Jon Lord, legendary keyboardist/songwriter for hard rock/heavy metal pioneers Deep Purple, passed away Monday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Lord was born in 1941 in Leicester, England. He began studying classical piano at age 5, and continued those studies through his school years. He also began studying the blues organ of Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, and others. He moved to London around 1959 or 1960 and began playing jazz in the Bill Ashton Combo, followed by many other groups. He also began playing sessions in London on tracks such as “You Really Got Me” for The Kinks and for other artists, such as Nazareth, David Gilmour, and many more.
In 1967, with the help of investor Tony Edwards, Lord formed Roundabout with session guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and bassist Nick Simper and singer Rod Evans and drummer Ian Paice from the group The Maze. By 1968, the group was renamed Deep Purple. (This lineup is now referred to as the “Mark I” version of the band.) With Deep Purple, Lord began developing his signature sound, which was based around the Hammond C3 organ rather than the popular Moog synth.
Deep Purple began releasing albums but had little success. In 1969, Ian Gillan and Roger Glover joined the group on vocals and bass respectively (forming the best-known “Mark II” line up of the band). Lord and Blackmore continued to experiment with combining classical and rock music until the groundbreaking Concerto for Group and Orchestra was released in 1970, which finally brought the group notice.
Following the orchestral album, Deep Purple pushed into the hard rock style with In Rock, Fireball, the classic Machine Head (featuring “Smoke on the Water”), the live Made in Japan, Who Do We Think We Are, and Burn. Throughout this time, Lord continued to compose classical music, which led to the release of his first solo album, Gemini Suite, in 1972.
In 1976, Deep Purple broke up, though Gillan and Glover had already left in 1973, followed by Blackmore in 1975. During this time, bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes, vocalist David Coverdale, and guitarist Tommy Bolin were members of the band. After the breakup, Lord joined Coverdale’s new band, Whitesnake, staying in the group until 1984. He recorded on some of Whitesnake’s most popular albums including the break-through double-platinum Slide It In in 1983.
The Mark II version of Deep Purple reunited in 1984, and Lord continued playing and recording with the group until his retirement in 2002. He also continued to release solo albums, such as 1997’s Pictured Within, 2004’s Beyond the Notes, To Notice Such Things (2010), and Jon Lord Blues Project Live (2011).
He also continued composing classical music, and in 1999 with Dutch musicologist/composer Marco de Goeij, recreated the Concerto for Group and Orchestra for a performance at the Royal Albert Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra. (The score was lost during the intervening years.) During this time he contributed to albums by other artists, such as George Harrison, Jimmy Barnes, ABBA alum Frida, The Hoochie Coochie Men, and others. Toward the end of his life, he was a member of “supergroup” WhoCares with Ian Gillan, Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Mikko Lindstrom (Him), Jason Newsted (Metallica), and Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden).
It is our hope that keyboardists around the globe will crank their Hammonds through Marshall amps in his honor.
Original Pub: Jul 17, 2012, 8:00 AM