K.K.Downing, the curious incident of the unnamed JUDAS PRIEST guitarist, and Rob Halford’s human rights activism

We have followed the turbulent Judas Priest media developments since they commenced in early 2018 (see previous articles), and we will preface the latest with a reminder.

KK had left the band in 2011, citing dictatorial management and declining quality of performance. While expressing he had been trying to voice his concerns and mend the relationship throughout the years, he reached out to his colleagues once again when Glenn Tipton announced he was no longer able to tour (February 2018), due to Parkinson’s disease.

K.K. Downing

K.K. Downing

Downing, a founding member and defining part of the band both historically and artistically, was willing to resume his place. To his astonishment, his offer seemed to have enraged the Judas Priest camp: Rob Halford impulsively accused Downing of insinuating that Tipton had not played on the band’s latest release (an assertion with no substantial claim), while Ian Hill, the bass player, implied that “no fans would miss KK Downing, because we now have Richie Faulkner, who brought new energy to the band”. The latter statement was dismissed by KK, who recalled that on the British Steel 30th Anniversary Tour (the last one where he participated) he had been by far the most energetic member. Moreover, his vigour and hesitation to make musical compromises had been the primary reason for his departure: e.g., in his book “Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest” (out September 2018) he zealously laments the band’s decision to withdraw from properly presenting (even in modest form) the band’s operatic masterpiece, 2008’s Nostradamus.

Rob Halford as "Nostradamus"

Rob Halford as “Nostradamus”

The psychological tensions within the band seemed to have oppressed Downing, who withdrew from music for a decade – yet, following the band’s vehement refusal to welcome him back – not even as a participant in the 50th Anniversary Tour due to take place next year – Downing formed his new band, KK’s Priest. It includes drummer Les Binks of Stained Class fame (the 1978 album which, in the opinion of many, defined the genre of heavy metal), singer Tim “Ripper” Owens, who had replaced Rob Halford after his departure in the 90s, bassist Tony Newton (Voodoo Six), and guitarist A.J. Mills (Hostile). The forming of the new entity followed KK’s much acclaimed full live set of Judas Priest songs in November 2019, while the band’s name reflects KK’s attachment and passion for what he deems his life, Judas Priest – the band he co-founded in 1969, becoming its musical basis and famous star – alongside Tipton and Halford – for a number of decades.

Judas Priest, Stained Class Era

Judas Priest, Stained Class Era

Current Judas Priest in its live capacity seems to consist of Rob Halford, Ian Hill, drummer Scott Travis (since 1990’s Painkiller), guitarist Richie Faulkner (ex- Lauren Harris), and producer/guitarist Andy Sneap, who on the 2018-9 Firepower tour replaced Glenn Tipton – by that time only able to make encore appearances. The 50th Anniversary Tour, due to take place this year, has been rescheduled, with the band actively promoting it and its current members.

One such promotion spurred the headline of this article. While announcing a guitar masterclass with Faulkner, the band states:
“…Poised now to celebrate that illustrious career as they enter their 50th year in the industry – 2020 should have seen the band embark on an epic 50th-anniversary tour in celebration but due to Covid-19, this has had to be postponed to 2021…
When the previous guitarist left in 2011 with a still-burning desire to continue flying the flag of metal, Judas Priest decided to continue on, by enlisting newcomer Richie Faulkner on guitar. The move seemed to have reinvigorated the band…”

K.K. Downing

K.K. Downing

What has looked like an anti-KK Downing campaign since early 2018, culminates in a revision of history which excludes him. It is curious why his name still rings sharp – just like the tone of his guitar (incomparably more characteristic, daring and vigorous than that of Faulkner) – in the fans’ years. Did four decades of Judas Priest, in which they moulded their name, fame and legacy, consist of Tipton, Haford, and an unnamed member?

If Judas Priest wants to be true to a Brand Safety trend – the result of sweeping under the carpet any artistic tension and “controversy” which probably made the band’s extreme identity at its prime – then they should withdraw any produce involving the member they wish to erase – as in the case with Tim Owens, who had complained that the albums with him were not available on streaming platforms; nor did the Halford-fronted band revisit any of the songs.

news_kk_KK's Priest

KK’s Priest

It can of course be argued that the “Ripper” era isn’t essential to Priest – which would only emphasise the atrocity of erasing Downing. It is ironic that, if we go by KK’s book, it was KK who reached out to Halford and pleaded for Rob’s return before Glenn Tipton.
Yet another irony is that, in recent years and months, Halford has become an increasingly outspoken human rights activist (which we fully support!):
“Obviously, there have been gay metalheads since metal was invented, but [in the ‘70s] we were invisible,” Halford told Billboard in a new interview. “After a Priest show, a lot of us went back to working at the Ford plant or a Walgreens or working as a schoolteacher, but we were gay. We had to hide, basically.”

Judas Priest

Judas Priest

Is this a case of standing for humanity but not the person? Nobody should be invisible, let alone a stalwart of heavy metal who devoted his life to Judas Priest; someone who stood by the band’s artistic interest with the same lack of compromise (while compromising his psychological well-being), precision and resolve which define heavy metal per se.

KK’s Priest have meanwhile completed an album and are eager to go on the road, whenever possible:
“We are now just waiting for studio facilities to re-open in order to mix and master the album.
We are incredibly excited and totally ready for the launch of what we consider to be an exceptional and important record; we sincerely hope that you will agree!”

KK’s Priest feat. Dave Ellefson (Megadeth) in the first-ever live rendition of Judas Priest’s Before The Dawn (Downing composition):

The publication prepared by Beyond The Black

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