Judas Priest
An Interview with KK DOWNING
By Bob Nalbandian

Judas Priest are, without question, one of heavy metal's most influential, powerful and defining bands of all-time. With the release of Jugulator (CMC Records), the band's twelfth and most brutal studio offering to date, and the addition of new vocalist Ripper Owens, Judas Priest are back (screaming) with a vengeance to reclaim the metal throne!

I had the privilege to talk with a man whom I have admired for many years, a man responsible for writing some of the greatest riffs in heavy metal music, and one of the most influential musician/songwriters for that genre, Judas Priest's founding guitarist KK DOWNING...

SW: Jugulator is like Painkiller times ten...it's totally brutal! In the writing stages, did you plan on making this record the heaviest Judas Priest album to date?
KK: Yeah, I guess it epitomizes the way we were feeling during the writing period. Glenn and I picked up our guitars and it just came out the way we felt at the time.

SW: First thing I said to myself when I played this CD is, this is Halford! Ripper Owens sounds incredibly similar to Rob Halford.
KK: He's pretty close when he sings the high notes...

SW: Didn't he sing in a Judas Priest tribute band prior to you recruiting him?
KK: That's right....from Ohio. We were just about to do the auditions, we had a list of about 15 guys from all around the world that we were gonna fly in. Someone apparently gave our drummer, Scott Travis, a video tape of our man Ripper. When we played the tape and saw him there, dressed in leather and studs, singing all these old Priest songs, we were just blown away! We knew that he was our guy. Up until that point, I don't think any of us were totally confident and knew exactly what we were looking for. We figured if we hired a Rob Halford clone, if you will, certain fans may take offense. But we also knew we wanted to get somebody who can sing all the classic Priest songs exactly the same way that they had always been sung, and when we heard Ripper sing them, we flew him over straight away. He came in and sang two songs: "Victim Of Changes" and "The Ripper," and we went down to the pub afterwards to celebrate. From then, we just started calling him "Ripper" because of the way he sang "The Ripper," as if it were second nature. The Gods looked down upon us and said, "It's your lucky day, Priest....here's your man."

SW: I know that several readers of SHOCKWAVES are interested in hearing your side of the story about what happened between Priest and Halford...I mean, you guys have been together since the beginning of, what ...1973?
KK: Yeah, even before that, Bob...probably 1970, or maybe even a bit before that! Our first album was recorded in '73. We don't really know what happened, it was a bit of a shock...more than a shock...it was an earthquake really. We all had got on well together, there wasn't any real problems within the band. I was in Spain at the time taking a break and Rob rang up from the States saying he wanted to do a solo album, and we said "No problem," because we had worked so hard and had just went through that weird court case (over the young teen who committed suicide while listening to the classic Priest song "Beyond The Realms Of Death" - Ed.). We just completed the Painkiller album and world tour, and I guess Rob wanted a break from the band. He wanted to do a solo project, and then it just ran away with him. I don't know exactly what happened other than he wanted to employ himself fully to his solo project. Then, Rob said he wanted to quit the band, and so he did. I can't really be any more informative than that, I don't know whether he was of the mind that after all those years he just wanted to take total control of himself, the music, the band, and the production of the record.

SW: The music of today has changed quite drastically since you released your previous album Painkiller in 1990, especially in terms of metal music. Many of the hard rock/metal bands who have been around since the eighties have tried to adapt their sound to a more marketable, alternative sound to fit in with the current trends. But not Judas Priest...you've stuck to your guns through all these years and you're now playing heavier music than ever before!
KK: That's exactly right. And we're proud of it. We believe we've got the best rock vocalist to emerge since God knows when. Ripper's ability to perform classic Priest songs is uncanny. We're back to fly the metal flag, just as we've always done...Loud and Proud! We're really looking forward to going on tour and putting together a serious metal package. It's been six or seven years since we've traveled abroad, and we can't wait to get out there!

SW: You mention this "Metal Package"...are there any bands you have in mind for this tour package?
KK: We don't really know yet, it all depends upon who is available at the time. We've always given the opportunities to new, up & coming bands over the many years. In '90 -'91, some of our support bands were Pantera, Megadeth, Testament, Slayer, Alice Cooper and Motorhead (on the Operation Rock'n'Roll tour); we did the Rock'n'Rio Festival and had bands like Sepultura and Queensryche open for us...so there's been quite a good variety of bands who have toured with Priest over the years. We've also had Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Whitesnake and Bon Jovi open for us in the past, believe it or not! Most of these bands went on to make a lot more money than we have made (laughs). But, we play music for a silent majority...or a silent minority...we play heavy metal music to fans that really enjoy the classic hard-rock era of the '80s and the '70s. On this tour, we'll be playing songs from three decades! What can I say....I still feel that I look good, I'm not totally decomposed! (laughs). We try to stay healthy, and I feel we sound better than ever before.

SW: You self-produced this new record along with Glenn (Tipton). This was the first time Priest hadn't used an outside producer.
KK: Exactly right. The response that we've had so far has been great. People have said this record sounds very good, which is very pleasing to myself and Glenn. We really got into the production of this record...we knew it had to be good. We wanted it to sound really, really tough and ballsy!

SW: Judas Priest has worked with several producers throughout the years, from Chris Tsangarides, Tom Allom, James Guthrie and Dennis Mackay to Roger Glover from Deep Purple. Did you use such a variety of producers in an effort to make every album sound different from the last ? And who was your favorite producer to work with?
KK: I don't know really why we always changed producers, I guess we were always looking to capture 100% of the band's energy on record. We did more albums with Tom Allom because, I guess you just feel comfortable with guys you know. You're always trying to get it better, you know, it's never good enough. But this time around, Glenn and I felt very capable of producing this record as good as anyone, really. And that excites us more than anything, because, we know that we can write songs and play guitar, but can we produce a record? We knew if we were capable of doing that, then we can produce many more Priest records.

KK Downing SHOCKWAVES Interview Part 2