Among his recent projects was a reunion with longtime bandmate K.K. Downing for last year’s KK’s Priest album. He’s also completed a second LP with Held Hostage, the upstate New York hard-rock group helmed by lead guitarist and founder Tom Collier.
Collier, a lifelong Judas Priest fan, and Owens recently joined UCR to discuss Great American Rock, their second album together, as well as Owens’ two-record stint with Judas Priest.
When did you first hear Ripper?
Tom Collier: I saw him live with Judas Priest. I’m a big Priest fan and when he came in and replaced Rob [Halford], I saw no drop-off. I thought the band actually came up in energy, but that was just my opinion. When my manager said he knew Tim and had the opportunity to work with him, I said, “I would love to have him sing my Epic album.” The song “Lightning,” we sent that out to him and he sent it back. Our whole band was like, “Wow, he’s got to sing the whole album.” That’s why I wanted him to come back for this album. The song “Rise,” Ripper is one of the most melodic singers out there. People don’t realize that. I was blown away. At the end of the song, I have a chorus in G major and a post-chorus in E minor and somehow he put them together at the end of the song when he sent it to me. It worked and I texted him right away and said, “How did you think of that?” It was incredible the way he did that.
Tom, we’re at the 25-year mark for Judas Priest’s Jugulator album. Was that the tour that you saw?
Collier: Back then, I partied a lot, just so you know. [Laughs.] When concerts came through, they’d be in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. Iron Maiden would come through and I’d go to all three cities. The same thing with [Ted] Nugent. Every time. I can’t remember all of the shows, but I do remember Ripper hitting the stage. He was kind of, not a clean-cut guy, but all of the other guys had the superlong hair. He stood out, and his voice stood out. I was like, “Holy shit, wow!” I thought he was better than Rob. I really did. So to work with him 25 years later, it’s amazing.
Had you heard the album?
Collier: Oh, yes, absolutely. I probably own every Priest album out there.
Ripper, what are the major memories that stick with you as far as working on that album at the time?
Tim “Ripper” Owens: It was hard to do. You know, we’d work in studios and we do it and it gets frustrating. But them working with me, it was something new where I could do things and beyond. They could try to get me to do anything they wanted. Glenn [Tipton] was like a kid in a candy store. He’d go, “You said your brother likes power metal and death metal, do something underneath it like that.” They just pieced it together. It was a long, long time. There were months of working and singing and getting frustrated. Even [working] on the Demolition album, it was the same way. But still, it was pretty surreal. I’d go to a hotel every night and then come back into the studio. We were in the middle of nowhere and we’d just sit and work on it.
How do you think the music was influenced by the period?
Owens: I think Judas Priest, up to that point – they might not do it as much now, but they were always influenced [by what was going on around them]. Turbo is probably the most influenced record ever.
I know you like that record too.
Owens: I would like it if it was Def Leppard’s record. I was just shocked. I’ll never forget going to the record store and picking that record up. My buddy and I went into my room, we put it on and that first song came on and we’re like, “What is this?” It’s a great record and it’s got some great songs, but it’s no Screaming for Vengeance. But Glenn’s playing on Painkiller, you know, that album was influenced by the times. There’s no doubt. He’s playing arpeggios all of a sudden [Owens imitates instrumental section]. I just had somebody message me the other day, Mark [Morton] from Lamb of God. He said, “Is that really Glenn on there? Because that’s unbelievable!” [Laughs.] I said, “That guy, Glenn and [K.K. Downing] kept their ears to what was going on and they just knew. They loved to do things.” I mean, listen, they did Painkiller and then they were gone for like six years? [Jugulator] was kind of a natural progression. You have to look. What they were doing in the ‘80s wasn’t going on at that time. So they had to kind of do some sort of [things to] progress a little bit.
Listen to Held Hostage’s ‘Take Me Away’
Tom, this is the second Held Hostage album you’ve done with Ripper. How did you want things to progress from what you did on the previous record?
Collier: I wanted the music to evolve from Epic. You know, it’s in the same vein, but we’ve always been a straight-ahead rock band. The thing I learned most was to let Ripper do the vocals and do them the way he wants to. That was a big impact on this new album. Ripper had free rein and he really produced the vocals himself and he made the record bigger than it was.
Tim, how did you approach your vocals on this album?
Owens: Before I even got the songs, I said to Tom and his manager John, “I want to have a little bit more say.” Lyrically, I’d look at something and go, “Man, I don’t know. We might be able to do something better.” Like with a word or a melody or some of the harmonies. You know, I didn’t change it a ton at all. I just kind of put my own personality into it a little bit more. I didn’t just sit back and sing what he’d sent me. To be honest, the meat and potatoes of what he sent me is there. I just added on and I might have made it a little higher here and there or a little raspier.
The album shows a different side of the band, but some moments show the range of what you can do vocally as well.
Owens: You know, it’s funny, like the A New Revenge album that came out that was kind of a hard-rock record, people were like, “I never heard you sing like that!” I’ve been singing like that my whole life, it’s just different music behind it. That’s the whole thing. Even when you listen to Judas Priest’s Demolition and you have songs like “Close to You,” it’s always there. Really, you can hear me sing the death-metal undertones or you can hear me sing the [Ronnie James] Dio-esque kind of things. But when you have the songs, that’s what makes it sound different. It’s really the whole piece that makes it sound different.
Tom, how did this stuff challenge you personally?
Collier: I wanted the music to evolve. “Take Me Away” is a song where we had a producer come in four years ago and they changed the song and turned it into something that didn’t sound like Held Hostage. So that’s why I called it “Take Me Away (Raw).” I stripped the song down and made it sound the way I wanted it to. That’s why I wanted to produce the album myself. We brought in producers and we had one guy, there were saxophones in there. I was like, “We’re not a saxophone band.” You know, it’s great that you’re this reputable producer, but I don’t hear a saxophone. [Laughs.] Writing this album, I did write it directly for Tim. I was working with a different singer, but the whole time, I had told my manager that I wanted Tim to sing this. It turned out, the other guy wasn’t going to work out anyway. He refused to work on it properly. When Tim sends you a song, he sends you 12 to 14 tracks to work on. Every song that he sent me, it was just incredible. He did that on Epic too. How can you work with something better than that? Plus, [it’s great] when he adds his own spin into it. I felt like writing songs, like, “The Master” was a little bit different. I wanted to do this great riff song and that’s going over fantastic. I just wanted a versatile album, so that people can see that the band can do anything.
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