In a recent interview with Goldmine magazine, JUDAS PRIEST singer Rob Halford — who has roared onstage astride a Harley-Davidson for the intro to “Hell Bent for Leather” for decades — explained how a motorcycle became a part of the band’s live act. He said: “There was a moment when we first had the song ‘Hell Bent For Leather’, and we’re at a club, somewhere in U.K., still making our sound happen in any venue we could play in. And we pulled up and there were bikers parked outside the venue, down the alley and stuff. I said out of the blue, ‘It would be very cool if we could bring a motorcycle out during ‘Hell Bent For Leather’.’ I go and speak to a couple of bikers and told them what the idea was. ‘Yeah, yeah. But his isn’t that big. Use mine.’ So, I had the bike, and I had a leather jacket. I put a leather jacket on, and it was like an epiphany. It was a very unplanned epiphany. Everything seemed to feel 100 percent connected at that particular show. And then that was it. You walk off stage going, ‘Something’s happened’ — you know. Now we have the whole manifestation of the look, the sound, the feel, it has all coalesced through that bike. It was like a simple ‘On The Waterfront’ moment. Marlon Brando and all these things that have already preceded you, but in a non-musical way. Here it is. And that’s all she wrote. The fans loved it. They totally went ballistic.”
On the last show of the tour supporting PRIEST‘s 1990 “Painkiller” album, Halford was knocked off the motorcycle he by a misplaced prop. He broke his nose and was rendered unconscious, causing him to miss the last song of what would be his final show with the band for more than a decade.
In an interview with Hellbound, Halford stated about his nightly ritual of cruising out on stage on a motorcycle, “The whole association with motorcycles and JUDAS PRIEST goes back to ‘Hell Bent for Leather’ — whenever that song was written… When we were touring in England, we thought that it would be cool if we could bring the bike on stage when we did the song, as it seemed like the right thing to do. So when we would go to a city we would ask one of our crew to see if there were any motorcycle guys or girls that had parked their bikes and could we use their bikes and give them a couple of t-shirts, or buy them a drink and that type of thing.
“When we got to America, we basically asked our management company to contact Harley-Davidson and told them what we wanted to do,” he continued. “They were really excited about the association of their bikes with this heavy metal band from the U.K. They gave us the 1981 low-rider for a dollar. Prior to that, they would give us Harleys and then we would give them back at the end of the tour. The official one that you see now, which has been customized — the frame, the wheels, the engine all the internal stuff are the original components. So we have had that bike since then.”
Regarding the connection between motorcycles and rock and roll, Halford said, “In my mind, in talking about the United States, it’s all about Harley-Davidson. There has just been this ongoing relationship in rock and roll with Harley for as long as I can remember. The roots of motorcycles and rock and roll culture goes back all the way to Marlon Brando in that movie ‘On The Waterfront’ I think that it is still relevant in today’s rock world. I’ve seen guys like AVENGED SEVENFOLD in other metal bands that are using bikes on stage. The MÖTLEY CRÜE boys are using bikes in their videos. We are using bikes in our videos but Harley-Davidson is the most important brand for us. They are American and the represent America, even though for awhile Harleys were made in Japan, which was a bit unusual but eventually they moved back to the States where they belonged.
“Harleys are the perfect American motorcycle to be associated with rock and roll music. And I’ve always said that the Harleys are synonymous with heavy metal because like heavy metal, Harleys are big and loud and brash and they smell and they piss some people off, and they have all the same attributes that heavy metal does. So it’s a very close correlation between rock and roll, heavy metal and motorcycles. It’s the independence, the rebel streak — all of those are attached to being on a Harley.”