|Tim “Ripper” Owens - Uber Rock Interview Exclusive|
|Written by Eamon O'Neill|
|Sunday, 12 October 2014 03:00|
With one of the most powerful voices in metal, vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens has lent his scorching tones to a great number of projects over the past fifteen plus years. Recording with Iced Earth and Yngwie Malmsteen, among others, he has also stepped into Ronnie James Dio’s shoes, fronting Dio Disciples, a band made up of members of Dio’s final touring line-up. Most famously though, it was Owens who fronted Judas Priest for almost a decade following Rob Halford’s decision to leave the band in the early 1990s. From fronting a Judas Priest tribute band to releasing two studio albums with the real thing in 1997’s ‘Jugulator’ and 2001’s ‘Demolition’, his story even inspired a Hollywood movie. Going for the jugular, Eamon O’Neill caught up with Tim following his gig at Belfast’s Voodoo.
You are most of the way through a lengthy European tour. How has it being going?
It’s been good. I’ve got two more left to do. The first half of the tour wasn’t put together as well as the second though. The shows weren’t bad, and the crowds were great, but the guy who put it together was a fuckin’ moron. I mean you come here to Belfast and see what the local promoter has done, and this being a Thursday night - I mean it’s always hard to do shows on a Thursday night - and he really worked hard to put the show together and advertise it. But the response has been good with the fans, because they’re getting to see a set that they’ve never seen before.
You are performing the ‘Jugulator’ album on this tour, which is a real treat for fans. How does it feel to be doing this for the first time ever?
It’s good. We still don’t do the whole record. We do the main songs that people have wanted to hear, like ‘Cathedral Spires’ and ‘Jugulator’. They always get to hear ‘Burn In Hell’ and ‘Blood Stained’, so doing something like ‘Dead Meat’ and ‘Death Row’ is pretty cool. We did a lot off the ‘Jugulator’ album, and a couple off of ‘Demolition’. There’s a lot off of ‘Demolition’ that I’d love to do. I have in the past done ‘Hell Is Home’ and ‘Machine Man’ and they’re really cool to play.
Any particular highlights for you, and what have been the fan favourites?
On this tour? I think opening with ‘Jugulator’ is pretty cool. It’s funny because we rehearsed that a little bit in Judas Priest, and at the time, I don’t know, it just didn’t gel enough. I mean, obviously, when we toured, we always played a good amount of stuff off the record, but we never played that one. I don’t know why we never did it. So I tried it on this tour, and I wasn’t sure how it would work, but I knew that these guys in the band were the band that could play it.
The band are local guys from the band Sandstone, aren’t they?
Yeah, they’ve did the entire tour. Sandstone were supposed to play tonight, but the singer had something come up. They opened on the tour, and then they played the set with me. I met them when they opened for me on a tour a few years ago, and then Stevie, the guitar player and I stayed in contact about doing something. When I talked to them about touring, I just knew that they were the band to play that set list, and I just knew that this was the time to do it. We didn’t have much rehearsal, so we had some mess ups to begin. I use them a lot when I come here now. I try to use them always in Europe, because they just ‘have it’. They’re really faithful to the albums, and even though it’s not the easiest set, it sounds amazing.
You joined Judas Priest in 1996. What was it like receiving that phone call?
Well, you know what, it was crazy. I was in a band called Seattle at the time, and I was getting ready to go to a show, and I happened to stop by my parents’ house because my number was unlisted, and they said “Judas Priest was trying to get a hold of you”. So I got the number and called Jane Andrews [Judas Priest’s co-ordinating Manager], and it was crazy. They said; “do you have a passport?” And they flew me over, saying that they didn’t even think that I was going to have to audition, because they saw this video [of Owens performing with Judas Priest tribute band British Steel]. And then I had to audition, which was really weird, because I hadn’t sang a Judas Priest song at that point for over a year. I didn’t rehearse and I didn’t practice. I just went there and sang ‘Victim Of Changes’ and I made it.
Was there anybody else in the frame to take the Judas Priest singer’s job that you know of?
No. I was the only one who tried out. They did have some people lined up. There was always rumours that Ralph Scheepers was in the top list of people. He was from Primal Fear, very Halford-esque, a great singer and a great guy.
After joining Judas Priest, how long was it before you went into the recording of ‘Jugulator’?
I flew home after the audition, and went back three months later, and we pretty much went straight into it. ‘Burn In Hell’ and ‘Death Row’ I think might have been the first two. We started recording at a guy named Barriemore Barlow’s studio, the drummer from Jethro Tull, and then we recorded the rest of the album at this other place in Guilford. The second record [‘Demolition’] we recorded at Glen [Tipton, Judas Priest guitarist]’s house.
Which is your favourite of the two albums?
Man I’ll tell ya, it’s funny, because my favourite record as a whole is probably ‘Jugulator’, but some of my favourite songs are on ‘Demolition’. I mean ‘Hell Is Home’ and ‘One On One’ are just classic. You think of some of those songs like ‘Machine Man’, ‘Lost And Found’, ‘In Between’, there are some great ones on there. But my favourite song actually is probably ‘Blood Stained’. It’s a brutal song.
Given Rob Halford’s indelible mark on the band, was there ever a feeling that it was a thankless task?
I knew the reunion would come someday, but I’ve got to be honest, and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it always; I wasn’t upset. I really was ready to be out. Looking back now, if Halford’s name had have been on Jugulator it would probably have been a masterpiece. I just think that’s how it is. And I understand, it’s a normal situation. I mean, Rob’s the man, but I just knew that I could do it, vocally every night on stage. I wanted to do it, and I knew that as a Judas Priest fan myself, I knew that what I was doing was something that I would have liked, as somebody who could sing the songs to the same level.
How did you find out that you were out of the band?
I got an email. It’s funny, because I had just finished recording the Iced Earth ‘Glorious Burden’ record, and I was coming home and I told my wife; “man, I almost wish Judas Priest would fire me”, because I’d never have quit. And I got home and I had got that email. I had just recorded the Iced Earth record because Priest was just in a down period and I wasn’t getting paid at the time. No-one knew what we were doing and we were like at ‘stall’. Everybody was like; “it must have really been bad!” I was like, “no!” The record was done, so joining Iced Earth was seamless. Every time I keep going on. What I do now, each time I get fired from bands, it’s kind of like been a blessing. But first of all, joining Judas Priest was the biggest blessing.
Have you any thoughts on KK Downing’s exit from Judas Priest?
I hate it, but I mean I like Richie. I love Ken, and you know, it’s hard. It’s like a family, right. I hope that if they ever end, that he comes back. I think he just hit kind of the end of the road.
What do you make of the three albums that they’ve made since Rob came back?
Yeah they’re good. I preferred ‘Jugulator’, but you know, Rob’s going to prefer what he did, and I’m going to prefer what I did. Rob and I are good friends, as with the rest of the guys, we’re still all good friends, and we can always joke about that. But the new one [‘Redeemer Of Souls’] is getting back to their roots. You know what’s great though? Judas Priest are a band that can make an album like ‘Nostradamus’. When they released ‘Turbo’ people didn’t like that. They’ve always experimented throughout their whole career. Whether you like it or not, that’s what they’ve always done.
What songs do you love singing from the Halford era?
Well I love all of them. ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’, ‘Victim Of Changes’, ‘Painkiller’; ‘Painkiller’ is an easy one, I mean it’s easy for me, as it has more light and shade to it. ‘Scream Machine’ [Beyond Fear song] really is harder to sing. There’s other ones like ‘Sentinel’ that aren’t as easy. But I think why ‘Painkiller’ is easy for me to sing is that it’s not the most beautiful song, but vocally it’s just ‘there’.
You went on to work with Yngwie Malmsteen. He’s been famously known as being very difficult to work with. How was your experience with him?
I had a great time with him. He was amazing. I really had a great relationship with him. We got along really well. I think what’s cool though, is that he really loves to play guitar. He sits and plays guitar all the time. Watch Yngwie play on the Hear ‘n’ Aid [1980’s multi-artist charity project put together by Ronnie James Dio that recorded the ‘Stars’ single] video. Go on YouTube and watch him play, and when he plays his solo compared to everybody else, it’s beautiful, and it was almost like the first take.
More recently you’ve been a member of Dio Disciples, which features members of the final line-up of the Dio band. What’s the status of that band?
It’s celebrating Ronnie, and I do it whenever I can. I stepped aside last year because I was so busy doing other stuff. I really love doing it, but financially it’s not that good. It just gets by, and by the time we’ve taken out the expenses there’s just no money. We still do it, and we’ve just played Mexico, but they do it a lot without me. Mark Boals has been singing. I miss Toby [Jepson] though. He started it with me, but then it was me and Oni Logan. I love doing it though, because it’s a really fun gig. I’ve never been more satisfied singing on stage than when I ‘m singing Ronnie’s stuff. When you’re playing those songs with your friends, it’s a special feeling.
One final question; Is there room for both Dio Disciples and Last in Line?
Oh, absolutely. Vivian and Vinnie and the rest of them, I think it’s great, and they’re celebrating Ronnie. I know Vivian and Ronnie had their differences, but those were the guys who recorded those albums. I was talking about this earlier, and I always talk about George Lynch and Vivian. Even if they’re not technically the best guys in the world, Vivian had that sound, you know? To hear him play, with the squeals and the things he did, like I say, it was just amazing.
Photographs courtesy of Darren McVeig http://www.metalplanetbelfast.com/