K.K. Downing discusses retiring from Judas Priest
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Downing is about to release the debut album for KK’s Priest, Sermons of the Sinner, next month and the legendary guitarist has been speaking about how his new project will continue the legacy he created with Judas Priest. Naturally, he has also been asked about his acrimonious exit from the band and he completely refuted the band’s assertion that he had voluntarily retired. Downing also shared his hurt that the band made it clear again that there is no place for him with them anymore after he was replaced by Richie Faulkner. SCROLL DOWN TO WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW
Speaking to BBC Radio, Downing gave his side of the events which saw him dramatically withdraw from the second half of the Epitaph World Tour in 2011 – which had been announced as the band’s final farewell.
He said: “We all agreed to retire. So in 2010, I sent in a nice amicable letter. It wasn’t really how I was feeling, I felt I was doing myself an injustice and I didn’t feel good about it.
“Lots of things came to a head so I kind of bailed out but a few months later I did change my mind. I was speaking to Ian (Hill) about doing the tour but it seemed as though they had already made up their mind to carry on with Richie. They made the press release that I had retired which wasn’t really the case… I always thought there would be a crack in the door at some point there would be an opening but it was not meant to be…”
Downing added: “When they actually announced I retired, I sent in a second letter giving the real reasons. I specified, ‘Ignore everything in the first letter.’
“The guys obviously felt it was easier to hop on the retirement thing rather than the real reasons I gave. I’ve written to the guys and they’ve said the door is permanently closed. They are happy with the way that they are, even though Andy (Sneap) is just there as a specified ‘touring guitarist.'”
In fact, the content of that second letter are widely believed to have been rather harsh, outlining Downing’s dissatisfaction with the way the band was going. He has subsequently said many times that he believed the standard of performing had dropped.
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In 2019 Downing said: “I just felt that some of the guys [in the band] were more going through the motions. ‘Cause I always said to the guys, ‘Look, the older we get, the younger we’ve gotta play.’ I stick to that rule. But it wasn’t happening.
“Glenn (Tipton) was drinking a few beers before and during (being) on stage, so, musically, it was making me feel a bit nervous. And Rob (Halford) was reading all of his lyrics off teleprompters and stuff like that, so I didn’t feel he was connecting with the audience like he should as a frontman. And that resulted in Scott (Travis), the drummer, looking pretty bored every time I looked around at him.”
Since 2011, relations have been strained and Downing reignited the issue when he publicly posted a message in 2018 after guitarist Tipton had to step back from the band due to Parkinson’s.
He said: “I have to state with great sadness also that I am shocked and stunned that I wasn’t approached to step into my original role as guitarist for Judas Priest.”
Halford reiterated the band’s position that Downing had officially retired in 2011 so there was no reason to ask him, a position that Downing continues to dispute.
He also explained why he has decided this year to launch KK’s Priest and their debut album in August: “Under the circumstances, I want to move forward as KK’s Priest. I will be bringing everything I have ever done and achieved, who I am, the way I sound, the way I write…
“I’ve always been a Priest. So if there is a Priest in Judas Priest I have never met and they are playing my songs and earning money, well I have a right to be a Priest as well.
“The last thing I want to be an offshoot or offspring (of the band). I’m here, I’ve offered up my services which were turned down. I’ve been a Priest since 1968. I’ve spent my life evolving (the band). I was the first one to don the leather and studs, with the image of the band…
“I feel justified with this great band that it needs to be a continuation of this wonderful music and a celebration of rock and metal that I’ve been instrumental in and a part of, so proudly.”
During the wide-ranging interview, Downing was also asked why he thought Judas Priest did not have the same success and impact as Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath throughout the 1970s. The band finally broke through with sixth album British Steel in 1980.
Downing said: “I just think it was probably the connections and the machinery. We signed for a small company called Gold Records for the first two albums. But really, the albums didn’t sound exactly, didn’t really capture the band how we sounded live. And then Sony came along and said, ‘We’d like to sign the bands.’
“And then that was very, very good because they were very supportive, and had some big machinery, they hooked us up with Roger Glover, obviously, which was wonderful. A Deep Purple member producing the band… I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is great.’ But we still had to come up with the goods because it was very in the experimental stage I suppose, and still getting to where it needed to get to.
“I had the Flying V which is now synonymous with heavy metal bands very early on, and, obviously, with Rob leading the way. It was bound to happen at some point but so it was a long journey.”
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