During the height of its popularity in the late '70s and mid-'80s, Judas Priest was one of the hardest-rocking bands on the metal circuit. So when singer Rob Halford, who left the group on amicable terms in 1991, came out of the closet a couple of years ago, rumors circulated freely about the liberties that might have been taken behind the scenes. We heard one alleging that Halford would invite the best-looking young men from the crowd backstage so that he could have his way with them, assuming they were of the same sexual orientation. We set out in search of these gay male groupies and asked Halford if the stories were true during an interview conducted after his set at Blossom on August 23, where his new band Halford opened for Queensryche and Iron Maiden.
"That's one of many rumors that went around," says Halford, who has fronted two other bands, the thrash-oriented group Fight and the industrial rock outfit Two, since his Judas Priest days. "I have never personally been involved in that kind of situation. I'm much too focused on my music to start looking at tits and asses, or dicks and asses, in this case. I don't have any male groupies, although it did cross my mind after coming out that they might be lining up, but I haven't found even one yet."
What is notable about Halford's coming out is that it hasn't affected his stage presence. Dressed in studded black leather chaps and a matching jacket, Halford, with head shaved and sporting a goatee, looked as if he could be the poster boy for a gay biker bar. He says his affinity for leather was initially just a way to "give metal a look" and not to reflect gay subculture. But throughout his set, his performance was mesmerizing, and the audience responded with clenched fists pumping in the air. It's hard to believe that Halford's clearly homoerotic persona doesn't faze an audience that's usually thought to be homophobic and conservative.
"That's a misconception about metal people," Halford says. "The majority of them could care less. All they want is their music. Sexuality is a non-issue. They're compassionate, understanding, and human."
Halford doesn't use the stage as a place to flaunt his homosexuality, but he admits that it's fair to read sexual connotations into his songs; tracks such as Priest's "You've Got Another Thing Coming" and Halford's "Locked and Loaded" are filled with innuendos. In fact, he has played with gay punkers Pansy Division on occasion, singing its version of "Breaking the Law," which uses the refrain "Breaking the law/Breaking the law/Breaking the sodomy law."
"They're good friends of mine," he says. "I performed 'Breaking the Law' a couple of times with them at San Diego Pride, and I love them a lot. They're wonderful musicians and songwriters. I like the bit in their version where the cop is tapping at the window."
We bet he does.
Stoner rock might be the hard rock movement of the day, but its roots go back -- way back. During the '80s, several bands were recording heavy, melodic music that, in retrospect, appears to have been ahead of its time. The second annual Stoner Hands of Doom festival, slated for September 2 and 3 at Youngstown's Nyabinghi Dancehall, offers an overview of the now burgeoning genre. Spirit Caravan, fronted by Scott "Wino" Weinrich, is one of the leaders of the scene. Weinrich, who played in the Obsessed and St. Vitus in the '80s, sees the stoner movement as a return to harmony.
"There's an upsurge in popularity for more melodic stuff," he says. "Kids these days are really into Limp Bizkit and Korn, but those groups are offshoots of rap and hip-hop. I don't like rap at all. I think it's really negative, and the kind of music we're doing is positive. Anything that advocates misogyny or gang warfare or selling cocaine is a major bummer. What I'm hoping is that the resurgence of this music will bring the emphasis back to real playing."
The festival will run from noon to 2 a.m. each day, and in addition to Spirit Caravan, the bands scheduled to perform include Earthride, Penance, Boulder, Unorthodox, Bottom, Positraction, Internal Void, Slowhorse, Oversoul, Plaster, Pale Devine, Kung Pao, Sunnshine, and Rebreather. Tickets are $15 a day. For more information, consult the website shod2000.virtualave.net or call 330-799-9750.
The third annual Bust Out Blast Weekend at the Beachland Ballroom will take place this weekend. On September 2, former Dead Boy Jimmy Zero has booked the bands -- Lesbianmaker, Satan's Satellites, King Nixon, and Alpha Kitty -- all of whom are playing the club for free to raise money for a Tavern stage and acoustic improvements in the Ballroom. The September 3 show is a continuation of a Labor Day series that the Beachland's Mark Leddy started when he was booking shows at Pat's in the Flats, and two locals -- the Chargers and Quazi Modo -- will play, along with Memphis's American Death Ray and Detroit's Von Bondies.
"The Bust Out Blast thing goes back to something we had done at Pat's," Leddy says. "For two years in a row, we had done a little bigger than average show, where we did them outside and made it really cheap. It's a big drunken blowout to end the summer."
For more information, consult the website beachlandballroom.com or call 216-383-1124.