In a brand new interview with Marko Syrjälä of Chaoszine, founding JUDAS PRIEST guitarist Kenneth "K.K." Downing was asked what it was like to reunite with his former band for a performance at last year's Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony. He responded: "Well, I was kind of debating whether to go, whether to go there and do it or not because of all the circumstances. Plus, it was a long way to go. [Laughs]"
Referencing former PRIEST drummer Les Binks, who also performed at the event, Downing continued: "[PRIEST's] manager told us that we were guests of the band — me and Les. I'm going, 'Fuck off.' If anything, I'm a guest of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but I'm there to accept my own award in my own right. I'm not a guest of anybody. And then they were gonna dictate the songs and what was gonna [be] play[ed]. So I said, 'Oh, fuck. Should I bother doing this?' You know what I mean? 'Can I be really bothered?' And then people were saying, 'You've gotta go. It'll never happen again, obviously, in your lifetime. You deserve this.' And anyway, so I decided, 'Okay, I'll go.' But, obviously, we were kept separated and not allowed to walk the red carpet together, which is all very sad, but that's the way that they wanted it."
According to Downing, he had a pleasant exchange with his replacement in PRIEST, Richie Faulkner, who wasn't being inducted into the Rock Hall but took part in the PRIEST performance at the ceremony.
"Richie was great," K.K. said. "Richie came into our dressing room. Richie was really — he was fine. Obviously, I am the real thing, aren't I? [Laughs] What can I say? [Laughs] What can I say? But, no, Richie's great; we get on well. And [PRIEST's current touring guitarist and producer] Andy Sneap's great; he's an old friend. As for the other guys, I don't care less about them. If they couldn't have just, like, at our age, just one time, just — you know what I mean? It was, just forget about it… But [it was] not to be, so [I] can't help that.
"But anyway, I went there and, yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed it, really," Downing added. "I rented some equipment, and luckily I had a couple of brand new guitars over there that I'd never seen or played. So, yeah, it was easy and fun. It was an experience, to be honest."
According to K.K., the whole event was a bit surreal, seeing as none of the other artists being inducted into the Rock Hall were even remotely close to metal.
"Even right up until the performance, I wasn't sure," Downing admitted. "I kept saying to myself, 'Am I doing the right thing here? Is this really heavy metal? I'm with a bunch of guys that fucking hate me.' I'm looking at Ed Sheeran. I'm looking at Dolly Parton. I'm thinking, 'Fuck it. Am I in the right place? Is it all a dream?' [Laughs] I'm thinking, 'Oh, what the hell? Just grab the guitar and do it and get to the pub.' And that's what I did. I came off stage, put my clothes on, went straight back to the hotel bar and I had some beers and it was great."
K.K. also confirmed that he did have a brief chat with PRIEST singer Rob Halford at the Rock Hall. "Rob came over to me, and I [initially] didn't wanna speak to him, because he left the band for 14 years and I was instrumental in reinstating him back in the band, having him back in," Downing said. "And then he tells me that I can't rejoin the band. How does that work? I don't know how that works."
According to K.K., "it's [PRIEST guitarist] Glenn [Tipton] and [PRIEST's longtime manager] Jayne [Andrews] who make all the decisions [for the band], and, I hate to say it, but Rob is just… I really think that… The only reason I spoke to Rob [at the Rock Hall] is because I think he's being controlled. That's the only reason. I don't believe that Rob voted not to have me [back] in [PRIEST]. I think he was forced to. I think Rob would have voted me in. But it was their choice. And now Richie's off doing his own thing with [his side project] ELEGANT WEAPONS and everything. So it's not looking great for him, really, is it?"
Asked if he has heard the debut ELEGANT WEAPONS LP, which came out in May, Downing said: "Yes. It's good, but it's not my style of metal. It's not my thing. But he said he [wanted to do] something different [with his side project], to be different to JUDAS PRIEST; he didn't wanna be like them. Well, I guess, I do wanna be like… that is my type of metal. You know — I like JUDAS PRIEST, SCORPIONS, UFO, SAXON. I'm the old-school boy. I love all of that shit."
PRIEST received the Musical Excellence Award at last year's Rock Hall, which honored Eminem, Dolly Parton, DURAN DURAN, Lionel Richie, Pat Benatar, EURYTHMICS and Carly Simon in the Performers category.
The JUDAS PRIEST members who got inducted include current members Halford, Ian Hill (bass),Tipton and Scott Travis (drums),along with former members Downing, Binks and late drummer Dave Holland.
Halford, Hill, Tipton and Travis were joined by Binks, Downing and Faulkner for a three-song medley consisting of "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", "Breaking The Law" and "Living After Midnight".
In November 2022, Halford was asked in an interview with the San Antonio Current if performing with Downing at the Rock Hall ceremony helped put aside some of the acrimony that K.K. has shown about not being in band for these last few tours. Halford responded: "I think we should let the music speak for itself, really, because as you'll see from the performance, you'll see that all of that other stuff is irrelevant. All the things that have been said and suggested just float off into the air. What matters is what's going down on that stage at that time you're performing together. And there he is on my right-hand side. It just felt like he was always there. Look behind me and there's [Les], and the memories just are overwhelming. But, more than that, you're focusing on the moment that you're back together again and playing live. It was really a whirlwind. We were in each other's company for a very, very short space of time. We had very little time to communicate. But for the purpose of the induction of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame together, it was absolutely crucial that K.K. and Les were there. They were inducted, they needed to be in the room. And more than that, we were thrilled that they took the opportunity to say, 'Yeah, we'll come and jam on stage again with you guys.'"
In a separate interview with Lauren "Lern" Elwell of the KSHE radio station, Halford said it was "good" performing with Downing and Binks at the Rock Hall. He added: "We hadn't seen [Downing] forever. And I've still yet to watch footage of that. All I remember is my brief interactions with K.K., because I'm always running around the stage like a mad drag queen. My interactions with Ken and with Les, it was great. It felt wonderful to have that moment together after such a long time. And that just shows you the power, the weight, the vibe that the Rock Hall suggests you try to attempt. Try and recapture something of the essence that it really part of why you're here, why you're being inducted. I was just so happy that Ken and Les showed up, because they needed to be there. It was entirely their choice, but I said it makes absolute sense if you're in the room and we're playing together. And we did, and it was magical."
Downing left PRIEST in 2011 amid claims of band conflict, shoddy management and declining quality of performance.
In 2019, Downing said that he reached out to JUDAS PRIEST about taking part in the band's 50th-anniversary tour but that their response was that they were not interested in including him in the celebrations.
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.
In his 2018 autobiography "Heavy Duty: Days And Nights In Judas Priest", Downing wrote that he told Tipton and Andrews that he had "hated" them both "since 1985." In 2021, he explained his outburst to Classic Rock magazine: "I was angry. Glenn had formed a relationship with Jayne from day one, and it felt a bit like a John-and-Yoko situation. I didn't like that."
JUDAS PRIEST was on the ballot for Rock Hall induction in 2020, but failed to receive enough votes to make that year's class.
Having been eligible for induction since 1999, PRIEST was also on the ballot for the 2018 class of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but was ultimately left out of the inductee list.
Photo credit: Mind Art Visual