K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest Talk Gear in 1984 Guitar World Interview
Unfortunately, Judas Priest got lost in the shuffle, as Downing explains: "We were there at the time when the blues thing was happening but we just missed the boat, in actual fact, which is the reason it took us so long to surface with a record deal.
"There were bands that were around at the time but were a year ahead of us… bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. They had all just been signed up real quick and there were quite a few other bands as well-Kim Simmons and Savoy Brown, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds.
"There were so many, in fact, that they had quickly exhausted all the record companies. So by the time we came along to do auditions for record companies, they would say, 'It's okay, but you're too much like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath or Jeff Beck or whoever.' And to their mind I suppose we did sound very similar because we had a similar format. And obviously, while we were struggling to get some kind of a record deal going, these other bands were becoming bigger and bigger and bigger. If only we could 've been there a year earlier we could 've gone the same route."
But Downing is quick to add, in retrospect, "It's sort of ironic that now, ten years later, we have managed to surface on top. Now we are doing tours with Savoy Brown or Humble Pie opening for us… all these groups that initially made it way back then. So while we did sort of miss the boat back then it seems now that we still have the opportunity of doing what we originally set out to do. The only difference, of course, is that we've been poor for many years while we could 've been rich for many years, like these other groups."
Downing and Bassist Hill played around for a while with the original Judas Priest outfit before they eventually found singer Rob Halford and guitarist Glenn Tipton.
"We went through some changes, obviously, in the early days," Downing recalls. "People came and went. Actually, we met Rob the singer through a girlfriend that Ian was dating at the time. Rob was this girl's brother. She used to tell Ian, 'Oh, you should hear my brother sing. He's really quite good.' So we went to give him a listen. It didn't take us long to decide to kick out our old singer and get Rob in. That was around 1971.
"Then later on when we decided to add another guitar player to the band, it was quite a coincidence the band Glenn was with at the time finally went broke and ceased to exist. So we asked him to join Judas Priest because it seemed at the time that we had a little more going for us than Glenn 's band did. Actually, it was all promises at the time and nothing really did materialize for quite a while. But obviously, the format that we got together did work a lot better and the result was that we were rewarded for our efforts with a recording contract."
They signed with the small, independent British label, Gull Records, in 1974. Two albums (Rocka Rolla in '74, followed by Sad Wings of Destiny in '76) quickly forged their dark style and gained some minor commercial success. But after a falling-out with Gull Records, they eventually left the label.
"Really, it's quite miraculous that we're still together," says Tipton, "because they were a terrible record company. They got us into all sorts of trouble and on top of that we got no money. They did everything wrong. That was a real disappointing time for the band. It was quite lucky that we managed to sustain and not break up then.
"But, of course, we were no strangers to adversity. There were many chapters before Judas Priest ultimately broke through where if we were each getting thirty bucks a night it was considered big money. We used to have to carry our own equipment up flights of stairs, drive hundreds of miles and back again from gig to gig each night... it was a struggle. It was all we could do to put gas in the van. We had it very, very rough for a time, but I don't think there's a band in the world that hasn’t 't been through it."
Luckily, they were signed by CBS Records the year after they left Gull. The group's breakthrough album came in 1980. British Steel, their fifth for CBS and seventh overall, gained unprecedented attention from radio, notably the album's two singles, "Living After Midnight" and "Breaking the Law," the latter a vehicle for a ground breaking promotional video concept by Julian Temple, notorious for his Sex Pistols and Rolling Stones vidclips. That rousing success was followed by 1981's Point of Entry and 1983's Screaming for Vengeance, the Priest's biggest seller to date.
The flash and frenzy behind the Judas Priest powerhouse is the twin attack of Tipton and Downing. The two trade blistering solos on hellbent tunes like "Pain and Pleasure, "Devil's Child" and "The Sinner," spurring each other on with a kind of healthy competition. But as Downing explains, the two didn't exactly have an instant rapport when they first met.
"I think it was more like an instant barrier was put up at first because neither one of us had ever played with another guitar player before. I think that's were the competition started. But it was a friendly competition from the word go. It wasn’t that we wanted to prove to each other that one was better than the other. It was just that we were always aware of each other, that one didn't try and overtake the other one.