At the recent The Dead Daisies concert on 7 December at KK’s Steel Mill in Wolverhampton, I was ushered into the VIP area. KK Downing wanted to thank me for the coverage I had got into the newspapers for the venue over the past year.
Interview: Richard Pursehouse
I was shown some photographs from a photo shoot of KK Downing with his recently-acquired Judas Priest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. The photos were taken by a friend named Rob. On the day of the photos, the only place between an appointment in Droitwich for KK and his home was at Highley Engine House, part of the Severn Valley Railway system.
Although not open, KK “banged on the door” and explained what he wanted to do as he had just won a music award. He managed to persuade the staff to allow a few photographs of him with his Flying V guitar and his award surrounded by the iconic industrial heritage on show at the museum.
Judas Priest played a three-song set at the Hall of Fame induction. Film from the event showed that KK looked happy to play live with the rest of the band. “I have a lot of things on at the moment,” KK said, “and initially, I thought it’s a lot of fuss. Can I really be bothered with going all the way over to Los Angeles to play three songs and break the ice with the guys?
“But when I reflected on it, it was the band I started fifty years ago, and I would probably regret it if I didn’t go. So I accepted the invitation.”
The members of Priest all sat together at the same table at the Los Angeles induction ceremony. KK said the person who designs his stage attire was invited. He had the chance for a chat with Les Binks, who was the drummer early in the history of Judas Priest, plus Scot Travis the current drummer. He was able to “break bread” with Rob Halford and Ian Hill too.
Plus, he had a brief chat with fellow guitarist Glenn Tipton with whom he had shared a stage for decades, and the current guitarist Richie Faulkner.
Alice Cooper introduced the band that evening, stating, “Judas Priest truly is the definitive Metal band. They defined the sound that is Heavy Metal. They defined the look that defines Heavy Metal – the black leather, the metal studs, the chains, the motorcycle.”
“It sometimes feels like those were always elements of what Heavy Metal looked like. But they weren’t. Heavy Metal did not have that look until Judas Priest. They have attitude to spare.”
It was that accolade that KK Downing reflected on. “Yes, I was the first in the band to have the all-leather look,” he says. “We were the groundbreakers who unleashed Heavy Metal on the world.”
The band were invited on stage by Alice Cooper and the band kicked into gear. Singer Rob Halford stood building the suspension, talking to the two drummers (Les and Scott) as he faced away from the audience, proudly showing off the Flag of the Black Country embroidered across the shoulders of his leather jacket.
And then Rob turned as the triple lead guitars assaulted the ears, crashing out of the PA as the band ripped through three core Priest songs – You’ve Got Another Thing Coming, then hit singles Breaking The Law and Living After Midnight.
I asked KK Downing what it felt like to be playing those songs. He said that, of course, they had to play two of their hit singles. KK reflected on the opener, You’ve Got Another Thing Coming, being a way of saying, “beware of Heavy Metal. It’s addictive, you can’t ignore us.”
Risking asking about ‘the elephant in the room,’ I recalled at our last meeting that he had never met Richie Faulkner, who had replaced him over a decade ago. I tentatively asked if the induction was the first time they had spoken.
“Yes, I managed to have a chat with him,” KK said, “and we shared the stage and even jammed together. It could have been awkward, but it wasn’t. I’ve nothing but respect for him. I know he’s working on other projects outside Priest, and I wish him well.”
Laughing, he added, “the only potentially awkward moments were because I like a lot of room and have always raced around the stage, and we had to avoid each other!”
KK Downing was at KKs Steel Mill venue in Wolverhampton because he had been contacted by The Dead Daisies’ singer. Glenn Hughes was performing a ‘homecoming’ gig at the venue as he was born in Cannock, about eight miles away, but has lived in California for decades. Doug Aldrich has toured with Priest with Whitesnake and Dio.
KK Downing said he enjoyed meeting up with the band and mentioned that Glenn, when in Trapeze with fellow Cannockian Mel Galley, who went on to join Whitesnake, the band had played Snoopy’s Night Club in Cannock.
He also mentioned that when Trapeze toured with Priest, all the members of Deep Purple came to one gig and sat down to watch both bands. It was an “audition” for Glenn Hughes, although he was not aware of this at the time. Shortly after, Glenn was invited to join Deep Purple.
KK Downing finished his reminiscences with a guarded reference to Glenn Hughes’ famed parties in Los Angeles that Priest attended. “Wild, absolutely wild,” he said. “Mad. Great at the time. But mad.”
Worse than the Priest recording sessions on Ibiza, then?
KK says that the second album from KKs Priest, the follow-up to Sermons Of The Sinner, was all written and recorded. They are in the final “pre-production stage, ready for release in 2023.”
The conversation did also turn to finally playing live. The shuffles and furtive glances implied something was brewing, with references to “maybe some open-air festivals in the summer, probably abroad.” Belgium was mentioned in passing “as the Download line-up is full.”
Of course, the perfect venue for a warm-up gig prior to any festival is the Steel Mill.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame award was fully justified. “The only decision, despite my initial brief reservation, was which Flying V guitar I took with me,” KK Downing smiled, “and would it survive the flight.”