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April 2019

Denise Mercedes, Jeannie Pawlowski & Richie Realms

Interview with Al Atkins

Cheers! Props! and huge Congratulations! for being the main creative force in establishing a band in 1969 that would become one of the primary driving forces completely changing the landscape of rock music, carving out the new territory called Heavy Metal. Your name comes up first as being in the pantheon of the Rock Gods that Judas Priest are considered for the past 50 years and still going strong.

To have helped pioneer an entire genre, to have been the initial influencer for generations of musicians and listeners who follow Judas Priest, is a true achievement most will never experience. Sometimes the things one does, the seeds they plant, are unaware of the future impact and the after shocks their actions will bring. The humble seed that becomes a forest. It is our privilege to conduct this interview with Al Atkins.

You started the band Judas Priest in 1969, and this being 2019, makes it the Golden Anniversary of 50 years since its inception. You have played in other previous groups, such as 'The Bitta Sweet' that opened for the likes of David Bowie, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and others. Also, in a band called 'Lion' in the 70s that opened for the Sex Pistols and The Stranglers. You’ve kinda seen and done it all! How did the first version of Judas Priest come about? And can you provide us the names of the original members and who did what?

Al Atkins:
The first line up was formed in 1969 with 18-year old John Perry on guitar, but after a few months of rehearsing, tragedy struck when he committed suicide...Drummer John Partridge, bassist Bruno Stapenhill and myself decided to carry on and dedicate the band to him...A few weeks after his funeral we started auditioning guitarists to take his place and one young lad who came was Kenny KK Downing, but we felt he wasn't experienced enough and the job went to Ernie Chataway from Birmingham. He was a great looking kid and a mean guitar player who mentioned a band he once jammed with of the name 'Earth' and they had now changed their name to 'Black Sabbath' and we thought that was a great name and we should look for something similar-- And Bruno suggested 'Judas Priest' which we all thought was good and people would remember it.

What were those early days like, getting your band off the ground?

Al Atkins:
They were pretty hard times, you could always get the odd pub gig but we always tried for bigger and better things...Alan Eade from Ace Management saw we had potential and put us on his books and took us into the studio and asked me to write two commercial songs which I did called 'We'll Stay Together' and 'Good Time Woman.’ It got interest from a couple of record companies. We did a live audition next, and one of the companies Immediate Records from London, signed us up and we threw a champagne party at Alan's house...Next for us was a tour of Scotland but our drummer pulled out so I ended up playing drums and singing too -- and we fired the drummer on returning home. Then we found out the record company went bust and Bruno had an offer from another band to tour Denmark and took it, so that was the end of Judas Priest Mark One....'short and sweet.’

The R&R Vicar Father Husband AKA 'Holy Joe'

I decided to carry on regardless and look for another line up and discovered a young band called 'Freight' rehearsing at a local church school run by a fat Vicar named Father Husband or the nickname 'Holy Joe'...One of the lads was Kenny KK Downing on guitar who I had met before, the other two were John Ellis, drums and Ian 'Skull' Hill on bass...I asked if they needed a singer and they all said yes and I suggested that they use my old bands name 'Judas Priest' and they all agreed that it was a better name so JP MK 2 was born... It was now towards the end of 1970 and we went back into the studio to record another two of my songs 'Mind Conception' and 'Holy is the Man' and hit the road again...We climbed the ladder of success fairly quickly over the coming years opening up for loads of bands like Status Quo, Slade, Budgie and Thin Lizzy to name a few, and playing over 150 gigs in 1972, but that elusive record deal never came our way. I was now the only one married with a small daughter and money was always tight and the more we earned the more overheads we got, so without that record deal or financial backing I decided to leave in May 1973. One of my last gigs was opening for Budgie at Liverpool’s St. Georges Town Hall.

The seminal song 'Victim of Changes' which you co-wrote, remains a classic, and is still in the repertoire of Judas Priest. What was going on with you at that time, to come up with that theatrical direction the song took, and the powerful lyrics?

Al Atkins:
I had the idea for writing ‘Victim of Changes’ while listening to Led Zep's 'Black Dog' with the vocals on their own in between a heavy riff, and it was originally called 'Whiskey Woman' about a alcoholic woman. When Rob Halford joined, he bought some of his lyrics and songs with him and one was a slow song also about a woman of the night and a fallen lady called 'Red Light Lady' which he added to the end of mine...In came Glenn Tipton on guitar and beefed it up a bit and added the intro and they re-titled it to ‘Victim of Changes’... Classic !!!

Some of your other songwriting appears on their first and second albums, 'Rocka Rolla', and 'Sad Wings of Destiny'. Can you tell our readers what songs these are, and if they are significantly different from when you first wrote and performed them.

Al Atkins:
Yes, ‘Rocka Rolla’ featured ‘Caviar and Meths’ - ‘Winter’ - and ‘Never Satisfied’...’Caviar and Meths’ got cut down to fit on the album...This was our big, long, live finale song when I sang for them. I have recorded the full version myself now, but made I made it more heavier and modern sounding than the original. ‘Winter’ was recorded a lot slower than the original but ‘Never Satisfied’ was more or less the same. 'Sad Wings of Destiny' is one of my favourite albums by the band and two of my co-written songs were ‘Dreamer Deceiver’ and ‘Victim of Changes’ which are featured.

Your decision to leave Judas Priest in 1973 has led you down a varied and prolific musical path that you continue on to this day. Would you care to comment on any of the albums listed below that you are associated with?

Judas Priest 1973
l/r, Al Atkins, Chris (Congo) Campbell, K.K Downing and Ian Hill

Al Atkins:
'Judgement Day' and 'Dreams of Avalon' were my first two solo albums and recorded on a short budget for two record companies in Berlin for the European market...I was later approached by Judas Priest's first label Gull Records, London, to record 'Heavy Thoughts'…Next came Neat Metal Records who said I should record all my old works from JP's days, and I used Dave Holland on drums to record the 'Victim of Changes' album. This album was later sold to Universal Records who shelved it when Dave got sent to prison...’Demon Deceiver’ was next and one of my favourites to record with guest guitarists Simon Lees (Budgie) and Brian Tatler (Diamond Head). It has been re-released now three times by three different labels...The last solo one I recorded was called 'Reloaded' in 2017 and it featured lots of guests from around the world like Roy Z. Ramires (guitar), Ralf Scheepers (vocals), John McCoy (bass), and Ian Hill (bass), to name a few…One of my live bands was 'Holy Rage' and we recorded just the one self titled album in 2010. After this band broke up I teamed up with one of my old buddies, guitarist Paul May, and we have since recorded three albums together under the name ‘Atkins/May Project’ and are just about to release a fourth one titled ‘The Final Cut’...

There was some diversity in an early ‘70s incarnation of Judas Priest, where a black musician, Chris “Congo” Campbell played drums. Since this is a historic retrospective on your/the band’s early days, can you tell us something about him?

Al Atkins:
Chris the drummer was a real character who lived right opposite the ‘Aston Villa Football Stadium’ - so it was a bugger to pick him up for a gig on a Saturday if they were playing at home with all the fans blocking the road...When he replaced Alan Moore on drums in 1972 we never gave it a thought if he was black or white or any other colour as long as he could bash those drum skins. In Birmingham there were lots of mixed race bands like UB40 so it didn’t really matter to us. Anyway, he made us more photogenic with K.K. being his opposite with his long blonde hair -- and it made us really stand out from other bands...Chris “Congo” Campbell left Judas Priest when i did in May 1973.

Full discography of Al Atkins Works

Victim of Changes (1998)

Judgement Day (1990)
Dreams of Avalon (1991)
Heavy Thoughts (1994)- released 2003 w/2 bonus trax
Victim of Changes (1998)
Demon Deceiver (2007)
Demon Deceiver…Plus (2009) w/2 bonus trax
Reloaded (2017) (re-recorded "best of", featuring Ian Hill, Ralf Scheepers, Roy Z and more special guests,)
Holy Rage (2010)

CURRENT Atkins May Project

Serpents Kiss (2011)
Valley of Shadows (2012)
Empire of Destruction (2014)
Anthology (compilation) 2015
The Final Cut (waiting for release)

Albums (guest sessions)

ANA-song released for charity (cancer)
Lyraka Volume 2 – (waiting for released)
Xero 'This Endless Fall' (waiting for release)

We would love to have your information about the current ‘Atkins/May Project’ which also features Paul May, who is a truly fantastic guitarist.

'Serpents Kiss'

Al Atkins:
Paul and myself go back some 30 years when we first started out working together, but we later ended up going down different paths for awhile. When my old band 'Holy Rage' split up Paul asked me to sing on one of the songs on an album he had been writing and I ended up singing the whole album called 'Serpents Kiss' which was released in 2011...The album was a huge success and the record label asked us to record another, and then another...

You have a biography “Dawn of the Metal Gods—My Life in Judas Priest and Heavy Metal” co-authored by Neil Daniels and published by Iron Pages Books. How different was the writing process of an entire book vs. song compositions for an album?

Dawn Of The Metal Gods

Al Atkins:
Completely different. My first attempt at writing the book was just about my Judas Priest early days and it got turned down by a few UK publishers and also I couldn't get it approved by JP's management so i shelved it...A year down the line and Iron Pages the publishing company from Germany, stepped in and asked me to write it from my very beginnings of my music and use a co-writer to help me, and they would put it out...I asked the writer Neil Daniels from Liverpool to help me out with it and eventually it got published...

You have a beautiful family and have enjoyed the benefits of that successful lifestyle along with continuing to be an artist, both in songwriting and penning your history. What would you still like to accomplish and add to your legacy?

Al Atkins:
There's just a couple of things that I haven't achieved which I would like to do and they are: acting, maybe just a small role, and, playing in Japan -- which has always eluded me over the years...Who knows? There's still life in the old dog yet.

What advice do you have for those pursuing the dreams of being in the arts/music in this new age of light speed technology and social media?

Al Atkins / Paul May

Al Atkins:
Enjoy, create and have fun with your music and above all: love what you are doing....If it all works out for you then that's an added bonus…We all have that dream and I wish you luck....I was born in the wrong era, only I love social media and all it brings in this age... Big thanks to all at Music Realms for the interview.

MusicRealms sincerely thanks legendary Al Atkins for his participation in this historic interview.

Denise Mercedes:
Feature writer for Musicrealms, Artist Endorsed by Hagstrom Guitars of Sweden. Founder/guitarist of classic early NY punk band The Stimulators. Tribute work: Lead guitarist of Girls Girls Girls (2006-Present) & Bible Black NYC. Founder/Producer of her new 2018 Dae Lilies project.

Jeannie Pawlowski:
Feature writer for Musicrealms, has also been published in New York Natives. Her early photos of the Bad Brains were on exhibition in Subliminal Projects Gallery’s “Banned in Babylon – the Art and Culture of the Bad Brains” in Los Angeles, CA. 2016 – and included in the 2019 PUNK on Epix docu-series produced by Iggy Pop/John Varvatos

Richie Realms:
Owner / Writer and Webmaster of Musicrealms, Richie has had stories published in
New York Lifestyles Magazine Is also an accomplished singer/songwriter with a song on Emidio’s Rock Den Vol 1

Web Master: Richie Realms
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