Organist's classical influence defined Deep Purple


JON LORD:‘WE’RE AS valid as anything by Beethoven,” Jon Lord said of his band, Deep Purple, in an interview with New Musical Express in 1973.

Lord, who has died aged 71 after suffering from pancreatic cancer, was not merely adopting a rebellious stance. An accomplished classical composer as well as rock musician, he believed with some justification that his group’s music was as profound in structure and as significant in cultural impact as any work from the symphonic canon.

At the time, Deep Purple were among the world’s biggest rock bands, having built an enormous fanbase on the strength of their classically influenced songs, which lent further weight to Lord’s statement.

Born in Leicester, central England, Lord studied classical piano from the age of five. In his teens, the then-new rock ’n’ roll and RB movements made a deep impression on him, in particular the music recorded by blues pianists such as Jerry Lee Lewis and organists such as Jimmy McGriff.

Lord discovered his trademark sound when he formed Santa Barbara Machine Head, which also featured future Rolling Stone, Ronnie Wood. The key to this group’s success was its powerful organ and guitar-driven formula, which pointed at the future musical recipe of Deep Purple and the meeting of Lord and the bassist Nick Simper.

The duo were the backbone of Deep Purple, who formed when the businessman and manager Tony Edwards invested in the new group and auditioned the cream of London’s young talent – guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, singer Rod Evans and drummer Ian Paice among them. This quintet formed Purple’s first line-up in 1968.

Deep Purple spent the following eight years on a path that took them around the world on several occasions (in later years, they had a private jet), playing the world’s largest stadiums and issuing a series of classic LPs – In Rock (1970), Fireball (1971), Machine Head (1972) and Burn (1974) among them.

Personnel came and went, but Lord and Paice remained constant members until the group’s dissolution amid a haze of drug addiction and exhaustion in 1976.

Of the great British rock bands of the 1970s, only Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and the Stones were able to operate on as grand a scale: unlike any of those groups, Deep Purple took regular time out to indulge in classical projects initiated and directed by Lord.

The most notable of these was the live Concerto for Group and Orchestra, recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969.

It was this equal passion for rock bombast and classical finesse that made Lord such an unusual musician. During Deep Purple’s glory days, he often infused the songs with classical influences, as in the song April from the group’s eponymous album in 1969.

His organ playing, which often counterpointed Blackmore’s virtuoso lead guitar, was unique and often copied.

After the split, Lord formed a group with the rock singer Tony Ashton and Deep Purple’s former drummer Paice entitled Paice, Ashton Lord. They released one album, Malice in Wonderland, in 1977. He then joined Whitesnake, formed by Deep Purple’s last lead singer, David Coverdale.

This was an earthy, blues-rock incarnation of the group in which Lord’s organ playing was an essential element. He was credited with playing on several albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

His stint in Whitesnake ended when he rejoined a reformed Deep Purple in 1984 alongside Blackmore, Paice, the singer Ian Gillan and the bassist Roger Glover.

In a letter to his bandmates in 2002 he requested that Deep Purple take a year off.

When this request was declined he amicably left the group. Lord then undertook solo projects.

He is survived by his wife Vicky and their daughter Amy, and by a daughter, Sara, with his first wife, Judith, from whom he had been divorced.

Jonathan Douglas Lord: born June 9th, 1941; died July 16th, 2012