"I used to shut the curtains, put on the headphones, drop the needle and not move a muscle till the final note": This is the soundtrack of K.K. Downing's life

KK Downing studio portrait
(Image credit: Adam Gasson)

Born in West Bromwich in 1951, KK Downing was a member of Judas Priest from 1969 to 2011, and his guitar partnership with Glenn Tipton was a defining element of the band’s ever-anthemic brand of heavy metal. 

Last year Downing was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame with the group. Currently he leads his own band, KK’s Priest.


The first music I remember hearing

You Really Got Me by The Kinks, back in 1964. I remember thinking: “Why do I like this? Aren’t The Kinks supposed to be a pop band?” Later on I realised that I loved You Really Got Me because it was a riff song. That riff got you up and out of your chair, didn’t it? 

The first song I performed live

Before Priest, I joined a pop band. We did weddings and stuff. My debut gig would have been in a Working Men’s Club. It may not have been the first song of the night, but I remember we did Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree [a 1973 hit for Tony Orlando & Dawn]. I wish I still had the set-list. I’d probably choke. 

The greatest album of all time

It’s got to be Electric Ladyland. I was already a Hendrix fan when it came out [in 1968], and I just loved it. Electric Ladyland was pretty eclectic, and it gripped me. I used to shut the curtains, put on the headphones, drop the needle and not move a muscle till the final note.

The guitar hero

Without a doubt it’s Hendrix again. He was the all-in-one package. Jimi was a brilliant musician, he wrote incredible songs, and he sang as well. Nobody before or since was as charismatic.

The singer

The guy that really, really impressed me early on was Ian Gillan. Deep Purple In Rock, and particularly the song Child In Time when Gillan hit those high notes. That’s why when I found Rob Halford, who could do the same thing and lived not too far away, it was a dream come true. 

The songwriter

Again, and I’m sorry about this, I’ll say Jimi Hendrix. Hearing Jimi Hendrix was my first good healthy dose of heavy metal. Those riffs – Foxy Lady and Purple Haze – were something completely new.

The cult hero

Leslie West. His albums with Mountain were so important for an army of guitar players. He had such a brilliant guitar tone. Theme For An Imaginary Western, which was written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown [on 1970’s Climbing!] had a wonderful solo that consisted of maybe four or five notes.

The best record I made

[Laughing] No apologies, I must pick my albums by KK’s Priest: Sermons Of The Sinner [2021] and the new one, Sinner Rides Again. They’re both very, very kick-ass and I’m proud of them both. They epitomise everything about me and who I am. They continue my legacy [with Judas Priest] and carry the hallmarks of the past.

The worst record I made

Jesus, I’ll have to go with [Judas Priest’s 1981 album] Point Of Entry. But then again there are some great songs on that one. That’s so, so hard to answer.

The best band I've seen

Once again, Jimi Hendrix. The most memorable of all the times I saw him was at the Coventry Theatre in 1967. That concert will stay with me till the day I die.

My guilty pleasure

This might shock you, but I really love Leonard Cohen’s first album [Songs Of Leonard Cohen]. I was dating a girl who owned it, and I was surprised to realise that it had some stuff for me. His righthand picking technique was wonderful.

The most underrated band ever

They’ve been together for fifty years, but I’ll pick Wishbone Ash. They were rated at the time, though maybe not so much any more, I guess. I only grew to like them in the last years ten years or so, but nobody could deny that they were so influential.

The best live album

I’d like to say [Judas Priest’s] Unleashed In The East, but another that jumps out at me is Tokyo Tapes by the Scorpions. I liked that one a lot when it came out [in 1978]. It had Uli Jon Roth doing his Hendrix-y thing, and some amazing songs.

My Saturday night/party song

Anything by AC/DC. They always get me pumped up and ready to rock. Nobody does it better. 

The anthem

It’s got to be Twisted Sister. I saw them a few years ago, and when they played We’re Not Gonna Take It the crowd just went ballistic.

My ‘in the mood for love’ song

I’ll go back to that Leonard Cohen album I just mentioned, for Suzanne. It worked then, so why shouldn’t it work now?

The song I want played at my funeral

I’d be happy with Purple Haze, the song that made me pledge my soul to what became heavy metal.

The Sinner Rides Again is out now via Napalm.

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.