Sunday, July 14, 2013

Great Guitars: K.K. Downing & Glen Tipton

Judas Priest did not play hard rock back in the stoner Seventies. They did not play bottom heavy blues dirges like Black Sabbath. They did not play amped-up psychedelia like Deep Purple. They did not play blues and folk standards through a Marshall stack with lyrics about elves laid on top like Led Zeppelin. Judas Priest played Heavy Metal, and with the passage of time, it's become more obvious how much KK Downing and Glen Tipton defined metal guitar playing to the same extent Johnny Ramone defined punk guitar and Nile Rogers defined funk guitar. Their music was tough, brooding and unsentimental - power chords paired with squealing twin-guitar lead lines - and was the perfect compliment to Rob Halford's banshee wails and lyrics about death, murder, rough trade, partying, robot space invaders and the torments of hell. These guys developed a sound and style that literally launched a thousand bands. ("Dissident Aggressor," a 3 minute track from 1976(!) literally anticipated speed and death metal by a decade). It doesn't get much better than that.

As for which of the two is "better," I have no idea. Tipton tended to play more melodically and with more control, while Downing tended to play power chords interspersed with squalling, angry leads. Then again "K.K." is a much more metal name than "Glen" and Downing pioneered the Gibson Flying V, which has since become an unofficial heavy metal guitar. Hey, this stuff matters! Really it's a wash. The two of them play off and complement one another perfectly.

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