Richie Faulkner, Judas Priest return to Mohegan Sun Arena March 22

March 13, 2018 GMT

Richie Faulkner, known for blazing guitar solos in the group Judas Priest, is asked about his days before becoming a metal hero.

Speaking via phone from somewhere outside of Hartford (he wasn’t quite sure which town), where the legendary metal band was in production rehearsals for the current tour, London-raised Faulkner said he was introduced to rock music by his father’s Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath albums — leading to his love of the guitar.

“You try to recreate those sounds, and get in a band,” Faulkner said. “I think there was just this healthy blend of ambition and dream, and fortunately there was some sort of capability, enough to keep me going in that inspiring dream world.”

Faulkner, 38, played in cover bands in London, and the bold music of Judas Priest was part of the staple diet of a working guitar player. And then he joined Priest in 2011 as successor to departing guitarist K. K. Downing.

The new tour, backing the new album “Firepower,” began March 13 in Pennsylvania and arrives at Mohegan Sun Arena Thursday, March 22, with special guests Saxon and Black Star Riders.

The leather-clad band, which made an appearance on “American Idol” in 2011, was shaken recently when its other lead guitarist, 40-year member Glenn Tipton, announced he would sit out most of the tour due to Parkinson’s disease.

“When ... Glenn told us all, it was very intimate, very personal,” said Faulkner. “But we did all say that the drive is for Glenn to come out to select shows when he is able and healthy. Come up and do the encores, totally unannounced. As a fan, I know that it will blow people’s minds to have the lights go up and there’s the metal god Glenn Tipton there.”

Aside from steel-voiced frontman Rob Halford, Tipton is a leading factor in Priest’s success, which includes albums such as 1980’s “British Steel,” 1982’s “Screaming for Vengeance” and, in 2014, “Redeemer of Souls.”

As for the challenge of joining an iconic band, Faulkner said he was just “infused with enthusiasm ... I was just completely fired up and I knew what this band meant to me and to millions of people around the world. ... It was more of a responsibility and a duty.”

Asked about the demands of touring in a metal band, Faulkner said, “Obviously I’m the young boy in the group. I find it difficult for that reason; I haven’t spent 40 years doing it. ... But it’s that enthusiasm that I mentioned... You get out there and you grab the bull by the horns. ... You get in shape pretty quickly. It’s the power of metal, man. I know it sounds pretty cheesey; it’s the power of the music that we play.”

Priest’s lyrics are arena-sized too, of course, full of bold and violent allusions, but there are thoughtful messages, too. In the soldier-honoring new tune “Never the Heroes,” it says:

We were fearless but so afraid

Though in our hearts we still felt pain

We’re on fire but on a leash

We only ever wanted peace

“There are some aggressive elements (in metal),” said Faulkner. “There are some beautiful and touching elements. Priest, in my opinion, has always been in a league of its own with that sort of stuff... There’s lots of positivity... (One) of the challlenging messages is always about rising from the flame, the phoenix from the fire, pushing forward.

“And ‘Never the Heroes’ is an example of that, it’s recognizing that no one is born a hero; we become them,” he said. “We’ve got the men and women on the front lines, they’re trained in the military ... and they become heroes. And that’s in all us; we face the challenges again and we push through them as a community and as individuals.”

So does Faulkner work to hit all the notes that Downing did on older Priest songs?

“It’s always been, for me, respecting the legacy of those before you, but also respecting yourself and the opportunity you’ve been handed. ... Some of those iconic K.K. Downing solos you have to honor... You reference those points (but) you put in your own little flavor here and there. ... It’s both sides of that coin.”

jamarante@nhregister.com; @Joeammo on Twitter