K.K. Downing has left Judas Priest after performing with the heavy metal band for some 40 years, weeks before the group's final world tour.
The band has already named a replacement - 31-year-old Richie Faulkner, according to a message on Judas Priest's website, which was posted on Wednesday, April 20.
"It is with regret that Judas Priest announce that K.K. Downing has formally retired from the band and will therefore not be joining them on their forthcoming Epitaph tour," said a message on the group's website on Wednesday, April 20. "The band respect his decision and naturally all wish him well."
Downing, 59, did not specify why he left the group. He had said on his website in January that he had not "given any thought as to possible case scenarios after the final tour." He also said he "can't envisage being on the road without Priest."
Asked in April if he would record a solo album, Downing said: "I honestly can't say that i have any such plans at the moment. But one day, you never know."
In addition to newcomer Faulker, the remaining members of Judas Priest are singer Rob Halford, guitarist Glenn Tipton, bassist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis.
"Having thought long and hard about how to proceed, Rob, Glenn, Ian and Scott unanimously agreed that they should go ahead with the tour and not let the fans down all around the world," Judas Priest's message said, adding that Faulkner has "blended into the band perfectly and is a great talent who is going to help set the stage on fire!"
Judas Priest's final "Epitaph" world tour is set to begin on June 7 in Holland. The band will also perform in countries such as Sweden, France, Spain, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Mexico until the fall of 2011.