Sunday, August 24, 2008

Random Rock Star Moment: K.K. Downing

The LONG overdue sequel to OzzFest 2004 - Pittsburgh!!

Submitted by Umlaut friend Sonny:

Metal Masters Tour, Pittsburgh
August 2008

The Metal Masters Tour rolled through Pittsburgh last Saturday night. That’s what brought my brother and I to the Pittsburgh Airport Marriott before the show. I was heading down to the bar when three women got on the elevator. One was friendly.

“We’re housekeepers,” she said proudly. “How do you like it here so far?” This unfortunate girl was missing many teeth. But I pride myself on being a gentleman. This requires me to be courteous to all women, even those with bad dental problems. So I smiled and told her I liked the hotel, and that we were going to a concert tonight.

“What band?” she asked. Now I noticed the other two housekeepers. One had a strange distracted stare, as if listening to voices nobody else could hear. The third was pretty, with an Italian look and shiny dark hair cut in a pixie style that showed off her chiseled features.

I was silent for a moment, then replied: “Judas Priest.”

At those words, the pretty housekeeper became very excited. She started pointing at the other two women, but didn’t seem to have control of her gestures. She tried to tell me something, but her speech was garbled and unintelligible.

“The lead singer is staying on her floor,” said the friendly housekeeper. “But you can’t tell anyone.” Bullshit, I thought. She’s making it up. But later I learned first-hand that she told the truth.

Now the elevator stopped at their floor. “Concierge Level,” the sign said, but someone had stolen the “r.” The three housekeepers exited the elevator, the pretty one still trying to communicate, arms flailing. But I couldn’t understand a word.

Down in the lobby, I tried to tell my brother of this encounter. “I met these weird women. One of them was…” I began. But then I noticed the crowd in the bar. It was the same assortment of knuckleheads weirdos and boozed-up West Virginia hillbillies that comprised the crowd at Priest’s 2004 Pittsburgh show. Also present were numerous young men in tuxedos who seemed to be with a wedding party.

The concert itself was fine. Good performances all around, and no violence, unlike Ozzfest 2005 in Camden, New Jersey, where a teenage girl punched me in the stomach.

After the show, we found many bleary-eyed people hanging out in the Marriott lobby. One fellow in a particularly elaborate tuxedo noticed my t-shirt, and told the woman next to him: “He went to the Judas Priest concert.” I realized she was the bride. I’d seen her earlier in her wedding dress and veil, heading towards the ballroom.

“I wanted to see Priest, too,” said the groom, his bow tie askew. “But I hadda get married tonight so I couldn’t go.”

After breakfast the next morning, I waited in the lobby for a long time, trying to get an elevator. For some reason, two of them were stuck on the Concierge Level. But eventually an elevator door opened, out strode K.K. Downing, his blond hair thin and tangled.

K.K. onstage in Pittsburgh

I followed him, keeping a distance while I decided what to do. Downing was checking out of the hotel. I stood by while he had a long discussion with the desk clerk and a frazzled-looking man who must have been their road manager. Sooner or later, I thought, he has to turn around. That would be my chance for an encounter with a real, live member of Judas Priest.

Eventually he did turn around. When he saw me standing there silently, he paused with an apprehensive look.

“You’re K.K. Downing,” I said, feeling rather like a deranged stalker.

K.K.’s face lit up. “I am indeed,” he said in a thick Midlands accent. “Always and forever.” Making the sign of the horns with one hand, he gave me a warm smile and shook hands. A Judas Priest guitarist, giving me the horns! I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

K.K. was very pleasant and natural. He showed no desire to escape, so I ventured some small talk. I told him what a big fan I was, that I’d been to the show the night before and that I’d seen them in Pittsburgh the last time they came through. I lavishly praised the previous night’s performance. I also said we might go to another show if we could get to one in this part of the country. K.K. looked delighted.

“Well, I’m not sure where we are next,” he said. “Detroit, I think… maybe Oklahoma…” His voice trailed off.

This confirmed my long-held belief: touring rock musicians are only dimly aware of where they are and where they’re going.

K.K. revealed that he still lives in England; that they hoped to return to the U.S. for another tour; and that the two big buses with blacked-out windows in the parking lot were theirs.

“Is that Flying V guitar hard to play? Is it hard to hold on your leg?” I asked, trying to sound knowledgeable. I’d read this in Guitar Player magazine. KK looked pleased that I knew about his instrument.

“Naw, not really,” he said. “You just sit down, put the horn between your legs like this, and like, play.” K.K. sat on his suitcase and demonstrated, playing some air guitar for my benefit. I must be dreaming, I thought. This cannot be happening.

I sensed that the time had come to bring this conversation to a close. I told him how much I enjoyed meeting him.

“Nice to meet you, brother,” K.K. said, smiling and giving me a firm handshake.

I wandered off in a daze. But then it occurred to me that it was just a few minutes before check-out time. Two unmarked buses were waiting at the curb. If I stayed near the elevator, I might see the rest of the band.

I was not disappointed. Soon the elevator doors opened, and there stood Ian Hill.

One look told me that I would not be talking to Ian Hill. With his broad shoulders and baleful glare, he looked more like a retired bouncer than a bass guitarist. This was not a man to be trifled with.

Then I saw who stood behind him, scrolling through messages on a cell phone.

“Hey, you’re Rob Halford,” I said.

He didn’t look up.

“Yes, it’s me,” he said drily as he swept past, eyes locked on his phone. He didn’t break stride for an instant.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you,” I called lamely to Halford’s retreating back.

This frosty response instantly cured me of any further desire to hang out with English Heavy Metal legends. I wandered out to the parking lot, awash in a potent mixture of feelings not easily put into words. On the curb stood Scott Travis. He glanced at me and seemed about to say something. But the moment for speaking to British rock stars had passed. There was nothing left to do but stand there in silence as two huge tour buses slowly drove away, loaded with a band I’ve loved for 26 years, headed for Detroit.