A Tremor To Remember: A Conversation with Tim “Ripper” Owens

Powerhouse vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens is one of the busiest men in metal.

The Ohio native, whose vocal chops are as impressive as his resume is long (Judas Priest, Iced Earth, Charred Walls of the Damned, Yngwie Malmsteen, etc.), will return to center stage yet again next month, this time amongst a power trio of the vocalist variety with Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin (Jag Panzer) and Sean “The Hell Destroyer” Peck (Cage, Denner/Shermann) called The Three Tremors, whose debut album will drop on U.S. shores on Feb. 22 on Steel Cartel Records.

And surprise, surprise — Owens delivers the goods yet again on tracks such as the pounding “Invaders Of The Sky,” “Bullets For the Damned,” or “The Pit Shows No Mercy.” If you like your metal relentless with multi-octave vocal gymnastics, this album is for you. The group will take the show on the road for a 15-date stint that begins on Feb. 14 in Seattle, Washington before wrapping up on March 11 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Tickets are on sale at the band’s website and the album can be pre-ordered here.

Owens took some time to speak with ListenIowa recently to promote his latest venture, his involvement with the Ronnie James Dio hologram project, and his hopes to get a second shot at covering a Michael Jackson song with Yngwie Malmsteen.

Talk about The Three Tremors, your latest project with Sean Peck and Harry Conklin.
Sean and I have been friends for years, and he called me and said he wanted to do this three singers thing. I’ve done some things like that touring-wise already. I did one in South America with Udo Dirkschneider, Blayze Baley and Mike Vescera, and a tour in America with Blayze and Geoff Tate, but I’d never really done a record. That’s what sold me; it wasn’t playing each of our back catalogs.

When you decided to get the recording process going, that had to be a little different for you in the fact that you’re probably used to being the lone vocalist.
It was easy. Sean had already written it and had done some vocals, so he was like, “Just come in and sing on it.” All three singers did their own versions of the record. We didn’t sing pieces and parts. We could actually release “Three Tremors: Ripper’s Version” if we ever wanted to. We did have to map it out, almost like a script for a play. But it worked out really good.

You guys are taking this thing on the road, which is refreshing because a lot of these projects never make it to the stage.
We actually went on the road in Europe and did 17 shows last fall, because that’s when the record was supposed to be released. Unfortunately, it didn’t come out. So we did a tour, played all 12 songs on the album, and some extras, and it was great.

Who’s in the backing band?
It’s actually the guys from Sean’s band, Cage. It wasn’t going to be like that at first, but I’m glad we did it, because these guys are fantastic. Why bring in other musicians, when we had these guys here? We can rehearse, they live here, etc. It was a great move that he did that.

You’ve booked a 15-date tour. Any plans to expand on that at any point?
Yeah, we’ve got 15 dates, but the problem was that I originally had some commitments in mid-March and into April. But those changed. I was supposed to ramp up the Dio hologram tour in America at some point in April, and now it’s being pushed back, so we might put some more dates in. That’s the bad thing about this business sometimes. You block off some time, and then they come to you and say, “Hey, we’re not going to be doing it now.” I was telling Simon Wright (Dio Discipes drummer) that Sean and the agent from Three Tremors are going to want to punch me in the face. (laughs) We had Australia and South America and all this touring that could have been done in March and April, and I had to say no to it. Or we could have expanded the American tour. It happens.

What’s going on with Dio Disciples these days and the Ronnie James Dio hologram? We haven’t heard much on that front lately.
When they asked me to do it, I was excited because it was something different. I know some people aren’t into it, but for me, I looked at it as a fan and just something that hasn’t been done before. I want to be involved with this, like me or not. I’m excited about trying to do this in America. Wendy Dio and everyone involved have spent a lot of money on this without making any, just to go out and try to make fans happy.

What is your involvement in that project exactly?
I sing some songs in between the songs they (the band) do with the hologram. Myself and Oni Logan or whoever, then come out and sing some songs ourselves, to try to make it a different kind of show. Just watching a hologram for an hour, that would probably get to be too much.

Are the fans here in the States going to buy into a hologram show?
When I go backstage, it’s really kind of amazing. I’ll sit there, and all of a sudden I’ll hear (Ronnie James) Dio’s voice, and the band playing. I hear him singing with the band, and it just sounds like I’m actually at a concert. I was sitting backstage waiting to go up and thinking this was amazing. I was friends with Ronnie, and am such a fan. I could go to that concert and just close my eyes and sit there and listen. Some people won’t like it, but the strangest thing to me is the fact there are so many who don’t like it who went and saw the new Queen movie (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) and said, “Man, that was fantastic. You should go and see it.” And they’re the same people who say, “Someone’s making money from that hologram. Ronnie is dead. Let him rest in peace.” I’m like, “Wait a minute. [“Bohemian Rhapsody”] is a dead guy and someone is making money from that. What’s the difference?”

Provide some clarity on this Andrew Freeman (Last In Line vocalist) situation in which he called a couple of guys in the Dio Disciples camp, dicks.
I don’t understand it. I’m actually friends with him and Vinnie (Appice, Last In Line drummer). I don’t know. I didn’t listen to the interview, but I guess he said a couple of guys are dicks. All I did, then, was make a joke out of it on Twitter and said that I’m a dick. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about those guys. I think it’s fantastic. We’re all celebrating Ronnie. If anybody has talked bad about each other in the past, I mean, that’s a long time ago. Let’s all just do it for the ride and not say, “My band’s the official one because we were there first.” Really? OK, good. And you were fuckin’ fired! You know what I mean? Yeah, those guys were there first, and [the Dio albums] are some of my favorite records of all time. I would love to watch them play when they’re in town and hang out with them. If they came to our show, I’d love to have them come up onstage and play a song.

You’re doing some more work with Ted Kirkpatrick of the Christian band Tourniquet. You don’t have a history of working with Christian artists, per se, so was there any hesitation at all in jumping into this?
I heard the material, and it was different for me and enjoyable. As I kept singing the songs, the more comfortable I got. I’m a musician, I do this for living. God forbid we’d have someone making a hard rock record that’s religious. I’m the first to tell you that I’m not the most religious person in the world, and there are probably people in my life who are going, “Holy mackerel, what’s happened to Tim?” But here’s the thing: Everybody needs things in their life to be happy — to have some beliefs, whatever they may be. I like to do different types of records, and I look forward to doing the next one.

You did four albums with Judas Priest. There’s not a lot of talk about your contribution in the grand scheme things in the discussion of the band’s history. Do you take that as a slight?
Nah. I get a lot of fans talking about it. I think they’re great records. I get messages every day. I always tell people that if they ever want to hear any of those tracks live — because Priest doesn’t play any, and I understand that — they can come to one of my solo shows because I’ll be playing “Bullet Train” and “Blood Stained” and a whole list of them.

When K.K. Downing, Priest’s founder and now ex-guitarist, came out with his autobiography last year, he alleged that there were some things behind the scenes that were going on that people didn’t know, such as drinking before shows, band members losing focus, etc. Did you see any dysfunction going on while you were with Priest?
I saw issues with Glenn and Ken and management. Little things. Friction. I just chalked it up them having been together for 40 years. It’s like a family. How many families do you know that got together for the holidays and picnics and stuff 30 or 40 years ago that don’t do anything together now? It was one of the top times of my life. I enjoyed being around the guys. I miss just hanging around with the guys in Priest, and just going to dinners and the pub. I was always treated well, and just looked at things as being kinda normal.

You’ve done Charred Walls of the Damned with drummer Richard Christy of the Howard Stern show. Is he as funny in person as he is on the show?
Yeah, he is. I don’t think he has a screw loose as much as people think.

You can’t and be that talented drumming-wise.
He’s just creative. He’s so funny. He could be writing on some of these late-night talk shows, as long as he’s not licking somebody’s balls or something like that. (laughs)

Or wearing diapers to concerts and pissing himself so he doesn’t have to miss any of the show.
That’s what I hear. (laughs) I used to hear the licking the sac thing, but now all I hear is, “Yeah, Richard. He wears diapers to concerts.”

You did a couple of albums with Yngwie Malmsteen and even a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” with him, which was quite the left turn.
I was terrible on that. I would love a chance to re-do it. I was on tour in South America and got salmonella poisoning. My voice was gone, and I went into some studio in the middle of my solo tour to try and sing it. But I had a great time with Yngwie. When I was asked to do it, I thought it was going to be great because I was going to get a chance to play with a guy who changed the face of guitar playing. And I also thought that because his fans are different than mine, that I could win some of them over. They’d either hate me, or I’d win them over. He’s a funny guy. He is what he is. He loves to play guitar. He loves to sit around the house and play guitar all the time. But I got busy with doing my solo tour and had to turn a lot of stuff down, so I had to quit the band. I would do something with him again, which is kinda funny to say that because I know he’s said bad stuff in the press about his singers, but I don’t have any issue with him. I’ve been called an ass by a couple of people now. (laughs)

At least you’re staying on people’s radar.
Yeah, “Ripper continues to be called an ass.” That’ll be the next Blabbermouth headline. (laughs)