Kenneth "K. K." Downing, Jr. (born 27 October 1951) is an English semi-retired 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.In the late 1960s, Kenneth discovered rock music and the guitar. He is a mostly self-taught guitarist. "He was heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix, after whom he modelled his playing style.". 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. 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".
Prior to joining Judas Priest, Downing went to catering college and worked as trainee chef at the Lyttelton Arms in Hagley
Downing lived with girlfriend Carol Hiles until 1985 (she had supported him in the early days and when they broke up, he paid off their mortgage and gave her the house). In the mid to late 1980s, Downing lived in Spain with Vietnamese born actress/artist Kyme Hoan Tran, who died in 1993
Playing style and technique:
Downing has been noted for his aggressive, rock influenced guitar solos and dual leads with fellow Judas Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton. 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 on 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.
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".
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 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.". Astbury Hall is also home to "one of England's finest championship golf courses," a course created by Downing himself and where he has held publicized charity events. 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.
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.
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:
1964 Gibson Flying V Limited Edition with Gibson PAF pickups (one out of 200),
1970 Gibson Flying V with Maestro vibrato bar (number 233 out of 500),
1969 Fender Stratocaster (White) with left-handed neck,
1970-71 Fender Stratocaster (Sunburst),
Custom Hamer Vector, Vector KK and KK Mini V guitars,
ESP Custom V guitar,
Judas Priest Special V Handmade by Daniel R. Johnson (K. K.'s former touring guitar tech).,
KxK Custom Shop V K. K. Downing Model 2 guitar.,
Ovation Elite series Acoustic,
Amplifiers and effects
Digitech 1101 Preamp,
Marshall 9100 Power Amplifier.,
Marshall JMP-1 Preamp,
Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier,
Rocktron Piranha Preamp,
Marshall JMP Non master volume heads,
MXR Distortion +,
Guitar Rig and Signal Flow,
A detailed gear diagram of K.K. Downing's 2004 Judas Priest guitar rig is well-documented.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license