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Faithful Judas: Bloodstone’s Jeff Richards. Photo: Joe Putrock

Sounds Like...
For Bloodstone’s Jeff Richards, paying tribute to Judas Priest has been a labor of love

By Bill Ketzer

Jeff Richards heard metal gods Judas Priest for the first time when he was 13 years old. The band’s now-infamous epic “Victim of Changes” came up on the cassette deck as he helped his sister’s boyfriend wash his truck, and lead vocalist Rob Halford’s glass- shattering power and operatic boldness captivated the young Clifton Park native.

“I remember saying, ‘Holy shit! How can anyone sing like that?’” he recalls. “After that, I remember recording all his Priest albums and becoming a huge fan. I was also lucky enough, at a young age, to see [the band] on their Screaming for Vengeance tour with Iron Maiden, which only made me more of a Priest fan, since they really captured the whole heavy-metal experience live.

Before long, Richards began singing in local metal bands like Kyrie Ellison and Freak Nation, one of whom happened to play a few Priest covers. That decision changed the approach he would soon take to covering the music of popular bands: He would form a group to pay tribute to the band who blew him away at the onset of teendom.

“After one show, four guys approached me and said I sounded exactly like Rob Halford and [suggested that I] put a tribute to Judas Priest together,” Richards explains. “Receiving an incredible compliment like that made me decide to go for it right away. I thought of the best musicians I knew in this area, called them, received much interest . . . and Bloodstone was born.”

While the concept of tribute bands has been around for years—perhaps beginning with Beatlemania in the late ’70s—the craze exploded in the mid-’90s when it dawned on many an aspiring musician that there was an actual market for such services. Suddenly, they were everywhere on earth, imitating artists from P. Diddy to Pantera to the Partridge Family. Drawn by the opportunity to live vicariously through playing the music of their champions (and maybe to make a few bucks in the process), many of these bands soon realized the great irony of the endeavor: They experience the exact same pitfalls, tragedies and mishaps as the real deal. Indeed, Richards—along with guitarists Rich Sorensen and Pete Rossi, drummer Chris Haley and bassist Joe Paciolla—found out that there was much more to creating an accurate Priest facsimile than leather pants, spiked gauntlets and studying live set lists from dozens of American tours.

“When you first start a tribute to any band, it is easy to get caught up in this ‘We are the best, the definitive, the greatest tribute in the entire world’ crap,” he explains. “I know firsthand, since I got caught in it myself and found I was acting like a child. Then one day, I smacked myself and said, ‘Who gives a shit?’”

He describes the drama as almost a rite of passage. “I have seen it all. Other tributes defacing each other’s guest books on Web sites, trying to cut each other’s throats by being so desperate to get gigs (that) they offer themselves for free at clubs that exclusively feature another Priest tribute. One even went so far as to steal a picture of myself and Rob Halford off our Web site, cut me out of the picture, and incorporate it into their Web site!”

As fate would have it, West Coast filmmakers Rich Fox and Kris Curry (known for their work with Disney, Discovery Channel and MTV) found this story and others like it compelling, one that needed to be told about this ever-growing genre, and set out to document the national cover circuit—a move that brought them to Richards’ door in 2001 with cameras in tow.

“I received a phone call from Kris, who asked me if Bloodstone would be interested in taking part,” the vocalist explains. “I believe my exact response was, ‘Does Howdy Doody have wooden balls?’ How could I refuse an offer like that? They [flew] all the way from California and spent a week with the band, [got] to know us, saw what we do outside the band, and filmed a fantastic show we played at Northern Lights.”

The finished product is Tribute: A Rockumentary, which follows the weekend careers of Bloodstone and others dedicated to reproducing the glory years of bands like Kiss, Journey, Queen and the Monkees. Richard’s philosophy jibes with what many critics are already saying, that this is no Trekkies, where the laughs come at the expense of the bizarre behavior of obsessed fans. Rather, the comedic value in Tribute is in acknowledging and identifying with the common human plights of its stars. One such scene depicts a forlorn Richards as he attempts to conduct band business in the family kitchen over the constant shrieks of his young daughters.

“It’s very hard to . . . lead a busy life and manage to perform regularly,” he confides. “Most members of Bloodstone are married, have children and full-time jobs.” The singer himself works days as a graphic artist and pursues a degree in information technology by night. He says his wife, Kristen, is supportive in every way possible. “It’s actually pretty funny to see a woman who listens to FLY 92 walk around the house singing Judas Priest songs, screaming out high notes and singing along with me at every show . . . she constantly asks me to invite Rob Halford over for dinner!”

Rock critic Chuck Klosterman recently observed these interactions and took a somewhat more cynical view of Tribute, saying that people pretty much join tribute bands because “everything else in their day-to-day experience is less interesting,” a commentary Richards finds hilarious.

“Most tribute bands I know have the talent to do anything they want,” he says, explaining that the decision to start a tribute project is dictated by an oftentimes flagitious local-music scene and how frustrating it can be to successfully compete as an original act or a variety cover outfit. “Some of those bands fight to make $200 for doing a show . . . after playing a grueling four hours of music until two in the morning. Tribute bands are nice since they have the ability to draw larger crowds, make more money, and play less amounts of time, [but they] do work harder than most bands since they need to not only look their role, but sound [like the band], which takes a lot of practice.”

Despite the good times, good pay and numerous jaunts up and down the East Coast, Bloodstone called it quits in 2002. Some tributes, especially metal acts, can become a hard sell to venues, especially when others in the area are portraying the same band. Richards also acknowledges that like just about every band at some point, they grew weary of club owners who couldn’t hold up their end of the deal.

“Just for the record, our biggest good-old-fashioned screwover was at the Station in Rhode Island, which recently burned down during a Great White show,” he says. “Anyway, we all went on and did our own things for a while, but to me, something was missing. It is all very coincidental that only about four weeks ago, I asked the band to do a Bloodstone reunion show. At the same time we arranged [it], we learned that Tribute received a distribution deal and will be aired on Viacom’s Showtime network in April 2004. I really think this all happened for a reason.”

What better reason than a seal of approval from the Metal God himself?

“I had the honor of meeting Rob Halford when he was in town in 2001, and I gave him a live CD of Bloodstone,” Richards recalls. “He stood with the other guys in his [new] band and asked them to go listen to it with him on their tour bus. The funny thing is, to this very day, he still has it and listens to it. Since the day I met Rob, we have been chatting through instant messengers online, e-mailing back and forth, and have formed a great friendship. He constantly asks me about the band and how things are going. He is a great person and supports what I do very much, and always tells me to ‘Keep the Faith.’”

Bloodstone will perform at Valenti’s Pub (729 Pawling Ave., Troy, 283-6766) on March 27 at 9 PM. Tribute: A Rockumentary premiers on Showtime in April 2004. Visit the Bloodstone Web site (http://bloodstone.kicks-ass.net) for final times and more details.


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