Where music groups are concerned lineup changes are part and parcel of things, though some which transpire are more surprising than others. Arguably none are more surprising than when K.K. Downing left Judas Priest, but as the late, great Freddie Mercury said the show must go on. With that being said the man has left immense shoes to fill, so an uphill battle is definitely on the cards for his replacement.
On October 11th, 2011, Legacy / Sony issued Judas Priest compilation album "The Chosen Few". The tracks in question were chosen by many famous names in the hard rock / heavy metal domain, including Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler, Metallica's James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, Kiss' Gene Simmons, Slash, Alice Cooper and Slipknot's Corey Taylor.
It had been announced on April 20th that Priest's longtime guitarist of forty years, K.K. Downing, would be retiring with immediate effect and that erstwhile Lauren Harris and Voodoo Six axeman Richie Faulkner would be taking his place. On May 24th at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel in Hollywood, he was formally introduced at a press conference where a question and answer session took place. Dubbed "Epitaph", Judas Priest embarked on a farewell world tour, likely their last fully-fledged world tour. To date, the last Judas Priest full-length to be released is June 2008's "Nostradamus", a double-disc affair that clocked in at well over ninety minutes. A new album is seemingly imminent.
On September 23rd at 20:00 GMT, a Sony representative telephoned Hit The Lights' Robert Gray and connected him to Judas Priest guitarist Richie Faulkner to discuss his arrival and "The Chosen Few".
Richie Faulkner: Hello?
UG: How are you Richie?
How are you doing?
I'm doing well... First of all Richie, how did you come to join Judas Priest?
I got a phone call right out of the blue from management. I thought it was a joke really. As I've said before, it was like one of those phone calls where you don't really believe it's true. I got the phone call, and then I went to meet the guys. I went up to Glenn's house the next day to meet Glenn, and Rob was there as well. We had a discussion and I played a few bits and pieces for them, and we went from there really. They sent me a few tracks because they wanted to hear what I'd play on those tracks on the solos, and we went from there. I went back about a week later, and they offered me the gig.
How did you come to be recommended?
Through a mutual friend. It was someone that they contacted, and he put my name forward. He basically said "Why don't you give this guy a call?", and they did. They called me on a wrong number, so they sent me two emails. I thought they were junk mail, so I deleted them. I didn't think they were genuine. They started to track me down and eventually got my actual number, so luckily they got the right number.
Did you have to keep news of this quiet for a month?
They just wanted to make sure that everything was right. From their point of view, they didn't want to go public with it straight away. There were a sequence of events that had to take place before they went public. That's basically what we did, and then it went public. Everything was in place, and we were all ready for the tour ready for rehearsals.
How did you feel when Judas Priest formally introduced you at a press conference in Hollywood on May 24th, 2011?
That was obviously the first time we'd publicly gone to the press like that as a group, and I think the people interviewing were very supportive and were really interested in how things were gonna be from now on. They asked me a few questions like what you're asking me now, like my initial reaction and how it all came about, what my favourite albums were and stuff like that. It was great to go out to the States and promote the North American tour, and go on 'American Idol'. It was a great opening platform for me personally and for the band too, so it was a great thing to do.
What were the practice sessions like?
Amazing. Again, I was a fan of the band anyway. Before I got the phone call I was a big fan of Priest, and to actually get in a rehearsal room and play with the guys was just a dream come true. It was a great honour just to be recommended for the gig, and then just to get the gig and go to rehearsals with guys that I've looked up to my whole life really was a great honour. The first initial day was just great really, it was just amazing. The first week of rehearsals was just the band - just the music - so that was me, Glenn, Ian and Scott, and then a week later Rob came down. It was just amazing; it was amazing to watch these guys and see what they're doing close up, and to watch Rob - Rob's phenomenal. It was an amazing experience to play with the band.
For fans who don't know so much about your past, tell me about your musical career prior to Judas Priest.
Prior to Judas Priest I was in a band with Lauren Harris, who is Steve Harris' daughter. We did a couple of world tours with Maiden, we went on tour with Within Temptation and Thunder and we played the Cre Fest in 2009. Before that I was in a band called Voodoo Six, and it was like a heavy rock outfit. Me and the bass player were also in a band before that called Dirty Deeds, so Dirty Deeds was the first professional outfit I'd been in. I think I was about twenty to twenty-one when I joined that band, and Steve Harris was the executive producer on the record that I did with them. Through that Steve Harris connection I got the gig with Lauren, and then through that Priest gave me a call. Priest knew that I'd been on a couple of world tours; they knew that I had the experience in that area, and they knew that I had done it before and that I knew what to expect. That definitely helped in me getting a job with Priest.
What is Steve Harris like behind the scenes then?
He's just a regular guy like me and you - he likes the same things we like. He's a great guy, he's a good friend and he's a great mentor as well. You can go and ask him for advice, and about anything you're not sure about. I've been in the studio with him a couple of times, and it's great to bounce ideas off of him and it's great to write stuff with him. Me and Lauren were writing a few things a few years ago, and he would come in and add what he thinks. He's a great mentor, and it's like the guys in Priest really; they're great mentors, and they've been doing this for well over thirty years. They're great people to learn from, and they can teach you a lot. They're all just great guys.
Judas Priest has issued a compilation album entitled 'The Chosen Few'. If you had to compile such an album yourself, what Judas Priest tracks would be on there?
First of all, the live set as it is at the moment is just phenomenal. For me as a fan, I think the set as it is at the moment should go straight on there. It starts up with "Rapid Fire", "Metal Gods" and goes right through the first album with "Never Satisfied", "Victim Of Changes" from 'Sad Wings Of Destiny', and then "Night Crawler" from 'Pain Killer' - it's all there. There's another song which I'd put on there personally. I don't know if it's a favourite, but "Jawbreaker" (from 'Defenders Of The Faith') I love, "Night Comes Down". There's too many to mention, really. I love "Out In The Cold" (from 'Turbo'), which I think is a fantastic song. If it was my compilation CD there would be about four discs worth because you can't get all of my favourite Priest songs onto one or two discs. There'd have to be about a million discs, or maybe just the whole collection (laughs). That'd be the best answer.
Do you have a favourite Judas Priest album? Or perhaps you have a favourite era of the band?
This changes all the time, but the first Priest album that I heard was 'Painkiller'. I'd been aware of Priest songs like "Breaking The Law" and "Living After Midnight", but I didn't really know that they were by Judas Priest. I became aware of 'Painkiller' and worked my way through the back catalogue, but probably my favourite album is 'Defenders Of The Faith'. That normally changes, so then I'll go to another album and I'll start listening to another album more than others, but 'Defenders Of The Faith' is normally more a consistent favourite in my collection.
You said that the first album you heard of Judas Priest's was 'Painkiller'. Would you agree that the record was a landmark album for Judas Priest, in that the band proved they could hang with the heavier groups emerging at the time?
I think it was in a sense, and I think a lot of Judas Priest albums were landmark albums. With all of their albums they seemed to change their sound slightly, but remained true to the Judas Priest sound. In my mind they seemed to experiment slightly with albums like 'Turbo' you had the synth stuff, and again, as you said it was a different thing again. Definitely in my mind at the time there were a lot heavier bands at the time of 'Painkiller' - bands like Metallica - but when 'Painkiller' came out it put Judas Priest at the forefront again in that genre of music. So yeah, maybe you're right about that.
"K.K. Downing was a guitar hero idol of mine, and I'm not there to replace any of that."
How do you feel about replacing K. K. Downing?
First of all, as I said before it was a huge honour just to be even considered. I've been a fan of the band for years, and so it was a bit of a double-edged sword really; it was a great opportunity for me as a guitar player and as a fan, but at the same time he was one of my heroes and didn't want to do it anymore. It was a double-edged sword really, but I've always said to people, as a fan myself I know what fans expect. Judas Priest weren't to carry on and they were asking me to join to be able to carry on, so it was a no-brainer in my mind. One of the guys who was my idol had left, and you have to respect the guys' decision. The band wanted to carry on, and again it was a great honour to do it and it was a great honour to be put forward. I'm not there to replace a forty-year career; Ken's career was influential, and before those two guys came out and did that style of guitar there weren't many people doing it. He was a guitar hero idol of mine, and I'm not there to replace any of that. I know as a fan what the fans expect, and I'm just there to do the best I can for the band and the fans.
How has fan reaction been then?
Initially I think people were sceptical, which is natural really. I think I would've been sceptical because right up until Ken's departure it was like that for forty years, and if something changes people's first reactions tend to be an unsure one. When people are unsure they're fearful of the outcome. We're through the worst, and as I said people are sceptical but we knew that as soon as we got out and did the first couple of shows and went from there that the fans would see with their own eyes and their own ears that the band is fine and that it's a good fit. Hats off to the fans really for giving it that chance; they still got their tickets and gave the band a chance, and hopefully they weren't and won't be disappointed. They've been fantastic, and with every show that we do the more of an amazing welcome reaction I get. A big thank you to them really for giving me the chance and the band a chance.
How do you go about interpreting parts you didn't play on?
Being a fan I was familiar with K. K.'s style, and I always felt that what K. K. did on record and what he played live differed slightly. He used to keep the same motifs live, so there were certain bits in the solos that he kept the same and with other parts he used to improvise and do his own thing and I'm a big fan of that. I've always been that sort of player - Hendrix used to do that as well. His approach is similar in the way that I play as well, so I kept that similar. I didn't have to really think a lot about how to interpret what he was doing, and how I was gonna play it live. It was part of my make-up as a player anyway. I like to take those motifs in a song and in a solo based on the vibe and the energy, and just make it a bit different and go off somewhere else. I think that's a big part of Ken's playing, and live music in general; it changes slightly, you never know what quite to expect and you also want to sing along to those certain parts in the solo, so I kept them in as well. It wasn't something that I had to think about because it was something that I incorporated into my playing anyway, so it was quite similar in that respect.
So you've definitely put your stamp on the live sound of Judas Priest?
In a sense. I mean, I just do what I do and maybe people can hear a different sound or a different stamp on certain things. I'm sure they can, but I just tried to do the best that I could do with what I knew to do, what I knew of K. K.'s playing and what I knew of the band's style and sound. I just stayed true to that really, and as I said it was part of the style of music that I play anyway. I grew up in metal; I didn't have to change my sound, and I didn't have to change the way I play. It was inherited from those guys anyway, so it's an expression of my playing with all that mixed in - Priest, Maiden, Metallica, all of that stuff that I was into as a younger player. As I said, it was all inherited from those guys so it's all in there.
"If it was my compilation CD there would be about four discs worth because you can't get all of my favourite Priest songs onto one or two discs."
Obviously, twin guitars is a big part of the Judas Priest sound. With that in mind, how do you go about interacting with Glenn musically speaking?
Again, I'm a big fan of that genre. I was into Priest, I was into Maiden, I was into Thin Lizzy. I was into all the dual guitar bands really, so again it comes natural. Interacting with him in a live sense is just a natural thing. It's like a group of guys up there who play music and it unites you, so when there's double harmonies or double leads you bounce off of each other and interact with each other. Again, it's different every night. You might be somewhere different onstage, and you look over at Glenn and you're interacting over different guitar parts. It's amazing really, but like I said it's just a group of people interacting with each other. It just comes naturally, and then the fans become a part of that as well. It becomes a big family of metal people in there, because it's just fantastic really.
Have you been writing anything for a new Judas Priest album?
The plan is we're hopefully gonna get together, and throw down some ideas as soon as we get some time. I write quite a lot on the road; I bring out a recording rig, and I record little ideas, little riffs, little melodies and stuff like that as I go along. The plan is as soon as we get a bit of time, me and Glenn are gonna throw some ideas around. There are a few songs floating around at the moment. There's a few songs that've been mixed, and there are another few songs that've been worked on not completely, but the ideas are there. It's a work in progress at the moment; it's just finding the time to get together to finish off some recordings and write together and finish it off. Hopefully we'll have some time early next year to do that.
Obviously these initial ideas are at an early stage, but if you were to compare these ideas to past Judas Priest material how would you do so?
The songs I've heard which the band have put together already are very full-on Judas Priest. I think they've got the concept album out of their system, which I think was an amazing piece of work. The 'Nostradamus' album was an amazing thing, but by the same token they've also gotten that out of their system. They're now looking to do a full, balls-out Judas Priest heavy metal record. That's what I've heard in the initial ideas of what's been shown to me, and also that's the sort of stuff I write anyway. I think we can expect - as I said - a full-on, balls-out Judas Priest record. Again, it's just a matter of getting the time to go in and do it which is pretty exciting really. We need to put time aside to do it.
Thanks for speaking to me Richie, and all the best with Judas Priest.
Thank you very much Robert.
Take care. Bye.
Interview by Robert Gray
"They sent me two emails. I thought they were junk mail, so I deleted them. I didn't think they were genuine."