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Ex-Judas Priest star KK Downing celebrates Hall of Fame honour with some real heavy metal

Heavy metal icon Ken 'KK' Downing has celebrated Judas Priest entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a photoshoot in Shropshire and a reflection on his beginnings in the West Midlands.

KK Downing at the Engine House at Severn Valley Railway
KK Downing at the Engine House at Severn Valley Railway

The band's former guitarist, who lives near Bridgnorth, enlisted the help of a local photographer to take some shots in Highley with his new award.

"It's such a hard thing to get into," KK said of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "We were nominated in 2017 and didn't make it.

KK Downing at the Engine House at Severn Valley Railway

"It was really great because obviously over the decades we've seen a lot of people not nominated, and lots of people would love to get in.

"It's a very, very difficult thing to achieve. You have to have been prolific. Only three bands in our genre have done it: Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Metallica."

Judas Priest has now been inducted in the category of musical excellence, and a new display in the Hall of Fame shines a light on their legacy.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Judas Priest and its former members were inducted at a ceremony in Los Angeles's Microsoft Theater on November 5, where they performed three of their classic hits; You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, Breaking The Law and Living After Midnight.

After two previous nominations, they were finally welcomed into the iconic institution by American rock legend Alice Cooper, who rained praise down on the heavy metal group.

Cooper said: "They defined the sound we know of heavy metal and their sound is unmistakable.

KK Downing, left, in his Judas Priest days, with singer Rob Halford.

"They’re electrifying on stage and one of the hardest-hitting live bands in the history of rock and roll. Priest has carried the flag of hard rock and heavy metal proudly for something like 50 years, never wavering or following trends or pretending to be anything but exactly what they are.

"They are flying high tonight. Much deserved and long overdue."

The Hall of Fame's official website also waxes lyrical about the heavy metal band: "Judas Priest took the molten steel forged by Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and used it to become metal gods, creating the mould for the future of all heavy metal.

From left, KK Downing, Rob Halford, Scott Travis, Les Binks, and Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest pose in the press room during the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Photo: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP.

"If you’ve seen Judas Priest live, you know the powerful force of their dual guitar attack, driving riffs, soaring operatic vocals – the unapologetic sound of heavy metal played at its absolute best."

Judas Priest was in excellent company, as the 2022 inductees include Dolly Parton, Duran Duran, Carly Simon, Eurythmics, Eminem, and Lionel Richie.

This year's ceremony also made history by inducting six female acts into the Hall of Fame in one go.

Picture perfect

When the institution sent KK his award to acknowledge the honour, he was asked by his management team to take a publicity picture for the award, which could be used on the Hall of Fame website.

The 71-year-old tried to take some selfies, but knew he needed a bit of help to get the right photo, and called on amateur photographer Russell Drye.

The heavy metal star said: "I gave Russell a call and said 'let's pop down to the Engine House at Severn Valley Railway'. I've always related heavy metal to those great big engines - and many of those parts were made in the Black Country.

KK Downing at the Engine House at Severn Valley Railway

"When I used to go on the bus to Bridgnorth as a kid, I'd enjoy fishing and seeing the steam trains - so that's why I chose the venue. Severn Valley has a nice heritage."

He added: "It was closed when we went, so we knocked on the window and grabbed the manager's attention - it was wonderful of her really.

"I had to hurry, as I was on the way to a full medical in Bromsgrove. But it's coming up to Christmas, and the Engine House is such a wonderful facility. It needs more publicity, people need to know how to get here."

Behind the lens

Two of the photos from Russell's shoot have now been used on the Hall of Fame website - an incredible achievement for an amateur photographer.

The striking photos show KK in front of the heavy metal steam trains at the museum, posing with his illustrious Hall of Fame award.

Russell, who also volunteers as a sergeant instructor for the Shropshire Army Cadet Force, said: "As I'm just starting out in this field I'm always on the lookout for photography opportunities. I've known Ken for some years as he employed my eldest stepson when he owned Astbury Hall, and also know he’s a busy man and not easy to get hold of.

KK Downing at the Engine House at Severn Valley Railway

"As it turns out he did have a small window open and agreed to a 45-minute session, even though he was pretty much walking out the door to head to Bromsgrove for a medical - due to him soon to be jetting off around the world.

"I asked him where he thought would be a good place to meet and do the shoot and he recommended one of his favourite places to visit in Highley - the Engine House.

"A huge thank you to the manager Nicky Freeman for allowing us to use the museum for the shoot.

"To my surprise he brought along his guitar and award he has just received for Judas Priest’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was to be televised the day after on HBO in America.

"This was my first proper photoshoot and I was nervous as you can imagine. Ken put me at ease and let me just shoot away. The whole experience was fantastic and enjoyable."

There's no place like home

While KK has travelled all over the world with Judas Priest, he is still proud of his roots and to have been born and bred in West Bromwich.

The band has strong Black Country roots, with KK's former Judas Priest bandmate, Rob Halford, hailing from Walsall.

The 71-year-old also advocates for local music in the Black Country and is the ambassador for a live rock and metal venue in Wolverhampton - KK's Steel Mill.

KK Downing with his award

"I lived in Hill Top, then we moved to the Yew Tree Estate, so I'm very familiar with West Bromwich, with Friar Park and Charlemont Farm," KK said.

"All of that area - West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Walsall, Dudley - it's absolutely wonderful for aspiring young musicians. There are lots of great musicians from here.

"When I was a kid, seeing all those gigs locally was massive. When you think about the venues, you can’t even get your head around it. You’d see Saxon playing Walsall Town Hall, you’d see Free in Freer Street playing a club, you’d see Black Sabbath playing Walsall.

"You could go on a bus and see the same band the next night at Dudley College. There was a pub between Carter’s Green and Wednesbury called The Fountain. I remember going there to see a blues band and you’d bump into Robert Plant who was paying his two shillings to get in.

KK Downing's award for Judas Priest being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

"You’d see him there standing in line to see a little three-piece blues band. It was a wonderful, wonderful time. It’s surprising really that there weren’t more bands."

He added: "Music was my love and passion. It was my saviour really. But there was never really a type of music for me when I was growing up.

"There was never a music that fitted blue collar kids like me, there wasn't a music for us. Kids turned to the blues but it wasn't quite for me. My two sisters used to drive me crazy listening to pop.

KK Downing at the Engine House at Severn Valley Railway

"I saw a couple of artists that inspired me more and a type of music that didn't quite exist yet. I saw Jimi Hendrix at the Coventry theatre and his music had elements that meant more to me than the blues."

But with the emergence of Judas Priest and Black Sabbath in the Black Country and Birmingham, a new genre began to crystallise, with the Midlands bands right at the centre.

"It was an evolutionary road that we created from the Black Country all those years ago," KK said. "Now we have working class music for young working class people.

"It's all over the world, but that's how it started out. It started out here."

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