By MIKE CHAIKEN
Judas Priest guitarist Richie Faulkner indoubtedly had some big shoes to fill when he stepped up to join one of the most iconic bands of British heavy metal.
Faulkner stepped into the role left by original guitarist K.K. Downing, who decided to hang up his Gibson Flying V.
After playing on the band’s Epitaph World Tour in 2011, Faulkner has joined the writing fray on the band’s latest studio album, “Redeemer of Souls.”
The band performs at the Grand Theater at Foxwoods on Saturday, Oct. 11.
Faulkner found himself joining the legendary metal band thanks to a mutual friend of his and the rest of Priest, he explained in a phone call from the U.K. where he was taking some time to relax and connect with friends and family.
The crew guys for Judas Priest knew Faulkner’s friend and reached out to the friend about taking over for Downing. Faulkner said his friend couldn’t do the gig but he recommended Faulkner in his stead.
Faulkner, who had been playing in some cover bands, met with Judas Priest’s guitarist Glenn Tipton and singer Rob Halford (the rest of Priest is bassist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis) to see if he would be a good fit. He played a few things for Tipton and Halford. There was a definite affinity between both camps. And after a cup of tea, Faulkner found himself as the new guitarist for Priest.
“I couldn’t have been happier,” said Faulkner.
“I was a huge fan of Priest and metal,” said Faulkner. “It’s part of my musical make-up.”
And in a way, Faulkner was part of the Priest universe even before he officially became one of the guys.
In one of the cover bands Faulkner played with, the drummer was none other than Les Binks, who pounded the skins for Judas Priest’s seminal album, “Stained Glass.”
“I’m coming full cycle,” said Faulkner.
After the Epitaph tour, Faulkner jumped in feet first as a member of Priest for “Redeemer of Souls.” Not only is he playing guitar, he’s become part of the band’s songwriting conglomerate.
“It was great fun being outside coming into the project,” said Faulkner. “It’s good for the guys (to have someone new join the process)…. You can always benefit from an outsider’s perspective.”
Faulkner said he didn’t have to really dovetail his own style of playing and writing to that of the rest of the guys in Priest. “I had a healthy diet of Priest growing up…. I didn’t have to write differently.”
And as “Redeemer of Souls” came to take shape, Faulkner said the band had a point to make to the world at large. “The band needed to prove it could do it (write songs) without a founding member.’
“It created a very positive dynamic,” said Faulkner.
“We just threw one idea out after another,” said Faulkner. The band found itself with so much material for “Redeemer of Souls. “We had to stop eventually.”
As for fan reaction to the first album with Faulkner on guitar, he said there have been some detractors, which you can expect when people are as passionate about a band as they are with Priest. For many fans, though, he said, there was a “sigh of relief.” The fans said they wanted the record to be good and their expectations were met, explained Faulkner.
“It’s all great either way to get people’s opinion,” said Faulkner. “Not everyone will like it. That goes with the territory.”
Fans definitely were drawn to “Redeemer of Souls.” The album zoomed up the charts, reaching no. 6, its first week out.
“They put their money where their mouth is,” said Faulkner of the fans, who gave Judas Priest its highest Billboard chart debut of its career.
“It’s great to have that instant connection (with fans via social media),” said Faulkner. “But when they put the record at such a high chart position, it speaks volumes.”
When Judas Priest comes to Connecticut, Faulkner said the band definitely will be playing tracks from “Redeemer of Souls.” After all it’s a new album that they’re looking to sell.
But, Faulkner said, fans also can expect staples of the Priest set such as “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” “Breaking the Law,” and “Hell Bent for Leather.” Plus, fans can expect a good dose of tracks from “Defenders of the Faith,” which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. That album gave the world songs such as “Freewheel Burning” and “Love Bites.”
Whatever is in the set list, said Faulkner, you can bet that it’s ready made for a concert setting. “Priest is primarily a live band.”
At the time of the interview, Faulkner said Priest had not convened yet to prepare for the tour. Last time around, the tour was full of lasers, fire, etc. “You name it and we had it… We couldn’t get any bigger.”
This time, Faulkner expected the band will pull things back a bit. “We want the songs to shine through,” said Faulkner. “We want the songs to do the talking.”
But don’t expect a stripped down acoustic tour, said Faulkner.
And definitely, don’t worry on another point. Faulkner said Rob Halford is still going to ride his motorcycle out on stage.
“We can’t wait to get out there (on the road),” said Faulkner.
Judas Priest plays at the Grand Theater at Foxwoods in Mashantucket at 8 p.m. Tickets are $55 and $75.
For more information, go to www.Foxwoods.com or www.JudasPriest.com.
By MIKE CHAIKEN