Jon Lord Passes Away Aged 71
First Published 16 July 2012
Legendary former Deep Purple and Whitesnake keyboard player Jon Lord has very sadly passed away aged 71.
Jon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year and was undergoing special treatment in Israel hoping to recover and get back to music.
Jon was scheduled to perform in Hagen, Germany on July 6th. He was set to perform his Durham Concerto and a selection of other pieces but had to cancel due to ongoing medical treatment.
Our thoughts are with Jon’s friends and family. RIP. Legend.
In 1968, Jon founded Deep Purple, where he was virtually the leader of the band until 1970. Jon wrote the organ riff on the classic ‘Child In Time’. He and drummer Ian Paice were the only constant Deep Purple members from 1968 to 1976 and from when they reformed in 1984 until Jon’s retirement from Deep Purple in 2002.
On 11 November 2010, Jon was made an Honorary Fellow of Stevenson College, Edinburgh. On 15 July 2011, he was granted an honorary Doctor of Music degree by his home town’s University of Leicester.
Jon was born in Leicester on 9 June 1941 and started his London band career in 1960 with jazz ensemble the Bill Ashton Combo. He then became a founding member of The Art Wood Combo.
The Artwoods, as the band came to be known, made appearances on TV shows such as Ready Steady Go!, performed abroad and appeared on the first Ready Steady Goes Live, promoting their first single ‘Sweet Mary’, and had a chart single with ‘I Take What I Want’, which reached #28 on 8 May 1966.
Jon then created Santa Barbara Machine Head (featuring Art’s brother, the young Ronnie Wood), writing and recording three powerful keyboard-driven instrumental tracks, giving a preview of the seminal Deep Purple style to come in the future.
In early 1967, through his roommate Chris Curtis of The Searchers, Jon met businessman Tony Edwards who was looking to invest in the music business. Ritchie Blackmore was called in and met Lord for the first time and Curtis’ erratic bahaviour meant the band went nowhere. But Edwards was impressed enough by Jon Lord to ask him to form a band after Curtis didn’t work out so Nick Simper was contacted, and Blackmore recalled from Hamburg and Deep Purple, originally called Roundabout, was born.
It is in the Deep Purple period that Jon’s trademark keyboard sound emerged, a rhythmic foundation to complement Blackmore’s speed and virtuosity on lead guitar and with which he ‘competed’ with Blackmore as a soloist. Lord also loved the sound of an RMI 368 Electra-Piano and Harpsichord, which he used on songs like ‘Demon’s Eye’, and ‘Space Truckin”.
In 1973, Jon’s original Hammond C3 gave out, and he purchased another from Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac. Around this same time, Jon and his keyboard technician, Mike Phillips, combined his Hammond C3 Organ with the RMI which he kept until his retirement from the band in 2002.
One reviewer stated in the time of the Deep Purple heyday: “Many have tried to imitate Lord’s style, and all failed.”
Jon himself said: “There’s a way of playing a Hammond that’s different. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that you can play a Hammond with a piano technique. Well, you can, but it sounds like you are playing a Hammond with a piano technique. Really, you have to learn how to play an organ. It’s a legato technique; it’s a technique to achieve legato on a non-legato instrument.”
Deep Purple’s first hit song, a cover of Joe South’s ‘Hush’, features an extended organ solo and no guitar solo but Purple entered a totally different dimension in 1969 with ‘Concerto For Group and Orchestra’ which was one of rock’s earliest attempts to fuse two distinct musical idioms.
Performed live at the Royal Albert Hall on 24th September 1969 (with new band members Ian Gillan and Roger Glover), recorded by the BBC and later released as an album, the Concerto gave Deep Purple their first highly-publicised taste of mainstream fame and gave Jon the confidence to believe that his experiment and his compositional skill had a future.
Purple then released ‘In Rock’, on their new label EMI in 1970, and this is now recognised as one of hard rock’s key early works. Jon’s experimental solo on ‘Hard Lovin’ Man’, complete with police-siren interpolation, on the album is his personal favourite among his Deep Purple studio performances.
Deep Purple released a sequence of albums between 1971s ‘Fireball’ and 1975s ‘Come Taste the Band’. Gillan and Glover left in 1973 and Blackmore in 1975, and the band disintegrated in 1976. Jon is quoted as saying about Purple: “We’re as valid as anything by Beethoven.”
Post Purple, Jon became a member of the then fledgling Whitesnake where his role was to round out a blues-rock sound that already accommodated two lead guitarists, Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody. He added a Yamaha Electric Grand piano to his set-up and finally a huge bank of synthesizers onstage courtesy of Moog (MiniMoog, Opus, PolyMoog) so he could play the 12-bar blues the band often required and recreate string section and other effects. This is most evident on tracks like ‘Here I Go Again’, ‘Wine, Women And Song’, ‘She’s A Woman’ and ‘Till The Day I Die’.
A number of singles entered the UK charts, taking the now 40-something Lord onto Top of the Pops with regularity between 1980 and 1983 but he later expressed frustration that he was a poorly-paid hired-hand. His dissatisfaction (and Coverdale’s eagerness to revamp the band’s line-up and lower the average age to help crack the US market) smoothed the way for the reformation of Deep Purple Mk II in 1984.
Jon Lord’s last Whitesnake concert took place in the Swedish TV programme Mandagsborsen in 16 April 1984.
During his tenure in Whitesnake, Jon did have a chance to do two distinctly different solo albums. 1982s ‘Before I Forget’ featured a largely conventional eight-song line-up, no orchestra and with the bulk of the songs being either mainstream rock tracks (‘Hollywood Rock And Roll’, ‘Chance On A Feeling’), or a series of very English classical piano ballads sung by mother and daughter duo, Vicki Brown and Sam Brown (wife and daughter of entertainer Joe Brown) and vocalist Elmer Gantry.
The album also boasted the cream of British rock talent, including prolific session drummer (and National Youth Jazz Orchestra alumnus) Simon Phillips, Cozy Powell, Neil Murray, Simon Kirke, Boz Burrell and Mick Ralphs. Jon used synthesizers more than ever before, principally to retain an intimacy with the material and to create a jam atmosphere with old friends like Tony Ashton.
Jon took on many projects during this period, including a commission by producer Patrick Gamble for Central Television to write the soundtrack for their 1984 TV series, Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, and was asked to guest on albums by friends George Harrison (‘Gone Troppo’ from 1982) and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour (1983’s ‘About Face’), Cozy Powell (‘Octopus’ in 1983) and to play on an adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s classic, Wind in the Willows. He composed and produced the score for ‘White Fire’ (1984), which consisted largely of two songs performed by Limelight.
Jon’s re-emergence with Deep Purple in 1984 resulted in huge audiences for the reformed Mk II line-up, including 1985s second largest grossing tour in the US and an appearance in front of 70,000 rain-soaked fans headlining Knebworth on 22 June 1985, all to support the ‘Perfect Strangers’ album.
Further Deep Purple albums followed but by the late-1990s Jon was clearly keen to explore where to take his career next. In 1997, he created perhaps his most personal work to date, ‘Pictured Within’, released in 1998 with a European tour to support it. Jon’s mother Miriam had died in August 1995 and the album is a deeply affecting piece, inflected at all stages by Jon’s sense of grief.
One song from ‘Pictured Within’, entitled ‘Wait A While’ was later covered by Norwegian singer Sissel Kyrkjebø on her 2003/2004 album ‘My Heart’.
Jon finally retired from Deep Purple amicably in 2002, preceded by a knee injury that eventually resolved itself without surgery. He said subsequently, “Leaving Deep Purple was just as traumatic as I had always suspected it would be and more so – if you see what I mean”. He even dedicated a song to it on 2004’s solo effort, ‘Beyond The Notes’, called ‘De Profundis’.
His Durham Concerto, commissioned by Durham University for its 175th anniversary celebrations, received its world premiere on 20 October 2007 in Durham Cathedral by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and featured soloists Lord on Hammond Organ, Kathryn Tickell on Northumbrian pipes, Matthew Barley on cello and Ruth Palmer on violin.
Lord was (almost) next-door neighbour to former Beatle, George Harrison, and played piano on Harrison’s posthumously released Brainwashed album (2002).
Jon released his solo album To ‘Notice Such Things’ on 29th March 2010. Titled after the main work — a six movement suite for solo flute, piano and string orchestra — the album was inspired by, and is dedicated to the memory of Jon’s dear friend Sir John Mortimer, the English barrister, dramatist, screenwriter, author and creator of British television series Rumpole of The Bailey, who died in January 2009.
Jon was working on material with recently formed rock supergroup WhoCares, also featuring Ian Gillan, Tony Iommi, second guitarist Mikko Lindström from HIM, bassist Jason Newsted, formerly from Metallica, and Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain.
Once again Jon Lord, RIP – you will be sadly missed but your music and legacy will live on for many generations.