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article imageInterview with former Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing Special

By Adrian Peel     Oct 16, 2014 in Music
Widely believed to have retired when he left the legendary pioneers of heavy metal in 2011, the archetypal rock guitarist is actually busier than ever. Digital Journal found out more.
After 40 years as a key element in one of THE greatest rock acts of all time, one certainly wouldn't begrudge Kenneth "K.K." Downing taking things easy as he cruises gracefully into his autumn years.
But although he no longer tours the world with the group he co-founded back in 1970 (bassist Ian Hill is the only co-founder left in the current incarnation, that also consists of singer Rob Halford, guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner and drummer Scott Travis), the relaxed and very down-to-earth 62 year old rarely sits still.
In fact, music only occupies a fraction of his time these days, as most of his energy and drive is currently being channelled into an ambitious project to turn the golf course he owns, and lives on - The Astbury - into a world class tournament venue capable of staging some of the sport's most prestigious events.
"Yeah, it’s really exciting the whole thing," enthuses the talkative entrepreneur, who has secured the services of professional golfer, Darren Clarke - tipped to captain Europe at the 2016 Ryder Cup - to help get the plan up and running.
K.K. on the golf course.
K.K. on the golf course.
K.K. Downing
"I’ve been in meetings today all day - I’ve just come out of an all-day meeting about everything that’s happening. Darren Clarke and his manager, Chubby Chandler, they’re going to assist with bringing on the Astbury, so it’s all very exciting, really."
When might it happen?
"For the last two years I’ve done what’s known as the EuroPro Tour, which is on SKY Television. That’s very good - that’s a pro tournament. Obviously the EuroPro Tour, the Challenge Tour and the PGA Tour, which is the big one...
"Actually, I’m up for an award for golf course design, which is pretty exciting as well. That’s gonna be in a couple of weeks’ time. I have to go to London, so I don’t know whether I’ve won the award. I think there’s three contenders and they’ll tell us who’s won."
"I just thought, ‘I’ll build a golf course'," continues Downing in his amiable Black Country tones, reflecting on what appears to have been a 'happy accident', "and it came out pretty well. In fact I was shocked and stunned!
"But I guess I’ve played a lot of golf courses around the world obviously touring with Priest. So I came back and thought I was doing the best I could with what money I had, really."
On top of all the golf-related activities and charity work (the guitarist helps out with a number of organisations including Teenage Cancer Trust), a hotel spa and on-site timeshares (courtesy of The Registry Collection) are also nearing completion.
K.K. (left) on stage with Judas Priest.
K.K. (left) on stage with Judas Priest.
K.K. Downing
K.K. also has another business venture up his sleeve that has nothing to do with golf or real estate. "Don’t laugh," he says, "but I'm just about to release Metal For Men and Metal Pour Femme, which is a new line of fragrances, and I’m going to be selling that internationally.
"Do you know Planet Rock? In the UK I’ll be selling that initially through Planet Rock, through the national radio station. That’s something else I’ve thought of in my sleep. Don’t ask me why! You see people from the pop world do a fragrance and stuff like that, but nobody’s actually catering for rock and metal fans, so I thought I’d solve the headache of what to buy for Christmas type-of-thing..."
Although he gets his "quick fix of the day" by regularly having a quick burst on the old guitar, the musician who practically started the trend for metallers wearing leather on stage, while performing in Japan in 1978, hasn't been in a studio or on a stage much of late. That said, he has been helping out a new, up-and-coming act by the name of Hostile.
"Young band from Wednesbury, which is a spit from West Bromwich where I grew up... The lads are obviously young and I went to school with their uncle, so that’s how the introduction came. I got involved with the first album; arranged and produced and wrote a song for the band.
"As it happens they’ve just come off a tour with Machine Head in the UK and they’re going out fairly soon with a band called Lordi, who were the first metal band to win The Eurovision Song Contest a few years ago. They were from Finland…
"But anyway, I did a few shows with Hostile last year and they’re going out for an extensive tour soon, so they’re doing fairly well. The music industry’s tough, as you probably know - very tough."
What about releasing a solo album at some point?
"Well I think about it all the time, I do… I’m thinking that when all this dies down a little bit, even if I’m 65, 66 - it doesn’t matter. I mean you look at The Rolling Stones, The Who and everybody can still put their hand to their instrument and be creative. So I’m not ruling anything out at any time.
"It may well be an instrumental album. I could do it, but at the moment I’ve just got to finish what I’ve started, really, is what I think. But it won’t be too long. I would’ve thought by the end of next year, I’ll find a clearing and I would like to work with some chosen musicians."
In April 2011, K.K. Downing, who will be donating some of the proceeds from his fragrance to Teenage Cancer Trust, parted company with the mighty Judas Priest after 40 years of almost non-stop touring and recording (rock classics attributed to them include "Breaking The Law," "Living After Midnight," "Turbo Lover" and "You've Got Another Thing Comin'") and said at the time that it was for a number of reasons.
"I felt that a lot of the spark wasn’t there - for whatever reason - anymore on stage," admits the Flying V-wielding axeman, chatting to me from his office, where he reveals he's surrounded by guitars, Gold and Platinum records, a Grammy Award and a 100-watt Marshall stack.
"I felt that I had it, but I felt it wasn’t what I originally signed up for. I always thought that Judas Priest should have been a high-energy outfit and ultra-sharp, but I wasn’t enjoying it as much on stage as I should have been.
"All that travelling and living out of a suitcase and spending so much time in planes, vans, cars and trains, you have to really enjoy the concerts. You have to musically get on a high and that carries you through, but if you’re not enjoying it like you should, then it becomes a lot of hard work because you’ve still got to do the interviews and be pushed and pulled around the place."
Has K.K., replaced in the Priest lineup by 34-year-old London-born guitarist, the aforementioned Richie Faulkner (a guitarist Downing admires: "my replacement Richie is a good guitar player"), ever regretted his decision to leave?
"I don’t regret leaving," he replies, "because, to me, I thought that it had run its course. I miss what we had, but I don’t particularly miss what we had become when I left… You can look at You Tube and see Judas Priest playing at the US Festival, or at Live Aid, and I miss being at the pinnacle of the band.
"I miss that energy and youthfulness and just delivering all of that up. You become a certain age and I think that I would have been happy if, as I said, I was enjoying the shows. There’s disagreements with how things should be done and I thought if I’m outnumbered then it’s time to go...
"But I suppose we did fantastically well. I mean 40 years is great and I commend the guys for going back out. I was just watching a bit of their first concert of the tour in Rochester, New York and it was great. Band sounded good and I’m happy that they continue.
"I sent an email saying 'good luck with the new tour, guys' to the management office. I do wish them well and I commend them highly for being out there and carrying on the legacy."
To learn more about K.K. Downing. visit his official website.
More information on The Astbury can be found here.
For more on Judas Priest, their new album and their current tour, visit their official website.
More about kk downing, Judas Priest, Heavy metal, Golf, Shropshire
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