Priest's K.K. Downing talks sweet 'British Steel'
By Naughty Mickie
They're baaack! And if you're
anything like me, you can't wait to catch 'em live. Judas
Priest, vocalist Rob Halford, guitarists Glenn Tipton and
K.K. Downing, bassist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis, is
celebrating the 30th anniversary of their classic album,
"British Steel" (Sony, originally issued April 1980), by
performing it in its entirety for the first time live on
stage. The effort includes hits like "Metal Gods," "Breaking
the Law," "United," Living After Midnight" and "Grinder."
The album was recorded at the Tittenhurst Park in England, a
mansion owned at the time by Ringo Starr and previously
owned by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, with Tom Allom serving as
producer. In 2001 the album was remastered and reissued with bonus tracks.
So other than the coolness factor,
why is Priest doing this tour? To find out, I gave Downing a
call just before the band's concert in St. Louis.
"Originally last year we came over
with the Masters of Metal tour with Heaven and Hell and we
only played 18 or 19 shows because we had to get back in the
studio to do a new album which is now complete," says
Downing. "We thought that we would probably come back and
cover the areas we didn't cover last year. That was the
original plan, but it didn't quite happen and so somebody
said well what about - I can't remember who actually
suggested it - doing the 'British Steel' tour.
"The original idea was to put an
all-British bunch of bands together again and happily
Whitesnake were available, but it proved kind of tough to
get some other bands. We still went along with it really and
thought, well, playing the album in its entirety would be a
good idea, as it was pointed out that it was the 30th year
of the anniversary of the release of that record. So we
thought we might take a trip down memory lane and of course
that helps us to choose the set list a lot easier and we
thought it might be cool to do a completely kind of retro
thing." Downing goes on, "That's what we do, we brought the
whole thing back, all the old lasers that nobody uses any
more, we're sponsored by Harley again now and we're up and
running really. We've down one show in Indianapolis, which
was fantastic. In a theater, it wasn't a massive theater,
but it was absolutely brilliant. We're really looking
forward to our first show with Whitesnake on board tonight
in St. Louis."
I'm not an obsessive gearhead, but I
want to know if they are using the same instruments and amps
as they did on the album.
"I have some and Glenn, we have some
retro guitars out there. We can only play them a little bit
because time has obviously moved on. They are here on tour
with tour with us, we've got some old stuff knocking
around," replies Downing. "I haven't got really, really old
ones, like the old Gibson Vs, but I've got some very early
Hamer Vs, which I've been using for, they go back to the
'80s, so it's kind of cool. They look pretty retro."
Next, I ask Downing how Priest's
writing has evolved over the years.
"I would like to say that we have
evolved as songwriters," Downing responds. "I guess that's
one of the many reasons for doing the 'Nostradamus' thing,
was to prove our worth really as being more than just
rockers and metalers, that we could do something. All the
orchestration on there was done by myself and Glenn either
with the new technologies about with synthesized guitars or
on keyboards, where basically you play guitar now and it
comes out as any instrument you want it to be. And that was
good, it was good from me to do that I think. I got to add a
little bit of classical stuff in there as well which suited
the moments for the 'Nostradamus' thing, to utilize
instruments that would have been around or most of them at
that particular time."
What's the secret to Priest's
success and, more importantly, their long career?
"I think, thankfully, back in the
'70s we brought something a little bit new and fresh to the
table and something that was unique, not just to Judas
Priest, but to the world at the time." Downing explains, "As
soon as we hit on the image that really suited the band, the
leather and studs and that sort of thing, then we felt very
much at home. We came over to America in the '70s and we
were playing with bands. Lots of bands were still wearing
denims and stuff, it was either denims like Foghat at one
end or an Reo Speedwagon or it was KISS and Alice Cooper,
which was off the other end of the scale. We found our niche
and stuck to it and unfortunately identity is pretty crucial
in this world in entertainment."
"But there had to be more than
identity to keep your career going," I counter.
"Hopefully together with some good
songs," Downing replies and laughs. "And hopefully some
To learn a little more about
Downing, I ask him how he came to the guitar.
was listening to people like John Mayall's Bluesbreak and
some of that early stuff when I had just turned 16 and bands
like Cream and then and great Jimi Hendrix arrived and I
really wanted to be a part of it, I wanted to be a part of
it really bad," Downing says. "I guess like some people grow
up and they really want to be an actor or a soccer star and
they want it so bad that it almost makes them ill. I don't
know whether it was mental or physical or both, but I
guess it's like when you fall in love, you feel ill don't
you? You feel sick with love. I was like sick with guitar
playing, so many of these great players, and I had to make
some headway otherwise I was going to go downhill and not
get out of hospital, if you know what I mean."
Today he can do anything he wants,
so what does this rockstar do with his free time?
"The music obviously so in my life
takes up an awful lot of time, but I like to play golf and
tennis and just do regular things," Downing shares. "I like
to visit, in England we have lots of national heritage, not
always stately homes, but really fabulous pieces of history
and you can get to walk around and experience how affluent
people lived centuries before. It's nice to do that. I'm a
fan of internal design and external architecture, I just
find it fascinating how brilliant a lot of that stuff was so
"After the 'British Steel' tour,
what is next in store for Priest?" I query.
"A very good question that I'm not
really able to answer," Downing replies. "Rob was just
saying that we've just kicked off on this tour and we're
going to be enjoying that for a few months and then we've
got some festivals in Japan to play and then I guess we'll
be putting our heads together and thinking 'OK, what is
Judas Priest going to do for the world tomorrow?' But until
we sit down and do that I don't know, I can't really say
what we're going to be doing."
Before letting Downing go, I remind
him about the time we conversed over glasses of red wine at
the House of Blues in Anaheim after one of their shows. I
wonder if Downing is a big wine drinker.
"I'm hopefully not a big wine
drinker," Downing laughs. "But yes, I think that because I'm
a fan of food you have to be a fan of wine. Basically a good
day for me is to chill out and have some really nice ice
cold beers and then a nice meal with a nice glass of wine
and I think we all seem to do that these days. I think that
men do it a lot more these days because everybody here is
about how red wine is good for your heart and we hear about
the Mediterranean diet, olive oil and plenty of greens and
red wine will make you live forever," Downing chuckles. "And
then you get the taste for it."
Downing has a few final thoughts for
"We've got a new live album
out called 'A Touch of Evil: Live' (Epic Records, released
July 14, 2009) that was recorded all over the world in the
last few years since Rob returned back to the Priest," says
Downing. "It's our third live album only, so it was about
time that we made one. Even though a couple of the tracks
have been released in some format somewhere before, the
majority has never been released live before so that's a
kind of unique thing about it.
"Like I said before, we have not
gone totally overboard with this retro thing, but hopefully
people will look at the show and think, 'Yes, that brings
back some serious memories of 1980.' So it's the 30-year
anniversary-- we've got Harley Davidson, they've made a bike
for us, a British Steel bike, which is killer, we've got a
killer laser show and all the rest of the stuff that goes
back in to a cool Priest set. The main thing is we're
playing the 'British Steel' album from start to finish and I
think maybe one or two of the songs we've maybe never even
played live before so it's pretty cool.
"And of course we've got Whitesnake
on and their latest album, 'Slip of the Tongue' (Geffen
Records, June 39, 2009, remaster of 1989 original with
extra tracks), was a very excellent album." Downing goes on,
"They're in top form and great guitar players as well, so
some great songs will be heard on the night, so everybody
must come down and check it out."
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