K. K. Downing
K. K. Downing
Downing in 2009
|Birth name||Kenneth Downing Jr.|
|Born||27 October 1951|
West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England
|Genres||Heavy metal, hard rock|
|Years active||1968–2011; 2020–present|
Early life and career
Downing was born in West Bromwich, Staffordshire. He was kicked out of his home at age 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 Downing said he was "very quick to recognize" as the future. He was also influenced by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and Eric Clapton. Downing performed on every Judas Priest album from Rocka Rolla to A Touch of Evil: Live.
Downing started his first band, a pop band called Stagecoach, 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 Badhams "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 focusing on speed, technical accuracy and melody. From Stained Class onward, Tipton became 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 Tipton's songs comprised the vast majority of the band's live setlists after 1980. In 1978, Tipton began to incorporate the tapping technique into his playing, which Downing began to use as well. By 1990, both Tipton and Downing started to use the complex technique of sweep-picking, which can be notably heard on the title track of their 1990 album Painkiller. They 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 1970s. He had abandoned the use of it by the mid-1980s, but saved it only for live performances of the songs that originally featured it. The only time since then that he began to use it again 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 the 2001 album Demolition, but was abandoned once more when the band's former vocalist, Rob Halford, returned to the band in 2003. 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, citing "an on-going breakdown in working relationships between myself, elements of the band and management for some time." He stated that there were at least "21 reasons" why he left, but refused to go into specific detail; however, he did express disappointment in the band's live performance and thought it could've been better. Judas Priest had since continued with Richie Faulkner as his replacement.
Soon after Glenn Tipton announced his Parkinson's disease diagnosis and his self-imposed retirement from touring in February 2018, Downing said that he was "shocked and stunned" that he wasn't approached to rejoin Judas Priest and was "officially and legally still a member of Judas Priest", despite not being present in the band. He felt that he made the right choice to leave when he did and that his time in the band and value in terms of crafting their legacy "was and is unappreciated by more than one member". He said that the decision of not being approached "was not a financial one". Faulkner and Halford spoke in regards to his statement. Bassist Ian Hill explained why he wasn't contacted to rejoin Judas Priest and the potential conflicts that would occur if he was brought back in the band. Downing spoke negatively towards Hill's comments.
Downing explained why he left Judas Priest, expressed his concerns towards his former bandmates, and his feelings about Faulkner.[excessive citations] Faulkner spoke in regards to Downing's comments, with former Judas Priest vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens speaking in Downing's defense. In the limelight of Downing's comments, Hill said that Downing and the band have "parted company" musically, explaining that he had not been in contact with him "for the last couple of years because we've been so busy. But I think, musically, we've parted ways, really. Probably the less said, the better."
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." An opportunity existed for him to return to the band, "and that has passed on." He expressed uncertainty if there would ever be another opportunity for him to rejoin, but did not dismiss it in the future.
Downing explained that if he didn't rejoin Judas Priest, "then maybe it's best to just leave it there, really", feeling that there would be a different occupation for him, "Exactly what I don't know, really." Hill said that there were no plans for him to return in the foreseeable future. Downing had an open interest in having a discussion with his former bandmates in taking part in the band's 50th anniversary celebration in 2020, but was not contacted, expressing doubt that he ever would rejoin Judas Priest again.
Downing hoped to make amends with his former bandmates, "But it's proved not to be the case, so, obviously, I have to accept that and just move forward." He clarified his comment from an article published by Blabbermouth, and still held hopes for them to reconcile, "But to date the band have refused me that opportunity." Halford did not dismiss the possibility for Downing to return to Judas Priest in the future. Downing requested for the members to step in and "speak to the press and just make a press release and tell 'em exactly what the deal is", and give "everybody an insight 'cause people wanna know." He once again expressed an open interest in performing with Judas Priest again if given the opportunity, and also perform with them at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony in 2020 if inducted, due to his inclusion in the band's ballot, but was denied the possibility of returning to the band for the 50th-anniversary shows. Downing then made the decision to move forward as a result.
After not performing on stage since Judas Priest's 30th-anniversary celebration of the 1980 album British Steel in 2009, Downing made his live return at the 2019 edition of the Bloodstock Open Air festival where he performed with former Manowar guitarist Ross the Boss as they played the songs "The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)", "Heading Out to the Highway", "Breaking the Law" and "Running Wild". He cited it being "a bit of a whirlwind" and the perfect way to get reintroduced to the stage. He also said that there was very little time for him to rehearse as some of the band members arrived the same day of their scheduled rehearsal, "But we did manage to squeeze an hour or so in the following day." He described the performance as being "a jam, really… And there was quite a bit of improvisation in there. And that's where it is." In a Twitter response from a fan, Richie Faulkner praised Downing's performance upon viewing video footage of him, saying that he "looked and sounded great. Good to see the man up on stage where he belongs again."
Downing, along with former Judas Priest members Tim "Ripper" Owens and Les Binks, Megadeth bassist David Ellefson and Hostile guitarist A.J. Mills performed a special one-off show in Wolverhampton on 3 November 2019 and played a full set of Judas Priest songs.
In January 2020, Downing signed with Explorer1 Music Group, which would pair him with veteran manager Andy Gould, and announced that he would work on brand-new music. He teamed up with Tim "Ripper" Owens, Les Binks, guitarist A.J. Mills and Voodoo Six bassist Tony Newton to form his own band called KK's Priest. They are currently at work on their debut album, and will also make select festival appearances to mark Downing's 50th anniversary of his music career. Downing has recently indicated in interviews that the band would be playing much of the catalog of Tony Mills, whom Downing said "is the greatest metal vocalist of our time" and that "his legacy has been solied by others alleging to have been his friend." 
Musical side projects
Downing made a guest appearance on Violent Storm's 2005 self-titled debut album, performing on the track "War No More".
He appeared on the 2012 tribute album Who Are You? An All Star Tribute to the Who, which paid tribute to the Who. He performed on the track "Eminence Front", along with vocalist/bassist John Wetton and keyboardist Derek Sherinian.
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 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 tells about Downing's role in Judas Priest, as well as his decision to leave the band in 2011. It was met with mostly positive reviews.
Since its release, Rob Halford said that he has not taken the time to read Downing's autobiography while in production on his own.
Downing's first house was a "tiny semi in Bloxwich". He has lived in Los Angeles and Florida and but no longer 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 a property development finance provider, and golfer Darren Clarke, to help build luxury residential developments on Downing's Astbury estate.
Downing told the Shropshire Star: "We have had a fantastic season, things were going really well. We had plans for a hotel that we were doing really well with. Obviously there was a necessity for a funding element. "The company took out a short-term mezzanine fund in early August to take us through to March. This was essentially to bring in professional architects and a team from London. Everything was in place as far as we were concerned. "Unfortunately about six weeks into the loan we were served a loan termination notice about technical breaches of the agreement. "We are at the moment looking to re-finance that loan. We were taken aback that the funder was not more flexible with us as partners. It was put up for sale for £10 million ($13.5 million). Downing maintained that the development was financially stable and viable as he was set to build a luxury holel for the Marriott Autograph collection and had hoped to host The Open Championship on the estate's golf course.
Due to the circumstances surrounding his 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 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 my lawyers for negligence."
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 honours
Downing was ranked 23 on rock magazine Hit Parader's list of 100 greatest metal guitarists.
- 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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