Throughout heavy metal's history, there have been few times where a fan was lucky enough to land a spot with their favorite band due to a vacancy, such as Jason Newsted joining Metallica, and Tim "Ripper" Owens signing on with Judas Priest. Hailing from Akron, OH, Owens grew up a major metal fan — fronting a Judas Priest cover band (called British Steel) and getting his nickname, Ripper, from the title of his favorite Priest song. Owens also fronted other local groups as well (including Brainicide, U.S. Metal, Winters Bane, and Seattle), as he developed a multi-octave vocal range, just like his hero, Rob Halford. It was during this time that Owens and Winters Bane guitarist Lou St. Paul penned a concept album together, Heart of a Killer, which told the story of a murderer who gets a heart transplant from the same judge who sentenced him to the death penalty. Recorded in Germany over a period of only two weeks, the album was originally issued on a small independent record label in Germany as well.
One night, Owens and British Steel were playing at a small club in Erie, PA, when the girlfriend of Priest drummer Scott Travis happened to catch the performance. She was so impressed with Owens that she videotaped the show and forwarded it to Travis and his fellow Priest bandmates, who had been on hiatus for several years by this point (after longtime frontman Halford left the group in 1992). Priest was so impressed with Owens' vocal skills that an audition was set up in England just a few short days later, and after only singing the first verse of the Priest classic "Victim of Changes," he landed the gig. 1997 saw the release of Jugulator, which doubled as Priest's long-awaited comeback album (they hadn't issued a new studio release since 1990) and, of course, Owens' debut with the group. The album performed respectfully on the charts, as did its ensuing world tour, which was documented a year later with the release '98 Live Meltdown.
Attempting to cash in on Owens' high-profile gig, the Century Media label reissued the old Winters Bane release, Heart of a Killer, complete with extra live and demo bonus tracks in 2000. Also around the same time, a movie was being made based on Owens' rise from obscurity to fronting his favorite band, and although Priest was originally involved in the project, they eventually bowed out. The film, 2001's Rock Star, was made anyway, with actor Mark Wahlberg playing the role of a singer based on Owens. The same year, Judas Priest issued their second studio album with Owens, Demolition. ~ Greg Prato