Wednesday, September 26, 2012

BACKSTAGE BRIEFS (Pt. IV): JUDAS PRIEST

 
Judas Priest
(circa 2002)
Photo: Scott Harrison
This is Part IV of a new week-long series in which I will share various behind-the-scenes short stories from my dubious rock and roll past. Some of these tales will be excerpts from my books or my previous magazine articles, while others will be never-before-published accounts. Many of my backstage-type experiences have been crazy, funny or unexpected some even have been heartbreaking. But I hope that you will find them all compelling. Today's installment is an excerpt from my book, C'MON! - My Story of Rock, Ruin and Revelation. It recounts my personal experience with the iconic band Judas Priest.
 
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Initially, I hadn’t planned to attend the Judas Priest concert in Boynton Beach, Florida on Super Bowl Sunday, February 3, 2002. The band had achieved legendary status during the 1980s, releasing a string of chartbusting records such as British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith, and I was one of their most devout followers. However, my enthusiasm for their music had waned since the 1992 departure of original frontman, Rob Halford. In 1982 I would have killed to see Judas Priest live, but in 2002 they had become less appealing.
 
But I began having second thoughts about attending the concert after speaking to my old friend, David Thornquest, on the morning of the show. David had heard some buzz on a local radio program regarding the event and he surmised that it would be a must-see performance.
 
My primary concern was whether or not tickets were even still available – after all, it was the day of the show. So I called the Club Ovation box office and to my surprise, the owner, John Gracey, personally was manning the phones that morning. Gracey turned out to be quite personable. He informed me that tickets were, in fact, still available. Perfect!
 
During our conversation, Gracey revealed that he recently had spent close to a million dollars renovating the 3,000 person capacity venue and he was thrilled to be booking such top-name acts as Judas Priest. I mentioned my interest in doing a feature on the club for Brevard Live magazine and that I’d bring a camera to the show and take a few pictures of the venue to coincide with the story. My offer was music to Gracey’s ears. He graciously invited me to be his personal guest that evening, offering a VIP table, an after-show pass and an opportunity to meet and perhaps even interview the band.
 
I arrived at Club Ovation precisely at 10:30PM, just as Judas Priest was taking the stage. The club was packed and the band delivered the kind of high energy performance that one would expect from Judas Priest. Afterword, I was escorted by a couple of the club’s beefy security guards to the backstage meet-and-greet area.
 
Drummer Scott Travis was the first band member who I encountered upon entering the hospitality room. Literally standing close to seven-feet-tall, Travis resembles a cross between an NBA star and a rock and roll version of Lurch from the 1960s comedy TV series, The Addams Family. In passing,  I complimented Travis on his incredible performance that evening to which he replied with a scowl,“Yeah, whatever.”
 
In contrast to Travis’s negative vibe, the other members of his band proved to be quite charming. Bassist Ian Hill appeared to thoroughly enjoy the post-concert festivities and seemed happy to be hanging out with his fans and he gladly signed autographs and posed for pictures.
 
During my backstage conversation with guitarist K.K. Downing I  overheard a girl chatting with Travis.
 
“I’ve loved you guys since I was a teenager,” she confessed, nearly breaking her neck to make eye contact with the giant.
 
“You probably don’t even know my name,” Travis sarcastically replied, apparently mistaking her for a garden variety, blond bimbo groupie.
 
“You’re Scott Travis,” she fired back. “I’ve been coming to see Judas Priest shows since 1986. I ought to know your name.”
 
"Honey, I wasn’t even in this band in 1986,” he replied, seemingly looking for any excuse to be argumentative.
 
“I didn’t say you were,” she shot back with rapid-fire reflexes. “I said that’s how long I’ve been coming to see the band.”  
 
Anyone who loves to quarrel loves sin.
Proverbs 17:19 (NLT)

 
After listening to about a minute of this ridiculous exchange, I realized that she was a diehard, longtime Judas Priest fan and likely knew as much about the band’s history as Travis did. By the time she began schooling him on some of their more obscure earlier material, I surmised that it was an ideal time to move on and say “Hi” to guitarist Glenn Tipton.
 
As I was preparing to leave for the evening, I mentioned to (then) frontman Tim “Ripper” Owens that I was interested in setting up a phoner (telephone interview) with him for a feature story in the following month’s issue of Brevard Live. Although I had hoped for an interview that night, it was obvious that this backstage scene wasn’t the best environment for conducting such business. However, Owens seemed quite interested in doing an interview later in the week and he went into his dressing room to get a pen so that we could exchange contact information. This made for one last opportunity in which Travis could demonstrate his particular brand of “people skills” and he succeeded with grand style.
 
One thing I’ve learned during my professional music biz endeavors is that when it comes to dealing with rock stars, it’s important to understand where do and do not belong. At that moment I knew that I definitely DID NOT belong in Owens’s dressing room. So I stood in the doorway while he dug through his travel bag, searching for a pen. As we were getting ready to exchange phone numbers, Travis came up and grabbed me from behind.
 
Apparently feeling that I was violating Owens’s personal space, Travis loudly offered some choice expletives as he physically dragged me by the throat from the dressing room doorway. Angry and somewhat embarrassed by the incident, I figured it was best that I make my exit right then. Over the years I’d been accused of having my own anger management issues, so the situation would have likely gotten uglier had I hung around any longer. Besides, I stood all of five-foot-six. What was I going to do, slay this “Goliath” in a “David-like” fashion by punching him in the ankles? 
 
Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor;
only fools insist on quarreling.
Proverbs 20:3 (NLT)
 
When I first met Gene Simmons in 1983 I approached him as a giddy fan. Nearly twenty years later, my encounter with Scott Travis was as an industry professional. However, both experiences met with similar results. It took decades, but I was finally beginning to realize that my glorious perception of rock stars was all pie in the sky.
 
-Christopher Long

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