Why K.K. Downing Quit Judas Priest

K.K. Downing defending the faith in 1984.(Photo credit: Fernando Catalina Landa.)

K.K. Downing defending the faith in 1984.
(Photo credit: Fernando Catalina Landa.)

Many metal fans and diehard Judas Priest followers were shocked when guitarist K.K. Downing announced his departure from his band prior to their farewell tour in 2011. At the time, he implied problems with the band’s management were partially to blame, and in an exclusive interview with Midland Rocks, he opened up about why he left. I had heard a rumor that he had been disappointed with the lackluster performance of the group’s last studio, the double-CD concept release Nostradamus. While it was fantastic from a musical perspective, a lot of people weren’t into the idea of an album based around the famed prophet and seer. It didn’t seem like the right topic to explore. When I interviewed Downing at that time, he seemed genuinely excited about doing a full-blown Nostradamus tour. That never came to pass, and the disappointment I had heard about is echoed in his recent remarks.

“I’ll never get away from this retirement thing, but what happened was that I quit,” Downing stressed to Midland Rocks. “Retired implies that I am not physically able to do it. I am able to do it, but I didn’t want to do it. I just wasn’t enjoying it any more, a lot of things had changed. I think I counted about thirty reasons why I didn’t want to do it at the time, and that is an awful lot of reasons. In all honesty, I think that in so many respects it had run its course. If you’re part of a songwriting team you get the recognition and reward for creating something, but for me Priest became about going out and playing live and replicating exactly what people had enjoyed ten, twenty or thirty years ago. The fans would be just as happy if they could see us bin [get rid of] all of the modern guitars we now play and take them on a walk down memory lane because I think that’s what people enjoy most. And I understand that because if I could go out now and see Eric Clapton with Cream then I would be the happiest person in the world.”

That said, it is obvious that Downing was not on a nostalgia trip or even into the idea of catering too heavily too that. “One of the beautiful things about being in the industry was the ability to continue to invent and create, constructing songs and making good records,” he explained. “You do feel the need to be creative and that was taken away with the downloading thing, and as you get older the balance of the scales starts to tip. So if you can’t be creative, why would you want to continue to dedicate the time into something. I suppose if the industry was still healthy and people still had to spend their hard earned money buying a record it would be different, but if you give something away then it has no value. We used to buy an album and think, ‘Well it’s not that good, but I’ll play it a million times, I’m sure I’ll get into it.’ Now it doesn’t really get a second chance. In the past, there was always the opportunity to create a record like Dark Side of the Moon or British Steel or Back In Black that would be one of those albums that would be indelible and people will always come back to. And I think that opportunity has gone now, and I think it would take a miracle for one of those to happen again. If you consider an album like Nostradamus then, if that had been released in 1978 then it would have been another Dark Side of the Moon, but it is all about the timing. When you think about it, in the early days we had the opportunity to write great songs, play great solos and have great vocal performances, but people get used to it and it is hard now to get the reaction of, ‘Wow, have you heard the new Priest album’.”

“The industry has changed so much,” noted Downing. “I see companies that are repackaging and rehashing and that started happening to us, and that was not a pretty thing to be a part of. It’s kind of duping the fans a bit because there are fans around the world that have got to have everything to complete their collection, so even if there are only a few thousand of them, if you put out a box collection it might be $100, which is a lot of dollars. That is something that I didn’t get into music for.”

Downing has kept busy since his departure from Judas Priest. He owns the Astbury Hall Golf Club. He has been promoting local bands in the Midlands area of England, has an active website, made a guest appearance on Geoff Tate’s Queensrÿche album and a Who tribute album and produced the debut album by local British metallers Hostile, whose bassist Alex Hill is the son of Priest bassist Ian Hill. Downing undoubtedly gets some golfing in too. Hopefully we’ll hear some solo music from him in the near future.

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