Carsten Smolinsky of Germany's Bleeding4metal.de recently conducted an e-mail interview with former JUDAS PRIEST guitarist K.K. Downing. The original English-language version of the chat appears here in its entirety.
Bleeding4metal.de: Hello, Mr. Downing, thank you very much for taking the time for an interview! I really enjoyed reading "Heavy Duty: Days And Nights In Judas Priest". Did you expect the book to receive that much feedback? How happy are you with the responses?
Downing: "No. [It was a] great surprise for me that the book has been so well received."
Bleeding4metal.de: Is there any response you would have hoped for, but did not receive? Did you expect the current band JUDAS PRIEST not to react at all?
Downing: "No. The response has been more than I could have possibly hoped for. I wasn't surprised that the band did not react to the book."
Bleeding4metal.de: The original title is "Heavy Duty: Days And Nights In Judas Priest" while the German translation is called "Leather Rebel: Mein Leben Mit Judas Priest". Do I get it right that the original title of the book referring to the song was chosen to somehow point at the ambiguity which being in JUDAS PRIEST felt for you at many times (considering what you wrote in the book)? And how do you think about the German title, which is also a song title? Did you choose that one and if not, who did?
Downing: "No. To be honest, the American publishers wanted the title 'Heavy Duty' but the German publishers prefered 'Leather Rebel'. I like both, so I am happy. Although I think 'Leather Rebel' is quite befitting of me, there were no ambiguous meanings behind the title."
Bleeding4metal.de: I understand that you are a big [Jimi] Hendrix fan and that he helped to shape you as a musician and guitar player. What was the biggest influence he gave you without giving to you personally? What did he teach you by watching him on stage and listening to his music?
Downing: "Simply that being a great musician is only a part of what people want. I loved the way that Hendrix worked hard at his performance; he was so captivating to watch. He taught me that it is important to be energetic and it is important to perform as well as play."
Bleeding4metal.de: One story that I found particularly interesting was when you injured your eye with the guitar string on stage during the '80s. Could you please tell us more about this incident and how long you had problems with that after it?
Downing: "Luckily, it wasn't as bad as I first thought. Although I had two punctures by strings that had been cut (but left too long), the hostpital said that I was fortunate that the punctures missed the critical parts of my eye. Basically, I was on stage and Rob [Halford, vocals] swung around and his arm hit the neck of my guitar and the headstock went right into my face. it was a pretty ugly wound, but after about a week, it improved. I remember trying to play tennis with Scott [Travis, drums] with an eye patch on my eye. Forget it! Trust me, you can't play tennis with one eye!"
Bleeding4metal.de: You mention "This Is Spinal Tap" at one point in the book. How much do you think that movie is about JUDAS PRIEST at all? It always reminded me of your career start with the look during the "Listen To The Flowerpeople" segment and then turning full-on metal later.
Downing: "Yes, for sure, the producers were definitely looking at PRIEST, [BLACK] SABBATH, etc for their inspiration.
Bleeding4metal.de: Do you like "This is Spinal Tap"? Was there any contact between JUDAS PRIEST and the filmmakers? How did the band react, if at all? Did you ever meet the band SPINAL TAP or the three guys behind them?
Downing: "Yes, it's all good fun, although it did feel a bit awkward at first as you would expect when something you do that you take very seriously gets turned into a comedy. But it has happened to many people and we have to see the funny side, as it is also often very funny in real life, that's for sure."
Bleeding4metal.de: What was the biggest "Spinal Tap" moment for JUDAS PRIEST during your time in the band?
Downing: "Although very serious at the time, maybe when Rob rode his bike out in Canada and was knocked out. So he and the bike were hidden under a load of dry ice and smoke, we the band came out and played the first song not knowing that Rob was actually on the stage all of the time."
Bleeding4metal.de: We all know that the '90s were a very difficult time for many metal bands. We also know how many disbanded at least temporarily during that decade. When Rob Halford went solo, you had also toyed with the idea of leaving JUDAS PRIEST for a couple of months. How would you imagine the further story of JUDAS PRIEST after "Painkiller" and the tours if Rob had stayed in the band? What might have happened? And do you think albums like "Jugulator" and "Demolition" would have been done like that?
Downing: "I am guessing that if Rob had stayed, we would have gone ahead as we were and would have continued to make great records. How the changing of the times would have affected us, no one can say. But PRIEST may well have been heading in a heavier direction after 'Painkiller'. i still enjoyed it immensely to play with Ripper [Tim Owens] and to make those albums with him. I am sure Rob would not have rejoined if his solo career had gone according to plan. His mistake was to think that his name could be bigger than the brand name JUDAS PRIEST."
Bleeding4metal.de: How do you think about the same scenario if Rob had stayed and you had left then?
Downing: "Who can say? All I know is that I have always felt that I was the most dedicated member of the band, including Ian [Hill, bass], as we never ventured off to play with other musicians. I have to say that I think Rob was very disappointed that his solo attempt was unsuccessful for him."
Bleeding4metal.de: Did you make any real plans about anything if you had left after "Painkiller" and the tour? If so, which?
Downing: "No, not at all."
Bleeding4metal.de: I agree with you that the first solo albums Rob did were pretty eclectic and eccentric. However, I really enjoyed the album "Resurrection" he did in 2000. To me, that was a classic heavy metal record. What did you think of that? Did this return to style in some way pave the way for the reunion a little bit?
Downing: "Absolutely not. It was more that Rob was trying to salvage his solo attempt after failing with FIGHT and TWO or whatever the name was. He jumped back on the PRIEST style after eventually realizing what the fans really wanted. [Producer and guitarist] Roy Z was a big part in putting Rob back on the right track. I remember well Rob making the statement that PRIEST weren't heavy enough for him. So to resort back to making records as close as he could to PRIEST was more than hypocritical of him."
Bleeding4metal.de: I was at the Oberhausen show in June 2004, which was the second reunion show with Rob Halford. For me, that was an absolutely awesome show and I still cherish the memories of it. How did these concerts feel for you? Were you happy with these or do you think it was not yet the best performance possible? How long and intensely did you rehearse before going out then?
Downing: "I was very happy with the show. I think PRIEST were always very well rehearsed for every tour, including dress rehearsals. So the first show was usually as good as any, as we never wanted to have a substandard show."
Bleeding4metal.de: Though I really liked the "Angel Of Retribution" album (I absolutely agree with you on the choice of the title), I always felt that most of the songwriting on that album was playing it pretty safe to make a classic sounding PRIEST album. Can you remember the songwriting sessions for that album and did you feel any pressure to write a traditional album for the fans? Or was that just the album the band had in them at that point?
Downing: "Yes, I remember the songwriting sessions well. Glenn [Tipton, guitar] and me did a lot of work before we went over to Rob's place in San Diego to continue writing and making demos. We just fell naturaly into doing what we always did with Rob. We diversified a little with Ripper, simply because it was a different band in a way."
Bleeding4metal.de: When I did an interview with Rob Halford a couple of years ago, he mentioned that he would love to do a "Nostradamus" theater concert with a big theatrical production. I also think this album is underrated and just throwing in a couple of songs on the tour was simply not doing it justice. Were there any realistic talks and planning about and for doing that? How would you have imagined it?
Downing: "Yes, it would have been great, I think. The idea was to do a full-on musical stage presentation with Rob playing the part of Nostradamus, with illusions, etc. Unfortunately, it will probably happen at some time in the future, but I don't think any of us will be around."
Bleeding4metal.de: What was your absolute highlight of being in JUDAS PRIEST in general and as a concert?
Downing: "It was all a fantastic journey, but to be able to travel the world and meet so many people, every day had highlights. I am so happy to have obtained a good feeling for all of the countries that we went to. We were in Berlin when the wall came down, we were in Zagreb when the tanks rolled in, we were in New York when the power cut/blackout happened, just to mention a few amazing experiences."
Bleeding4metal.de: What was the absolute worst point of being in JUDAS PRIEST? And what was the most terrible concert you ever played with the band and why?
Downing: "I think the worst point was when Rob left the band. I am sure there was a couple of bad shows, but I can't specifically remember them."
Bleeding4metal.de: If you could choose the ultimate bandmembers for JUDAS PRIEST through the years, which ones would that be? Which would be your perfect line up through the decades (no matter if these guys played at some time together or not)?
Downing: "I think the trademark lineup would now be considered what it was when I left, with me, Scott, Glenn, Ian and Rob. But to me, all historical members of JUDAS PRIEST are just as equally important."
Bleeding4metal.de: As far as I can see, you are still a co-director of the band business-wise. But I also understand that you have almost no contact to JUDAS PRIEST now. What is your role the business-wise at all? Does that mean you still have to deal with the management from time to time? For example, if it comes to questions like releasing an anniversary edition of a classic album?
Downing: "The band does not allow me to have any input in any way. I am certainly not happy with the situation."
Bleeding4metal.de: I know you sold some part of your equipment collection in the last couple of years. What part of your collection would you never ever sell? And why?
Downing: "Just the things that are close to me and things that I would need if I were to become active again."
Bleeding4metal.de: The movie "Rock Star" was at some point planned to be about JUDAS PRIEST and having Ripper coming into the band. How do you like that movie and the music in it (I think the music was really good)? Would you have liked it to be more about JUDAS PRIEST?
Downing: "No, I think I'm fine with it the way it is. We were asked initially to be more involved, but I think we were all apprehensive as we were afraid it might look a bit too Hollywood."
Bleeding4metal.de: MÖTLEY CRÜE released their "The Dirt" movie on Netflix recently. "Bohemian Rhapsody" was a huge success in the cinema. Would you like to see an official JUDAS PRIEST biopic? And who would you suggest as actors for you and other members?
Downing: "Yes, I think a PRIEST movie one day would be great, if it's as well done as the two mentioned. No actors spring to mind, but whoever plays me needs to be very handsome (LOL)!"
Bleeding4metal.de: What do you think of all the farewell tours of veteran metal giants taking place now? Do you believe that they'll hang up the guitars for good? And who might take their place?
Downing: "We are all a dying breed. It will be a sad day when all from the '60s, '70s and '80s are gone. We're kind of like the dinosaurs, really. One day, we will be extinct. I doubt that anyone can really replace the icons that were a part of the evolution of rock and metal. We're already missing so many — Lemmy, [Ronnie James] Dio, Malcolm Young, etc."
Bleeding4metal.de: Is rock (and metal) dead, as Gene Simmons said? If so, why, if not, why not?
Downing: "Not for now. There's still lots of great bands out there rockin' out!"
Bleeding4metal.de: What would be the best part about the modern music business if JUDAS PRIEST started out now and what would be the worst?
Downing: "There's no too much of an upside for new bands of today, as there is not the support that there was back in the day. Essentially, revenue from sales of records has dried up. This has had a tremendous knock-on effect throughout the industry and has become devastating for younger bands."
Bleeding4metal.de: I know that the possibility of you rejoining JUDAS PRIEST now is not too likely. Nevertheless, I believe many fans would love to see a final stint of you with them, and so do I. How long do you think you would need to get back in great performance shape? I remember Ian Hill saying in an interview you would probably not be at the peak of your game now if you rejoined.
Downing: "At the time I quit the band, I had more energy than anyone else on stage. In fact, that is one of the reasons I quit. The band just seemed to have slowed down to a steady walk. Even Richie [Faulkner, Downing's replacement] would do well to keep up with me if I rejoined. It seems wrong that Scott, Richie and Andy [Sneap, PRIEST's touring guitarist] are not officially members of JUDAS PRIEST as they are on a wage. So, only two members are on stage right now. Yet they don't want me back. It shows the strength of the brand name JUDAS PRIEST that I spent 40 years being a part of."
Bleeding4metal.de: How many compromises would you make if you were offered to join JUDAS PRIEST again? Or would you just say "on my terms or not all"?
Downing: "There wouldn't need to be any compromises, I would just step back in and do what I have always done. I guess that would also be my terms, to allow the fans to see me as they have always done."
Bleeding4metal.de: If you rejoined the band at all, how long would you see yourself doing it? Could you see yourself getting back into the groove that much you wouldn't feel like stopping at all?
Downing: "I have no doubt that if I returned that I would be completely committed, just as I always was."
Bleeding4metal.de: Thank you very much for your time and answers! If there is anything else you would like to tell our readers, now it would be the perfect time.
Downing: "Just to say a big thank you for all of your committment and dedication to the band. It has been a long road and I have enjoyed playing every concert for you. May you all keep well and strong. You will always be treasured in my memory forever."
Special thanks to Carsten Smolinsky of Bleeding4metal.de