By Andrew Catania
A tale of egos, control, and unhappiness is what led longtime guitarist K.K. Downing to leave Judas Priest. Downings book describes in detail from his not so stellar upbringing to his “retirement” from Priest. It’s a must-read for anyone wanting to get the gritty details in the behind the scenes of one of metals most iconic bands. I spoke with K.K. about his time in Priest.
Do you think it was unfair that they didn’t ask you to come back when Glenn announced his condition? Do you think Andy Sneap was a good fit?
KK: Totally unfair. People come and go in bands. Rob left for 14 years and came back to the band. Even today I’ve still been in Judas Priest longer than Rob. I was in the band three years before he joined. Andy does look out of place. I would imagine he’s going to go back to producing.
When you announced your retirement in 2011, was it more frustration with the direction of the band was going?
KK: Initially, I sent a letter that I’m bowing out gracefully and retiring. I tried to do it in a certain way not to burn bridges. When management and the band announced my retirement, something flipped in me and I just told them the truth. I chose my words carefully but it was still things that certain people didn’t want to hear.
I wasn’t happy for a long time. The decisions that were being made and certain attitudes on people. I didn’t buy into that. I bought into a plan that every band member was equal in the decision making. I’m still an equal shareholder in Judas Priest Music, LTD so it’s all a bit confusing and awkward.
When did you start getting unhappy with the bands’ direction?
KK: Glenn and I were two different people and I had an awareness of this at a young age. Glenn and I never had a bond as a band should. I don’t have complaints about what we achieved. I used to get really really frustrated with Glenn. Fame an fortune can change people and you start to see a pecking order starting to formalize and that’s usually when problems start creeping in and bands have major issues. This is what happened to us. Rob left the band and we just made Painkiller for fuck’s sake.
Why did Rob leave priest back then?
KK: He’s never told me. I can only think that Rob wanted to cut free and announce he’s gay. He didn’t make that announcement for six years until we announced we had Ripper as our new singer to deflect attention from Jugulator. I believe Rob left thinking he could be like Ozzy,, go it alone and have all the fame and glory to himself.
Why did it take you six years to find a new singer?
KK: We all had an awareness that Glenn was planning to do a solo album. Rob knew as well. Rob left which left us in a bind and Glenn was already on the runway so to speak with his solo album. It kept getting delayed and pushed back. That was the delay. If I made the rules in the band, nobody does a solo album. Everyone should stay loyal to the flagship which is Judas Priest. People doing these things doesn’t do anybody any good in the band. It creates problems.
If they have good material for a solo album why shouldn’t it go to Judas Priest?
Comparing Rob to Ripper, who do you feel is a better fit for Priest?
KK: When Ripper joined the band… We would have to say that, physically and technically, Ripper was a better singer than Rob, because Tim was always in tune, he was always in key. I mean, Rob was good. Rob got better after he started to wear in-ear monitors. But Tim was stronger. He still is. I mean, the guy is a powerhouse. But the thing is that the tonality of his voice is not Rob‘s, and I guess that’s what the [PRIEST] sound is. That’s why it had to come to an end. We would come offstage. Tim would absolutely murder the show, and we would still come offstage and the fans would be saying, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah. I enjoyed the show. But when’s Rob coming back? Is Rob coming back?’ And it was hard. And it must be hard for those guys [in PRIEST] out there now, [hearing fans say], ‘Is K.K. coming back? Is Glenn[Tipton, guitar] coming back?’ It must be tough for them.
What were the events that led up to Rob coming back to Priest?
KK: It’s a long story. Sharon Osbourne rang up one day and said, ‘Hey, what’s happening with Rob? Is he back in the band? Because I want you to do the Ozzfest and I’m gonna pay you a lot of money for doing it.’ And that didn’t happen the first time around. But then another year or so went by, and kind of the same thing happened again. But by this time, we’d done ‘Demolition’, and things seemed to be on the decline for us. The venues seemed to be getting worse. And eventually, I took part in the ‘Demolition’ album, but I wasn’t happy. Glenn said he wanted to produce the album and stuff like that. It was all getting a bit funky, so I walked away from it for a while, but I came back and put as much into it as I could. Our past albums were getting popular again as Sony re-released our back catalog and Painkiller was getting popular. Painkiller wasn’t that popular when we released it. I feel it was fan demand.
I’m involved with a music venue not too far from me. We put Skid Row on stage with there new singer. I thought he did a fairly good job. I saw some lives shows from before with him and didn’t think they were good. I’m used to seeing Skid Row playing festivals with Guns N Roses and such. It’s not the same without Sebastian Bach.
Ripper said he’d like to go back and re-record Jugulator and Demolition as he feels Priest is trying to remove any mention of his involvement with the band. It’s hard to find Jugulator anywhere and Demolition is more available. Would you participate in the re-record with Ripper?
KK: It doesn’t surprise me that they’re trying to do that to Ripper. Ripper did an excellent job on those two albums and I’d say what would be the point? He did a fantastic job on them. We were dropped from Sony when Rob left and was signed to smaller labels with Jugulator and Demolition. It would probably be legal reasons [why they are not widely available], I think. Somebody actually must own the rights. But it’s worth finding out, because one thing is for sure, between me and Ripper, if nobody owns the rights to them, then we’ll start producing them and marketing them. I’d be happy to do that. I’ll do some research and find out who owns the rights to those albums. But somebody [must have acquired] the rights,
Do you have any contact with anyone from Priest?
KK: None. They don’t respond to any of my correspondence. Glenn is always the one that controls the behinds the scenes with Jane from management. It’s a bit like a John Lennon/Yoko syndrome.
Andy and Ritchie are on a wage. They’re not really part of Judas Priest. The band is Judas Priest Music. I’m 25% shareholder and Director of that company. It’s a bit of a mess, really.
Why did you auction off your rights to Judas Priest music?
Unfortunately, time isn’t on anybody’s side. I sold them off outright. Time isn’t on Glenn’s side or mine. We’re either approaching 70 or over 70. You start living off borrowed time. There’s really no place for egos. It’s all about being grateful for what and who we are and what we achieved. It comes to a point when the fans are more important than anyone cause you need them to stay with you.
When you first joined Priest, did you ever think the band would be as popular as it is today?
KK: You don’t think like that. You think more I shouldn’t be doing this but I’m a naughty boy and I want too. I guarantee when Pink Floyd recorded Dark Side of the Moon, they had no idea how big that record would be.
Sometimes you can release an album and it will fail cause it’s too soon to release. That’s happened to us on a few occasions.
What are your plans for 2019?
KK: I get tons of offers to do music. I was more dedicated to Judas Priest than Rob or Glenn ever was. Glenn took six years off to do his albums. Rob took 14 years to do his. Rob released two albums in 2010 with the Halford band and did Ozzfest. Somebody like me can only take so much. Then I got a call from management to start writing for a five-track EP. They asked back in 2000 and again in 2010. That was one of the reasons I quit. I told them I’m not doing it.
For more information on K.K. please visit his website here