Harris’s daughter Lauren’s band, an act that subsequently toured with Iron Maiden. “If you look back, it’s kind of like a gradual movement forward until the point now where the metal gods looked down from the heavens and they said, ‘We need someone.’ All the planets aligned. I was prepared when the opportunity presented itself, and when we got into the studio, it was just natural coming up with riffs you wanted to play in your own bands when you were 14 or 15 years old,” Richie laughs.
“You always aspire to be as good as these people that you look up to, but you never think you can actually get the call for duty. I just thought, ‘If I can’t rise to the occasion and take this challenge head-on, then I might as well stop playing or just do it as a hobby.’ So I told Glenn, ‘If I can’t come up with anything now, sitting in front of you and Rob, I might as well give up.’”
If this sounds similar to the well-known story of life-long Priest fan Tim “Ripper” Owens replacing Rob Halford in 1996, it’s because the process of childhood-fan-turning-into-heavy-metal-superhero is very reminiscent indeed.
Guitarist Glenn Tipton was mindful of the fact that it could have potentially been overwhelming and nerve-racking for Richie to grab a guitar and jam out in front of the legendary members of Judas Priest, so for Richie’s big audition, Tipton had something else in mind; a sneaky approach of sorts.
“Glenn said he felt a bit bad for me, really. He didn’t know what he would play in that scenario, so he said, ‘I want you to play something, but I don’t know what I want you to play. I’ve seen a few things online. Obviously you can play Priest songs. Just do your own thing.’ He was upstairs in the studio. He said, ‘Get your sound set up. He’s gonna go make a coffee, and we’ll be back in five or ten minutes when you’ve got all your stuff sorted.’ So he went downstairs. I started sorting out my settings on the amp and getting everything right and noodling around on the guitar, and unbeknownst to me, he was at the bottom of the stairs listening, which I think was probably the best thing he could have done, because it took any pressure that might have been in the room out of there. I was kind of free to just noodle around. It was more relaxed. He told me later on he was at the bottom of the stairs, and he knew straight away when I started playing that I was luckily the right guy for the job,” Richie laughs. “So I think it was a very good way of doing it without sitting there scrutinizing exactly what I’m playing.”
Richie has since toured the world the better part of two years with Priest. During this time he has established himself in the band to a point where no one could accuse him of being a hired gun. They’ve bonded. They’ve shared beers on the road and at home. They’ve gone fishing together. He is very much a full-fledged, contributing member of Judas Priest. During the world tour in support of their last album, 2008‘s Nostradamus, Richie brought a recording rig with him to capture riffs and melodies.
“You might be in Venezuela or Canada and you get a riff idea, and you need to put it down. Rob calls it ‘catching the lightning in a bottle’ when you capture that inspiration and put it down. Sometimes I’d be in a dressing room and Rob or Glenn would put their head around the door and say, ‘That’s a great riff. I’ve got a song to go with that, or I’ve got a melody here.’ So we started putting down bits and pieces on the road. When we got in the studio we just put everything into the heavy metal cauldron. If you can imagine Glenn and Rob as the CEOs of this company, they are having the new blood maybe open their minds, and it’s an incredible testament to them. They could have been closed-off and like a dictatorship, and they could still do that. They’ve got every right to do that. They’ve been doing this for 40 years. They know best. But this way benefits the band of brothers as a whole.”
And what they’ve collectively created with Redeemer of Souls is an album that’s both timeless in spirit as well as classic in the way it references various aspects of Priest’s career, from its catchy and raw, blues-heavy rockers to its pummeling speed-metal explosiveness.
Richie has come a long way from playing Priest covers in London bars, and an even longer way from riffing along to Priest as a kid in his bedroom. The fan has joined the band, marveling as he sits in on interviews that Rob or Glenn do in which they share old, not always glorious, stories, like when they were sleeping in a hot van in between the grueling recording sessions for the 40-year-old seminal release Rocka Rolla, an album that’s older than Richie himself.
One can’t help but wonder if the age difference between Richie and his bandmates ever becomes an issue.
“Rob had an operation on his back. He had, like, a nerve issue, so I was wheeling him around New York City last year in a wheelchair. This time we met up with a few guys, and they’re all discussing their ailments. ‘Oh, my back’s gone,’ or ‘My knee’s gone,’ or ‘I’ve got this hernia,’ and I’m standing there thinking, ‘I’ve got all this to come. This is gonna be me in 20 years. This is what I’ve got to look forward to?’ So that was quite a funny experience, but in terms of day-to-day stuff, no. We’re all on the same wavelength. We’re all huge music fans. So Rob might come in, ‘Wow, Richie! Listen to this! I’ve got this bootleg from Queen.’ It’s a perfect match. Maybe I’m older in my years, and maybe they’re a bit younger than me and we meet up in the middle somewhere.”
Judas Priest is currently touring America in support of Redeemer of Souls: tickets.judaspriest.com.