Point of Inquiry: Legendary Judas Priest Guitarist K.K. Downing on his career and new book

- When heavy metal royalty Judas Priest rolls through the Delaware Valley for a Sunday night show in Camden, New Jersey they will be firing off the classics co-written by their founding lead guitarist Ken “K.K.” Downing, but fans will be hearing “Breaking the Law”, “Living After Midnight” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin” without Downing slinging the six-string. The young blonde guitar player who looks like Downing 30 years ago is in fact not him. Downing left the band in 2011, but fans never really knew exactly why…until now.

In telling his story, K.K. Downing sends love to the City of Brotherly Love all the way from across the pond in a FOX 29 Skype interview he did from the old English countryside.

"Hi everyone in Philly and surrounding areas, wherever you are!” he said, while recalling his many fond memories of Philadelphia gigs from over the years. Perhaps none could more iconic than the Philly leg of the Live Aid concerts in 1985.

These days, just one month away from turning 67, Downing still picks up one of his numerous guitars, but hardly screams for the vengeance he may have had in the 1980s. Of course, this does not mean Downing doesn’t have lots to say. In fact, quite the contrary, as evidenced in his new book “Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest”, coming to stores on September 18th.

In the years since his surprising departure from Priest, Downing has said there were “lots and lots” of reasons for leaving, including big and small ones, but the specifics have been missing. Leave it to that pesky thing called the Internet for fans to fill in the blanks, with storytelling that seems fit for a dramatic documentary.

Placing an end to the rage, Downing is now straightening out the record.

"It gets a bit frustrating seeing the fans, you know, thinking this and thinking that and I'm thinking well…that's not right,” Downing told FOX29’s Dave Kinchen, when stating why he decided to write the book with co-author Mark Eglinton.

“With not really being out there on tour and doing interviews as the band normally did, I thought probably the best thing to do was take a big opportunity when asked to pretty much put my life story and document everything; all of the sequence of events you know, as they should be, within the book Heavy Duty."

It's a peculiar thing watching one of your favorite bands from a distance, trying to find out what makes them tick. This is especially true when they genuinely appear to get along on stage. Most often the performance of the music keeps some kind of peace in the unit, but like any relationship, as Downing says, things can happen and force a change.  In his case, it meant leaving the band he co-founded in 1969, when the blues got so heavy it morphed into what we now call heavy metal.

"Let’s start with us all getting older you know?" Downing says, pointing to the toll created by decades of recording and near-constant globetrotting for shows.

Then there are the times when he felt the band wasn’t giving its best.

"Everything seemed to be maybe not quite what it was, but I had a hunger…for everything to stay the same you know? The energy and everything. The dynamics and everything that Priest would bring to a show as I knew it, and liked it."

Downing has noted his exhaustion after finishing the mammoth double concept album “Nostradamus”, which documents the life and times of the famed 16th-century seer.

"I was asked to start writing for a five-track EP and I really wasn't happy with that. Thought that was completely wrong coming off the epic Nostradamus (album and tour)."

The book also sheds light on growing disagreements with the Priest’s other guitarist, Glenn Tipton. Together Tipton and Downing built a world-renowned style of twin leads and harmonies. Downing says band management steadily started to move toward Tipton’s way of doing things rather than his.

“One thing's for sure, you know, both your mom and dad can't wear the trousers!”, Downing adds while continuing with the relationship metaphor.

Tipton was forced to pull back from touring in support of their 2018 album Firepower after his Parkinson’s disease worsened, prompting fan chatter that Downing would be called back into the ranks. That never happened and became as much a bombshell for Downing as it did for the fans. But after 40 years, Downing focuses mostly on the good times. 

"At the end of the day, you know, we had a fantastic career and I'm very grateful,” he said.

For more on that and why Downing decided to sell off his share of royalty rights to 136 songs in the Judas Priest catalog, watch the attached video interview.

“Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest” will be released where books are sold on September 18th.

Judas Priest will co-headline with Deep Purple at the BB&T Pavilion in Camden, N.J. on the evening of Sunday, September 9th.

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