Yesterday I summed up the long line at the Judas Priest drummer’s spot, and also covered the absence of Rob Halford from the group. After 2003 Rob was back and the band’s line-up was stable for several years. Then around the turn of the decade, things started getting weird.
In 2010 the band announced their retirement after a multi-year world farewell tour. Then, somewhat out of nowhere, they announced they were working on a new album and that they were not retiring. It was an odd series of statements that didn’t seem to fully address what caused them to change their minds and it was a confusing period of time, not knowing if they were done or not. A bit of light was shed on things the next year
K.K. Downing retires, replaced by Richie Faulkner
In 2011, Downing announced his individual retirement from Priest. He expressed a desire to pursue other interests, which would involve golf course design. Downing departed on great terms and has led a quiet life in his post-Priest career.
First, let’s quickly run through the new guy, Richie Faulkner. Richie is a British guitarist who had logged time in several bands, including playing with Lauren Harris. If that name isn’t familiar, she is the daughter of Iron Maiden legend Steve Harris. The elder Harris had produced some of Richie’s other bands and had already tabbed Richie as an option if anything happened to any of Maiden’s twelve (or three) guitarists.
Instead, Richie wound up in Judas Priest. He remains with them to this day and is likely to stick with the group through the close. While he’s had some detractors, he has been largely embraced by the Priest fanbase and is an excellent guitarist as well as a seemingly great person. He is also the kid of the group – far younger than anyone else in the band and hell, a few years younger than me.
But the focal point of K.K. Downing’s departure has always been K.K. Downing. His exit from Priest left a lot of fans upset and the specifics that have come out since 2011 have been a hotbed of drama. I won’t run down a lot of it – if anyone is interested in learning more, either read Downing’s 2017 biography Heavy Duty: Days and Nights In Judas Priest or read any Blabbermouth.net article about Downing as they run down the whole history anytime he gives an interview.
But it is clear there were personality clashes in the band, and it’s fairly clear who the main adversary was for Downing. If it wasn’t clear right at the time everything happened, it would become much clearer a few years later.
Glenn Tipton steps aside, replaced by Andy Sneap
In 2018, Glenn Tipton announced he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He had struggled with the disease for about a decade before stepping down as Priests’ regular touring guitarist. Tipton would remain a creative member of the band, but would only make sporadic appearances for a few songs on tour.
Tipton’s replacement was renowned producer Andy Sneap, also a guitarist in classic British act Sabbat and part of the reformed Hell. Sneap would serve as the touring guitarist in Tipton’s place while Tipton would continue performing in studio.
Many fans asked the obvious question – if Judas Priest needed a new guitar player, why not their old one? K.K. Downing had not been involved with music since leaving several years earlier and was clearly cut out for the job. Downing himself publicly stated that he would like to come back to the band, but no one reached out to him about the vacancy.
Again, I’m not going to get into the specifics of the drama surrounding Downing and Priest. It’s clear the issues center around Glenn Tipton and there are plenty of Downing interviews readily available where he discusses what happened. And Priest management was also a target of Downing’s ire. That would seem fitting, since just last week longtime Priest manager Jayne Andrews did a podcast where she dumped on Downing in regards to his appearance at the Hall of Fame induction. All other reports from Downing and Priest members about that time had been glowing, so the Andrews interview was a bit of a shock. Maybe not as shocking when it’s known that she is also the long-time partner of Glenn Tipton.
Clearly I don’t know any of these people and I don’t want to get into casting aspersions when I don’t have a lot of information. But it’s also clear that Priest have some management issues. Think back to Rob Halford’s departure in the 1990’s – all he wanted to do was a side project. He had to “quit” the band due to contract technicalities. Instead, he was gone for a decade. And there has been a lot of mudslinging and bad press over the K.K. Downing retirement, a lot more and sustained for a lot longer than many band breakups.
And there’s one more line-up change, albeit minor, that might highlight more odd issues in Priest management. This one happened earlier in the year.
Andy Sneap is dismissed, replaced by … wait for it … Andy Sneap
In early 2022, Priest announced that Andy Sneap would no longer be a touring guitarist. He would focus on producing the new record. The band would tour as a four-piece, with Faulkner being the sole guitarist. The thought of one guitar player in Judas Priest sent fans into a frenzy, and not long after, Sneap was reinstated as the second guitarist. Rob Halford was the one who fell on a sword in public, taking blame for the decision to initially dismiss Sneap.
While this is little more than a footnote in Priest lore, it does speak to how the band is run. I’m personally not buying that Halford was the one who had anything to do with the fiasco. Maybe he did, but I think he took one for the team and jumped on the grenade because he has the most goodwill among fans and could easier absorb the backlash. The Sneap thing was a mess and the idea of Priest heading out without two guitar players is just unreal.
That does it for Judas Priest line-up changes – for now, anyway. Priest is a legend among legends in heavy metal, no dispute there. But they have some wonky management and get up to some weird shit at times. The drama surrounding K.K. Downing still lives on, even as Downing has his own band now featuring former Priest singer Tim “Ripper” Owens. And the Downing fire is one that likely won’t die in the press or the respective comment sections anytime soon. It’s a monster at this point.
But at the end of the day we still get music from some configuration of a band that’s been running for over 50 years now. There is something to be said for that.