KK Downing – I have the license to take all the elements of the past into the future


Just a bit before the release of KK’s Priest debut album we had the chance to talk with KK Downing about the new band, the new album and the new music that’s in “Sermons Of The Sinner”. With his arsenal filled to the brim with poisonous riffs and his answers aiming against his former bandmates in Priest he is locked and loaded waiting the pandemic to clear so he can get back on the road as soon as possible. Interview: Yiannis Dolas

Rockpages.gr: Why did it take so long to release an album of original material?

KK Downing: That’s a good question, why did it take me that long Yiannis? Well, I guess after 40 years the time went by fairly quickly and I guess I was always anticipating that if I ever did another record in my life, it would be with Judas Priest. I didn’t know anything else really. It was a part of my life and it was everything… a complete part of me you know. It was like a family. I was in the band, I never left, like the other guys to make albums or form bands with other people. I was always been loyal and true. It was like trying to accept that another person is your mother, or your father. I just couldn’t accept that. So, I kept myself busy, I was always busy. Straight away I went into production and arranging. It’s a popular myth that I retired, that’s not true. No one ever heard that from me. I was very unhappy at the time that I quit and I wanted that to resolve itself and then to reconvene, however long it took. But, the years went by and I just couldn’t wait forever. Every time I asked I was told the same thing: “the door is permanently closed”. So, eventually, after playing with “Ripper” and Les (Binks) in November 2019… that Christmas of 2019 I decided to see if I could write an album, so I did.

Rockpages.gr: How did you come up with the members of KK’s Priest band?

KK Downing: Back in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s I was able to put a band together. Because I heard and I had a direction and I was able to do it. I don’t find that difficult. And now that you’ve got people like “Ripper” Owens with whom we’ve played before, toured the world… with AJ I’ve known him for a long time, he lives close to me, he’s from the same town as me, we grew up in the same area… he’s considerably younger, he’s half my age…maybe a bit less…  So, we put the band together and I know the guys, I know that they are strong and the chemistry is strong, so now I feel very strong also. Already working on material for the next record just waiting for the pandemic to clear off so we can play some gigs.

Rockpages.gr: You said that there might be something familiar from your past in the new stuff. How does that work?

KK Downing: I decided that I can go forward with a new band and a new album, new music – that’s fine, but I didn’t want to start 100% fresh, because I didn’t want to cut off and dispense with who I am, what I am, my style, how I play the guitar, how I write songs. I think it’s a very important ingredient that I keep all of that, that identity. I feel I have the license to take all the elements of the past with me, with the band into the future. And I like that, because there is guys in the band that I never met, I don’t know who they are and they are playing my songs and my music and they go out there and they are very successful with that and make money, that’s great. But, my band can do that also, because I am very loyal devoted Priest and that will never change.

A song like “Wild And Free” is like a modern day, a newer version of “Breaking The Law”. It’s quite rebellious, we all went through that, so it’s kind of similar. I like that too, because I always want to remember myself as being a wild teenager, because we think that we are still teenagers, being crazy, doing wild things that we shouldn’t. Everybody else is wrong and you and you friends are right, ‘cause you are the gang – of course!

Rockpages.gr: Did you get Jimi Hendrix’s autograph when you saw him playing in London back in the ‘60s?

KK Downing: I had a signed poster from the Royal Albert Hall and I had a Coca-Cola bottle that Jimi drunk out of and a drum stick from Mitch Mitchell, I had all that, but you see I was working in a job and I used to go to these festivals from the job. And one time I came back much much too late and they had destroyed everything. They ripped all my posters up and threw them away and I was fired from the job… hahaha (he laughs) I had to get on the bus and go back to my family home, which was terrible really. I was just turning 17 when that happened and that was pretty much it. Suddenly, I lost everything. A big big collection of posters and things like that you know… from other bands also.

Rockpages.gr: Do you think that someday “Nostradamus” can be judged more fairly, like “Turbo”?

KK Downing: I think it will happen. I mean whenever that is gonna be I don’t know. But there is a lot of great music in there. I know it was a long album and people’s attention span… and I know obviously that the mixture with the classical ingredients here and there was not really what the fans wanted and I really understand that, I totally get that, but at the time you always think “is this the last thing I ever gonna do?” you don’t really know. To be able to put out something like that is quite a statement. Myself and Glenn worked fantastically well on this album, we did it really quite quick and we were very raw together on that album, probably better than on any previous album I think really. It’s just nice to know that you can release something like that, even if it’s basically on the shelf for now…

Rockpages.gr: What is Judas Priest lacking without having original members on board?

KK Downinig: Judas Priest is different to me, because I am not in it. To me it finished when I wasn’t there. The band is a different band now and that’s great. But, I am sure there is lots of people who remember the band, the traditional Priest as it was when we were really on fire, storming across the world. I think Richie playing Glenn’s solos from “Firepower” album is… I don’t know why Andy is not playing any of those parts. I think the two guitars paid off and I miss the solos. Obviously, on this album (Ed, “Sermons Of The Sinner”) there is an abundance of guitar playing, solos and stuff. And I like that and of course I get to play more on this album. I should have played more in Priest. I should have put my foot down and said: “Glenn, I need to play more solos, because I can”. So, now I can, which is great. So, I see Richie playing my solos and Glenn’s solos. I know that Andy was a rhythm player in his own band before (Ed, he is referring to the band Hell), and I liked that band. I know Kevin was the lead player, but he sustained an injury unfortunately, but I like that band, I think it’s really cool.

Rockpages.gr: How important was it for Judas Priest to replace Rob Halford with Tim “Ripper” Owens?

KK Downing: We should be eternally grateful to “Ripper” because he saved the band really. Because, the band was in a mess. Rob left for 14 years. That didn’t seem… from the end of the 1990 until 2004 and Glenn did two solo albums, he did his thing and Rob took our drummer, Scott, with him when he left. So, we didn’t really have a band. When “Ripper” came along we were able to stay alive and keep going, he was our salvation. We should be eternally grateful and we should be eternally proud and grateful of those two albums (Ed, “Jugulator” and “Demolition”) that he helped us to do as well.

Rockpages.gr: I have a question about “Angel Of Retribution”, from the moment I first listened to the album until now I always thought that there are some songs in there that were written with “Ripper” in mind is that true?

KK Downing: No, I think when Rob re-joined the band we tried to do the best we could. I like that album a lot. It means a lot to me, I love it. “Judas Rising” and all that stuff. That came that myself and Rob had back in the early ‘80s, so that was resurrected for that song. Rob was always on our minds to work with him for that record…

Rockpages.gr: I remember you guys playing in Athens with “Ripper”, in 2001, that when you guys walked up the stage and played the first song –which was “Metal Gods” – one of the amps on you side of the stage blew up and you were all laughing on stage because there was smoke coming out…

KK Downing: Cool! I hope that was my amp! That’s me! Means that my playing was on fire! Hahaha! I like that, if my amplifiers explode that’s wonderful as far as I am concerned!

Rockpages.gr: You wrote on your book “Heavy Duty”, that when you got back with Rob and went into the studio everything clicked like he was never gone. Do you think that if you return to the band now, it will be the same and everything will click right into place?

KK Downing: Absolutely, I am sure it would. The thing is that the guys never gave me the opportunity to come up and meet, which I offered, before sending lawyers up to me. I said “listen, let me come down, sit around the table, have a chat about things”, but they didn’t want to do that. So, they said they are happy the way that they are. One thing is for sure, they were the ones that told the world, the media and the fans that I retired. Now, if that’s true why wouldn’t let me out of retirement if that’s the only relevant thing? If there is no one there, gremlins or things there, no other issues, why don’t they let me out of retirement when there was an opportunity? Why wouldn’t they pick up the phone and say “you fancy doing it again?”

Rockpages.gr: Was there a rivalry between Judas Priest and Iron Maiden in the early ‘80s?

KK Downing: The guys were up and coming and we were already there established. That’s understandable now, but it was mainly Paul (Ed, Di’Anno) and he did apologize for the comments he made to the press. The rest of the guys were always amicable, they were really nice guys. I am very proud of the guys for a long time that they manage to become the mighty Iron Maiden and they seem to get better all the time. I think the last Rock In Rio show, I think it was in 2019, forgive me if I am wrong, I was watching that on video and it’s fantastic. I mean the guys always put on a great show, so let’s keep it going. You can’t keep a good band down he says…

Rockpages.gr: What is going to happen in heavy metal when all the big bands of today retire?

KK Downing: If Black Sabbath go out, or AC/DC, the mighty Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Scorpions… we still have these bands playing huge venues and headlining huge festivals. I believe that the music is still very very much revered and treasured and hopefully younger and older musicians will like the “Sermons Of The Sinner” by KK’s Priest and think “that’s great, I wanna play that music”. I think that would be great and I say it would be great if we had a young Deep Purple, or a young Black Sabbath, or a young Judas Priest, or a young Scorpions. We have a young Led Zeppelin in Greta Van Fleet, who are very very successful. You know, in a way (we need) new faces, new voices, new musicians with new material and that connection with something very special that happened in the early ‘70s, known as the incredible Led Zeppelin. We don’t have it anymore. So, let’s hope that that will live on, as I am sure that it will.