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Interview: Guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner Discuss Judas Priest After K.K. Downing

Interview: Guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner Discuss Judas Priest After K.K. Downing

Precise, blazing riffs. Stellar guitar harmonies. Solos laced with melody and speed. These have been the hallmarks of Judas Priest ever since former Flying Hat Band guitarist Glenn Tipton joined the band in 1974.

For 40 years, the team of Tipton and band co-founder K.K. Downing led the heavy metal brigade, introducing a twin-guitar attack to the genre, defining a sound rooted in power chords, palm muting and back-and-forth lead breaks that inspired generations of groups, from Iron Maiden to Slayer.

Along the way, Judas Priest survived countless trends - punk, new wave, even grunge -- and continued to pave an unapologetic path that adhered to a core foundation of soaring melodic vocals and the explosive dual guitars of Tipton and Downing. Then last winter, Downing unexpectedly quit the band.

With a farewell tour planned and a new studio album in the works, Judas Priest were temporarily thrown off guard. "It was a complete shock," Tipton says from a velvety chair in a suite at the Jumeirah Essex House Hotel, which overlooks New York's Central Park. "We thought it was the end. We didn't even start to look for another guitarist for three or four months."

Realizing that breaking up would be an abrupt and unsatisfying end to a colossal legacy, Judas Priest decided to replace Downing. They considered tracking down an established guitarist from another band but opted instead to look for someone new.

"There are so many well-known guitar players out there who would have come over and stood in," Tipton says, stirring a ceramic cup of coffee with a small metal spoon. "A lot of them have played Priest numbers earlier in their career. But that wasn't the direction we wanted to go in."

Enter 32-year-old Richie Faulkner, a London-based performer who had played with Lauren Harris, daughter of Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris. Not only does Faulkner perform with agility and grace but he also genuinely looks the part. Faulkner prowls the stage hunched like Priest vocalist Rob Halford, bobs his shaggy blonde head in sync with Tipton and bassist Ian Hill, and tilts his guitar headstock to the sky as he solos. Clad in black leather, with rows of gleaming horizontal sh1ds covering the chest and sleeves of his jacket, he resembles a young Downing and from a short distance could easily be mistaken for a longtime member of the band.

In person, Faulkner is amiable and soft spoken, humble, yet confident. He knows he's good but recognizes how fortunate he is. "It feels like a dream every day," he says repositioning his dark shades. "I know that it's real, of course, but once or twice every show I see the crowd out there and I realize I'm standing next to Rob Halford. That moment is always spectacular."

With Downing in retirement, Faulkner is the ideal guitarist to accompany Tipton to the end of Judas Priest's touring career. But what about that studio album they've been talking about since January 2011? To those who think Downing's departure means it will never materialize, you've got another thing coming.

The recently released greatest-hits package The Chosen Few, which feah1res a tracklisting chosen by rock icons such as Ozzy Osbourne, Corey Taylor, Lemmy Kilmister and Scott Ian, is just a placeholder. The proper followup to 2008's ill-fated Nostradamus is on the way. In a revealing interview, Tipton and Faulkner talked about Downing's departure, the audition that scored Priest their newest member, the challenges of the Epitaph tour and the fuh1re of the Metal Gods.

GUITAR WORLD: The last tour you did was for the 30th anniversary of British Steel. From the audience it looked like everyone was having a good time. Were there any signs behind the scenes that K.K. was losing interest?

GLENN TIPTON: No, we all had a great time. That's why we were so surprised when Ken informed us last November that he wanted to retire. He had problems with his wrist and touring, and he sent us an email saying he wanted to retire not just from the band but from the music business.

Were you annoyed that he informed you in such an impersonal way?

TIPTON: No, I just respected Ken's decision. It must have been very difficult for him and he must have thought long and hard about it.

There have been reports that he wanted to focus his energy on running a chain of golf courses.

TIPTON: Yeah, but I don't think that's the reason. Golf's his passion, and there's nothing wrong with that. When he was in the band he never let that side of things get in the way. I can't say enough good about Ken. We worked together hard on our application of the twin-guitar attack for years, and we've written some great songs together.

Were you confident you'd find someone good to replace K.K.?

TIPTON: Not at all. If you had asked me back then I would have said, "That's the end of the band." Then Richie came along and blew our minds, because he captures the essence of Judas Priest but he does his own thing as well It's amazing the way that guy has blended in both on and offstage.

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