How K.K. DOWNING Came Up With JUDAS PRIEST's Black-Leather Look

September 28, 2018

In a brand new interview with Classic Rock Revisited, former JUDAS PRIEST guitarist Ken "K.K." Downing spoke about his claim that he came up with the band's black-leather look. "It is just part of the story, really," he said. "A picture paints a thousand words. Just look at us. I had an idea in my brain that had been there for a long time... really, as far back as when I started to get into music.

"When I first started to listen to music, the only thing I was really interested in listening to were things that were worth listening to," he continued. "I think that rock and metal derive from the blues. People that created the blues were minorities and they were oppressed. In the U.K., working-class people like myself really took to the blues because we didn't have anything. It was very, very important. We couldn't say that the blues was a happy music like pop, but it had a lot more depth and meaning.

"When you guys started to come over... like when [Jimi] Hendrix did in the mid sixties, we had blues groups interpreting those great blues classics from Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf. We had bands like CREAM, JOHN MAYALL & THE BLUESBREAKERS, JETHRO TULL, CHICKEN SHACK and FLEETWOOD MAC. The list goes on and on and on. There was a lot of stuff for people like me. I remember hearing Hendrix play 'Purple Haze' and hearing STEPPENWOLF and THE KINKS and very early ROLLING STONES. That sort of stuff I just couldn't get enough of it. I was never able to get enough of it. I had this heavy metal attitude inside of me. I had it all of my life.

"When I got into JUDAS PRIEST, I knew I had a band that had a great name. I knew we were a great band... but something was not quite complete. The leather-and-studs image came along and it all started to complete itself. We had the album cover with the razor blade... and heavy metal was born, mate. I was a youngster and it came to me. Around 1976 is when it happened. The band took to it and got on with it, really."

Asked if it was easy to get the rest of the band on board with the new image, Downing told Rolling Stone: "Some members in the band like to think everything's their idea. I thought, 'I'll get Rob [Halford, vocals] on board to start with.' There were a couple of gay guys at the leather shop in London and Rob was in his element [laughs] with these guys fitting him out in all this leather gear. Gays were already wearing leather in London, so it was an easy sell for Rob. He was on board with that but also because we weren't trying to do that; we were doing the leather-and-studs thing in a metal way. Then he started to design all of his clothes. 'I'm having the bullwhip. I'm having this cap made.' Rob was happy for them to know that he was a gay man, but at a certain point, it started to look like a gladiator, which was completely done in metal. It opened up a massive amount of doors for him to elaborate on throughout our career."

K.K., who is a founding member of the British heavy metal legends and was part of the group since 1969, announced his retirement from PRIEST in April 2011.

Downing's autobiography, "Heavy Duty: Days And Nights In Judas Priest", was released on September 18 via Da Capo Press. The book was co-written by the Scottish author and journalist Mark Eglinton, whose previous collaborations include "Official Truth, 101 Proof" with Rex Brown of PANTERA and "Confessions Of A Heretic" with BEHEMOTH's Adam "Nergal" Darski.

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