Retirepower: The End of Judas Priest’s Dual Guitar Assault

I think I heard Iron Maiden first. That’s how it happened, according to my last few unfried brain cells.  I don’t remember where or when I first heard Judas Priest, but I remember instantly comprehending the difference between both band’s takes on the ever coveted “twin guitar attack.” Where Maiden’s Dave Murray and Adrian Smith dealt in finesse, almost writing in calligraphy, Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing were more binary to me. It was all about power. There was nothing delicate or whimsical to Judas Priest.  It was a 10-ton war machine. Fast forward maybe a year or so, and yours truly was shoplifting Priest CDs from his local mall’s big chain CD stores. (Sorry, Mom. I know you still read all my articles). That was where my love affair with Judas Priest and their twin-guitar attack began. Now we are here in 2018, the band’s 49th year of existing, and the metal gods are starting to show signs of wear.

We have all heard the news of Glenn Tipton’s retirement from Judas Priest due to Parkinson’s Disease earlier this year. I don’t think it’s necessarily surprising that a 70-year-old would retire from a job, let alone a heavy metal band; that’s not what I am saying. It just hurts on a very particular level. We all think our heroes are bulletproof to some degree. They lived on the backs of the album covers, the posters, the cut outs from Hit Parader that I glued to my binders in high school. They were held in the same respect as Marvel characters: invincible. With the news of one of my heroes silently dealing with a debilitating ailment for 10 straight years without leaving the front lines, nothing changed. Tipton still seemed superhuman to me. The fact he could muster up the strength to still wear studs and leather and play “Painkiller” every night is not lost on me. So where as some might feel sorry or sad about this situation, I applaud Glenn in every way, and raise every glass to him.  

Obviously, this wasn’t the first blow to Priest’s guitar duo. Founding member K.K. Downing retired from the Priest machine back in 2011. I started piecing together some feelings when the news about Tipton surfaced: If Glenn knew 10 years ago that he had Parkinson’s, (that would be in 2008, folks) do you think that affected K.K.’s reasoning to retire? In a 2016 interview, Downing stated that he wasn’t happy with the live performances, and that was one of his “21 reasons” for retiring.  I can’t help but imagine how watching your longtime creative partner struggle with an illness could affect your own desire to throw in the towel.  

Flash forward to this week, where Mr. Downing himself decides to weigh in on Tipton’s retiring, claiming to be “shocked and stunned” that he wasn’t invited back to the band. My blood started to boil a little bit here. I felt guilty and embarrassed to harbor ill feelings towards another hero, but here you go. First off:  you left the band! If I quit my job at Season of Mist right now, and then seven years later found out they had a position opened, would I be butthurt that they asked someone else? No. I get that a band who has existed for almost half a century is a little different than an indie metal label, but you get what I’m saying here. Second, say they did ask Downing to come back. There would be two awkward scenarios as far as guitar playing is concerned. Either K.K. would have to forget 40-some years of muscle memory and spend months learning his old partner’s parts, or his replacement Richie Faulkner (who we will talk about in a bit) would have to do the same. This is when you start realizing that Andy Sneap makes a lot of sense to be the new touring guitarist. He has a pedigree with the likes of Sabbat and Hell, and he has basically been the sixth member of Priest for the last album’s recording process. Why would you pick your “ex-girlfriend” who hasn’t played a show since 2011 in lieu of the person who probably knows every riff on your new album by default? As much as I’d love to see K.K. on stage again, it seems like a completely logistical choice.  

The moment you’ve all been waiting for: Here comes my unabashed fanboy Richie Faulkner rant. In the wake of Downing’s retirement in 2011, you’d think maybe Priest would call it a day, or maybe hire a legacy guitarist instead like Slayer did. Nope. Based on a suggestion from Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris, in walks Richie Faulkner. He got his start opening for Maiden with Harris’ daughter Lauren’s band, which would be a cool enough opportunity for any young guitarist. Once he entered Priest, he injected a fresh dose of youth into the fold and, in my humble opinion, invigorated the entire band. To have some fresh energy in a 40+ year old band is not a bad thing. Plus, the kid can play. It’s not that I didn’t miss seeing K.K. up there next to Glenn, but I am very happy in general about who has been picked to fly the flag for a new generation of Priest fans.

To put a nice little bow on my opinions here, it will be strange to see one of the greatest metal bands of all time on tour this year without the two people that helped make them so special, but I am the same guy that will go see current day KISS without any hesitation. Plus, you still have one of the most important living vocalists and front men of all time onstage. Hell, I’d go see Rob Halford do a spoken word set at a Barnes and Noble for all I care. I still plan on catching the local date of their upcoming Firepower U.S. tour, and I will be screaming for vengeance along with the metal gods in France at this year’s Hellfest. Even if your opinions differ from mine, and you decide to StubHub your tickets after getting the news about Tipton, that’s okay, too. Know why? Because liking Judas Priest in any capacity is the coolest thing a person can ever do in their life. John Waters had a great quote: “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!” Without being too uncouth here, that’s how I feel about Judas Priest. If you end up at someone’s place and there isn’t an LP of British Steel in their collection, head out for the highway. Hail Priest and Hail Tipton forever.