K.K. DOWNING - Heavy Duty: Days And Nights In Judas Priest
September 19, 2018, 8 months ago
(De Capo Press)
273 pages from the former Priest guitarist, along with 16 pages of b/w photos (not included in the advance preview copy). The first two chapters outline Ken's miserable childhood. His father was a scheming gambling addict, who didn't work and worse yet, took government payouts intended for Ken and his sister, at the expense of their food, clothing, etc. Until he was five, he didn't have indoor plumbing and as a teen, the only way he got a pair of Levis jeans was to steal them off someone's clothes line. The father's OCD also prevented the kids from playing with others, in bed by 6pm, when not salvaging wood and coal to keep the home heated. Little wonder Ken left home at age 15, to begin work in a hotel, as a chef's apprentice. He claims this upbringing causes him to be non-confrontational, just going with the flow, in his adult life and eventually led to his decision to leave Judas Priest.
Chapters three and four are dedicated to a vagabond summer, hitchhiking through Europe and repeatedly seeing Hendrix (his biggest inspiration), as well as first picking up the guitar, learning by doing and ultimately getting Al Atkins and Ian Hill together in a fledgling line-up of Judas Priest, circa '71. By the fifth chapter, 4/5 of the classic Priest line-up is intact and hints of Downing's resistance to voicing concerns/ opposition that would ultimately lead to disagreements with guitar partner Glenn Tipton, begin to raise their head. Some of it might feel uneasy, especially now with Tipton revealing a long hidden Parkinson's diagnosis (Downing only makes mention in the next-to-last paragraph of the book), but KK begins the book by saying he wants to clean the slate and tell the truths as he recalls them. Describing their relationship as walking on egg shells, he insists Tipton regularly and purposefully marginalized Downing's opportunities for solos on records and later cost the band money, by prioritizing family over music.
Lumps together all the early album sessions, admitting he doesn't remember lots of details about any of them, apart from his objections (apparently never voiced) about certain tracks that were atypical "not right" for JP. Chapter six takes the reader from the Rocka Rolla debut to Hellbent For Leather (aka Killing Machine). He admits AC/DC and Status Quo were only bands they couldn't upstage. Next chapter, he talks about the live album rumors (Rob did overdub, but not guitars), British Steel and flap with Iron Maiden, on their, ahem, maiden tour. Chapter 8, it's on to Point Of Entry (blamed on women & drink in Ibiza), Screaming For Vengeance, golf and more on Iron Maiden, although he ultimately has nice things to say about them. Then it's Defenders Of The Faith, the dissolution of his long term relationship (as he earns all the trapping of rock star success), time off, the recording of Turbo and Halford's surprising stint in rehab. Downing says he didn't do drugs and was unaware the singer drank, let alone did anything heavier.
Rob returns and no one asked him about his stint, suffice to say, if he was back, he was "cured." KK sort of glosses over the stumbles of Turbo and Ram It Down, preferring to remember the good stuff: girls & money, not the hit to their credibility. Denies Painkiller was neither a reaction to the heavier end of musical spectrum, nor the aforementioned missteps. Chapter 11 (coincidence it's US code for bankruptcy?) deals not with the Painkiller tour, but the Reno court case: Judas Priest accused in fan's suicide, due to backwards masking. From there, it's on to Halford's departure.
Chapter twelve is one the more interesting, beginning with Downing's own '91 resignation letter (never submitted), the band's war of words with Halford, his feelings on Tipton's solo effort and the Ripper albums, then ultimate reunification. He claims the singer was always estranged from the rest of the band: "After the show, he went his way, we went ours, only to reconvene onstage" and Tipton initially did not want Halford back in the band. The next section goes further into the rift between the two guitarists: Downing stating he's never tried to have a personal (non-musical) conversation with Tipton.
In the final chapter he talks about his reasons for leaving (older, boring touring life) and how well his life is, to date. Although he mentions Tipton's Parkinson in the next to last paragraph, he blames the guitarist's inability to stop songs on-time, to his drinking. One of KK's many pet peeves about Tipton. He offers no thoughts on the post-Downing line-up. Given the recent court proceedings, where Ken lost his estate and his one-third of all songwriting royalties (as well as his perceived complaint about not being asked to re-join, in favor of producer-turned-Priest, Andy Sneap), the sunny, "I'll be OK" finale rings a little hollow.
With his seemingly main nemesis Tipton out of the picture (physically unable to perform) and Sneap probably unwilling to forego his lucrative production career, might KK Downing be tempted (post-financial disaster) out of retirement, for one last hurrah? That would be a more fitting ending!