In a new interview with "Rock Of Nations With Dave Kinchen And Shane McEachern", founding JUDAS PRIEST guitarist Kenneth "K.K." Downing was asked about the possibility of him ever rejoining his former bandmates on stage in the future. He said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Well, I asked them if they want me to step back into the role a couple of times in writing, and the answer came back, 'No.' So it is what it is. And then I went, 'Okay, fine. Then I will start [a new] band,' and that's what I've done [with KK'S PRIEST]. And now I'm pretty happy, really, because I've rediscovered… I mean, I used to write all the material for the band back in the late '60s, early '70s and I forgot what it was like to be... It's kind of nice to put material down and just say what goes and what doesn't yourself, without having to collaborate and everything takes so long. It's great just to get on with it."
Downing went on to say that he is particularly disappointed that fellow founding PRIEST member Ian Hill (bass) has seemingly decided against having K.K. rejoin the group. "Honestly, the worst thing about the whole thing is that Ian has denied me the opportunity to step back into the band," he said. "I mean, we went to kindergarten together; we were like brothers. And we spent many years at the back of the bus complaining about everybody else. [Laughs] I always thought it was me and him for many years. But I just don't know how that can happen, like I say. And Rob [Halford, vocals] left the band for 14 years. And when I was instrumental in inviting him back into the band. How can he deny me the opportunity to go on stage and play my songs? They're saying, 'We're gonna do it, but you can't.' Because Ian and Rob never wrote any of the music for this band."
Asked if he thinks Ian has been pressured by the PRIEST management or by Rob and guitarist Glenn Tipton to keep Downing from returning to the band, K.K. said: "Something's wrong somewhere. It doesn't make sense. How can Ian, the bass player that's never written any songs, deny me the opportunity of being in the band? All of those years, and I've written all of those songs and riffs, but how can he stand over there and play bass and not allow me to play the guitar to those songs? It doesn't make any sense. And it doesn't make any sense not to have the original guy back from the trademark lineup. It doesn't make any sense. Am I that bad? [Laughs] But anyway, so I've gone ahead and made two albums [with KK'S PRIEST] in two years, and those guys have done two albums in 14 years. I just don't get it. I don't get it."
Pressed about whether he thinks it's attorneys and management causing all the issues between the members of the classic PRIEST lineup, Downing said: "Well, somebody out there has decided that 'I am gonna change history and I'm gonna be the one that's gonna decide what the fans hear and what they don't and who they see and who they don't.' Somebody in that band is making those decisions. But they only have it on their conscience, really, because we all know what the fans… I mean, [former PRIEST vocalist Tim] Ripper [Owens] is a great singer and he made two great albums with us. We did so many tours and he's a lovely guy and he's great, but the fan demand to have Rob back in the band was just too overwhelming, really, because Rob, I guess, their assertion is Rob is the voice of the band, just like Freddie Mercury with QUEEN or Bruce [Dickinson] with [IRON] MAIDEN, and the list goes on and on and on. So that's undeniable. And I think that Tim would be the first to acknowledge that and get that. Even if he sang the songs better, as we spoke, Rob is the voice of JUDAS PRIEST. But now gladly Ripper is the voice of KK'S PRIEST, because that guy is singing so much better than even I've ever heard him before. It's fantastic. So I'm so fortunate to have him back in the saddle with us."
Asked if he would consider rejoining JUDAS PRIEST if the band was going to make one final album and he was approached about playing on it, Downing said: "One thing's for sure: that will never happen ever… I know Glenn's retired from touring. But whether he can write and record, I don't know. I haven't had an update on Glenn's health, sadly. I really don't know. But it's only because I'm so close and in the industry, I heard an awful lot of things from a long time ago, but, like I say, unconfirmed.
"I would have to say, at this point. I spent a lot of time and effort trying to work things out in a way," he explained. "It's pretty complicated stuff. Like I say, I wasn't happy with a lot of things. The 50th-anniversary book and everything that's done, I don't get anything, any money from any of that whatsoever. So it gets tough to see all the merchandise with all these images that I paid for and was a part of creating, a lot of these images. It gets very commercial, the whole thing, and maybe that's what it's all about anyway. The first three, four years of JUDAS PRIEST, the 50 years, Glenn and Rob weren't there, so how does it become a 50th-anniversary book if you don't include the first years? And it wasn't right to do that. And they asked the fans to pay five hundred dollars for a book that's not accurate. But there's so many things, grievances, it gets to be a quagmire.
"In 2010, we all, as friends, as directors of the company, as businessmen, as bandmates, all of that, we all decided to end the band. We all decided to retire in 2010," he continued. "The management — and I've got the e-mails — said, 'We need you to think of a tour title that means the definitive end of the band.' So the tour title was the 'Epitaph' tour. So, because of certain circumstances, I was being asked to write an EP to support the tour. So I'm saying, 'So you want me to end my career on an EP? I'm not gonna do it.' So, there was a lot of disgruntlement then, and I eventually went, 'Right. If nobody's gonna listen to me, you can do the farewell tour on your own. I'm not doing it.' And so I opted out to do the farewell tour. 15 years later, it's easy to say now, but if the idea was then to carry on, I should have known about it, I should have been told about it. Or at least if the option was that they were gonna carry on, I should have had the option to… They should have said, 'We're carrying on. Will you step back in?'"
Downing added: "But then they quickly announced, and maybe they were surprised that Richie [Faulkner, Downing's replacement in PRIEST] would bring a newfound energy to the band, because that's what they said in statements to the press. And they also said, 'Well, none of the fans are missing K.K.' so maybe they felt — I don't know — reborn without me. Which is a bit odd, because I actually felt at the time, in 2010, that I was the energy in the band, that everybody else seemed to just go through the motions. I didn't know about Glenn's illness at the time. But something didn't seem right. I do know that Rob released two studio albums in 2010 and did a world tour, including the Ozzfest, singing JUDAS PRIEST songs, and everybody was in fear that he was gonna take off again. So we thought that all of these reasons were why we needed to fold the tent, really, on JUDAS PRIEST. And that's what we planned. Someone moved the goalpost on me, I'm afraid."
When the interviewers told Downing that they, and other PRIEST fans, miss seeing him up on stage with the band, K.K. said: "Thank you so much, guys. And I can understand why. I was there so long. [Laughs] I was like an old shoe or a wart on your neck or something. I was a part of life. The last tour that they just did, I saw the setlist and they were playing one song off the last two albums. All the rest were my songs."
He continued: "I can only surmise that there's commercial aspects [that are standing in the way of me returning to PRIEST] and just… I don't know. I don't know. Maybe Glenn didn't really ever want me to be there and him not to be there. I don't know. Maybe he saw that as an end of an era, and I think he's right, as far as I'm concerned."
Downing performed with PRIEST at last year's Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony in Los Angeles.
PRIEST received the Musical Excellence Award at the November 2022 event, which honored Eminem, Dolly Parton, DURAN DURAN, Lionel Richie, Pat Benatar, EURYTHMICS and Carly Simon in the Performers category.
The JUDAS PRIEST members that got inducted include current members Halford, Hill, Tipton and Scott Travis (drums),along with former members Downing, drummer Les Binks and late drummer Dave Holland.
Halford, Hill, Tipton and Travis were joined by Binks, Downing and current guitarist Richie Faulkner for a three-song medley consisting of "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", "Breaking The Law" and "Living After Midnight".
Faulkner, nearly three decades Downing's junior, joined PRIEST after K.K. left in 2011 amid claims of band conflict, shoddy management and declining quality of performance.
In 2018, Downing revealed that he sent two resignation letters to his bandmates when he decided to quit JUDAS PRIEST. The first was described as "a graceful exit note, implying a smooth retirement from music," while the second was "angrier, laying out all of his frustrations with specific parties."
Downing later said that he believed the second letter was "a key reason" he wasn't invited to rejoin PRIEST after Tipton's decision to retire from touring.
Image credit: Mind Art Visual