Tuesday 23 January 2018

Beethoven with knobs on -- the Purple Lord of '70s rock

Jon Lord, who has died aged 71, founded and was the innovative keyboard player for Deep Purple, widely regarded as one of the world's biggest and most influential rock bands.

With his long straggly hair, droopy moustache and garish stage costumes, Lord looked every inch the archetypal 1970s rock star. But his popular success, with hits such as Smoke On the Water, was built on a fusion of progressive rock with classical influences; he went on, for example, to compose some highly regarded classical works, such as the Durham Concerto. On his first solo album, Gemini Suite, he worked with the London Symphony Orchestra.

As such he was a passionate advocate for rock music as a serious and much underrated art form in its own right, and ruffled a few feathers in 1973 by claiming that Deep Purple were "as valid as anything by Beethoven".

Jonathan Douglas Lord was born in Leicester on June 9, 1941, and studied classical piano from an early age. He was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School and subsequently became a solicitor's clerk.

Lord was captivated by blues, jazz and rock and roll -- notably the piano showman Jerry Lee Lewis -- and in the early 1950s moved to London, ostensibly to study at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

In the capital he displayed a particular penchant for the Hammond organ sounds that he heard on American R&B records, and spent most of his evenings playing keyboards with various groups in pubs.

He served an important apprenticeship with the Bill Ashton Combo, graduating to electric organ with Red Bludd's Bluesicians before making his first recordings with The Artwoods, fronted by Art Wood, brother of the future Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood.

Lord was also involved in one of Ronnie Wood's early bands, Santa Barbara Machine Head, and played keyboards as a session musician on the 1964 Kinks hit 'You Really Got Me'.

His first taste of pop stardom, however, came backing The Flowerpot Men, who had a major hit in 1967 with the flower power era cash-in 'Let's Go To San Francisco'. The bassist Nick Simper also played with The Flowerpot Men and, after an abortive attempt to set up a group with Chris Curtis of The Searchers, Lord formed his own band with Simper, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, drummer Ian Paice and singer Rod Evans.

Initially called Roundabout, they changed their name to Deep Purple, quickly establishing a big sound built around Blackmore's bluesy guitar and Lord's organ which, unusually at the time, featured as the lead instrument on their first hit single, a cover of Joe South's 'Hush'.

From the outset, Lord -- who systematically avoided using the Moog synthesiser so in vogue with many of his contemporaries -- was intent on using Deep Purple as a vehicle for his ideas for fusing classical and rock.

There were plenty of classical references on the albums The Book of Taliesyn (1968) and Deep Purple (1969), and his synthesis of genres came to even greater fruition in 1969 with Concerto for Group and Orchestra, a landmark work performed at London's Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Arnold.

With Ian Gillan now installed as lead singer, the performance was considered a seismic development for rock music, for it occurred even as the tumultuous impact of Purple's more rock-driven live shows earned them an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as "the globe's loudest band".

The group's best-known hit, 'Smoke on the Water', co-written by Lord, was very much in the conventional rock style. It first appeared on the band's 1972 album Machine Head, with Lord's distorted organ imitating Blackmore's guitar melody line so effectively that it became a test piece for aspiring guitarists.

After a series of conflicts, Deep Purple split in 1976, and Lord went on to make an album -- Malice In Wonderland -- with Ian Paice and an old friend, Tony Ashton, under the name Paice, Ashton & Lord. He then joined another powerhouse blues-rock band, Whitesnake. It was with Whitesnake that he finally conceded defeat to the synthesiser.

During this time, however, he continued to pursue his classical fusions, notably with Sarabande (1976), on which he worked with Philharmonia Hungaria and German conductor, Eberhard Schoener (Lord finally premiered it on stage in 2010).

He made guest appearances on numerous other albums by such artists as Graham Bonnet and Cozy Powell before, in 1984, reforming Deep Purple for a triumphant world tour, six more studio albums and international sales that topped 150 million records.

Jon Lord was married to Vickie Lord, the twin sister of Ian Paice's wife, Jackie. He had two daughters, Amy (with Vickie), and Sara (with his first wife Judith Feldman, to whom he was married from 1969 until they divorced in 1981).

Jon Lord, born June 9, 1941, died July 16.

Indo Review

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