K. K. Downing
K. K. Downing
Downing performing with Judas Priest in 1984.
|Birth name||Kenneth Downing Jr.|
|Born||27 October 1951|
West Bromwich, Staffordshire,
|Genres||Heavy metal, hard rock|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, songwriter, author|
|Associated acts||Judas Priest, Queensryche, King Diamond, Violent Storm, K. K. Downing's Steel Mill, Devilstar|
Early life and career
Downing was born in West Bromwich, Staffordshire. He was kicked out of his home at 15 and dropped out of school soon afterwards. In the late 1960s, Downing discovered rock music and the guitar. He is a mostly self-taught guitarist. "He was heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix, whom he was 'very quick to recognise as the future'". He was also influenced by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and Eric Clapton. Downing played on every Judas Priest album from Rocka Rolla to A Touch of Evil: Live.
Downing started his first band Stagecoach, a pop 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".
Playing style and technique
Downing has an aggressive, rock-influenced guitar style featuring 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 such as pinch harmonics, dive bombs, and tremolo picking, and often focus on speed, technical accuracy and melody. From Stained Class onward, Tipton came to be increasingly dominant in Judas Priest's songwriting, particularly on the more commercial tracks while Downing's role in the band started to diminish, especially as the former's songs comprised the vast majority of live setlists after 1980. In 1978, Tipton began to incorporate tapping into his playing, which Downing 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.
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. He had abandoned use of it by the mid-'80s, but saved it for 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 about his departure, "There had been an on-going breakdown in working relationships between myself, elements of the band and management for some time." Downing stated that there were at least "21 reasons" why he decided to quit but refused to go into specific detail about them. In a 2016 interview, Downing elaborated on his decision to leave Judas Priest, saying that he wasn't happy with the band's live performance and thought it could've been better. The band had since continued with Richie Faulkner as Downing's replacement.
Downing says that failing relations with the band was the cause for his departure, and that Rob Halford and Glenn Tipton's respective solo careers were another factor, which he deemed "a bit disruptive." He spoke about Halford's solo career, saying that Halford released two albums in 2010 and toured with his band, and then refused to write material for a five-track EP. He doesn't regret his decision to leave Judas Priest, as he feels that "it had kind of run its course as it was", then comparing his lifestyle with Tipton's, saying that Tipton was "a bit more rock 'n' roll, have some beers, and I was there, totally attentive and wanting perfection, every note, every beat. So we kind of drifted apart a little bit that way." Downing didn't inquire about coming back after Tipton announced his Parkinson's disease diagnosis and his dismissal from touring as Tipton's replacement was already announced before Downing was notified about it. He then said that he would be willing to speak with the band if he was contacted on making his return as their guitarist again.
According to Downing, drummer Scott Travis was the only member to contact him following his departure, but was not surprised that Travis contacted him. He was however surprised that the other members did not. He said that he thought that he was friends with all of the other members before his departure, he singled out Ian Hill as the one he was most disappointed in. He then explained that Halford, Hill and Travis knew of his suffering towards the end of his duties in the band. Downing's decision to leave Judas Priest even shocked himself, saying that he made "an awful lot of sacrifices" and not receiving the respect he made in terms of his contributions in the band, recalling the early days in the 1960's, which he described as "tough".
Downing revealed another side of his story by saying that he contemplated departing Judas Priest when the touring for Painkiller concluded in 1991, citing internal conflicts within the band. He said that he composed a resignation letter, but ended up waiting towards the end of the tour, "I thought, 'I’ll just sit on it, and see how I feel when the dust settles', and not make any rash moves."; instead Halford announced his departure before he did, thinking that Halford found out about his contemplated dismissal, and that Tipton wanted to do a solo album. Downing then decided to remain in the band as a result.
Downing's decision to depart from Judas Priest "was a lot of things — it was an awful lot of things." He says that the change in the industry to worldwide touring and performing live was a factor, and also not enjoying the live performances anymore. He would further touch basis on Tipton and Halford, saying that Tipton consumed alcoholic beverages before and during gigs, and that Halford read the lyrics through a teleprompter, feeling that Halford didn't connect with the fans. Downing then brought up drummer Scott Travis, saying that Travis was "looking pretty bored every time I looked around at him. And so that was a major factor." He then said that there's possibly "15 or 20 reasons" that he left the band, citing his failed relations with the band that is beyond unrepairable. Downing felt disgruntled about not having the chance to contact the band on a possible return after Tipton announced his Parkinson's disease diagnosis, "because I felt that I would have been able to return, really, if there was gonna be at least stability and security in the music and the live shows. But having said that, it didn't happen, so I guess the writing's on the wall. But I just remember and look back on, incredibly fondly, everything that was achieved."
Not being invited back to Judas Priest
Within the wake of Tipton's announcement of his Parkinson's disease diagnosis and his self-imposed retirement from touring in February 2018, Downing issued a statement saying that he was "shocked and stunned" that he wasn't approached to rejoin Judas Priest and that he was "officially and legally still a member of Judas Priest", despite not being present in the band. He then said that he now knows more clearly that he made the right choice to leave when he did and that his time in the band and value in terms of crafting the band's legacy "was and is unappreciated by more than one member." He reached out to the fans telling them that the decision to not approach him "was not a financial one." Faulkner stepped in and said that the band "gave him a grace period and they wanted him to come back and they wanted him to stay initially, and he didn't want anything to do with it. So why the band should ask him to come back, I'm not quite sure what he thinks." Hill said that Downing had retired and refused to return, but was surprised that he wasn't asked to rejoin after Tipton stepped down from touring. He later pointed out Downing's statement, saying that he may have been "playing a little bit of mischief", expressing doubt that Downing would be fully prepared to perform the newer material and would also have to learn Tipton's parts as well. Hill felt that Downing hasn't performed on stage since his departure and is "hardly at the peak of his game at the moment." During a press conference at the 2018 edition of Hellfest, Hill explained that Faulkner already performs Downing's material and that it would be Tipton's material that Downing would be performing and not his own. He then said that if Downing was brought back to replace Tipton, "it really wouldn't have sounded right anyway." Halford said that Downing made the decision to retire and was "emphatic about retiring and never coming back, and that's what we were left with. There has been no communication since that time. There has been no inquires about how the band is doing since that time, or how the guys are doing, or anything of that nature." Downing responded to Hill's comments, calling it "a complete load of bollocks", saying that he would return to his original position while Faulkner performs Tipton's material, and also denied any claims that he would be Tipton's replacement. He expressed disappointment towards Hill, saying that it was "extremely unfair" for him to say that he hasn't been missed since his departure.
In light of Downing's concerns, Judas Priest's manager Jayne Andrews said via e-mail that the band would have no comment on his view. When he decided to leave the band, he said, "I felt I was in crisis. Whether it sounds selfish or not, everything seems to go out of the window in a crisis." He then explained that he did not find Tipton easy to get along with, "Very early on, I was fully aware of the limited conditions under which he operated. If you were going to relate to him, you would do so entirely on his terms." He would later say that he sent two resignation letters, with the first one implying a smooth retirement from music and the second one being angrier, laying out all of his frustrations with specific parties, which Downing believes was the main reason why he wasn't asked to return to the band after Tipton's self-imposed retirement from touring. Downing described the second letter as his "fuck off" letter. He would then say that he contemplated performing on the Epitaph World Tour even after backing out of it.
Downing says that he doesn't mean to cause any controversy, but says that he was just disgruntled when he wasn't asked to rejoin Judas Priest. He says that it was wrong for them to not ask him back and that he would be willing to return to his original position if they had offered him an opportunity. He would later say that he would've considered rejoining Judas Priest if they approached him under the right circumstances and being asked about it the right way.
Former Judas Priest vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens stepped in to defend Downing's statements, saying that he has the right to tell his story, and denies that he mostly talks about his problems in the band when being interviewed, "He's answering the questions that people are asking. It is what it is. I was there. I saw things happen. I saw how it ran. I saw how the band ran. And I'm not complaining about it; I was treated great. But I did see how it was run. And from what I see, he's not lying about stuff; he's just telling the truth." Owens also said that Downing isn't upset that he's not a member of the band anymore, "When I sat down with him a few months back — this was before the book was written, but he wasn't in the band — he spoke great about everybody and especially Richie. So that's just the way it is."
Downing explains that Halford, Hill and Travis would've acknowledged the idea of bringing him back into the band. He went on to take credit for being the first one to bring in the Flying V guitar into heavy metal music. He then said that he was always in good terms with Halford; although he didn't say that he made an attempt to reach out to him directly to discuss the concerns, he noted about his departure in 1992 and being the one who brought him back in 2003, but feels that "everything's outside of his control, Ian's and Scott's. That's what I think." He reiterated by believing that there would've been an open possibility for the members to have him return, "if there wasn't something preventing them to do so," despite being in good terms with them in the past, but explains that there were problems, "For a long time, collectively, we were not happy. We were joint, we were as one for some years towards the end. And so, there must be some power that I don't know about that's not doing things the way they should be done."
Downing says that he is a better guitar player than Faulkner, especially in terms of performing the song "Sinner", which he says that he can perform better and is the "originator", "It would be better for the people, because they remember me doing it all of their lives, for God’s sakes, which is decades." He then added, "You can see me and Richie up there working and playing and performing pretty damn good together because I would make sure that we were ripping across that stage like there was no tomorrow."
Although Downing has nothing against Faulkner, he has viewed him as a "clone" and a "look-a-like", expressing disappointment in the band's choice on his replacement. He then said that Faulkner's comments of his view on Downing's departure is "off the mark, really, for Richie to make comments about me; he's playing my songs and my riffs and all that, and it's a great opportunity for him. And I think he'd be best to leave it there, really, until we eventually get to have a meet and a chat and maybe we can have a beer together and it's all good. Because I don't want this to continue the way that it is. I would like to go forward, whatever's happened." When Downing first saw Faulkner, he felt that he was "kind of being cloned", and that Faulkner has the right to "portray his own image and ability to play the instrument the way that he does." He then said that when Tipton stepped down from touring, the same thing did not occur, and that producer/guitarist Andy Sneap doesn't look like Tipton in terms of appearance. Despite Downing's view on Faulkner's visual appearance, he never questioned his playing ability, and that Faulkner is more of a Les Paul guitar player, citing Zakk Wylde, Randy Rhoads and Michael Schenker among his influences, and doesn't recall being cited as an influence to Faulkner.
Downing explains that if he considered performing with Judas Priest again if asked about it under the right circumstances, either for a full-length tour or a one-off performance, "I'd be stepping up there with a new guitar partner", describing him and Faulkner as "a pretty good duo", but recalled the time Faulkner spoke about Downing's statement about not being invited back to the band, "And I'm thinking, 'I don't think that's appropriate.' But bands are always falling out and then, next thing you know, they're kissing and hugging. 'Oh, it's great to have you back in the band.'" He would then say that Faulkner "should have been allowed to be his own person. And if he likes to play Gibson Les Paul's, then he should go on stage and play those and not be encouraged to play Flying V's and wear clothes like me and look like me and do all of that." He would express difficulties that Faulkner is an "adequate successor" to his lineage within Judas Priest. Downing then said that Faulkner isn't filling in his role and is also performing Tipton's material as well, "and it all seems a bit strange to me. I don't really quite understand it."
Downing's relationship with Judas Priest isn't "overly sweet at the moment. Nothing lasts forever. I started in the late '60s, so certainly guys from that time, we're not going to be around forever. Obviously, we're losing a lot of good friends along the way. It is the way it is." He said that an opportunity existed for him to return to the band, "and that has passed on." He then expressed uncertainty if there would ever be another opportunity for him to rejoin the band, but did not rule out a possibility in the future. When talking about his future, Downing said that if he doesn't rejoin Judas Priest, "then maybe it's best to just leave it there, really." He also expressed hopes that it could change at some point, but expressed doubt, feeling that "There might be a better position for me. Exactly what I don't know, really."
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 2 October 2012. Downing on participating on the record, "(I) feel honoured to pay tribute to such a great band". In addition, Downing has also guested on albums by other bands including Queensryche and Violent Storm.
In 2018, Downing, along with former Judas Priest members Tim "Ripper" Owens and Les Binks, and Armored Saint bassist Joey Vera were featured in a cover version of the popular song "Beyond the Realms of Death", fronted by guitarist Paul Crook's band Devilstar, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Judas Priest's 1978 album Stained Class.
On 18 September 2018, Downing published his autobiography titled Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest via Da Capo Press. It was written by Downing himself along with Mark Eglinton. The memoir details everything from "the complex personality conflicts, the business screw-ups, the acrimonious relationship with fellow heavy metal band Iron Maiden, as well as how Judas Priest found itself at the epicenter of a storm of parental outrage that targeted heavy metal in the '80s", according to the book's synopsis. It also details Downing's role in Judas Priest, as well as his decision to leave the band in 2011.
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. It is in a very secluded area so he can (as stated in a 2007 interview) "really turn up [his] Marshalls really loud". Astbury Hall is also home to "one of England's finest championship golf courses",[attribution needed] a course created by Downing himself and where he has held publicised charity events. Sarah Lissimore, his former girlfriend, mounted a legal challenge for half of his 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 of Justice rejected the notion that this assertion could give rise to proprietary estoppel in favour of Lissimore.
In December 2013, it was announced that Downing would be teaming up with property development finance provider Regentsmead, and golfer Darren Clarke, to help build luxury residential developments on Downing's Astbury estate.
In October 2017, Downing's stately home and golf course fell into administration due to difficult trading conditions and "unsustainable pressure" on capital and was placed under the control of FRP Advisory. It was put up for sale for £10 million ($13.5 million) while around 20 staff members have all been retained. FRP Advisory stated that after years of successful management as a popular leisure pursuits business, recent tougher economic times in the corporate hospitality market had put unsustainable pressure on the estate's cash flow under its current financial structure. They added that the appointment of administrators provided the cushion needed to allow the business to continue trading while a marketing process was commenced. Downing had hoped to host The Open Championship on the estate's golf course.
Due to the circumstances surrounding his failed golf resort investment, Downing placed a share of his royalty rights for 136 Judas Priest songs for sale; the catalogue generates nearly £300,000 ($400,000) per year. Joint administrator Alastair Massey called the songs "a unique investment opportunity" from one of the "driving influences" of Judas Priest's success. In July 2018, Round Hill Music acquired the royalty rights to Downing's compositions; the catalogue's asking price was at least £10 million ($13.5 million). Downing said that he sold the rights to the songs for financial reasons. He later explained about the sellings of his estate, his golf course and his royalty rights of 136 Judas Priest songs, "I'm in the process now of recovering everything else through the legal channels. I made a few rubbish business moves, but I can't complain really because I did okay. Lots of musicians end up with nothing really, but I had an evaluation on the estate worth in excess of £13 million. Quite a few million pounds worth of music royalties and other assets as well. I'm suing a couple of lawyers for negligence. But to be honest, the whole thing was a bit of a noose around my neck."
In March 2019, Shropshire Council's planning officers set Downing's estate to be transformed into a huge leisure complex including a leisure and spa building, two swimming pools, a farm shop, a function room, restaurant and spa, an outdoor lido pool, tennis courts, bowling greens, a new nine-hole golf course and an 18-hole putting green; with the addition of 300 wooden lodges. Local residents expressed concerns about the impact of the development on the nature of Eardington and added traffic on small nearby roads. The National Trust expressed their own worries of the work on the nearby Dudmaston Hall, but Shropshire Council's planning team decided that there were no grounds on which the development should be refused. Case Officer Richard Fortune said that the report recommending the application was approved, and that the extra traffic on the B4555 would be acceptable. He also noted that it would not generate a significant amount of trips compared to the already existing number of vehicles travelling along the highway. Fortune also said that Shropshire Council as highway authority "would need to demonstrate that the B4555 and surrounding highway network do not have the capacity to support a development of this nature. It is not considered a highway objection could be sustained on this basis." The impact of the volume of traffic on some junctions in Bridgnorth, most notably B4555/B4363 and Oldbury Road/Hollybush Road, have raised concerns. The report backing from the council's economic team claimed that the development could bring as much as £15 million ($19 million) of investment into the county. In a statement released from FCFM Group Limited in December 2018, they said that when they announced the plans at the time, they claimed that the development could be worth more than £3.5 million ($4.6 million) a year to the local economy.
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
- 1965 Fender Stratocaster (Sunburst)
- Custom Hamer Vector, Vector KK and KK Mini V guitars
- Hamer Flying V: Issued to KK during the World Vengeance Tour, Hamer would release the KK Downing Flying V for public sale in 1984, ending in 1985. KK's V featured a Floyd Rose Tremolo and a single Dimarzio humbucker.
- Hamer Mini V: KK owned a number of Mini Vs beginning in 1986 with a red and white one. He would go on to acquire a blue and black one in the tours to follow. Loosely based on the Hamer Scepter V, the Mini V sported a single dimarzio pickup and a Kahler Tremolo.
- 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
- Since the '90s, K. K. has regularly used EMG 81/85 pickups in a lot of his guitars.
Amplifiers and effects
- DigiTech 1101 Preamp
- Marshall 9100 Power Amplifier.
- Marshall JMP-1 Preamp
- Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier
- Rocktron Piranha Preamp
- Scholz Rockman Sustainer
- Marshall JMP Non master volume heads
- [MXR] Distortion +
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