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Why K.K. Downing Is ‘Surprised’ by Judas Priest’s Recent Output

Former Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing will make his long-awaited return to music with Sermons of the Sinner, the debut album from KK’s Priest set for release on Oct. 1.

During a recent interview with UCR, he discussed the albums his former band has put out since his departure in 2011, the events that led Judas Priest to bring in Tim “Ripper” Owens (who’s now reunited with Downing as the singer for KK’s Priest) and, going further back, the period when he and Judas Priest “were a force to be reckoned with.”

Have you listened to any of the albums that Judas Priest has made since you left? Does that provide any sort of competitive fuel?
No, not really. I have listened to both albums. I’m surprised that they’ve only made two albums in 10 years. I think 10 years before, I made six albums or something like that. You know, we were pretty prolific as a songwriting team. We never had the luxury of doing two albums in 10 years when I was in the band! [Laughs.] I’m not sure if it’s a good thing. It wouldn’t have been a good thing, I think, when I was in the band – because we were still always trying to grow and grow and be prolific.

You’ve made a lot of Judas Priest records. What’s it like for you, listening to the albums they’ve made without you?
I wish them all of the success, you know. It’s difficult for me to comment, but there’s definitely a missing ingredient. I think there needs to be more guitar work, really, for it to be like a Judas Priest album. That’s kind of what I think a Judas Priest album is. But anyway, my idea is the new [KK’s Priest] album that we just made, when it comes to the guitar work – it is in abundance. So that’s how I like to hear it.

Judas Priest hired “Ripper” at a time when it wasn’t the norm for bands to replace an iconic singer. How did it feel in that moment?
It was kind of weird, because when Rob [Halford] quit, he took [drummer] Scott [Travis] with him. So we didn’t really have a band. It just left me, Ian [Hill] and Glenn [Tipton]. I think Glenn, even before Rob announced he was quitting, had an idea to do a solo album, with Cozy [Powell] and John [Entwistle]. I’m not sure if Rob got wind of that, but I think that’s what happened. On that last tour, I think Glenn was looking at doing that. That just left me and Ian. Rob had gone and took Scott. Glenn went off to do two albums with Cozy and John and there was just me and Ian, the two founding members. I’m not sure what we were supposed to do, really. But it wasn’t until Glenn came back, in a way – I think if his albums had been successful, he probably would have gone that route, because we weren’t a band. But because they weren’t as successful as Glenn had hoped, then we got back together and started to look for a singer. I think by that time, Scott was getting a bit fed up with Rob, and we found out that he would be available. Scott helped to find us a singer, so it worked out in the end. It was “Ripper” and he was a massive lifeline for us, because we were in disarray. Really, to be fair, we didn’t have any options. We had to look for a new singer.

It’s like now, I didn’t have any options to play guitar in that band, so I have to do what I can to pick up the pieces to enable me to play again and write songs for the fans. Because I’m 69 and I’m going to be 70 this year, you never know what’s around the corner. I just lost my sister two weeks ago; she was 70. You know, you never know. This is my opportunity to [do more] and hopefully there’s a massive amount more to come, but I didn’t have any alternative. I was a loyal, loyal guy.

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You’ve mentioned Kiss in our conversations. As Judas Priest were touring with Kiss in 1979, was there a particular Kiss member you bonded with?
We didn’t see that much of Paul [Stanley] and Gene [Simmons], but maybe they were doing a lot more PR and stuff like that. I remember playing pool with Peter [Criss] and Ace [Frehley] and stuff like that, having a beer. There was quite a bit of that happening. But since we did that tour, I think the one we’ve bonded with the most and seen the most is Gene. He’s a really nice guy. All of the guys are good guys, but we got to know Gene a little bit, because he would quite often come to some shows and hang out in the dressing room. He’s really cool. I like Gene a lot and he’s done quite a lot of alternative things. You know, that Rock School and stuff like that, he’s quite a character, really. He’s a workaholic.

I’m grateful for those guys. I think we were playing the Palladium in New York in the ’70s. We did three nights there, and the Kiss guys came. I don’t know how many nights they came, but they invited us on tour with them and that was very, very kind of them and they treated us fantastically well.

What was your favorite memory of the tour?
We just went out there and did it, whoever we played with. We had a confidence about us, really. I mean, knowing that you’ve probably got the best singer at the time; I was pretty confident that we had the best vocalist in the world. Myself and Glenn, we’ve got a lot of things. We put on a performance as well, together with the guitar playing. There was always something happening. It was good. In our prime, we were definitely a force to be reckoned with.

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