K.K. Downing says that getting onstage with Judas Priest again at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be like riding the proverbial bicycle, even after a dozen years away from the band. “It’s what I’ve done so many times,” the guitarist tells UCR. “It’s almost like cracking a beer, let alone riding a bike. It’s embedded in me. It’s what I do. So it’ll be quite something to look forward to, just to get up there and crank the amps up and just do it once again, for that short moment in time.”
Downing’s comments are the most solid confirmation yet that he’ll be part of the performance segment when Priest receives their Musical Excellence Award during the induction ceremony on Nov. 5 in Los Angeles. Most of the recent comments from the Priest camp have hedged a bit; recently, singer Rob Halford told UCR only that “there’s been a lot of emails going on. I’m as much in the dark as anybody else. I hear some things one day, then it’s completely the opposite the other day. I’m just like, ‘Let’s get it on! Let’s all go there, let’s all be there at blah, blah o’clock and we’ll see what happens. And that’s great, ’cause it’s rock ‘n’ roll. It’s chaos! It’s going to be a great day.”
Downing confirms the email exchanges – he hasn’t spoken to anyone in person, however – and says that both he and Les Binks, Priest’s drummer from 1977-79, will be performing. “It’ll go by in a flash, won’t it?” notes Downing, who played on every Priest album from their debut, Rocka Rolla, in 1974, to A Touch of Evil: Live in 2009, “I think we’ve probably got eight or nine minutes. I’m not even going to be able to break a sweat. The main thing is to represent the attitude and hopefully the legend of what Judas Priest is and has become and what it means to everybody who’s been on that very long journey through the decades with the band. And hopefully, it will just kind of remind people and bring back some cherished memories of the heavy metal parking lots all around the world.”
The reunion will come after some periods of acrimony between Downing and Priest since they parted ways in 2011 due to – according to a statement at the time -“an ongoing breakdown in working relationships between myself and elements of the band and management for some time.” Halford, meanwhile, shed some light on the situation in his book, Biblical, which publishes Nov. 1, noting, “It’s common knowledge that in Priest there was always some friction going on between Glenn [Tipton] and Ken as writers, as people. … I think every band has those kinds of episodes, and it’s usually from a source of great creativity.”
Downing, however, expressed disappointment that he wasn’t invited to return when Tipton retired from regular touring in early 2018 due to Parkinson’s disease. The guitarist vented some of his grievances in his 2018 memoir, Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest, but he expects all to be sweetness and light – and musically heavy – at the Rock Hall ceremony.
“Obviously a lot of things have happened and stuff,” he acknowledges. “But we’re kind of all old people, you know? A lot of water’s gone under the bridge, a lot of miles have been traveled, a lot of notes have been played. The thing is we can all kind of be there, have a few beers together, a glass of wine and perform and enjoy ourselves. At the end of the day, it really is an accolade, and I think, if everybody were to be honest with themselves, they would all like to have that accolade.”
Downing does consider Priest’s award significant not only for the band but for heavy metal in the Rock Hall, which is so far represented only by a few acts: Black Sabbath and Metallica and, depending on your definitions, Deep Purple and Rush. “Judas Priest have always been proud to fly the flag for metal and open as many doors and pave the way for as many new artists as possible,” he says. “Hopefully we’ve been great ambassadors of doing that. And in respect of [the Rock Hall], if Judas Priest wasn’t or couldn’t get in there, well possibly nobody would be able to. I would like to see the mighty [Iron] Maiden and Saxon and everybody else get in there. Hopefully, the doors will open to those guys as well. It’s taken us a long time, so the only message I would say to everybody that’s in the wings is, Be patient because it seems that you have to be considerably old and considerably, dare I say, a legend before you even get a sniff of this accolade.”
Don’t expect to see Downing in black tie at the ceremony, though. “I’ll be wearing something … hopefully, good enough for them to let me in,” he jokes. “As long as they let me go ’round the back and bring my stuff in, that’s OK. I’ll find something, but it definitely won’t be a tux, that’s for sure.”
While the ceremony will end the year on a high note, Downing is already plotting a busy 2023. His current band, KK’s Priest, is finishing work on its second album, the follow-up to 2021’s pandemic-hampered Sermons of the Sinner. He says the group is also planning an extensive global tour that’s now being plotted.
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