In a recent interview with Spain’s Mariskal Rock, JUDAS PRIEST singer Rob Halford was asked who wore the “leather biker look” first — him or late QUEEN frontman Freddie Mercury. He responded (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “I remember seeing a picture of Freddie with his leather jacket and a cap and a motorcycle, and I’m, like, ‘What the fuck is going on, Freddie?’ [Laughs]
“I love him. Freddie is a god — he’s a god,” Rob continued. “His music, his voice, his showmanship, his personality, his charisma. There’ll never, ever be another Freddie Mercury.
“But as far as who wore it first, I think I did probably — maybe by a year or two,” Halford added. “Yeah, if that’s important. I don’t know. Is it important? I’ll tell you something: we both look good in leather. [Laughs]”
Three years ago, former JUDAS PRIEST guitarist K.K. Downing was quoted as saying in Greg Prato‘s book “Long Live Queen: Rock Royalty Discuss Freddie, Brian, John & Roger” that Halford “definitely” pulled off the “leather biker look” better than Mercury. “Actually, that’s probably one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked,” Downing said. “Because both of the guys, obviously being gay and both obviously having donned the leathers — which is par for the course — I think the difference was it became Rob‘s ultimate and permanent image. Whereas Freddie did it for a bit of fun, I think. But [it is] a fun question — I like that a lot. Definitely Rob looked like the epitome — as I hope we all did, together, when we all eventually got into the leather gear — of an archetypal heavy metal band.”
In his 2018 autobiography “Heavy Duty: Days And Nights In Judas Priest”, Downing claimed to have come up with PRIEST black-leather look. Asked what inspired it in the first place, K.K. told Rolling Stone: “I don’t know. I had some pretty cool looks in the early days. I started off with a black, swashbuckling look. There was a place called the Birmingham Reparatory Theatre and underneath it were massive alcoves of all these theatrical clothes. We found out we could rent those clothes, and that became me and Rob‘s spot. We looked through all these things, and that’s why we wore some of these coats and boots; they were all rented from this theater. I think we eventually got told off because we didn’t return the clothes in time. [Laughs] We just held on to them. Eventually, we got a little bit of money and started having clothes of our own made and the look just came piece by piece. [Laughs]”
Asked if it was easy to get the rest of the band on board, Downing said: “Some members in the band like to think everything’s their idea. I thought, ‘I’ll get Rob on board to start with.’ There were a couple of gay guys at the leather shop in London and Rob was in his element [laughs] with these guys fitting him out in all this leather gear. Gays were already wearing leather in London so it was an easy sell for Rob. He was on board with that but also because we weren’t trying to do that; we were doing the leather-and-studs thing in a metal way. Then he started to design all of his clothes. ‘I’m having the bullwhip. I’m having this cap made.’ Rob was happy for them to know that he was a gay man, but at a certain point, it started to look like a gladiator, which was completely done in metal. It opened up a massive amount of doors for him to elaborate on throughout our career.”
In his 2020 autobiography “Confess”, Halford credited Downing with the idea of PRIEST dressing in black leather in 1978. He wrote: “The biggest myth about this new stage gear is that I had somehow masterminded the image as a cover and a vent for my homosexuality — that I was getting a thrill from dressing on stage as I’d like to dress in the street, or the bedroom. This is utter bollocks. I had no interest in S&M, domination or the whole queer subcult of leather and chains. It just didn’t do it for me. My sexual preference was for men, sure, but I was — and still am — pretty vanilla.”