The world of metal was rocked (no pun intended) on Wednesday, April 20, 2011 when Judas Priest issued this statement:
It is with regret that Judas Priest announce that K.K. DOWNING has formally retired from the band and will therefore not be joining them on their forthcoming EPITAPH Tour.
The band respect his decision and naturally all wish him well.
There’s a more fleshed-out (and rather upbeat & casual) press release linked with that statement that basically states the band plans to continue on with the Epitaph world tour (for those that don’t know, it is being hyped as the band’s final major world tour) and also still has plans to record and release a new album next year. Oh yeah, and the replacement is 31-year-old Richie Faulkner from England. I had never heard of him before but his most noticeable credit is playing in Lauren Harris’ (the daughter of Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris) band.
The whole thing with Priest has been weird for a while. First, there was the vague announcement that they were retiring and that the 2011 Epitaph tour would be their farewell tour. Weeks later, they backtracked and said “No, this is just our last MAJOR world tour and we’re still going to make new music”.
Which is fine. I think most people realize these guys are 60-ish and deserve the break from the rigors of the road. They are legends and deserve to sit back and relax for the rest of their lives if that’s what they want.
But who exactly in the band wants that? Here is the press release issued by K.K. on April 21, 2011:
It is with much regret that I will not be with you this summer. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your concerns about my health. Please rest assured that I am O.K.
There has been an ongoing breakdown in working relationship between myself, elements of the band, and the band’s management for some time.
Therefore I have decided to step down rather than to tour with negative sentiments as I feel that this would be a deception to you, our cherished fans.
However I would urge you to please support the Priest as I have no doubt that it will be a show not to be missed.
All my love and respect,
For a while, it seemed like K.K. was the only one issuing updates on the Epitaph/recording plans, so you would think he was all for it. Perhaps Downing, and Downing alone, was the one pushing for a slower pace for Priest? Obviously, when K.K. mentions the band’s management there are some money factors at play. I’m guessing management (and perhaps the rest of Priest) have decided they want to continue full-steam ahead while K.K. is still wanting to operate at a slower pace. I think at some point all members were on board with some type of reduced schedule but money talks so it appears some members are more willing to keep up the pace than others. Perhaps this is similar situation to what Dream Theater recently went through.
Not that either side is wrong. No matter who wants to continue, who wants a reduced schedule or who wants it to all just be done — no one is really wrong. All of those options have their positive and negatives and while we certainly don’t know the full story (yet), I don’t begrudge Downing, Halford, Tipton or Hill for their choices in this matter.
I will continue to support Priest. Will it be the same band? Of course not. It’s going to be a different beast (especially when it comes to the new album) but I am not going to write them off. Who is to say the music still can’t be good? Priest isn’t just going to bring in any ol’ guy. The fact that they announced K.K.’s “retirement” from Priest and Richie’s joining in the same press release just means this is NOT something out of the blue and I know Richie had to have been carefully picked by Rob & Glenn. So in that regards, I think in a live setting the band will do just fine.
What I’m actually quite anxious to see is how the new album will turn out. The Halford/Tipton/Downing songwriting team has been responsible for some all-metal classics. Are we down to Halford/Tipton? Is Faulkner a hired gun like drummer Scott Travis or will Rob & Glenn let Richie flex some creative muscles? It will be very interesting either way and I hope K.K. will not wash his hands of music at this point. I would love to hear what he would offer up on a solo album.
Certainly, any way you slice it, this is very sad news. I’m hoping even if they have decided they cannot be business partners that the guys are still going to remain friends. You’d think even if Downing and the band had a difference of opinion on the future they could at least work through this final major tour but apparently not.
My feeling is that at some point Downing will be back. My fear is that it will be too late to really make a difference. These guys are not getting any younger and at this point in their lives they should be cherishing every moment they can have together as a band. For a veteran band, losing such a vital member this late in the game this can really set them back a ways. At least I was able to see the group in 2009.
Thank you, K.K., for all the decades of great music. I wish you the best.