Glenn Tipton says Judas Priest was shocked by K.K. Downing’s departure


By Steve Newton

When Judas Priest announced its final world tour last month headbangers far and wide, young and ancient, stained their black-leather pants with a torrent of tears. The British metal icons had been bringing the noise to its followers—off and (mostly) on—since 1969, traversing the globe and selling huge shiploads of albums. The group’s latest release, The Chosen Few, is a collection of career-spanning tracks that was chosen by such die-hard Priest fans as Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, and Lemmy Kilmister.

But as guitarist Glenn Tipton explains on the line from a tour stop in Phoenix, there’s no real reason to grieve the band’s passing and finally bury those crusty earplugs from the ’80s.

“It’s not the end of the band,” he clarifies. “We are gonna do at least one more album, and if the right string of dates were offered to us for the right reasons, we would consider them. But we’re just not gonna schlep around the whole planet again, that’s our thinking.”

Tipton turned 64 on October 25, so you can understand why he might be feeling the rigours of the long, hard road. Another reason for his band’s toning down of its itinerary could be the fact that original guitarist K.K. Downing—who recruited Tipton back in ’74 for Priest’s debut album Rocka Rolla—quit the group last November.

“We were all surprised,” relates Tipton of Downing’s departure. “We were shocked. We didn’t do anything for three months in case he changed his mind, but he was adamant. And it was almost the end of the band. If we hadn’t have found Richie I don’t think we’d be out here now.”

Richie Faulkner is the 31-year-old picker from London who was chosen to fill Downing’s frets last April. A former member of the British bands Deeds, Voodoo Six, and Ace Mafia, he was unknown to the heavy-metal masses at the time of his induction into the Priesthood. Faulkner himself couldn’t believe that a group of its stature was looking to enlist him.

“We actually tried to get in touch with him for a week,” explains Tipton, “and he didn’t return our emails. He thought that it was a joke; he thought it was spam and he kept deleting it. So we had to try another way to get in touch with him, and then he realized that it was the real thing.”

Although Faulkner is only half the age of the player he was hired to replace, his relative inexperience hasn’t been an issue. Tipton claims that the new guy has all the necessary chops, and just as importantly blended into the band straightaway.

“K.K. was such a big part of the band that we just thought he wouldn’t be replaceable,” he says, “but Richie captures the essence of everything that he needs to do. And he puts his own spin on things, too. You have to see it to believe it, really.”

While Judas Priest has never run short of original material—including ’80s hits like “Living After Midnight”, “Breaking the Law”, and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ ”—it has also drawn praise for its choice of covers. On The Chosen Few, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot picked Priest’s 1977 version of Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust”, while both Whitesnake’s David Coverdale and Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe chose its ’78 rendition of Peter Green’s “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”.

“Everybody’s got their own favourite Priest songs for different reasons,” cites Tipton. “It could be a point in your life that was a low point where a Priest song helps you get through, or it could be a happy point in your life when you just enjoy Priest music. Or it could remind you of your college days. I’ve sort of given up being surprised by people’s choices.”

Besides its vast array of proven ear-busters, Judas Priest is noted for its refusal to wimp out as far as on-stage spectacle is concerned, and the current tour is no exception.

“It’s a normal Priest extravaganza,” says Tipton, “with lasers, lights, bikes, flames—you name it, we’ve got it. The music’s always been most important, but we like to punctuate it with a lot of showmanship, if you like.”

And of course that has included the donning of a whole lotta leather over the years as well. So how much longer can a 64-year-old gentleman from Blackheath, England, be expected to decorate himself in the full-on metal regalia?

“I’m still goin’ strong,” claims Tipton, “but, you know, I don’t know how much life I’ve got left in me in terms of putting leather and studs on and going out there and thrashing out heavy metal. I want to retire before people start saying that I should have retired—I think that’s the best way to put it.”

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