How K.K. Downing Feels About Judas Priest’s ‘Turbo’ + ‘Rocka Rolla’ Now
Former Judas Priest guitarist and co-founding member K.K. Downing looked back to two divisive points in the band's catalog, offering a fresh assessment of their debut album, Rocka Rolla and the synth guitar-charged 1986 record Turbo in a recent interview with Loudwire.
While most of our conversation was guided by Sermons of the Sinner, the debut album by Downing's new band, KK's Priest, revisiting some of Priest's history was inevitable as the legendary guitarist aims to reestablish his presence in metal after leaving the band in 2011.
Time has a way of altering perceptions, for better or for worse, and, as the adage says, is capable of healing old wounds. In this case, one of those wounds involves Priest's decision to use synth guitars on the 1986 album Turbo, which many found to be heretical at the time and an affront to the integrity and purity of heavy metal.
Regarding perception, the Rocka Rolla debut has always felt like an anomaly in the Judas Priest catalog as the band was still in the midst of finding their direction, both sonically and visually as their music and stage garb was obviously indebted to some of the psychedelic movement of just a few years prior.
Now, however, these two records are a brilliant snapshot of pivotal moments in time and underscore the evolution all bands undergo.
"I love it because I actually have the advantage of knowing how the songs were played and sounded live, we just didn't capture that in the studio," Downing said of Rocka Rolla, which came out in 1974 and was produced by Rodger Bain, who had helmed Black Sabbath's first three records. It was also the only Priest album to feature drummer John Hinch, who died earlier this year, and sported a production that failed to highlight just how heavy the music actually was.
"I would like to pay tribute to John and to the album," added Downing when speaking about his ambitions to take KK's Priest on the road. "When we go out and do some performances, I would like to revisit it and just give people a taste of what it actually was like and turn the clock back to all of those years ago to the end of the '60s and the early '70s."
Judas Priest Perform on The Old Grey Whistle Test (John Hinch on drums)
Regarding Turbo, it was relayed that from the perspective of someone born in 1989 (which would be this writer), the album was viewed favorably after first hearing it half a lifetime ago and even those who decried it in '86 seem to have come around and are much more accepting of the style that was presented across its nine tracks.
"It's all about timing," asserted Downing, "It isn't when you release the record — some of the records may have been released at the right time, but maybe only a couple others were either released a bit too early or a bit too late, and I think that can happen to a lot of bands."
Citing what is now regarded as one of the band's best records, the guitarist explained, "Painkiller, for example, wasn't a big success when we released it. It was a bit of a hard sell, and I say that because we started off playing five songs from the record [on tour] and quite quickly, we were down to three or two. We were dropping songs because of the unfamiliarity [the fans had with them]. It wasn't exactly what people wanted or expected from Priest at that time and neither was Turbo."
"Albums like that, at some point, do become recognized and accepted," he acknowledged and noted that British Steel and Screaming for Vengeance arrived at exactly the right time.
Thanks to K.K. Downing for the interview. 'Sermons of the Sinner,' the debut album by KK's Priest, will be out Aug. 20 on EX1 Records. Pre-order your copy here and follow the band on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.
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