Metal Marauder

16 May 2012 | 8:30 am | Brendan Crabb

If you think the life story of American heavy metal vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens sounds like the script of a Hollywood film, you'd be right. The screamer, who at the time was moonlighting in several bands including Judas Priest/Pink Floyd covers act British Steel, was famously enlisted by metal gods Priest themselves to front them in 1996 after the legendary Rob Halford's departure. Upon Halford's return in 2003 Owens was shown the door, before being quickly snapped up by American traditional metal mainstays Iced Earth. In a cruel irony in 2007 he was unceremoniously booted by mainman Jon Schaffer in favour of bringing Matt Barlow, who Owens replaced, back into the fold.

Owens has maintained a busy schedule since, participating in a litany of projects including Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force, Beyond Fear, Dio Disciples, supergroup Charred Walls Of The Damned and a solo record, 2009's Play My Game. While obviously recent activities weren't incorporated, his tenure within the Priest ranks loosely inspired the 2001 film Rock Star, starring Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston and a host of musicians, including Zakk Wylde and Myles Kennedy. The film depicts a tribute band wannabe who joins his favourite act, fictional metallers Steel Dragon. While Priest initially embraced the concept, they quickly distanced themselves from the project.

However, Owens is pleased his story was projected on to the silver screen in some form. “I'm honoured that they bought the rights to my story,” the affable vocalist offers from his native Ohio. “It was really a movie about me rather than the band. They bought the rights to a New York Times article about me; they just weren't doing it in a way the band liked. We wanted some creative control and they didn't seem to want that. It just wasn't as true as the band wanted and they changed it more after we moved away from it. It's cool; somebody wanted to make a movie about me, it's pretty awesome. Even if it wasn't quite what I envisioned, it's connected to my legacy. They tried to make it too Spinal Tap; a lot of the things that happened in my life, like getting married and my mum getting diagnosed with MS [were left out]. There were many other things that could have been used there.”

He also says the decision to set the film in the decadent '80s, rather than the period during which Owens was a member was also misleading. During his time in Priest, Owens says after the show he'd “go back to the hotel and watch SportsCenter,” he laughs. “It was much different to what they portrayed. It's not quite the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Everyone's getting older, it's a job. Even me, with my vocal style, I have to take care of my voice. You do the show, have a couple of beers after the show and the majority of people I know [do the same]. Except for Lemmy – he's the god of all that, so we just sit back and watch that. It's a different time; I now have kids, grandkids, married. I'm 44, not 24, that's the difference. I'm an old rocker on-stage; it's kind of a different animal.”

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When asked about his current relationships with former Priest and Iced Earth bandmates, he emphasises a preference to take the high road.

“I do keep in contact,” he says of the former. “We're friends and we talk and email each other. Ken [guitarist K.K. Downing], he's left the band now, but we had dinner last year. It's just a great situation for me, we're still great friends. I don't like to burn bridges; I'm known as a nice guy in the industry and I'm proud of what I did while in that band. Everything happens for a reason; the Priest guys are probably as good friends now as when I was in the band. We don't see each other as much anymore but the friendships are still there. I miss the times with Priest. What I miss most is the hanging out with the guys; we did a lot together.”

What about his connection with Iced Earth since his departure? Schaffer has a reputation for ruling with the proverbial iron first and reportedly the dismissal was less than amicable.

“That ended not in the most professional manner,” Owens reflects. “But I've seen Jon since and things have gone really positively for me since. I saw him last year at a festival I did with Dio Disciples. I saw him, said hello and we spoke for a bit. It was civil, but we didn't have a whole lot to say. The funny thing is I talk to Matt [Barlow] more than anybody [currently in the band]. We talk quite a bit, share emails and we're talking about doing something down the road, maybe do a few songs together. I like the new singer [Stu Block) as well. I just think there's no need to be a jerk and instead just move on.”

While there will be devotees of both of the aforementioned bands coming to the Australian shows, Owens says that over time he's established his own fanbase.

“I tour all the time now and I'm busier than when I was in Priest or Iced Earth,” he reflects. “Most of the fans that do associate me with Priest especially are familiar with my solo album and Beyond Fear. Most of the fans that come out started as fans of Priest. It's transcended to having my own fans now. I've made my niche in the music industry. I have my fans who like what I do, so I'm pretty lucky.”

As for his upcoming Australian tour, Owens suggests Charred Walls Of The Damned is one of the few projects likely off the table for the shows and he also plans to include a few classic metal covers from Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. It's his first visit to our shores since Priest's 2001 tour and he'll be flanked by players from local metal acts Killrazer and Darker Half.

“It's a really good setlist,” he enthuses. “It's probably the best setlist I've had, variety-wise, on any of my solo tours. It covers my era of Priest, classic Priest, Dio, Sabbath, Beyond Fear – a little bit of everything. I want to do some classic songs and stuff I'm known for singing, like The Ripper. I'm probably going to do an Iced Earth song, When The Eagle Cries. I'd like to do more of them, but I don't want to ruffle anyone's feathers in that camp, it's a different situation. What's cool about getting to play the Priest songs from my era is that they don't play those songs anymore, which is a shame. I think it's special that we do them. It's always hard to make everybody happy, but I want to do songs that the crowd is going to have fun with.”