How Many Original Members are in Judas Priest?

 Rob Halford & Glenn Tipton

Judas Priest is one of the most iconic bands of the last century. And the crazy thing is, they have existed for half of that century! But with multiple line-up changes and 18 musicians coming and going, how many original members are in Judas Priest?

Here’s what I know from being a big fan:

None of the original 4 members of Judas Priest are still in the band. The band members who have been in the band the longest are bassist Ian Hill who joined in 1970, and singer Rob Halford who joined in 1973.

But really, the band called Judas Priest that contained those original 4 members just broke up, and then singer Al Atkins started a new band with Hill and guitarist K.K. Downing and just took the name of his old band.

So ultimately, it depends on how purist you want to be when it comes to the word ‘original.’

In 2020, the band celebrated 50 years of playing heavy metal for the masses. In 50 years, a lot can happen, especially in the world of heavy metal.

Drugs and alcohol, economic pressures, personality conflicts, and evolving professional goals are all inevitable issues in any long-lived band. And Judas Priest was not an exception.

Let’s explore their history and members in greater detail.

Who were the Original Members of Judas Priest?

The original 4 members of Judas Priest were vocalist Al Atkins, bassist Bruno Stapenhill, guitarist John Perry, and John “Fezza” Partridge on drums. Perry was quickly replaced by long-time Priest guitarist K.K. Downing after Perry committed suicide.

Way back in 1969, Stapenhill came up with the band name Judas Priest after hearing the Bob Dylan song The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest.

At that time, Stapenhill was playing blues-influenced music together with Al Atkins, Ernie Chataway, and John Partridge.

That band didn’t last long though. By 1970 Al Atkins took the name Judas Priest and offered it to the band that he would join next.

K.K. Downing, Ian Hill, and John Ellis had been playing together under the name of ‘Freight’. When Atkins joined their band, they adopted the name he offered, and Judas Priest was reborn with its new sound and a new lineup.

By the end of 1971, however, the band would have its first shift in the lineup, with Ellis being replaced by Alan Moore.

Al Atkins, K.K. Downing, Ian Hill, and Alan Moore are often considered to be the true original members of Judas Priest.

But like life, it’s complicated.

Who was the Original Singer for Judas Priest?

Al Atkins was the original singer for Judas Priest. He fronted the band before they recorded their 1st album and never enjoyed the commercial success that Judas Priest achieved later on in their career.

After a couple of years of playing shows and touring, Atkins decided to leave the band.

He explains his departure by saying, “I was the only one in the band that was married with a kid to feed and without a record deal and the backing we needed I just couldn’t survive anymore so I decided to get a haircut and a 9 to 5 job.”

His departure opened the door for Rob Halford, who stepped in as lead singer towards the end of 1973. And Halford was the singer by the time they released their debut album, Rocka Rolla, in 1974.

And, of course, the rest is history!

How many Lead Singers has Judas Priest had?

There have been 3 lead singers for Judas Priest, starting with original vocalist Al Atkins, long-time vocalist Rob Halford, and Tim ¨Ripper¨ Owens, who temporarily replaced Halford from 1992 to 2003.

As the new frontman in 1973, Rob Halford became the face and the voice that defined Judas Priest for the next twenty years. In 1992 he left the band due to “miscommunications”.

At this point, Judas Priest had already become an iconic metal band.

They were world-famous, had a well-defined sound, and were already recognized as the trailblazers that they are in the world of metal.

After a few years of being on hiatus, the band discovered Tim ¨Ripper¨ Owens, who happily stepped in as the third lead singer for the band.

Owens fronted the band until 2003 when Halford decided to rejoin the group.

Despite having a total of three different lead singers, the ‘voice’ of Judas Priest is undeniably that of Rob Halford. It was his distinct vocal style and incredible range that powered the group to fame.

Even Ripper, as good a singer as he is, was basically just trying to sing like Halford.

Who Replaced Glenn Tipton?

Glenn Tipton’s replacement is Andy Sneap, long-time heavy metal producer and guitarist for the thrash band Sabbat. However, Sneap is only considered a touring musician, and Tipton is still considered an official member.

Glenn Tipton retired from touring with Judas Priest in 2018 due to Parkinson’s disease.

Glenn Tipton joined Judas Priest in 1974 as the second guitarist. While they were preparing to record their debut album, Rocka Rolla, producer Rodger Bain suggested adding another guitar to fill in and round out their sound.

Tipton joined the band, and magic happened.

Many fans feel that he was the missing piece of a puzzle that no one knew was incomplete. With the addition of his distinctive sound, the band was complete.

Glenn Tipton became one of the staple members of the band, appearing on every studio album they produced during their long career until 2018.

At this point, he revealed to the public that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Because of his Parkinson’s symptoms, it was necessary to step back from touring.

But the show I saw in 2018 did have Tipton come out and play on the encores!

While Glenn Tipton never officially quit the band (and actually continues to write new material with Rob Halford to this day), they did have to find someone who could fill his shoes for touring purposes.

Andy Sneap was the guy.

Sneap is a well-known producer and musician in the world of metal, having worked on recording projects with an impressive lineup of some of metal’s most famous names.

He was actually working with Judas Priest on the recording of Firepower when they asked him to help out by playing with the band for their live appearances.

Happy to fill in, he has since become the official unofficial fill-in for Tipton.

As long as Judas Priest requires his services, he has stated that he will happily continue to fill Tipton’s shoes on stage.

Why did K.K. Downing Quit Judas Priest?

Original guitarist, K.K. Downing left Judas Priest in 2011, citing a breakdown of their relationship and communication. He later also claimed it was because he felt their live performances were becoming subpar.

But around this time, the band had publicly announced that it was thinking about retirement and had actually announced a farewell tour.

Explaining his departure from the band after a 40-year career, Downing basically claimed that there were ¨differences¨ that couldn’t be overcome with his bandmates, together with factors like poor management and certain decisions that he was never quite in agreement with.

Downing is quoted as saying,

¨… it takes a bloody miracle really to stay together for 40 years. Someone has to give. And it has to be give and take. But inevitably, it becomes a bit of an imbalance, and I like to think that democracy is always the best policy. And there wasn’t enough of it there, I don’t think.”

He was quickly replaced by Ritchie Faulkner for the Epitaph tour.

Faulkner brought new energy to the group, and Rob Halford is quoted as saying, “To some extent Richie saved Judas Priest because if we hadn’t found him at the crucial time that we were looking for a guitar player, things could have turned out quite differently.”

The Evolution of Judas Priest (1969 to present)


Ritchie Faulkner brought new life to Judas Priest, bringing them back from the brink of retirement to enjoy another round of touring and inspired songwriting at what appeared to be the end of their career.

With the later arrival of Andy Sneap, the current lineup that you will see at a Judas Priest concert nowadays was complete.

The “almost” original members of Judas Priest who continue to perform with the group, Ian Hill and Rob Halford, are accompanied on stage by fresh faces and the youthful energy of its newest members.

Bassist Ian Hill and Rob Halford have become pillars in the metal community, showing no signs of slowing down or retiring from their long careers as icons in the world of metal.

But ironically, none of the 4 original members of Judas Priest are still around or were even in the band long enough to play on the 1st album.

Photo which requires attribution:

Rob Halford & Glenn Tipton by dr_zoidberg is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a graphic overlay added.

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