KK Downing – Heavy Duty – A Book Review

As a long time fan of Judas Priest, I have been eagerly awaiting guitarist KK Downing’s autobiography, Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest, which hit the shelves on September 18.  The book was co-written with Mark Eglinton and published by Da Capo Books. Heavy Duty delves into the backstage goings on of the band for the four decades that Downing spent with the mighty Priest. It is a well written autobiography that takes us from his troubled upbringing with an abusive father to the forming and departure from one of the world’s most original and influential heavy metal bands.

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of KK Downing’s new book, Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest, I just wanted to take a minute to acknowledge what KK and Priest have meant to me since I was a 13 year old dreamer.  The first album I ever owned by Judas Priest, and the one I still consider my favorite, was Defenders of the Faith.  The Defenders tour was also the first time I ever saw the band live, at the Civic Centre in Ottawa, Canada.  Since that night on March 31,1984, I have seen the band an additional 6 times, in 4 cities on 2 continents.  (Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Seoul).  I have seen them with Ripper Owens, Richie Faulkner and with Andy Sneap.  I have a custom made guitar created by my good pal, Mark Morris, that was designed to be a tribute to KK’s classic red Gibson V.  He was also the first rock star that I ever interviewed for my previous website, Korea Guitar. (read it here)  I’m a fan.  Always have been, always will be.

Because Judas Priest has avoided controversy and scandal,  the stories in Heavy Duty will be revelations to most Judas Priest fans.  Unlike bands like Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses, whose off stage exploits far overshadow the onstage, musical glory, Judas Priest let their music speak for itself.  

A good portion of Heavy Duty follows Downing during his difficult upbringing. I’m usually not a big fan of the childhood portion of rock star autobiographies, but this one was hard to skip over.  It’s absolutely incredible that Downing made it out of his small hometown to become anything, much less an internationally renowned guitar player. 

I don’t want to give away too much information on the contents of the book, but Downing delivers many insights into the inner-workings of the band.  What surprised me the most in Heavy Duty was that, despite the obvious musical chemistry that KK and guitarist Glenn Tipton had onstage, there was significant tension behind the scenes.  He also talks about his  issues with Iron Maiden.  I knew there was a rivalry between the two bands, but I never knew there was animosity between them, to the point of KK attempting to have them banned from Priest tours.  

He speaks in detail about the Ripper Owens years, the Halford comeback, the groupies, the recording process for each album, his personal life and the difficulties he had sustaining relationships and, of course, the change in image to leather and studs, which would become the model for heavy metal bands worldwide for years to come. 

I would have liked to read more about his choice of gear, specifically the Gibson Flying V guitar.  I have always been interested in why guitarists choose a certain brand over another.  The book focuses more on the human interaction side of the band rather than the technical aspects.  That’s likely why the gear wasn’t mentioned in Heavy Duty.

I have a new insight into one of my favorite bands, and favorite guitarists of all time.  Downing seems to be a low-key individual who definitely lived the rock star life, but never let it destroy him.  In this well written autobiography, it’s very difficult to walk away without a newfound admiration for a true guitar legend.

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