K. K. Downing

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K. K. Downing
K. K. Downing.jpg
Downing performing with Judas Priest in 1984.
Background information
Birth nameKenneth Downing Jr.
Born (1951-10-27) 27 October 1951 (age 67)
West Bromwich, Staffordshire,
GenresHeavy metal, hard rock
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter
Years active1968–2013
Associated actsJudas Priest, Queensryche, Violent Storm, K.K. Downing's Steel Mill

Kenneth "K. K." Downing Jr. (born 27 October 1951) is an English guitarist and songwriter, and one of the founder members of the British heavy metal band Judas Priest.

Early life and career[edit]

Downing was born in West Bromwich, Staffordshire. He was kicked out of his home at 15 and dropped out of school soon afterward.[1] In the late 1960s, Downing discovered rock music and the guitar. He is a mostly self-taught guitarist.[2] "He was heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix, whom he was 'very quick to recognise as the future'".[2] He was also influenced by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and Eric Clapton.[3] 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[4], 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".[2]

Prior to joining Judas Priest, Downing went to catering college and worked as trainee chef at the Lyttelton Arms in Hagley.[5]

Playing style and technique[edit]

K. K. Downing in 1980

Downing has an aggressive, rock-influenced guitar style featuring solos and dual leads with fellow Judas Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton.[6] 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[edit]

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 leaving the band: "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.[7] 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.[8] The band had since continued with Richie Faulkner as Downing's replacement.[9]

Within the wake of Glenn Tipton's announcement of his Parkinson's disease diagnosis and his self-imposed retirement from touring in February 2018,[10] 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."[11]

Faulkner spoke with Goldmine magazine in March 2018 and was asked about Downing's statement and the recruitment of Andy Sneap for the Firepower World Tour, and he replied, "As far as I'm aware, 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. But there's lots of different facets that go into these sort of decisions, both to get Andy in and lots of other things. There's a lot of personal reasons — all those sorts of things. It's not as clear cut as the Internet has you believe. There's a lot more that goes into it, and I think people understand that as well, if they gave it some thought. But, you know, we're forging forward."[12]

Bassist Ian Hill stepped in to respond to Downing's statement to explain why he wasn't approached to rejoin the band, "He retired seven years ago and he made it clear at the time that he didn't wanna come back. So I'm surprised that he's saying that he was surprised that he wasn't asked. I think we all thought he probably would have been surprised if we had asked him. So I don't know."[13] Rob Halford said that Downing made the decision to retire and was "emphatic about retiring and never coming back."[14] During a press conference prior to Judas Priest's performance at the 2018 edition of Hellfest, Hill said that Downing may have "played a bit of mischief" regarding his statement. He says that if Downing were to return to the band, "he's gonna have to learn Glenn's parts too. So it's all reasons why we didn't."[15] Hill later said that the band did not think about Downing when they were looking for a replacement. He said that he hasn't spoken to him, "for a while, for a couple of years." He says that if Downing were to replace Tipton and perform his guitar parts, "it really wouldn't have sounded right anyway."[16] Downing would deny that he would be Tipton's replacement[17] and would call Hill's comments "a complete load of bollocks",[18] then expressing disappointment that he hasn't been missed since his departure.[19]

In an interview with VintageRock.com, Downing said that his 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." Downing then expressed uncertainty on if there would ever be another opportunity for him to rejoin Judas Priest, but did not rule out a possibility in the future.[20]

Downing later revealed that failing relations with the band was the cause for his departure. He says that Halford and Tipton's respective solo careers were another factor, which he deemed "a bit disruptive." He pointed out Halford's solo career and then said that he was told to start writing material for a five track EP, but refused to do so.[21]

Downing told Greg Schmitt of WESU's Noize in the Attic radio show that he didn't inquire about coming back to Judas Priest after Tipton announced his Parkinson's disease diagnosis and his dismissal from touring. He goes to say that he would be willing to speak with the band if he was contacted on making his return as their guitarist again.[22]

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. In an interview with The Guardian, Downing said that 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 said that he did not find Tipton easy to get along with. He explained why, "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 being a graceful exit note, implying a smooth retirement from music. The second letter was 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.[23] Downing later explained that the second letter was his "fuck off" letter, again expressing his frustrations toward Hill when he said that the fans were not missing him since his departure. Downing would then say that he contemplated performing on the Epitaph World Tour even after backing out of it, "I was talking to Ian about it, having a change of mind and doing it — and then suddenly it was released and it was all too late and it was over and done."[24]

According to Downing, he said that drummer Scott Travis was the only member to contact him following his departure. Although he 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 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.[25]

When speaking to Thomas S, Orwat Jr. of Rock Music Star, Downing said that Judas Priest should've considered the fans on who their replacement was going to be. He says that he was in talking terms with the band before Tipton stepped down from touring. He then commented on Andy Sneap, saying that the press "misconstrued" of what he said that Sneap made contributions to Firepower and that Tipton did not perform on the album. He would continue to talk about Sneap, "Andy is a real, real top man, and he will go out there every single night and play his heart out and do everything he can to bring a good show, and I'm sure that that's what happens. But at the end of the day, Andy hasn't been in the band for 40 years; I was. So I just think that there was just absolutely no consideration given to what people might have wanted and expected. For example, if they had put a poll on the Internet and said, 'Hey, guys, Glenn, unfortunately, can't continue. What do you think we should do?' I just wonder what the poll would have said. [Laughs]"[26]

In an interview on The Classic Metal Show, Downing said that "lots of things that are being said" in terms of what he and some of the band members are saying to one another. He then mentioned that media websites picks up his interviews and make it as a headline. Although Downing has nothing against Faulkner, he has since viewed him as a "clone" and a "look-a-like", expressing disappointment in the band's choice on who his replacement would be. He then spoke about Faulkner's comments of his view on Downing's departure, "I think it's 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."[27]

Downing says that he doesn't mean to cause any controversy, but saying that he was just disgruntled, recalling the time that 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.[28]

Downing said that when he first saw Faulkner, he felt that he was "kind of being cloned", and says 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 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, saying 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.[29]

In regards to Downing's interviews that are picked up by media websites to be published as a headline, he says that he feels "a bit miffed off" about what certain members of Judas Priest are saying when doing interviews, and also feeling frustrated at times when he reads a comment from a fan's point of view, mentioning the websites MetalTalk.rocks and Blabbermouth, "they'll say something that you said, change a couple of words… Don't get me wrong — we're all glad… we all go to the web sites, because it keeps us informed. It's just a bit misleading sometimes." Downing also said that he doesn't regret making any of the statements he made that have been attributed to him, once more mentioning Hill's comments when he said that Downing hasn't been missed by the fans since his departure.[30]

In an interview on the Sound Matters with Tom Leu podcast in December 2018, Downing said that he was shocked that he made the decision to leave Judas Priest, "It was another point in my life, like I was 15 years old again, where I had to cut myself free and go to a better place, and that's what I felt I needed to do, and I had to be brave to do it. And that's another reason I wanted to do a book — to give everyone a better explanation of how that can happen to everybody, even myself."[31]

Musical side projects[edit]

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".[2] 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.[32]


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[33] 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".[34] Astbury Hall is also home to "one of England's finest championship golf courses",[attribution needed][35] a course created by Downing himself and where he has held publicised charity events.[36] 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.[37]

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.[38][39]

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.[40]

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.[41] 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).[42] Downing explained that he sold the rights to the songs for financial reasons.[43]

Downing 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."[44]

Recognition and honors[edit]

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
    • 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.[45]
    • 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 +[46]


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External links[edit]