Monday 20 November 2017

Jon Lord

Founder of Deep Purple, the influential rock band once billed as the 'loudest group in the world'

Jon Lord, who died on July 16 aged 71, was the founder and innovative keyboard player for Deep Purple, widely regarded one of the world's 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 to compose highly regarded classical works, such as Durham Concerto.

As such, he was a passionate advocate for rock music as a much underrated art form, and ruffled a few feathers in 1973 by claiming that Deep Purple's music was "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 1960s 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.

His first taste of pop stardom, however, came with backing The Flowerpot Men, who had a big 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 -- systematically avoiding using the Moog synthesizer so in vogue with many of his contemporaries -- saw 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 Philarmonic 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". By flirting both with classical music and thunderous arrangements, Deep Purple, in tandem with other bands such as Emerson Lake and Palmer and Led Zeppelin, were laying the groundwork for heavy metal music.

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 Deep Purple split in 1976, Lord went on to make an album -- Malice In Wonderland -- with Ian Paice and old friend, Tony Ashton, under the name Paice, Ashton and Lord. He then joined another powerhouse band, Whitesnake. It was with Whitesnake that he finally conceded defeat to the synthesizer, adding it to his banks of keyboards in order to experiment further with sounds and effects.

Widely respected as one of the finest musicians in the rock firmament, he made guest appearances on numerous other albums, by such artists as Graham Bonnet and Cozy Powell, before in 1984 re-forming Deep Purple for a triumphant world tour, six more studio albums and international sales that topped 150 million records, all of which cemented the group's reputation as one of the world's most successful bands.

Finally, in 2002, Lord left, as full of ideas as ever and still firmly of the belief that the traditional parameters of rock were too restrictive. He continued to push rock's established musical boundaries and, in 1988, released perhaps his best solo record, Pictured Within, an ambitious and personal concept album featuring singer Sam Brown, written partly in response to the death of his mother.

Jon Lord married, in 1969 (dissolved 1981), Judith Feldman, with whom he had a daughter. With his second wife, Vickie, he had another daughter.

Sunday Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in World News