K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest Talk Gear in 1984 Guitar World Interview
Here's our interview with K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest from the July 1984 issue of Guitar World. The original story by Bill Milkowski ran with the headline "Judas Priest's Scorching Twin Leads," and the story started on page 34.
K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton have paid their dues. Their humbucking heavy metal is now playing at the top of the charts after years of slogging the road.
Ken Downing was a chronic "schoolleaver." He was a bored and restless fifteen-year-old, looking for an escape from his dreary day-to-day existence in the grimy, industrial environs of England's second largest city, Birmingham. Nothing was happening and there was no way out.
And then, the electric guitar came into his life. Suddenly, there was something to live for. It was the escape he had sought all through high school.
From that point on, Ken Downing shut himself away from the outside world, barricading himself in his bedroom, where he would spend countless hours on end trying desperately to master a barre chord, getting familiar with the fretboard, fantasizing that he was on stage playing before tumultuous throngs of rock fans.
During this intensive woodshedding period, however, his parents were hardly supportive of their son's ambitions.
"They watched me grow my hair and sit in my room, just playing my guitar all night long. They thought I was a drug-crazed hippie."
Ironically, it was actually Downing's parents who were directly responsible for starting their son off down the long road to rock stardom.
"Yeah, when I got kicked out of the house," he laughs. "That's when I decided that 'I'm gonna show ya.' That was when I started to get serious about the guitar. I wanted to play the guitar and do nothing else, really. I suppose it was my drug in a way, you know. I went through everything that any young junkie goes through – getting kicked out of the house, not wanting to work, not having any money and all that. So I suppose my parents might have been right, in a small way, because it did lead to seven or eight years of poverty and alienation. I was a very unpopular person within my family, because when you shut yourself away as I did and you just play guitar, and you have long hair and you don't eat or you stop relating to people because all you really want in the world is to play your guitar ... maybe they were right. Maybe I was on drugs, in a sense. Yeah, the guitar was my drug."
Of course, Downing did eventually find his way out of Birmingham and today is riding high and mighty with Judas Priest, one of the most formidable and popular heavy metal bands in all of rock music. Yet, for all his successes and accomplishments in his career, Downing still hasn't won over his stubborn parents.
"They think there's more in the world that just wanting to become a rich and famous rock musician, which only compels me to want it all the more. They think that I'm under the influence of something ... some weird God that I might be worshipping. You know how parents are."
Despite his parents' suspicions, Downing and his partner Glenn Tipton serve as role models for aspiring heavy metal guitarists all over the world. This twin guitar attack-with Downing on a Gibson Flying V and Tipton on a Gibson SG-has stunned audiences in Japan, America and all throughout Europe with scorching licks and sheer bone-crunching power. And if that weren't enough, audiences are further wowed by the group's visual extravaganza, which includes a massive, multileveled stage with hundreds of lights and various hydraulic and pyrotechnic devices.
Add a few dry ice effects and singer Rob Halford 's notorious on-stage entrance aboard a Harley-Davidson and you've got one impressive package. Of course, Downing's parents might not appreciate it, but this is the stuff that sends hordes of fifteen-year-old boys into fist-raising, slavering ecstasy. At least Downing himself can take pride in the fact that, after fourteen years of hard work on the headbanging circuit, his group has finally emerged on top of the heavy metal heap. And it's been a long road indeed.
Downing and Judas Priest bassist Ian Hill began kicking around the Midlands club circuit in England back when they were schoolmates together in hometown Birmingham. They see ked out a living by playing blues-tinged material in small clubs and pubs. This eventually led to the formation of Judas Priest in 1969, a time when many British bands were beginning to re-interpret the guitar-laden sounds of black blues music, emulating such guitarists as Robert Johnson, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and other more obscure black bluesmen.