The 5 things K.K. Downing of Judas Priest fame would like you to know about his career as one of heavy metal’s legendary guitarists.
His first awareness of the band name Judas Priest
I don't know how old I was. I think I was probably 17 or something, and I lived on this housing estate. And I used to see this van, this old beat-up van, going through the estate and it had spraypainted on it, “Judas Priest.” I'm thinking, “Wow, that's so cool. Because this long-haired guy was driving the van, you know, and his name was Johnny Ward and he actually became Deep Purple’s tour manager … but anyway, I thought it was so cool. I'd love to be in that band. I didn't care what they played or whatever. It's so cool: Judas Priest. They were just trying to put a band together called Judas Priest because the band that they were before were called the Jug Blues Band. Actually went to my old school and I saw them play the school dance, and they were a blues band, you know, but they were great. Al Atkins was singing for them and he looked really cool.
His initial thoughts on Rob Halford’s appearance
Because he had really short hair, I'm thinking, “I don't like the short hair.” It was really, really short … I mean short! But then I’m thinking, “Who am I to discriminate? It's just hair, he can grow it, and he did. Then again, Rob was trying to keep down a job as well. So, I know the rules, you know, but I'm thinking, “Oh yeah, he’ll grow his hair if he got in the band,” and that was it. So then me and Rob would write together. And we did a lot of shows — an awful lot of shows — and the band was great, we were a four-piece and I was happy with that.
The birth of the twin guitar attack
So having Glenn (Tipton), I had this crazy notion that we could create heavy guitar harmonies. OK, how the hell do you do that? Because when you harmonize, you know, suddenly you become the Allman Brothers or James Gang or Wishbone Ash, which was OK, you know, but I had this idea that if we did it, we could do it in a special way, and I was interested in trying to work that out. And also, when I played solos, it didn't sound so empty onstage. We could back each other up, and at the same time, when we play these heavy riffs and put them in stereo — not just on an album, but when we play live — I knew that that would sound good. And it did, and the twin guitar attack was born.
His signature Judas Priest song, “Sinner.”
I think that it’s a very important song, really, isn't it? And that's why, you know, I've just taken pieces of my life, really consciously or subconsciously, and just done a new record, because at times in Judas Priest we moved away from The Priest, you know, and that never sat comfortably with me. When I hear Sermons of the Sinner (new album by K.K.'s Priest) it's all Priest. And it never goes away, and there's going to be lots more of that to come. There's going to be lots more of that, you know?
But obviously when you're working with partners in a band and you're writing and you're playing and you're doing all of this stuff, you have to be compassionate to what everyone else wants and how they hear things. On this (new) album Sermons of the Sinner, I had the luxury of stepping back into the '60s and the late '60s, early '70s, where being able to create, to have the platform and the artist's canvas to be able to put on there what you see, or in our case, what I hear. And also to create visuals to go with it. So I like that, you know, and I do feel as though this new lease of life has come about because now I want to make amends for everything and turn the clock back, and kind of start again in a way and go through the journey, traverse the evolution of metal again, but in the way that I see and hear it.
On his “retirement” in 2010 to manage his golf course
Yeah but, you see, that was a myth. That's complete misinformation. And this is why I'm so unhappy with the rest of the guys in the band (Judas Priest), because they told you and all of the fans something that's complete misinformation. But they only told you that because they don't want to get into the details. Because in December 2010, I decided not to do the farewell tour. The tour that we all said we were going to retire. We were going to retire the band. It was going to be the end of the band. And so we were being asked to put together a press release about the end of the band and all of us retiring Judas Priest. But we were going to do a farewell tour and we were asked by the management to think of a name for the end of the band and the farewell tour, and it was going to be called the Epitaph Tour, which I wasn't particularly keen on.
So, what was it that I was not going to do that everybody else was going to do? There was only one thing that I was not gonna do: It was the retirement tour. I said, "I'm not gonna do it." I didn't know they were going to carry on for another 10 years! I thought they were going to do the retirement tour, which I wasn't going to do. Even if I did retire, like they told everybody, to look after my golf course — (a course) that had been open for seven years and there was a professional management company there, an American company, big company called Troon, a global international golf management company. They were brought in to manage the golf course, and it had already been open. I was doing world tours while the course was up and running. I didn't need to do any of that. This is why I am disgruntled about the whole thing, because it made me look like a deserter. It made me look like I jumped ship and deserted the fans. "Oh Ken, he's retiring to look after his golf course." Well, thanks a lot. ... I feel as if I'd been ousted out of the band, No such thing as retirement.
K.K. Downing may no longer be a member of Judas Priest, but the guitarist is dedicated to continue his legacy as one of the founders of Judas Priest through his own project called K.K.’s Priest (shown above). The group’s debut album, Sermons of the Sinner, consists of a lineup Priest fans will be familiar with: Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest vocalist from 1996-2002), guitarist A.J. Mills, bassist Tony Newton, drummer Sean Elg and occasional contributions from former Priest drummer Les Binks.
Read an interview with K.K. Downing in the Feb/Mar 2022 edition of Goldmine magazine (above) about the beginnings of Judas Priest. You can order a copy here.
Or get the Collector's Edition of the issue (below), which has an alternate cover in a slipcase and a rare, collectible 8x10. Only 200 made and it is almost sold out!
Furthermore, you can win a Vintage Shot of Judas Priest (shown below). Goldmine and Rock Scene Auctions have teamed up to give you the opportunity to win an 17×22″ photo print of Judas Priest — Rob Halford and K.K. Downing onstage — live in 1979, photographed by Mark Weiss. Click here.
Also, finally, listen to an extended interview with K.K. Downing on our Goldmine Podcast this Friday at www.goldminemag.com/page/podcasts. Go there to check it out.