K. K. Downing
|K. K. Downing|
|Birth name||Kenneth Downing, Jr.|
27 October 1951 |
West Bromwich, England
|Genres||Heavy metal, speed metal, hard rock|
|Years active||1968–2011, 2012|
|Associated acts||Judas Priest|
|Gibson Flying V
Hamer KK Downing Signature model
Early life and career
Downing dropped out of school when he was 16 years old. A short time later, he was told by his parents to leave, which he did. In the late 1960s, Kenneth discovered rock music and the guitar. He is a self-taught guitarist and has recently become a "music theory man". He was heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix, after whom he modelled his playing style.". Records by popular artists which have influenced Downing as a musician include, "Are You Experienced", "Axis Bold As Love", "Electric Ladyland" by Jimi Hendrix, "A Hard Road" by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and "Fresh Cream" by Cream (band). Downing played on every Judas Priest album from Rocka Rolla to A Touch of Evil: Live.
Downing started his first band between the age of 17 and 18 with his second cousin Brian Badhams on bass guitar (now with The Elkie Brooks Band) and drummer Martin Philips. The trio "mainly jammed a few Cream songs and a few 12-bar blues". Downing played guitar with the band after winning a coin toss with his cousin Brian "in his bedroom to see who would play guitar or bass".
Downing lived with girlfriend Carol Hiles until 1985 (she had supported him in the early days and when they broke up, he paid off their mortgage and gave her the house In the mid to late 1980s, Downing lived in Spain with Vietnamese born actress/artist Kyme Hoan Tran, who died in 1993
Playing style and technique
Downing has been noted for his aggressive, rock influenced guitar solos and dual leads with fellow Judas Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton. His solos remained of this style for most of his career, but he incorporated various techniques into his playing over the years. As opposed to Tipton, his solos tended to incorporate a more raw, rough-edged sound, making use of techniques like pinch harmonics, dive bombs, and tremolo picking, and often focus on speed, technical accuracy and melody. In 1978, Tipton began to incorporate tapping into his playing, which Downing promptly began to use as well. By 1990, both guitarists started to use the complex technique of sweep-picking, which can be notably heard on the title track of their 1990 album Painkiller. Both have continuously used these techniques ever since. Some of his guitar solos are on such tracks as "Victim of Changes", the 2nd solo in "Beyond the Realms of Death", "Before The Dawn", "Sinner", "Don't Go", the 2nd solo in "Painkiller", and the live version of "Breaking The Law", although naturally which solos are most notable is debated among fans. Notable guitar duels are on such tracks as "Hellrider", "Bullet Train", "Nostradamus", "The Sentinel", "Ram It Down", "Metal Meltdown", "Eat Me Alive" and "Riding On The Wind".
In Judas Priest's early years, Downing made common use of the wah-wah pedal, but began to limit his use of it in the late '70s, and had abandoned use of it by the mid-'80s, save for during live performances of the songs that originally featured it. The only time since then that he renewed use of it was in 1996, when vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens joined the band, and they began to experiment with their music more than before. One of these experimentations was the renewal of wah-wah in Downing's playing, which can be heard on their 1997 album Jugulator. This experimentation was taken further on their next album with Owens, 2001's Demolition, but was once more abandoned when the band's former vocalist, Rob Halford, returned to the band. However, Downing used a wah-wah pedal on his last few tours with the band.
Leaving Judas Priest
Downing officially left Judas Priest on 20 April 2011. An official press release was issued by the band. In an interview with online music publication Guitarhoo!, Downing spoke on his leaving the band, "There had been an on-going breakdown in working relationships between myself, elements of the band and management for some time". The band decided to continue with Richie Faulkner as a replacement for Downing. Downing devoted time to his other passion in life, golf, which he and fellow Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton took up as an alternative to their tennis playing after being challenged during an early 1980s tour by Def Leppard members Joe Elliott and Rick Savage. After one Judas Priest tour Downing rented a house in Hawaii and played golf for seven months straight.
Downing's hobbies and interests outside of music include: "Golf, tennis, football, snooker, table tennis, walking, fishing, beer, dining, architecture, history, antiques, interior design, English heritage".
Musical Side Projects
In 2012 Downing was approached by Cleopatra Records to partake on the album, "Who Are You? An All Star Tribute to the Who", a tribute album to the band The Who. Downing accepted the offer and performed guitar on the opening track, "Eminence Front", along with musicians John Wetton and Derek Sherinian. The album was released on October 2, 2012. Downing on participating on the record, "(I) feel honoured to pay tribute to such a great band".
Downing´s first own house was a "tiny semi in Bloxwich." He has lived in Los Angeles and Florida and still owns a home in Spain, but his main abode since 1985 remains Astbury Hall in Shropshire, England. It is in a very secluded area so he can (as stated in a 2007 interview) "blast his Marshalls.". Astbury Hall is also home to "one of England´s finest championship golf courses, a course created by Downing himself and where he has held publicized charity events. Sarah Lissimore, his former girlfriend, mounted a legal challenge for half of Downing's Shropshire estate. This was based on his assertion, "I'd bet you'd love to be lady of this Manor, wouldn't you?". The High Court rejected the notion that this assertion could give rise to proprietary estoppel in favour of Lissimore.
Recognition and honors
Downing was ranked 23 on rock magazine Hit Parader's list of 100 greatest metal guitarists.
Downing has many guitars, among them:
- 1964 Gibson Flying V Limited Edition with Gibson PAF pickups (one out of 200)
- 1970 Gibson Flying V with Maestro vibrato bar (number 233 out of 500)
- 1969 Fender Stratocaster (White) with left-handed neck
- 1970-71 Fender Stratocaster (Sunburst)
- Custom Hamer Vector, Vector KK and KK Mini V guitars
- ESP Custom V guitar
- Judas Priest Special V Handmade by Daniel R. Johnson (K. K.'s former touring guitar tech).
- KxK Custom Shop V K. K. Downing Model 2 guitar.
- Ovation Elite series Acoustic
Amplifiers and effects
- Digitech 1101 Preamp
- Marshall 9100 Power Amplifier.
- Marshall JMP-1 Preamp
- Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier
- Rocktron Piranha Preamp
- Marshall JMP Non master volume heads
- [MXR] Distortion +
Guitar Rig and Signal Flow
A detailed gear diagram of K.K. Downing's 2004 Judas Priest guitar rig is well-documented.
- "K.K. Downing Interview". Guitarhoo!. Guitarhoo.com. December 5, 2012. Retrieved March 5, 2013.
- "K.K. Downing Interview - Fave 5 Reviews". Guitarhoo!. Guitarhoo.com. December 17, 2012. Retrieved March 5, 2013.
- Judas Priest Info Pages - K.K. - Glenn Profile[dead link]
- "About.com: Heavy Metal". Retrieved May 22, 2010.
- "England and Wales High Court (Chancery Division) Decisions". Retrieved May 22, 2010.
- Cooper, Adam (2004). "K.K. Downing's 2004 Judas Priest Guitar Rig". GuitarGeek.Com.