Interview and Live Photos by Robert Cavuoto
K.K. Downing is most notably known around the globe for being the guitarist in Judas Priest for over 40 years. His songwriting abilities and powerful guitar playing has profoundly influenced the band’s signature sound as well as impacted four decades of metal music. Not many artists can leave a lasting impression and legacy like he has done while in Judas Priest, selling upwards of 50 million records internationally. In 2011 the world was distraught when the news came out that K.K. was leaving Judas Priest!
Though it has taken nearly a decade, thankfully, K.K. is back and better than ever with his own band, KK’s Priest, and the most anticipated release of 2021. On October 1st via EX1 Records, K.K. along with Ripper Owens at the helm on vocal, Tony Newton on bass, A.J. Mills on guitar, and Sean Elg on drums, they will be releasing their debut CD Sermons of the Sinner.
Together they have created a CD that will usher in a new era of metal music layered twin guitars, killer vocal melodies, and thunderous drumming. Even though the Sermons of the Sinner was written pre-pandemic, the band hasn’t missed a step in delivering the goods!
I had the pleasure of speaking with guitar legend, K.K. Downing about creating his debut release, if he feels this CD is a comeback, and if there is a level of vindication from all the stories he has retired!
Robert Cavuoto: With most songwriters, by the time they get out of their twenties, they have already written all their good songs, but you’re actually getting better. What is your secret?
K.K. Downing Thank you, I guess I found a new lease on life! I shut myself away to do this album because I wanted to make sure I could do it before putting a band together vs. the other way around and didn’t want to embarrass myself [laughing]. I started the album on Christmas of 2019. It came long so fast and was so refreshing! It was like being let out of a cage. I didn’t have to confer with anyone else or make compromises. I just ran away with it and enjoyed the process. I carried on with the lyrics and melody line with Ripper and everyone being in the States. I was so excited to have all this content, messages, and storylines put together. I need to have a storyline in my music! If someone was to ask me a “What is such-and-such song about?” I want to be able to tell them the storyline. I hear so many songs and wonder what they are all about, sometimes the guys in the band don’t even know [laughing]. The music part, along with orchestration, melodies, guitar work, solo parts, and vocal harmonies, was all the fun stuff!
Robert Cavuoto: From the four songs that I heard, I feel you went with more of an aggressive metal sound in line with the Priest era of Ripper compared to the more commercial metal sound of Priest in the 70s or 80s. Was that a conscious decision or just a reflection of who you are now?
K.K. Downing: I think the four songs you heard are like that. There are other songs on the album that are more in the mold of “Another Thing Coming” and “Living After Midnight.” Those are synonyms to what I have always done. You have everything on this album, ranging from hard rock to heavy metal and everything in between. I think the album offers a good cross-section, with the first four songs driving it all home. Make no bones about it; this album is going to deliver up, that’s for sure. Most songs came very naturally as I was on autopilot, which is good [laughing]. I didn’t crash like I thought I would [laughing]. I was expecting to crash and then having to regroup and rebuild, which happens, but the plan just kept flying in the straight line, which I was very happy about!
Robert Cavuoto: The press release hints that you resurrected some achieved riffs. Were these riffs from older unused Priest demos?
K.K. Downing: There are a couple of riffs in there because obviously, as a guitar player, I have a catalog that I always draw from. For example, if I presented something to Judas Priest, and it didn’t fly, it went back into the archives. It doesn’t mean it’s was a bad idea; it was a strong idea, but it will sit there until the time right. The title of this album is something I had that goes back a long way. It was something that meant something to me, and I wanted to create a song around it. In the video for the song “Sermons of the Sinner,” when the Priest opens the book of sermons, there are images of me as a younger man, and there is a storyline. There are messages in the story that I wanted to convey. Some of the songs are quite fun, and even I’m not sure if they are fact or fiction like on the song “Hellfire Thunderbolt” is something that could have happened millions of years ago or just a few thousand years ago. Did it happen, or did it not happen? Were humans on the planet and infused with heavy metal in their veins and blood? Maybe it lay dormant for all those years until 1951 when I was born? When I was 13 years old, the story of heavy metal music and hard rock didn’t exist, but I could hear it. I was set on the path to try and create the evolution of metal music.
I was hearing little bits of this heavy metal here and there. Sons and daughters of blue-collar workers were going through our own oppressions in the home and the workplace. For so many years, I was writing music that didn’t have an identity. Back in the late 60s and early 70s, they called us a progressive blues band, but we weren’t that. Fleetwood Mac, Free, Jethro Tull, and Cream were progressive blues bands. Priest had riff-oriented songs. There were other musicians like me around the world, like Tony Iommi! They could hear something that was quite special, and they wanted to research and create it. I could hear bits of heavy metal in Jimi Hendrix and in The Kinks’ song, “You Really Got Me,” perhaps The Animals with “Wild Thing,” and with early Rolling Stones. I’m still doing this today with Sermons of the Sinner, as it is my go-to. It’s my legacy and everything I am as an artist in how I write, hear things, and my style. Sermons of the Sinner has one foot in the present and a foot in the past because the songs are new, yet they have a freshness that tells you didn’t have to look too far to still create and sustain this wonderful genre of music that we know and love for so many dedicates.
Robert Cavuoto: Ripper is a tremendous singer and did a fantastic job on this album. When did you decide he was the right singer for the band?
K.K. Downing: Ripper was the obvious go-to singer, and we are great friends. We worked together; he is a great singer, and dedicated to metal. It was very important to have him on board. When the door closed to Judas Priest, I’m thinking I’m going to call Les Binks and Ripper, then call the band KK’s Priest and let loose. Unfortunately, Les couldn’t make it, but we have a real ball of energy with Sean from San Diego. It’s good to have some younger blood in the band. We, as a band, can do everything that anyone would expect from us and me. When we hit the stage, it’s going to be all let loose.
Robert Cavuoto: Would you consider Sermons of the Sinner a comeback album?
K.K. Downing: I guess it must be! It’s the first full-on thing that I have done in its entirety, including being involved with producing.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you feel vindicated from all the people who thought you were retired and left Priest to play golf all day?
K.K. Downing: Yeah, that’s the annoyance! That is what Judas Priest told the world and the media. If that was the case, why wouldn’t they let me come out of retirement? If there is no animosity, and that’s the truth, why not let me back in. Andy Sneaps is a good friend of mine as I have been up to his studio working with some younger bands. I consider him a friend, a great guy, and a great talent. Andy said he would step down as he is not considered a member of the band. He is their touring guitarist. He went on to say as long as Priest wants him, he will carry on with them. Richie Faulkner and I spoke at great lengths, and he wanted me back in, but it wasn’t his decision. Richie is a good guy and player, He could take Glenn’s parts, and I take mine. All of this was happening before KK’s Priest. Unfortunately, Rob, Glenn, Ian, and management want the door to be closed for whatever reason. It’s not fair to me, the media, or the fans to close the door and not allow me to come out of retirement. I was certainly expecting a call when Glenn retired.
Robert Cavuoto: Will the band come to the US to tour?
K.K. Downing, as soon as we get a bonified tour, we are gone. We had a good tour lined up last year and part of this year, and they all got canceled. I’m not sure if and when they will get rescheduled. We are now just waiting for something to come along. We have already started working on the next album, so that is exciting.
Robert Cavuoto: Would you prefer to headline theaters and clubs or open for bands in arenas?
K.K. Downing: We are happy to support big shows! If someone were to put together a good list, we would be happy to mix and match like the old days of playing large and small shows. When we started, we were headline clubs, and then they asked us to support Led Zeppelin at Day on the Green, way back in 1977. We were like, “we can do that!”
Robert Cavuoto: Your bass player Tony produced Iron Maiden’s Book of Souls album. With that connection, is there any chance you may open for Maiden?
K.K. Downing: That would be fantastic; I know they have a new album coming out too. I think it would be great for us. Tony has worked with Maiden, and, first and foremost, he is a great bassist. You can hear every note he played on the album because that is what I wanted.