JUDAS PRIEST guitarist Richie Faulkner has dismissed the criticism he received for supposedly trying to look too much like the man he replaced, original PRIEST guitarist Kenneth "K.K." Downing.
Nearly three decades Downing's junior, Faulkner joined PRIEST in 2011 after previously playing guitar in the backing group for Lauren Harris, daughter of IRON MAIDEN bassist Steve Harris.
Faulkner addressed the "lookalike" accusations during an appearance on the latest installment of Dean Delray's "Let There Be Talk" podcast.
"Obviously, you get the [haters] — the 'clone' comments," Richie said (hear audio below). "I've got long blond hair, playing a flying V [guitar]… [Michael] Schenker, Zakk [Wylde], K.K., Randy Rhoads — all those guys. To say I was a Ken clone was fairly narrow-minded. There's tons of guys who have flying Vs and long hair.
"The thing is if I had dyed my hair black to be different, I would have been shot down," he continued. "You've gotta be real; you've gotta be who you are. And I grew up on Ken, I grew up on Glenn [Tipton, JUDAS PRIEST guitarist] and the guys that I mentioned. So you've just gotta be who you are. And I grew up with those guys, and I'm not ashamed. I wear it on my sleeve — they're all my influences, and I'm not afraid of that… There's no point in trying to hide it. But it's gotta be natural as well. And I think somehow it worked out organically. I didn't try to copy him. And as it goes on, you always try to do your own thing and make your own statement."
According to Faulkner, he has always held the members of PRIEST — including Downing — in high esteem and he has done his best to do justice to the band's music without diluting his own character and personality.
"They were the pioneers — they went against the grain; they did their own thing and they stood up for what they believed in," Richie said. "And I've always been of the mind that you've gotta respect what went on before, you've gotta respect K.K. Downing. And taking on that same ethos, you've gotta respect yourself and do your own thing and create your own stamp, like they did. 'Cause if you don't, you're almost disrespecting yourself and them. So you've gotta try to sound different and do your own thing moving forward. So that's what I've been trying to do."
Asked if he has had any direct contact with Downing since he joined PRIEST, Faulkner said: "We've gone backwards and forwards on Twitter and a couple of e-mails, and what have you, but I've never met him. He's always been cordial. There have a couple of things on Twitter — a couple of misunderstandings and stuff like that, which is just the nature of the Internet."
Richie went on to say that he doesn't feel it's appropriate for him to weigh in on the relationship between his bandmates and Downing, who has been vocal about his dissatisfaction over the fact that he wasn't invited to rejoin PRIEST when Tipton announced his retirement from the road nearly two years ago.
"When it comes to K.K., it's not my thing — it's their thing," Faulkner said. "They've got a relationship with him for 40, 50 years, and it's their deal — it's out of my hands. Personally, I wish it would be different. But it is what it is. And, as I said, it's out of my hands, really. He was cordial to me, as I said, over a couple of e-mails and Twitter posts, and I haven't got a problem with him. But, as I said, it's their relationship — it's their thing to deal with."
Asked how the guitar playing in PRIEST would be split if Downing was to return for the band's 50th-anniversary tour, Faulkner said: "I guess if he was in it, I don't think Ken would be playing my bits. I honestly couldn't tell you. I wouldn't know… I guess if Ken was there, he'd play his parts and I'd play my parts and then Glenn's parts, which is fine for me… But it's one of those things, man… I wish, personally, it had been a different outcome and everyone was getting on fine and Ken could come back and everyone was friends and we could do it for the last tour, the 50th anniversary, go out with a bang and Glenn can come back when [he is able to]. But that's not the way it worked out, unfortunately. But who knows? What will be will be. Again, that's out of my hands. As I said, it's not my relationship to have."
Last year, Downing said that he felt like he was "being cloned" when he first found out he was being replaced by Faulkner.
Downing, who announced his retirement from PRIEST in April 2011 after nearly 42 years in the job, admitted to the "Appetite For Distortion" podcast that he was taken aback when he first saw his replacement.
"Richie, as far as I know, is a nice guy and obviously an excellent player," Downing said. "I was a bit disappointed when, basically… I think the idea was to replace me [with a lookalike], so I did feel as though I was kind of being cloned. But I'm not sure that was exactly fair to Richie. I mean, I could be off the mark here, but I think Richie had the right to bring himself to the stage with his own… portray his own image and ability to play the instrument the way that he does. But it is what it is."
He continued: "When Glenn [Tipton] retired from touring [in early 2018], the same didn't happen — obviously, [Tipton's replacement] Andy [Sneap] doesn't look anything like Glenn; he doesn't wear the same clothes, the red pants, guitars or anything like that. So I don't really know what's going on. But it is what it is."
In a 2011 interview with the Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat, PRIEST singer Rob Halford stated about Faulkner's physical resemblance to a younger Downing: "People are saying, 'It's a clone. You've got some of K.K.'s DNA.' It's just the way it turned out. We made, like, a secret search. When we knew K.K. was not gonna be making the tour, we did a lot of secret, kind of, searching for another player. And Richie just happened to be the guy. And he just happens to look a little bit of the K.K. image, you know?! I think it would be silly to say, 'We looked for a guitar player that looks like Ken.' What we want is a very good metal guitar player, and that's what Richie Faulkner is."