K.K. DOWNING Talks About Evolution From Early Rock To Modern Heavy Metal

February 26, 2024

In a new interview with The Times, original JUDAS PRIEST and current KK'S PRIEST guitarist K.K. Downing was asked what he thinks makes metalheads unique. He responded: "It's just getting into those bands that evolved, that took music from blues and progressive blues in the late '60s and early '70s. We didn't even have rock until 1970 or thereabouts. That was the first time that I saw bands like LED ZEPPELIN and DEEP PURPLE and a few of the other bands first became labeled 'rock' bands, not progressive blues. And then, of course, followed hard rock and heavy rock into heavy metal, so metal fans inevitably got on there at the time and traveled that journey with us or maybe discovered these bands later on, which is fine, too. I guess you can label the whole thing 'classic rock' or 'classic metal', and it's anything from DOKKEN, VAN HALEN, JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN and SCORPIONS, and it goes on. ACCEPT and SAXON and UFO. All these bands that created and took us into the '90s where you started to get some new and different kind of metal, whether it's MEGADETH, PANTERA, METALLICA and so many more bands that took it to a different place. And from there you had thrash metal, death metal, Christian metal, so much more. That great evolution that led us to where we are today has been a fantastic journey. And I'm glad to say a lot of metal fans do like classic metal and they do like new metal bands, which is a great thing to see. It's potentially in jeopardy of becoming extinct at some point. We're at an age where we're losing lots of people and dear friends like Eddie [Van Halen] and Jeff Beck, but we'll do this as long as we can. I will, anyway. And add to the collection and really hope fans will enjoy that."

Less than two years ago, Downing spoke to Rhys Bowler about the advent of thrash metal in the early 1980s and the impact that it had on the evolution of PRIEST's sound. "Other than heavy metal, I think thrash metal, obviously because around about the time in the '70s and early '80s, we saw some very good stuff coming around [from] the U.K., with bands like VENOM, but obviously we had METALLICA, which had a great relevance and [later on] great bands like MACHINE HEAD," he said.

"MOTÖRHEAD, to me… I have to say MOTÖRHEAD was to blame for all of that, I think," he continued. "Well, I say 'to blame' — I'd change that to 'thank' for that, 'cause I think Lemmy and MOTÖRHEAD were responsible for the creation of thrash and speed metal, definitely. And obviously, we can't leave out MEGADETH… And obviously, we had the likes of PANTERA coming through [in the late 1980s and early 1990s]. And we had a lot of great bands in the early '80s that were kind of, 'Okay, we're the new kids on the block. Move aside.' So us bands that had been around through the late '60s and '70s, we had to kind of listen up and go, 'Hang on. Not too fast, you guys.' But you can't keep good bands down; they're gonna push their way forth. But the thing is that was a very, very healthy thing."

Downing also talked about the fact that PRIEST served as a major influence on many of the bands on the then-emerging thrash metal scene.

"I must say that we did — myself and Glenn [Tipton, PRIEST guitarist] — we did push the boundaries with the speed picking with some of our songs; they were pretty difficult to play, really," he said. "[We had the attitude of], 'Okay, you're not gonna overthrow us just yet; we've got plenty of things to do.' And I think we had to kind of stake our claim with the 'Painkiller' album… And of course, we went out on tour with the 'Painkiller' album around the world, and it's strange how many bands that we had on that were like the bands we were just talking about. We went out with PANTERA, ANNIHILATOR, and obviously in North America and Canada we had MEGADETH and we had TESTAMENT. Isn't it strange that we were put together with those kinds of packages?

"It wasn't good for us that Rob [Halford, PRIEST singer], in particular, was very attracted to that hard-hitting metal, which I think led him away from the band, because at one point he did say that JUDAS PRIEST wasn't heavy enough," K.K. continued. "But obviously then he formed his own band, FIGHT, and stuff like that and went in that direction; he was very particularly taken with that heavier side. And yeah, I can see the attraction, because… I mean, Rob was responsible for us taking PANTERA out on tour, I think, because he became good friends with them. But what a great band, great guys. I will always consider them great friends 'cause we had such a good time… But the memories of those guys will live on forever and obviously their music. And of course now we'll never see the likes of the mighty PANTERA as they were ever again. They're etched in stone with the all-time greats."

KK'S PRIEST features former JUDAS PRIEST members Downing and Tim "Ripper" Owens (vocals),alongside guitarist A.J. Mills (HOSTILE),bassist Tony Newton (VOODOO SIX) and drummer Sean Elg (DEATHRIDERS, CAGE).

KK'S PRIEST will embark on its first-ever U.S. headlining tour next month. The trek will kick off on March 7 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and will feature support from L.A. GUNS and BURNING WITCHES. The tour will be the first of at least a two-leg USA run of shows, planned to continue later in 2024.

KK'S PRIEST made its live debut on July 6, 2023 at Downing's KK's Steel Mill in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom.

KK'S PRIEST kicked off a five-date "Priests, Killers & Witches" U.K. tour on October 7, 2023 at O2 Institute in Birmingham.

KK'S PRIEST's sophomore album, "The Sinner Rides Again", came out in September 2023 via the Austrian label Napalm Records.

The art for "The Sinner Rides Again" was created by talented artist Andy Pilkington.

K.K. formed KK'S PRIEST after JUDAS PRIEST turned down his offer to rejoin the band for their 50th-anniversary tour. It followed a couple of celebrated stage appearances, first with former MANOWAR guitarist Ross The Boss in the summer of 2019, then with a one-off lineup that included former MEGADETH bassist David Ellefson and former PRIEST drummer Les Binks later that year.

KK'S PRIEST released its debut album, "Sermons Of The Sinner", in October 2021 via Explorer1 Music Group/EX1 Records.

Downing spent four months writing and recording "Sermons Of The Sinner" and, along with new ideas, he even resurrected a few archived riffs from the 1980s.

Downing was reunited with JUDAS PRIEST for a performance at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony in November 2022 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.

PRIEST received the Musical Excellence Award at the event, which honored Eminem, Dolly Parton, DURAN DURAN, Lionel Richie, Pat Benatar, EURYTHMICS and Carly Simon in the Performers category.

Downing left PRIEST in 2011 amid claims of band conflict, shoddy management and declining quality of performance. He was replaced by Richie Faulkner, nearly three decades his junior.

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 Glenn Tipton's decision to retire from touring.

Owens joined PRIEST in 1996 and recorded two studio albums with the band — 1997's "Jugulator" and 2001's "Demolition" — before PRIEST reunited with Rob Halford in 2003.

Photo credit: Mind Art Visual

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