An Interview with Tim “Ripper” Owens of KK’s Priest

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For Tim “The Ripper” Owens, the rise to stardom was sudden and abrupt.

Initially, the Akron, Ohio native gained a local following with British Steel, a Judas Priest tribute band, and a band called Winter’s Bane. With the musical landscape shifting toward a booming grunge scene, Owens shed the heavy metal label and joined a band called Seattle.

Owens took the music world by storm 25 years ago, joining legendary English Heavy Metal act, Judas Priest as a relatively unknown singer. Much to the delight of Priest faithful, Ripper’s fiery vocals and captivating energy captured the essence of the band’s classic sound on Jugulator (1997) and Demolition (2001), respectively. Jugulator, the band’s first album in seven years, produced the song “Bullet Train,” which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance in 1998.

I recently caught up with Tim to chat about his upcoming album, Sermons of the Sinner, which is currently slated to be released on October 1 via Explorer1 Music Group/EX1 Records.

Andrew:
Thanks for doing this, Tim. Before we dive into the upcoming Sermons of the Sinner album, I wanted to start by asking about your vocal influences. As you were growing up, who were some of the vocalists that had the biggest impact on your career?

Tim:
When I was real young, I was always into a lot of 50s and 60s Rock ‘N’ Roll music. Then, in the 70s, when I started getting a little older, I started getting into Bachmann Turner Overdrive, KISS, and The Rolling Stones. Then Judas Priest came along; my brother got that record, and I became a big fan.

Big influences vocally on me was obviously Rob [Halford]; Ronnie James Dio is probably the biggest influence that I have. Metal Church’s David Wayne was a really big one for me. Those [Metal Church] records are great; I’ve been listening to them a lot lately at the gym. It’s really funny that I still remember – I haven’t listened to The Dark in a long time, and I remember everything from it; I’m just sitting there singing every word. I can’t even remember the songs I write right now as well as I remember these songs. It’s funny, I look down and I’m like, “Man, that was 1986. I cannot believe it.” But then, Savatage’s Jon Oliva was another really big influence and Chris Cornell became a really big influence of mine as well.

Andrew:
That’s quite a diverse group of frontmen.

Tim:
It is. And that’s because, with my voice, I can sing a lot of stuff. I love singing different songs in different ways. It still always sounds like me, but I’ve always said I like to sing in characters. So, a lot of these singers have that going on with them. I can sing all the way from Pantera, Sepultura-like stuff, to the clean, musical kind of stuff because I grew up in the choirs and singing musical kinds of numbers. So, I had that in me as well. That’s probably why my range of singers is all over the place.

Andrew:
Many of your early bands proved to be integral to the foundation of your success. Could you talk about the origins of British Steel and Winter’s Bane?

Tim:
It was really cool. In those two bands, you could see Metal changing because this was the early-mid 90s. So, the Metal circuit, the club circuit, everything really started to change then. We did Winter’s Bane — we got signed to Massacre Records. We recorded a record, but we really couldn’t tour or do anything. That was when Judas Priest wasn’t together and some agent said, “Hey, you guys should do a Judas Priest tribute band.” We could tour around and open up as Winter’s Bane, walk off stage, change clothes and come back out and do it — and get paid a lot more than we would have if we were touring as Winter’s Bane.

But really, I could see the downfall of even doing a Judas Priest tribute band tour; we were going places and there just weren’t crowds. I mean, if you did a Judas Priest tribute band now, there would be way more of a crowd than there was in the early-to-mid 90s. I mean, it was just dying, that circuit. That’s why I eventually quit doing the Judas Priest tribute band and started doing other stuff.

Andrew:
I’m assuming those bands consisted of friends and local musicians?

Tim:
It was. And it was great. Winter’s Bane was a fantastic record, and again, as I said, it was just bad timing on that. Then I left that and did a band called Seattle with other friends. I had a blast doing that; the crowds were bigger because we were doing Soundgarden stuff. I could be a little looser on that one and have a good time and drink some beer because it kind of fit in with what they did. The other one was way more serious. Then obviously, when I made Judas Priest, I was in the band Seattle; I was doing that for a year or two when Judas Priest called me. Then it became serious again.

Andrew:
Switching gears a bit here. What do you recall about your initial involvement with K.K.’s Priest? What was it that got the proverbial ball rolling?

Tim:
Well, we did that show in, I think it was 2019. November, I did the show with Ken at his venue, then all of a sudden, he’s like, “Let’s do a one-off show.” Some people talked him into it; David Ellefson, myself, Les Binks, and A.J. It was really fun, and I think it kind of got Ken wanting to do it again because he really didn’t want to. I did a lot of solo touring – I did some tours through the UK solo, I used a band from Ireland called Sandstone – and he would always come out to the shows, hang out, and bring a couple of cases of beers for everybody to put in the bus or the van. And he didn’t want to do it; he was done. Listen, the guy was touring nonstop since the early 70s. But then when he did that Bloodstock show and then he did that show with me, I think it just gave him the itch again. I think it was probably February he started really talking about it to me. He and A.J. were together writing some songs, and [Ken] played me – I was on a tour with The Three Tremors in the UK – and he came out to a show, we sat in his car, and he played me the ideas and the tunes. I said, “Man, this is fantastic.” So, it just kind of went from there.

Andrew:
You’ve known K.K. for 25 years. What can you tell us about the relationship?

Tim:
Well, it’s great. My relationship with all the guys in Judas Priest and management has always been good. Afterward, Ken and I saw each other more. I would see those guys on tour, including Rob. I consider everybody friends, but Ken and I always talked a little more via email. Now, when I was in the band, we all talked equally, and it was great. The way everybody gets busy, they start doing their own thing again, but Ken always came out to my shows and hung out. He was always like, “Man, pull that tour bus in front of my house! You guys can come and do your laundry.” We’ve always conversed back and forth.

KK’s Priest – Sermons Of The Sinner (2021)

Andrew:
I’ve come away quite impressed with what I’ve heard on Sermons of the Sinner thus far. What was the blueprint or concept for the album?

Tim:

Lyrically, there’s meaning behind a lot of songs to Ken. The thing about the lyrics of the record that Ken wrote was, it gets a little bit of everything. It’s classic Heavy Metal lyrics; some of them are about fans and putting your fists in the air and some of them are about being on the road and some of them have these other meanings. I think the songs were just Kenny writing what he wanted to write. He just sat down and wrote music that he writes. The way I looked at it when I heard it, he didn’t try to do anything but write how K.K.’s always written. He’s been writing music for a long time since the early 70s, so he’s got a blueprint for it and there’s no need to go off the blueprint; you’re writing what you know best. Then you add some different things here and there.

Vocally, I wanted to attack it just like I would attack that kind of music. It’s not anything really different than what I’ve always sung. I mean, there are other records I might do it differently; you listen to A New Revenge, it’s straightforward Hard Rock. This one, I think we just wanted to do what we do. I think that’s what’s great about the songs K.K. wrote – he just wrote what he writes. He wasn’t thinking about trying to make a record, in my opinion, other than pleasing himself and pleasing the fans. So, he just wanted to stay true to what he writes. Right when I listened to it, I knew he was just writing tunes.

Andrew:
What were some of the challenges of recording an album amid a global pandemic?

Tim:
To be honest, we got the meat and potatoes done right before it hit. I flew home from England at the beginning of March and Sean finished his drums not long after that, because that’s when we found out that Les couldn’t do it. When I actually recorded my vocals, we didn’t have a drummer, because that’s kind of when that all seemed to start. I played with Sean, he’s so good, so I’m like, “Listen, I’ve got a guy who can do this.” We got things done right before everything got shut down – right when it got shut down. But the problem is, we still had to tinker a little bit with the finish; even if was finished, we couldn’t put it out because the pandemic hit. We don’t have bands photos; we can’t shoot videos; we still can’t get together. If the pandemic wouldn’t have hit, we already had touring set up for the summer. We had things set up and we were ready to go. I mean, the album would probably come out at the end of the summer, who knows, I’m not exactly sure of the timeline. It’s just the record label was like, “Listen, we can’t do it now. You guys are a new band.” We’re not a project; we’re a new band. So, we can’t release something without getting together and doing it. But what it did was, it let us sit with the songs even more. So, I actually re-did a lot of parts in my home studio. The song “Sermons of the Sinner,” I think I reapproached the verses to that, and it was a little raspier. There was falsetto-y raspiness to it, and then we attacked it and made the verses a little cleaner falsetto. So, I just did a lot of stuff in my studio and changed some little things around and added parts. But the meat and potatoes were done, so we were lucky with that.

K.K.’s been swamped on it the whole time, and he still is. People kept asking, “Why is it not coming out? You said you were done.” Well, we didn’t say anything. When the pandemic hit, you don’t really talk anymore because you don’t promote something you’re not putting out. We released that we were doing a record, and the lineup was set when we said that. But then when we went to record the record – I mean at the last minute – Les hurt himself and I didn’t think he was up for touring or whatever was gonna happen. It was like, “We gotta do something else,” but there was no need to really talk about it yet because you don’t talk about things until you promote the record. That’s the old-school way to do it.

Andrew:
The band is comprised of seasoned players, hence the innate cohesiveness and synergy. How does each member fit into the puzzle?

Tim:
They all bring so much. Obviously, with me touring with Sean, when that happened, we were sitting there over a pint of beer and some dinner at K.K.’s house – myself, him, A.J., and Tony. And I said, “Listen, I’m telling you I have a drummer.” And usually, I’m not saying anybody because I ain’t having it come back on me. But I’ve toured with Sean with Three Tremors, and we toured with him playing a different drum kit every night, not great conditions, traveling, this and that. Everybody in that band gets along so well; I’m probably the bitchiest person on that tour, complaining the most. Sean is such a professional and a trooper and he’s so good. And I met A.J. years ago; K.K. would bring him with him to his shows because they’d been friends for a long time. I was always a fan of his playing and stuff. Listen, he laid down some vocals on the scratch tracks and I was like, “Dude, you freakin’ good. I don’t even know if I can sing these parts!” Then, Tony, the funny thing about Tony is, Tony ran sound for what I did with K.K. at the Steel Mill. He was the sound man. He engineered and does stuff with Steve Harris and [Iron] Maiden. I think he produced and engineered that live record [The Book of Souls: Live Chapter]. So, Tony was there; we met each other and he’s got his band that he plays with, so we met up again when he was gonna be in the lineup. He engineered and produced this record.

He can sing and he’s such a good bass player. The great thing about this record is, you can even hear the bass on the album. I had a local bass player, a local legend around here, and he said, “Man, this is awesome. In this kind of music, the bass gets washed out a lot. I can actually hear the bass.” And I was thinking to myself, “Yeah, that’s because a bass player engineered it!” So, he was like, “Yeah, I’m putting my shit in there.” But they’re all so good. K.K. and I get along so well and he’s so easy to tour with. And now I’m not worried about any of these other guys.

Andrew:
How involved were you in the creative process on this one, Tim?

Tim:
Well, I think Ken really wanted to map this out himself. He wanted to get the meat and potatoes down. Listen, he’s never done anything; this is the first time that he’s not in Judas Priest, so he’s doing his writing. So, I think he wanted to show, “Listen, this is what I’ve done. I’ve been doing this, and now it shows that I have been doing it.” When you go in the studio, it’s mapped out for you, but then you start throwing out your own ideas and maybe a certain way to sing it, phase it, or even a certain voice to use for it. But the stuff was so well written for me, and that’s the advantage of K.K. and even A.J. A.J.’s been to my concerts. He was a big fan of the Jugulator record; that was one of the first big records he got, so he knew what to deal with. When he’s laying stuff down, they’re thinking of what we would do. So, it was really like someone was laying stuff down for me. It was pretty cool to go in there and do that. I really enjoyed it.

Andrew:
“Hellfire Thunderbolt” is such a strong track and will be hard to top for me. Did you have a personal favorite song to record on this project?

Tim:
Well, I love “Hellfire Thunderbolt” a lot; I think it’s one of my favorites. It’s such a great opening track to the record. I love “Return of the Sentinel;” it’s like an epic. The thing is, there are so many different things on it. There are at least three balls-out songs that just come and smash ya in the face. Then there’s some classics where you’ll have fists and metal horns in the air and sing along. And then, there’s the epic musical. So, it’s hard to really pick one. I always change, so it’s kind of all over the place.

Andrew
As active as you are, I imagine singing the way that you do has become increasingly challenging over the years. Is there a specific regimen that you must go through?

Tim:
You know what? It’s hard now. I just hope that I can sing. I’m in the studio just about every day in my house; I sang all day today. I don’t have the same voice; It’s not as easy; I gotta watch it. It’s not as easy to just belt it out like I used to. Listen, I could sing all night and go out all night; now, I just can’t. So, I gotta be very careful. But the best part, what that brings along, is more character. On this record, I think there’s a raspier kind of thing going on with me, which has happened as I’ve gotten older, because of my influences. And realizing, as you get older, you learn to sing different ways and do different things. Now, I’ve got this mid-upper, natural voice range that’s kind of raspy. I use that a lot. I’m a better singer now than I was then, but it’s a lot harder for me to sing than it was. That’s the only difference; I can lose my voice very, very easily. My voice isn’t like some people’s. Ronnie Dio had a voice that he could chew glass and he could sing well. He was amazing. Me, if I talk too much or if a speck of dust gets into my throat it’s a lot harder. But I’m a better singer and I have more character now.

Andrew:
As we all know, the movie Rockstar may not have been the most factually accurate, but loosely centers around your rise to stardom. In your words, can you take me through the events that led to you getting the Judas Priest gig in ’96?

Tim:
Well, the year or more before that, I was in British Steel. And the last two shows, friends of ours came out and videotaped the show in Erie, PA. They were friends with Scott Travis – which I met Scott before that in Virginia Beach — and he came out and played on a song with British Steel once. So, they videotaped it and they gave the video to Scott; I was already in the band Seattle by then. This was a year later, when [Judas Priest] was looking for a singer. They just messaged me and said, “Are you interested in coming out and auditioning?” Then they called me back and said, “Is that really your voice on the videotape? Because it sounds so good.” This was pre-YouTube, obviously. They said, “You sound so good, it almost sounds like you’re miming and it’s fake.” I said, “No, it’s real.” They flew me out, I sang one line of “Victim of Changes,” I hit the high note, and Glenn [Tipton] said, “OK, Tim. You got the gig.

They were in a control room. They were in Wales, actually, in a studio. And they took an old version of “Victim of Changes” from a live concert and took Rob’s vocals out. So, they were in a control room, and I was out front singing. Then after [Glenn] said that he said, “No, sing the rest of the song. I was kidding.” Then I’m thinking, “Oh my God. I’m gonna make the band and get fired all within four minutes!” Then they said, “Alright, we’re done.” I said, “I might as well sing another one.” So, they put on “The Ripper” and I sang it; that’s how I got the nickname “Ripper.” The worst part was, I had to come home, and we didn’t announce it; this was in February, and I don’t think we announced it until July. I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody, but word got out that I auditioned. So, everybody was like, “Aw, man. Tim auditioned for Judas Priest. He didn’t make it.” But all along I knew I was the singer.

Andrew:
Who else you were up against?

Tim:
Well, to be honest with you, there are all kinds of stories of everybody that at one time was talked about. Ralf Scheepers and everybody was talked about, but I was actually the only one that went there and auditioned. I mean, I think they probably knew what Ralf did, so they didn’t really have to fly him out or do anything at that time. They were starting the auditions, but I think what got it was, I was a nobody and that’s what they were attracted to. I was this normal kid from Akron, Ohio, not some L.A. rock star, and I could sing. I was the only one that physically went and auditioned for the band, I think. I mean, they told me that. But the point is, in ’96 when I did that, I was the only person that physically went and auditioned with the band.

Andrew:
Both of your Priest albums, Jugulator and Demolition, are revered for different reasons. Do you have a preference over which one?

Tim:
Well, I actually think my favorite is Demolition; I just love some of the songs on there. I love both records. Demolition I love, “Machine Man,” “Hell is Home,” “One on One,” “In Between,” “Lost and Found;” there are so many songs that I love. I still play “Lost and Found,” “One on One,” and “Hell is Home.” “Hell is Home” and “One on One” are always in my solo setlist. But Jugulator obviously has the massive, cathedral spires on it. And probably one of my favorite songs is “Blood Stained.” But “Burn in Hell” is always in my setlist.

Also, recording both records was kind of different. The first one, we recorded in a few spots, but mainly at this one studio. I don’t know if it was called Silvermere Studios or whatever. Then Demolition was recorded at Glenn’s house. It was kind of nice to nice to stay at his house and just go into the studio.

Andrew:
Your career path has been truly remarkable. Have there been any lessons you’ve learned throughout the journey?

Tim:
Just be yourself. People are gonna hate you, make lies about, and say you’re this and say you’re that. If they don’t have your phone number, they don’t know you. So, they can always think they know you by a tweet you liked or something you might’ve done. They take a tweet and take out the whole other conversation with people and then they try to make you look bad. Just be yourself; you know who you are. In music, try to do your best. The goal is to go on stage and do your best. I’ve learned from the best around me, from the guys in Priest and being friends with Ronnie James Dio, just be true and be who you are. I am still a guy from a small town in Akron, Ohio; I have the same friends. I went into a story the other day and we were by the hot tub, and the guy said, “You look really familiar.” I said, “Nah, just a local guy.” And everybody started laughing. My kids love it when I get recognized, but I always kind of go the other way with it. They’ll go, “Why didn’t you tell him who you were!?” And I’m like, “Why would I do that?”

Andrew:
Lastly, as we close out, Tim, what is next up on your docket?

Tim:
Well, my big thing now is to push this K.K.’s Priest record. Everybody knows I’m busy. I’m in the studio, I gotta make money with the pandemic, so I’m singing on everybody’s record as a guest. I recorded a record with a thing called Pyramid as a guest singer, and it’s really, really awesome. So, I’m staying really busy and I’m kind of fortunate that I get to do that.

Interested in learning more about KK’s Priest? Check out the link below:

Dig this article? Check out the full archives of Shredful Compositions, by Andrew DiCecco, here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/shredful-compositions-archives/

About Post Author

Andrew DiCecco

Predominantly known for his NFL coverage, Andrew DiCecco is a Pennsylvania-based journalist with a profound passion for Rock music and its illustrious history. What initially began as a childhood hobby collecting CDs eventually evolved into a full-blown absorption into the world of Rock and Roll. An aspiring rock historian, Andrew seeks out every autobiography and documentary on Rock artists imaginable to further his knowledge to go along with a growing collection of vintage albums and magazines. Andrew’s musical preferences include, but are not limited to, Def Leppard, Van Halen, AC/DC, Guns N Roses, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions, Foreigner, and Journey. An innate appreciation for guitar heroes, Andrew cites Vito Bratta, Eddie Van Halen, John Sykes, George Lynch, Dave Meniketti, and Neal Schon as some of his personal favorite players. Andrew is also a regular listener to SiriusXM’s <i>Trunk Nation</i> with Eddie Trunk, his primary source of inspiration.
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