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As one of Judas Priest’s dual guitarists, K.K. Downing was a key part of the fabric of heavy metal for more than 40 years. But over a decade since his departure from that band, he’s back with KK’s Priest, reuniting with ex-Priest vocalist Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens to continue his epic legacy.
With a second album on the horizon and tour dates later this year, we flooded him with your questions, which he answered with an instinctive honesty, thoughtfulness and respect (yes, even the one about custard creams).
What can you do in your new group that you couldn’t with Judas Priest?
Aidan Rufus, Facebook
“I can call the shots! Ha ha! I’m not looking to do anything particularly different because with my heritage, my legacy and everything that I am, a leopard can’t change his spots. I just want to continue doing what I’ve always done. We got the Judas Priest brand up to a place where it can never be overthrown – it’s etched in stone. So yeah, I’ve got a mountain to climb, but as long as I enjoy it, and the music and performances are strong, there’s no reason why the two bands can’t coexist happily, like an old married couple!”
How does it feel starting again after such a long career?
Cam Savage, Facebook
“Good question! Did I ever think it’d get to this? Probably not. I was always a bit reluctant, but in 2020 I thought to myself, ‘Winter’s coming, can I write an album?’ I sat down to do it and within four or five weeks it was all mapped out, and I was very pleased with how prolific I could be. That was the main thing: I didn’t want to embarrass myself, put a band together then find I couldn’t come up with anything. But I surprised myself, and that gave me the confidence to put a band together.”
If you could pick three bands to play KK’s Steel Mill [a venue K.K. runs in Wolverhampton] that haven’t played before, which bands would you pick? Chris Stewart, Facebook
“Wishbone Ash are a big one. I’m delighted to say that they’re coming to the Mill, but it would be nice for them to reform with Ted [Turner] and Laurie [Wisefield] and have three guitarists… imagine that! I was such a heavy little monster that in the early days Wishbone weren’t heavy enough for me. But I did think if [Judas Priest] had two guitarists who could both write and play lead and rhythm, maybe we could do a heavy version, and that’s the way it went. Scorpions would also be great. Judas Priest, there’s another one! Why not? You never know!”
What is your favourite V guitar?
Killer Kobra, Twitter
“I love them all, but for me the epitome was the 1967 Gibson Flying V, because the lines, the cut and the headstock was a bit sharper. To me the ’67 was the most beautiful shape. Brian Jones, Dave Davies, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Powell, the Schenkers, they all had one!”
Who is the loudest band you’ve ever heard live?
Doug McClung, Facebook
“When we played with AC/DC on the Highway To Hell tour, in an ice hockey stadium in Finland, I went down the front to watch them and honestly, my kidneys were jumping up to my liver and getting entwined with my pancreas. It was brutal, man!”
What’s the oddest thing a fan has asked you to autograph?
Christopher J. Caron, Facebook
“Not one but two newborn babies! There are photos on the internet floating around. We’re all sat there, people are lining up with stuff to sign, and there’s these two newborns! The parent of the babies was happy for us to actually sign them, of course we had to back off at that point, that’s potentially a lawsuit! So we signed the babies’ clothes instead. Other than that, there’s a lot of body parts we won’t get into…”
What’s your favourite onstage memory to date?
Rafe Wilde, Facebook
“Supporting Led Zeppelin at Oakland Coliseum in 1977, looking out at 110,000 people! There’s been an awful lot since, though. I mean, Live Aid [in 1985]… A couple of us went onstage for the finale; Harry Belafonte was there, Tina Turner, Mick Jagger… everybody was there!”
Have you ever broken the law?
Peter McCormack Wixey, Facebook
“I had a parking fine a few days ago! I was a bit of a delinquent as a lad, I went through that phase of wanting a few things that everybody else had but you didn’t, and weren’t likely to get unless you rifled [stole] them… It was a bit naughty, but luckily I found music and it kept me on the straight and narrow.”
How did you feel about nu metal in the 90s?
Adrian Hall, email
“I wasn’t a big fan. Glenn [Tipton, Judas Priest guitarist] liked it. He had a son who was just that age at that time, and I think Glenn was playing the role of the cool young dad in tune with the kids, not succumbing to ‘old fart syndrome’!”
Will KK’s Priest play songs from Demolition and Jugulator live?
Constantino Darren, Facebook
“We’ve got one song in the set from Jugulator, and we’re warming up to do festivals, so… We’ve been a bit cautious not to dig too deep into the history books, but hopefully we’ve got a good enjoyable setlist for even the uninitiated. When we play our own shows in October, I could bring songs back from [Judas Priest’s 1974 debut] Rocka Rolla, I could do anything, as the fans will be there for us.”
Did you always hope to work with Ripper again?
Jeffrey Peacock, email
“Yes, I’m hoping we can create something here where Ripper finds a good home. I believe that when he sings this material, he’s at his best. His voice can cover anything, but our stuff is a little paced out so he can get the best out of the lyrics and the notes.”
Custard creams or milk chocolate digestives?
Andrew’s Feeder, Facebook
“Chocolate digestives. Those custard creams have a shelf life that lasts a lifetime, they were always a bit odd!”
Were you offered to rejoin Priest after the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame?
Joshua Leary, Facebook
Hammer: Would you ever play with them again?
“No. Before I started KK’s Priest, I asked if they’d consider me stepping back into my rightful place, because at one point they announced they were going out as a four-piece. I was expecting to be back in the band when there was an opening, or at least to be asked. But Glenn and Ian [Hill, bassist] wrote through their lawyers saying a flat no, which made no sense, as I was there first. And Rob [Halford] left for 11 years so how does he have the right to say ‘I won’t consider you re-joining’ – I was instrumental in reinstating him into the band! Glenn wasn’t interested in having Rob back, he wanted to keep Ripper. But I gave them one last chance, and I was like, ‘Are you sure? One day you might live to regret it.’ Let’s hope they don’t.”
What’s the most you’ve ever laughed?
Chas Malibu, email
“I hate to say it, but [then-Skid Row frontman] Seb Bach running onstage at Donington [in ’92]. We’d had a bit of rain, and he’s such a lanky guy, he went so arse over tit his legs seemed to be six feet in the air! It’s like he was doing backwards cartwheels! He’s a fantastic vocalist and a lovely guy, but that was one of the funniest things ever.”
Are you superstitious?
Mrs Cravat, email
“No. It’s been conjured up out of the imagination, like so many other things. Until it’s proved to me that it exists, I don’t consider it to be real. I’ve always been like that; it’s why I’ve never been religious or believed in life after death.”
What is your advice to young bands just starting out?
Kenny Elevenses, email
“It’s tough to break through, just keep working at it. Choose your bandmates carefully, because it’s all about staying the course. Try to pick people who’ll make sacrifices. I remember Al Atkins, our first singer, he had a wife and kid and when there wasn’t enough money there, he needed a full-time job, and it took him away from the band.”
The Sinner Rides Again is due September 29 via Napalm.