July 16, 2012 – John Douglas “Jon” Lord ( Deep Purple/Whitesnake) was born in Leicester, England on June 9th 1941 and retained a strong bond with the city throughout his life. His father was an amateur saxophone musician and encouraged Lord from an early age. There was an old upright piano in the house and Jon showed an early interest in the instrument so his parents enrolled him for formal piano lessons when he was seven. At nine he found another teacher, Frederick All, who gave recitals for the BBC and played the church organ. “He was a marvelous teacher”, says Lord. “He could impart a love of music to his students as well as teaching them to play it. He taught me to enjoy music and to want to play well.” Those influences were a recurring trademark in Jon’s work.
He attended Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys between 1952 and 1958 and then worked as a clerk in a solicitor’s office for two years, but was fired for taking too much time off work.
Lord absorbed the blues sounds that played a key part in his rock career, principally the raw sounds of the great American blues organists Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and “Brother” Jack McDuff (“Rock Candy”), as well as the stage showmanship of Jerry Lee Lewis and performers like Buddy Holly, whom he saw perform at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester in March 1958.
Lord moved to London in 1959–60, intent on an acting career and enrolling at the Central School of Speech and Drama, in London’s Swiss Cottage. Following a celebrated student rebellion he became a founder of Drama Centre London, from where he graduated in 1964. From here on his life became a Who’s Who in the early London years of the British Invasion and beyond.
Small acting parts followed, and Lord continued playing the piano and the organ in nightclubs and as a session musician to earn a living. He started his band career in London in 1960 with the jazz ensemble The Bill Ashton Combo. Ashton became a key figure in jazz education in Britain, creating what later became the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Between 1960 and 1963, Lord and Ashton both moved on to Red Bludd’s Bluesicians (also known as The Don Wilson Quartet), the latter of which featured the singer Arthur “Art” Wood, brother of guitarist Ronnie Wood. Wood had previously sung with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated and was a junior figure in the British blues movement.
In this period, Lord altered the spelling of his name from his birth name “John” to “Jon” and his session credits included playing the keyboards in “You Really Got Me”, The Kinks number one hit of 1964, however in a Guitar World interview Ray Davies of The Kinks stated it was actually Arthur Greenslade playing piano on that particular track.
Following the break-up of Redd Bludd’s Bluesicians in late 1963, Wood, Lord, and the drummer Red Dunnage put together a new band, The Art Wood Combo. This also included Derek Griffiths (guitar) and Malcolm Pool (bass guitar). Dunnage left in December 1964 to be replaced by Keef Hartley, who had previously replaced Ringo Starr in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. This band, later known as “The Artwoods”, focused on the organ as the bluesy, rhythmic core of their sound, in common with the contemporary bands The Spencer Davis Group (Steve Winwood on organ) and The Animals (with Alan Price). They made appearances on the BBC’s Saturday Club radio show and on such TV programs as Ready Steady Go!. It also performed abroad, and it appeared on the first Ready Steady Goes Live, promoting its first single the Lead Belly song “Sweet Mary” — but significant commercial success eluded it. Its only charting single was “I Take What I Want”, which reached number 28 on 8 May 1966.
The jazz-blues organ style of black R&B organ players in the 1950s and 1960s, using the trademark blues-organ sound of the Hammond organ (B3 and C3 models) and combining it with the Leslie speaker system (the well-known Hammond-Leslie speaker combination), were seminal influences on Lord. Lord also stated later that he was heavily influenced by the organ-based progressive rock played by Vanilla Fudge after seeing that band perform in Great Britain in 1967, and earlier by the personal direction he received from British organ pioneer Graham Bond.
The Artwoods regrouped in 1967 as the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre“. This was an attempt to cash in on the 1930s gangster craze set off by the American film Bonnie and Clyde. Hartley left the band in 1967 to join John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Lord next founded the “Santa Barbera Machine Head”, featuring Art’s brother, Ronnie Wood, writing and recording three powerful keyboard-driven instrumental tracks, giving a preview of the future style of Deep Purple. Soon thereafter, Lord went on to cover for the keyboard player Billy Day in “The Flower Pot Men”, where he met the bass guitarist Nick Simper along with drummer Carlo Little and guitarist Ged Peck. Lord and Simper then toured with this band in 1967 to promote its hit single “Let’s Go To San Francisco”, but the two men never recorded with this band.
In early 1967, through his roommate Chris Curtis of the Searchers, Lord met businessman Tony Edwards who was looking to invest in the music business alongside partners Ron Hire and John Coletta (HEC Enterprises). Session guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was called in and he met Lord for the first time, but Chris Curtis’s erratic behaviour led the trio nowhere. Edwards was impressed enough by Jon Lord to ask him to form a band after Curtis faded out. Simper was contacted, and Blackmore was recalled from Hamburg. Although top British player Bobby Woodman was the first choice as drummer, during the auditions for a singer, Rod Evans of “The Maze” came in with his own drummer, Ian Paice. Blackmore, who had been impressed by Paice’s drumming when he met him in 1967, set up an audition for Paice as well. The band was called the “Roundabout” at first and began rehearsals at Deeves Hall in Hertfordshire. By March 1968, this became the “Mark 1” line-up of “Deep Purple”: Lord, Simper, Blackmore, Paice, and Evans. Lord also helped form the band “Boz” with some of its recordings being produced by Derek Lawrence. “Boz” included Boz Burrell (later of King Crimson and Bad Company), Blackmore (guitar), Paice (drums), Chas Hodges (bass).
Lord pushed the Hammond-Leslie sound through Marshall amplification, creating a growling, heavy, mechanical sound which allowed Lord to compete with Blackmore as a soloist, with an organ that sounded as prominent as the lead guitar. Said one reviewer, “many have tried to imitate [Lord’s] style, and all failed.” Said Lord himself, “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.”
In early Deep Purple recordings, Lord had appeared to be the leader of the band. Despite the cover songs “Hush” and “Kentucky Woman” becoming hits in North America, Deep Purple never made chart success in the UK until the Concerto for Group and Orchestra album (1970). Lord’s willingness later to play many of the key rhythm parts gave Blackmore the freedom to let loose both live and on record.
On Deep Purple’s second and third albums, Lord began indulging his ambition to fuse rock with classical music. An early example of this is the song “Anthem” from the album The Book of Taliesyn (1968), but a more prominent example is the song “April” from the band’s self-titled third album (1969). The song is recorded in three parts: 1. Lord and Blackmore only, on keyboards and acoustic guitar, respectively; 2. an orchestral arrangement complete with strings; and 3. the full rock band with vocals. Lord’s ambition enhanced his reputation among fellow musicians, but caused tension within the group.
Simper later said, “The reason the music lacked direction was Jon Lord fucked everything up with his classical ideas.” Blackmore agreed to go along with Lord’s experimentation, provided he was given his head on the next band album.
The resulting Concerto For Group and Orchestra (in 1969) was one of rock’s earliest attempts to fuse two distinct musical idioms. Performed live at the Royal Albert Hall on 24 September 1969 (with new band members Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, Evans and Simper having been fired), it was recorded by the BBC and later released as an album. The Concerto gave Deep Purple its first highly publicised taste of mainstream fame and gave Lord the confidence to believe that his experiment and his compositional skill had a future
Purple began work on Deep Purple in Rock, released by their new label Harvest in 1970 and now recognised as one of hard rock’s key early works. Lord and Blackmore competed to out-dazzle each other, often in classical-style, midsection ‘call and answer’ improvisation (on tracks like “Speed King”), something they employed to great effect live. Ian Gillan said that Lord provided the idea on the main organ riff for “Child in Time” although the riff was also based on It’s a Beautiful Day’s 1969 psychedelic hit song “Bombay Calling”. Lord’s experimental solo on “Hard Lovin’ Man” (complete with police-siren interpolation) from this album was his personal favourite among his Deep Purple studio performances.
Deep Purple released another six studio albums between 1971 (Fireball) and 1975 (Come Taste the Band). Gillan and Glover left in 1973 and Blackmore in 1975, and the band disintegrated in 1976. The highlights of Lord’s Purple work in the period include the 1972 album Machine Head (featuring his rhythmic underpinnings on “Smoke on the Water” and “Space Truckin'”, plus the organ solos on “Highway Star”, “Pictures of Home” and “Lazy”), the sonic bombast of the Made in Japan live album (1972), an extended, effect-laden solo on “Rat Bat Blue” from the Who Do We Think We Are album (1973), and his overall playing on the Burn album from 1974.
Roger Glover would later describe Lord as a true “Zen-archer soloist”, someone whose best keyboard improvisation often came at the first attempt. Lord’s strict reliance on the Hammond C3 organ sound, as opposed to the synthesizer experimentation of his contemporaries, places him firmly in the jazz-blues category as a band musician and far from the progressive-rock sound of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman. Lord rarely ventured into the synthesizer territory on Purple albums, often limiting his experimentation to the use of the ring modulator with the Hammond, to give live performances on tracks like Space Truckin’ a distinctive ‘spacy’ sound. Instances of his Deep Purple synthesizer use (he became an endorser of the ARP Oyssey) include “‘A’ 200”, the final track from Burn, and “Love Child” on the Come Taste the Band album.
In early 1973 Lord stated: “We’re as valid as anything by Beethoven.”
Lord continued to focus on his classical aspirations alongside his Deep Purple career. The BBC, buoyed by the success of the Concerto, commissioned him to write another piece and the resulting “Gemini Suite” was performed by Deep Purple and the Light Music Society under Malcolm Arnold at the Royal Festival Hall in September 1970, and then in Munich with the Kammerorchester conducted by Eberhard Schoener in January 1972. It then became the basis for Lord’s first solo album, Gemini Suite, released in November 1972, with vocals by Yvonne Elliman and Tony Ashton and with the London Symphony Orchestra backing a band that included Albert Lee on guitar.(Ritchie Blackmore had played the guitar at the first live performance of the Gemini Suite in September 1970, but declined the invitation to appear on the studio version, which led to the involvement of Lee. Other performers were Yvonne Elliman, Ian Paice, Roger Glover, Tony Ashton).
In March 1974, Lord and Paice had collaborated with friend Tony Ashton on First of the Big Bands, credited to ‘Ashton & Lord’ and featuring a rich array of session talent, including Carmine Appice, Ian Paice, Peter Frampton and Pink Floyd saxophonist/sessioner, Dick Parry. They performed much of the set live at the London Palladium in September 1974.
This formed the basis of Lord’s first post-Deep Purple project Paice Ashton Lord, which lasted only a year and spawned a single album, Malice in Wonderland in 1977, recorded at Musicland Studios Musicland Studios at the Arabella Hotel in Munich. He created an informal group of friends and collaborators including Ashton, Paice, Bernie Marsden, Boz Burrell and later, Bad Company’s Mick Ralphs, Simon Kirke and others. Over the same period, Lord guested on albums by Maggie Bell, Nazareth and even folk artist Richard Digance. Eager to pay off a huge tax bill upon his return the UK in the late-1970s (Purple’s excesses included their own tour jet and a home Lord rented in Malibu from actress Ann-Margret and where he wrote the Sarabande album), Lord joined former Deep Purple band member David Coverdale’s new band, Whitesnake in August 1978 (Lord’s job in Whitesnake was largely limited to adding color or, in his own words, a ‘halo’ to round out a blues-rock sound that already accommodated two lead guitarists, Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody.
A number of singles such as “Here I Go Again”, “Wine, Women and Song”, “She’s a Woman” and “Till the Day I Die” entered the UK chart, taking the now 40-something Lord onto Top of the Pops with regularity between 1980 and 1983. He later expressed frustration that he was a poorly paid hired-hand, but fans saw little of this discord and Whitesnake’s commercial success kept him at the forefront of readers’ polls as heavy rock’s foremost keyboard maestro. 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.
During his tenure in Whitesnake, Lord had the opportunity to record two distinctly different solo albums and was later commissioned by producer Patrick Gamble for Central Television to write the soundtrack for their 1984 TV series, Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, based on the book by Edith Holden, with an orchestra conducted by Alfred Ralston and with a distinctly gentle, pastoral series of themes composed by Lord. Lord became firmly established as a member of UK rock’s “Oxfordshire mansion aristocracy” – with a home, Burntwood Hall, set in 23.5 acres at Goring-on-Thames, complete with its own cricket pitch and a hand-painted Challen baby grand piano, previously owned by Shirley Bassey. He was asked to guest on albums by friends George Harrison (Gone Troppo from 1982) and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour (1984’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. In 1985 he made a brief appearance as a member of The Singing Rebel’s band (which also featured Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Ringo Starr) in the Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais-scripted film Water (1985) (Handmade Films).
In the 1980s he was also a member of an all-star band called Olympic Rock & Blues Circus fronted by Pete York and featuring a rotating line-up of the likes of Miller Anderson, Tony Ashton, Brian Auger, Zoot Money, Colin Hodgkinson, Chris Farlowe and many others. Olympic Rock & Blues Circus toured primarily in Germany between 1981 and 1989. Some musicians, including Lord, took part in York’s TV musical extravaganza Superdrumming between 1987 and 1989.
Lord’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 80,000 rain-soaked fans headlining Knebworth on 22 June 1985, all to support the Perfect Strangers album. Playing with a rejuvenated Mk. II Purple line-up (including spells at a health farm to get the band including Lord into shape) and being onstage and in the studio with Blackmore, gave Lord the chance to push himself once again. His ‘rubato’ classical opening sequence to the album’s opener, “Knocking at Your Back Door” (complete with F-Minor to G polychordal harmony sequence), gave Lord the chance to do his most powerful work for years, including the song “Perfect Strangers”. Further Deep Purple albums followed, often of varying quality, and by the late-1990s, Lord was clearly keen to explore new avenues for his musical career.
In 1997, he created perhaps his most personal work to date, Pictured Within, released in 1998 with a European tour to support it. Lord’s mother Miriam had died in August 1995 and the album is a deeply affecting piece, inflected at all stages by Lord’s sense of grief. Recorded largely in Lord’s home-away-from-home, the city of Cologne, the album’s themes are Elgarian and alpine in equal measure. Lord signed to Virgin Classics to release it, and perhaps saw it as the first stage in his eventual departure from Purple to embark on a low-key and altogether more gentle solo career. One song from Pictured Within, entitled “Wait A While” was later covered by Norwegian singer Sissel Kyrkjebø on her 2003/2004 album My Heart. Lord 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”. The album was recorded in Bonn with producer Mario Argandoña between June and July 2004.
Lord slowly built a small, but distinct position and fan base for himself in Europe. He collaborated with former ABBA superstar and family friend, Frida (Anni-Frid Lyngstad,) on the 2004 track, “The Sun Will Shine Again” (with lyrics by Sam Brown) and performed with her across Europe. He subsequently also performed European concerts to première the 2007-scheduled Boom of the Tingling Strings orchestral piece.
In 2003 he also returned to his beloved R-n-B/blues heritage to record an album of standards in Sydney, with Australia’s Jimmy Barnes, entitled Live in the Basement, by Jon Lord and the Hoochie Coochie Men, showing himself to be one of British rock music’s most eclectic and talented instrumentalists. Lord was also happy to support the Sam Buxton Sunflower Jam Healing Trust and in September 2006, performed at a star-studded event to support the charity led by Ian Paice’s wife, Jacky (twin sister of Lord’s wife Vicky). Featured artists on stage with Lord included Paul Weller, Robert Plant, Phil Manzanera, Ian Paice and Bernie Marsden.
In July 2011, Lord performed his final live concert appearance, the Sunflower Jam at the Royal Albert Hall, where he premiered his joint composition with Rick Wakeman. At that point, they had begun informal discussion on recording an album together. Up until 2011, Lord had also been working on material with the recently formed rock supergroup WhoCares, also featuring singer Ian Gillan from Deep Purple, guitarist Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath, second guitarist Mikko Lindström from HIM, bassist Jason Newsted formerly from Metallica and drummer Nicko McBrain from Iron Maiden, specifically the composition “Out of My Mind,” in addition to new compositions with Steve Balsamo and a Hammond Organ Concerto. Lord subsequently cancelled a performance of his Durham Concerto in Hagen, Germany, for what his website said was a continuation of his medical treatment (the concert, scheduled for 6 July 2012, would have been his return to live performance after treatment).
Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra was effectively recommissioned by him, recorded in Liverpool and at Abbey Road Studios across 2011 and under post-production in 2012 with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra performing, conducted by long-time collaborator, conductor Paul Mann. The recording was at completion at the time of Lord’s death, with Lord having been able to review the final master recordings. The album and DVD were subsequently released in 2012.
In July 2011, Lord was found to be suffering from pancreatic cancer. After treatment in both England and in Israel, he died on 16 July 2012 at the London Clinic after suffering from a pulmonary embolism. He was 71.
• On 11 November 2010, he was inducted as an Honorary Fellow of Stevenson College in Edinburgh, Scotland. On 15 July 2011, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree at De Montfort Hall by the University of Leicester. Lord was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 8 April 2016 as a member of Deep Purple.
• Lars Ulrich, founding member and drummer in Metallica commented, “Ever since my father took me to see them in 1973 in Copenhagen, at the impressionable age of 9, Deep Purple has been the most constant, continuous and inspiring musical presence in my life. They have meant more to me than any other band in existence, and have had an enormous part in shaping who I am. We can all be guilty of lightly throwing adjectives like ‘unique,’ ‘one-of-a-kind’ and ‘pioneering’ around when we want to describe our heroes and the people who’ve moved us, but there are no more fitting words than those right now and there simply was no musician like Jon Lord in the history of hard rock. Nobody. Period. There was nobody that played like him. There was nobody that sounded like him. There was nobody that wrote like him. There was nobody that looked like him. There was nobody more articulate, gentlemanly, warm, or fucking cooler that ever played keyboards or got anywhere near a keyboard. What he did was all his own.”
• Former keyboard player of rock band Yes, Rick Wakeman, who was a friend of Lord’s, said he was “a great fan” and added “We were going to write and record an album before he became ill. His contribution to music and to classic rock was immeasurable and I will miss him terribly.” In mid-2013, Wakeman presented a BBC One East Midlands-produced TV program about Lord and his connection to the town of his birth.
• Singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad (ABBA), who described Jon Lord as her “dearest friend”, paid him tribute at the 2013 edition of Zermatt Unplugged, the annual music festival which both he and she served as patrons. “He was graceful, intelligent, polite, with a strong integrity,” she said. “He had a strong empathy and a great deal of humor for his own and other people’s weaknesses.”
• Keyboardist Keith Emerson said of Lord’s death, “Jon left us now but his music and inspiration will live forever. I am deeply saddened by his departure.” In a later interview in November 2013, he added, “In the early years I remember being quite jealous of Jon Lord – may he rest in peace. In September 1969 I heard he was debuting his “Concerto For Group & Orchestra” at the Royal Albert Hall, with none other than Malcolm Arnold conducting. Wow! I had to go along and see that. Jon and I ribbed each other, we were pretty much pals, but I walked away and thought: ‘Shit, in a couple of weeks’ time I’m going to be recording The Nice’s Five Bridges Suite … not at the Albert Hall but at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon!’ A much more prosaic venue. Later, Jon wanted me to play on his solo album, Gemini Suite, but that was around the time ELP were breaking big and we were touring. He was a lovely guy, a real gentleman.”
• A concert tribute to Lord took place on 4 April 2014 at the Royal Albert Hall. Performers and presenters included Deep Purple, Bruce Dickinson, Alfie Boe, Jeremy Irons, Joe Brown, Glenn Hughes, Miller Anderson and Steve Balsamo.
• In December 2012 the Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby, joined the campaign to honor Lord with a blue plaque at his childhood home at 120 Averill Road, where he lived until he was twenty, saying it would be “an important reminder of the city’s contribution to the world of contemporary music.”
• Lord was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Deep Purple in April 2016