K. K. Downing

K. K. Downing

Downing performing with Judas Priest in 1984.
Born Kenneth Downing, Jr.
(1951-10-27) 27 October 1951
West Bromwich, Staffordshire,
Residence Astbury Hall, Shropshire, England
Nationality British

Musical career

Genres Heavy metal, speed metal, hard rock
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Guitar
Years active 1968–2011, 2012
Labels Columbia
Associated acts Judas Priest
Website kkdowning.net
Notable instruments
Gibson Flying V
Hamer KK Downing Signature model
Fender Stratocaster

Kenneth "K. K." Downing, Jr. (born 27 October 1951) is an English Grammy Award winning guitarist, songwriter and founding member of the British heavy metal band Judas Priest.

Early life and career

Downing was born in West Bromwich. He was kicked out of his home at 15 and dropped out of school soon afterward.[1]In the late 1960s, Downing discovered rock music and the guitar. He is a mostly self-taught guitarist.[2] "He was heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix, after whom he modelled his playing style."[2] Records by popular artists which have influenced Downing as a musician include, "Are You Experienced", "Axis Bold As Love", "Electric Ladyland" by Jimi Hendrix, "A Hard Road" by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and "Fresh Cream" by Cream.[3] Downing played on every Judas Priest album from Rocka Rolla to A Touch of Evil: Live.

Downing started his first band between the age of 17 and 18 with his second-cousin Brian Badhams on bass guitar (now with The Elkie Brooks Band) and drummer Martin Philips. The trio "mainly jammed a few Cream songs and a few 12-bar blues". Downing played guitar with the band after winning a coin toss with his cousin Brian "in his bedroom to see who would play guitar or bass".[2]

Prior to joining Judas Priest, Downing went to catering college and worked as trainee chef at the Lyttelton Arms in Hagley.[4]

Playing style and technique

K.K. Downing in 1980

Downing has been noted for his aggressive, rock influenced guitar solos and dual leads with fellow Judas Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton.[5] His solos remained of this style for most of his career, but he incorporated various techniques into his playing over the years. As opposed to Tipton, his solos tended to incorporate a more raw, rough-edged sound, making use of techniques like pinch harmonics, dive bombs, and tremolo picking, and often focus on speed, technical accuracy and melody. Although the two would switch roles, Downing's usual job on Judas Priest songs was as the rhythm guitarist with Tipton playing solos (the band's signature song "You Got Another Thing Comin'" is an example of such). From Stained Class onward, Tipton came to increasingly dominate Judas Priest's songwriting, particular on the more commercial tracks and Downing's role in the band started to diminish, especially as the former's songs comprised the vast majority of live setlists after 1980. In 1978, Tipton began to incorporate tapping into his playing, which Downing began to use as well. By 1990, both guitarists started to use the complex technique of sweep-picking, which can be notably heard on the title track of their 1990 album Painkiller. Both have continuously used these techniques ever since.

In Judas Priest's early years, Downing made common use of the wah-wah pedal (for instance, on Victim of Changes and Sinner), but began to limit his use of it in the late '70s, and had abandoned use of it by the mid-'80s, save for during live performances of the songs that originally featured it. The only time since then that he renewed use of it was in 1996, when vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens joined the band, and they began to experiment with their music more than before. One of these experimentations was the renewal of wah-wah in Downing's playing, which can be heard on their 1997 album Jugulator. This experimentation was taken further on their next album with Owens, 2001's Demolition, but was once more abandoned when the band's former vocalist, Rob Halford, returned to the band. However, Downing used a wah-wah pedal on his last few tours with the band.

Leaving Judas Priest

Downing officially left Judas Priest on 20 April 2011. An official press release was issued by the band. In an interview with online music publication, Guitarhoo!, Downing spoke about his leaving the band, "There had been an on-going breakdown in working relationships between myself, elements of the band and management for some time". Downing stated that there were at least "21 reasons" why he decided to quit but refused to go into specific detail about them.[2] In a 2016 interview, Downing elaborated on his decision to leave Judas Priest: "I had lots and lots of reasons for not continuing, as I wasn't content with things as they were. I wasn't happy with the band's live performance. I thought it could have been better; not that the fans would notice. To me, [Judas Priest] was always a stealth machine and that's what I liked about it. Even though you get older, you still need to be able to deliver the goods. People came a long way and paid a lot of money to see us, so you've got to make sure you still give 110 percent. I thought that should be inherent and what it should always be."[6]

The band continued with Richie Faulkner as Downing's replacement.

Musical side projects

In 2012, Downing was approached by Cleopatra Records to partake on the album, Who Are You? An All Star Tribute to the Who, a tribute album to the band The Who. Downing accepted the offer and performed guitar on the opening track, "Eminence Front", along with musicians John Wetton and Derek Sherinian. The album was released on 2 October 2012. Downing on participating on the record, "(I) feel honoured to pay tribute to such a great band".[2]

Astbury Fragrances

In 2014, Downing, created The Astbury Fragrances LTD. Initially to develop and market a line of personal fragrances dubbed "Metal." [7]


Downing's first own house was a "tiny semi in Bloxwich." He has lived in Los Angeles and Florida and still owns a home in Spain, but his main abode since 1985[8] remains Astbury Hall in Shropshire, England. It is in a very secluded area so he can (as stated in a 2007 interview) "blast his Marshalls.".[9] Astbury Hall is also home to "one of England's finest championship golf courses,"[10] a course created by Downing himself and where he has held publicized charity events.[11] Sarah Lissimore, his former girlfriend, mounted a legal challenge for half of Downing's Shropshire estate. This was based on his assertion, "I'd bet you'd love to be lady of this Manor, wouldn't you?". The High Court rejected the notion that this assertion could give rise to proprietary estoppel in favour of Lissimore.[12]

In December 2013, it was announced that Downing would be teaming up with property development finance provider Regentsmead, and golfer Darren Clarke, to help build luxury residential developments on Downing's Astbury estate.[13][14]

Recognition and honors

Downing was ranked 23 on rock magazine Hit Parader's list of 100 greatest metal guitarists.


Downing has many guitars, among them:

Amplifiers and effects

Guitar Rig and Signal Flow
A detailed gear diagram of K.K. Downing's 2004 Judas Priest guitar rig is well-documented.[16]


  1. "Biography". Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "K.K. Downing Interview". Guitarhoo!. Guitarhoo.com. 5 December 2012. Retrieved 5 March 2013.
  3. "K.K. Downing Interview – Fave 5 Reviews". Guitarhoo!. Guitarhoo.com. 17 December 2012. Retrieved 5 March 2013.
  4. Matt Cooper and Dave Tindall (3 November 2009). "interview with KK Downing". Golf365. Retrieved 2014-05-18.
  5. Judas Priest Info Pages – K.K. – Glenn Profile Archived 14 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. "K.K. DOWNING: What It Would Take For Me To Return To JUDAS PRIEST". Blabbermouth.net. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
  7. "Ex-JUDAS PRIEST Guitarist K.K. DOWNING Launches Line Of Fragrances 'Metal For Men' (Video)". Blabbermouth.net. 10 December 2014. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  8. "Metal merchant swinging irons". Shropshire Magazine. Retrieved 2014-05-18.
  9. "About.com: Heavy Metal". Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  10. "The Astbury". Astburyhall.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-05-18.
  11. "KK Downing holds charity golf day at Astbury Hall, Bridgnorth, for the Lord's Taveners. " Shropshire Star". Shropshirestar.com. 16 September 2010. Retrieved 2014-05-18.
  12. "England and Wales High Court (Chancery Division) Decisions". Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  13. "Rocker KK Downing bids to bring top golf contests to Shropshire " Shropshire Star". Shropshirestar.com. 11 January 2014. Retrieved 2014-05-18.
  14. Dominic Walsh (10 January 2014). "City Diary: high priest of golf gets a partner". The Times. Retrieved 2014-05-18.
  15. KKDowningSteelMill (2016-01-26), K.K.Downing´s "Toys In The Attic Vol. 2", retrieved 2016-03-02
  16. Cooper, Adam (2004). "K.K. Downing's 2004 Judas Priest Guitar Rig". GuitarGeek.Com.
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