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Monday, July 16, 2012

Obituary: Jon Lord (1941-2012)

Keyboard pioneer was a composer and founding member of Deep Purple. 

"We're as valid as anything by Beethoven."
--Jon Lord, in an interview with the New Musical Express, 1973.
Organist, composer Jon Lord.
Photo from JonLord.org.

Keyboardist, organist and composer Jon Lord has died after a long bout with pancreatic cancer. He was 71.

Born Jonathan Douglas Lord, in Leicester in 1941, Mr. Lord began studying classical piano at the age of five. He was a London session musician in th early '60s playing keyboards on The Kinks classic "You Really Got Me." In 1968, he founded Deep Purple with guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, injecting his classical influence into projects like Concerto for Group and Orchestra.

Mr. Lord's signature sound combined the Hammond organ with the Leslie speaker cabinet, a rotating amplifier that created a distinctive, swirling tone. He then drove the Leslie through a Marshall stack to create an over-driven sound that could duel on equal footing with Mr. Blackmore's guitar.

After the first of many lineup changes, Purple evolved from blues and experimental music into one of the cornerstones of the first wave of British heavy metal music. They recorded seminal albums like Deep Purple In Rock, Machine Head and the live Made in Japan. Internatonal stars, Purple rode the forefront of a wave that also included Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

With bassist Roger Glover, Mr, Lord would hold down the bottom end with his left hand and play expansive solos with his right, doing battle with guitarist Ritchie Blackmore on classics like "Hush," and "Child in Time" and the most iconic metal song of the 1970s: "Smoke on the Water." Later records with singer David Coverdale and bassist Glenn Hughes are now considered metal classics, influencing later bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica and Dream Theater.

 Deep Purple called it a day in 1976. In '78, Mr. Lord joined singer David Coverdale in the original version of Whitesnake. But his old mates set the trend of band reunions with 1984's Perfect Strangers. The band underwent more tumult when Ritchie Blackmore quit (again) in the 1990s. Mr. Lord stayed the course until retiring from the band in 2002. His replacement, Don Airey, continues to tour with Deep Purple today

Upon retiring from the stage, Mr. Lord had more time for composition. A 2010 record,
To Notice Such Things celebrated the memory of his friend Sir John Mortimer, the witty former barrister, author and creator of Rumpole of the Bailey. A new Concerto for Hammond Organ and Orchestra is scheduled to be performed this year, and Mr. Lord was scheduled to join Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson for a performance of Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra. 

On a personal note, I saw Jon Lord perform once, with Deep Purple at Giants Stadium in 1988. The band went on before Aerosmith and after opener Guns 'N' Roses. Highlights of that set included "Knockin' at Your Back Door," an epic "Child in Time," and "Smoke on the Water", complete with guitar-organ duel and "some stupid" setting fire to a couple of stadium seats in the upper bowl. That was my first rock concert. I was 16.

 A note on his official website  said: "Jon Lord has passed from darkness to light.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.