Interview: K.K. Downing
Interviewed by Tim Finch
K.K. Downing is the legendary guitarist and founding member of Judas Priest. We caught up with him to talk about his appearance at Bloodstock this year, his upcoming performance with David Ellefson, Judas Priest and his new music venue The Steel Mill.
The Razor's Edge: Welcome to the Razors Edge. It was great to see you on stage at Bloodstock just a few weeks ago. Was that really your first live performance in ten years?
K.K.: Yeah it was. It was quite an experience, I’ve never been one to play with other musicians, Priest were a successful format for so many years there was no reason to chop and change.
The Razor's Edge: How did it feel to be back up there on front of an audience again?
K.K.: It was good, it was different. I didn’t get to meet those guys [Ross the Boss and band] until the Friday night and I was on stage with them by Sunday. I guess a lot of fans don’t realise, you hit the stage and you get a bit nervous. The other bands are on tour, they’ve doing the same thing every night for a couple of months and then it’s my first gig. It’s a bit like a jam session but I'm pretending it’s not.
It was a challenge, but that’s the thrill of the game really.
The Razor's Edge: How did the Ross the Boss collaboration come about?
K.K.: Originally, I was meant to receive a life time achievement award. I was meant to receive that when the rest of Priest did at Wacken. But for some reason, I wasn’t allowed to be there, so Richie picked up the award for me. The award organisers said we need you to receive you’re award so Bloodstock stepped in and agreed for me to receive it there.
Then Bloodstock said, “If you’re going to get on stage, do fancy playing a couple of songs with somebody?” So I said “Ok, here we go. Like who?” And they suggested Ross The Boss. I thought it might be good to do, Ross is of an age like me, he goes back a long way, he’s got metal in his veins, so I thought “what the hell” you know?
The Razor's Edge: Had you toured with Ross before, were you familiar with him?
K.K.: Absolutely not, I’d never met him before the Friday night. They flew in from the States, completely knackered. We had four songs to do and we pulled it together.
The Razor's Edge: Is it any different playing on stage with someone like Ross than it is going on stage with Judas Priest?
K.K.: Not really to be fair. It might be different for other guys. When I go on stage, as much as you are part of a band, you get to be very insular and kind of go into your own world. That’s what I did I guess, it’s a weird feeling I can’t quite explain it. As much as you are part of a team and a band, when you go out there there’s still a big part of it that makes you feel on your own as you’re the only one can do what you’ve gotta do and that’s your concentration.
It must be like being a fighter pilot in the war I guess. You go out there as a squadron, you’ve got each other’s backs, but at the end of the day you’ve gotta fly your own plane and do your own thing.
The Razor's Edge: At the start of November your back on stage again. This time with David Ellefson. How did that opportunity present itself?
K.K.: Well, this is not something I am going to make a habit of doing. Because I’m involved with the Steel Mill in Wolverhampton; which is a great venue, its like an old school venue, it’s not a sterile venue, its metal through and through. I’m the host there and the fans have seen me there and keep asking “Hey K.K. when are you going to get up and play for us?”. So I thought I better do something at the Steel Mill or else I’m going to get strung up.
It’s going to be the venues first anniversary and David approached me and asked would I let him do his book release celebration there and it came about by that. To start with it was just going to be a few songs, but he’s friends with Ripper and he said he’d bring Ripper over and then he suggested getting Les Binks on the drums. And I thought this could be good, it would be a good way to give back to the fans and supporters of the Steel Mill in its first year. So I decided to do that and just do it on an expense only ticket price for £10.
Then someone suggested doing a VIP ticket for £20, which is still cheap and give them the opportunity to get books signed and meet the band and those tickets sold out straight away. But the general admission price is just £10 and these days with ticket prices going through the roof it’s a dear game to take the family out to see a show. So this is a big thank you to all the fans from me and the owners of the Steel Mill to come and have a good cheap Black Country night out.
Then we bagged Blaze Bayley as support and David’s going to go out and do his own set play some cool stuff. Then we’re going to come out and play a full Priest set with Les Binks. I don’t think we’ve played together for 27/37 years – whose counting? – and Les is looking forward to doing that with Ripper on vocals. It’s going to be a full on production, lasers, flame throwers the whole thing. I am used to putting on a full show and hopefully it’ll be a mega treat for the fans.
The Razor's Edge: Will you get more time to rehearse with David than you did with Ross?
K.K.:No [laughs]. It’s getting a bit scary really.
The good news is I’ve recruited my number one side kick on guitar, A.J. Mills. Andy’s a local guy from Wednesdbury, guitar player for Hostile. He deserves a good break, he’s going to be up there on stage with me, it’s going to be a great guitar fest. He’s looking good, he plays good and performs good. I know how to pick band members, I’ve done it before and that’s going to be a proper treat really.
The Razor's Edge: The appearance also features Tim 'Ripper' Owens and Les Binks. So in some ways a partial Judas Priest reunion.
K.K.: No, it was never meant to be that. The way it’s come about it’s actually ‘Judas Rising’ you know. That’s the way it’s starting to feel. There’s three Priest members on stage here, the current Priest line up has got two original members. But it was never meant to be a Priest reunion but make no bones about it, it will be a Priest show. That’s the way it will come across. It just nice for me to be able to get up there and be in my rightful place again.
The Razor's Edge: From a Priest perspective how different were Ripper and Rob to work with?
K.K.: Well, in one sense absolutely no different. Their vocal abilities are just something to behold. Even veterans like myself, when you get singers like that alongside you, even people like me are in awe of that. There are only so many people who can sing Priest; just a handful of people really. Not to leave anyone out, but the forerunners would be; Ripper, Rob and some greats like Ralf Scheepers [Primal Fear]. They’ve got a great set of vocal pipes and they can do it and they are strong as hell.
Other than that, they might look a bit different and their personalities are a bit different and that’s more off stage than on stage really. When I step on stage with Ripper, to me it is Judas Priest, and it was for quite a few years I might add.
The Razor's Edge: Do you miss anything about being in the Judas Priest bubble?
K.K.: Not really. I did it for so many years and I’ve never really felt that I’ve been out of the band and I still don’t now. Let’s make no two bones about it, I should be in the band, I should have been in the band for quite a while but that wasn’t to be. Everything about me when I speak to the fans and the media, everyone sees me as that guy that is Judas Priest. It was my creation in the beginning and I have still served more years in the band than Rob has.
People remember me as the guy who was totally dedicated to the band. I never left the band prior to when I did, I never did solo records or played with anyone else, I never did anything else I was totally loyal. Rob did a lot of solo stuff and played with other guys. Glenn did two solo records with Cozy [Powell] and [John] Entwistle, Shannon Larkin people like that. I was the guy that never played with anybody. I just sat at home working on what was for Priest next.
The Razor's Edge: So it never crossed your mind to do a solo record yourself?
K.K.: Absolutely not, why would you? If you’re Angus Young or whoever you are in a legendary metal band, why would you want to cut off and take time out and put a halt on the flag ship. The flag ship has to drop anchor whilst you go off and do your thing and before you can set sail again. There’s an unfairness there that I’ve never really agreed with.
Let me put this to you and all the fans. If you’ve got material that good, shouldn’t it go to Judas Priest? If the material isn’t that good, why bother doing it anyway?
There’s some ethics to be dealt with there. What’s right and what’s wrong about it? It seems to me that when you go and do solo thing you think your material is as good or better than what you are presenting to your band. It’s all high hopes, it’s only when you release it and the fans say it’s not as good you have that realisation “oops I’ve messed up here. It wasn’t as good after all”. You should really be presenting that material to the band so the fans can have the benefit of it.
To me it’s wrong, if you’re going to do it, leave the band.
The Razor's Edge: The question everyone is asking…. Will you be involved in any of the Judas Priest 50th Anniversary shows? Has anyone reached out to you about them?
K.K.: Rob, Ian, Glenn and Scott, they haven’t been in touch with me in any way shape or form. It’s getting late in the day. Maybe they think they are in a comfort zone that they can have that, if they want to, whenever they want to. But that may not be the case, I may become ill or a there may be a situation where I am not available.
The Razor's Edge: So if they did reach out to you, would you be open to joining them for the 50th Anniversary shows?
K.K.: I’ve offered to sit round the table and discuss all the issues with them, but the answer came back as no. So I think we’ve just got to leave it there really.
The Razor's Edge: So moving on to your new venture. I have spent a lot of time in your new live music venue this year. It’s a great facility. How did you get involved in being a venue owner?
K.K.: I just happened to know the whole family really. They were neighbours of mine that actually own the venue. The younger guys, Phill and Mike are avid music fans and musicians. They said to me “We’ve got this venue, it’s in a great location. The Civic and Wulfrun in Wolverhampton are closing down. We should open this up as a proper full on rock and metal venue. Do you fancy putting your name to it and giving us a hand getting it off the ground?”
I said absolutely. I kind of get fed up myself of going into places where you get ushered in at 7:00 and ushered out at 10:30. This is a lot different, we’ve got a lot more flexibility. For the show in November the VIP’s are getting in at 5:00. We could do anything, we could have all-nighters if you wanted to as the license permits. When I was 16 I used to go to all-nighters at Bingley Hall in Birmingham and watch The Yardbirds and The Animals and all of these great bands. I’ve got lots of cherished memories of those.
The Razor's Edge: Has being involved in a music venue always been something you were always interested in?
K.K.: I thought this was a great opportunity to give young bands a leg up. There’s not many opportunities for young bands. We hosted Bloodstock's Metal 2 The Masses this year and stuff like that. Anything we can do and obviously we are able to offer support slots to local bands and that’s a good feel factor to me. There’s so many musicians around that its very rewarding to do that
The Razor's Edge: How involved day to day are you with the running of KK Steel Mill?
K.K.: I stick my oar in quite a lot and say what I think. We’re still building the venue, there’s more stuff to be done, bit by bit. It's growing and getting better and we’ve got lots of ideas. To have more refurbishment done to the point of having a recording studio and rehearsal rooms in there.
It’s a big place, I’ll be happy when we start getting bands like Megadeth and Machine Head in there. Maybe even Priest in there one day, because the venue can do that for bigger named bands and that’s what the venue needs to have.
The Razor's Edge: Is it the kind of venue you’d have wanted to play in Priests hayday?
K.K.: Well yeah, because depending on the stage configuration you can get 3000+ in there quite easily. It’s good, its got a rock feel. It used to be a car factory that closed in 1938. It’s all steel and metal and it’s got a great vibe.
The Razor's Edge: So what’s next for K.K. what have you got planned?
K.K.: I haven’t really. I’m concentrating on doing this set with David. It’s a lot of work and it’ll be great to be on stage with those musicians. It’s not a case of and be there, plug in and play those songs. It’s going to be a full on priest performance because that’s what I do.
The Razor's Edge: K.K. it's been a pleasure, thanks for talking to us.