Jon Lord (1941-2012) rock star supreme

Jon Lord, long time keyboard player with Deep Purple and one of the biggest names in progressive rock and heavy metal, has died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 71.

Jon Lord

It was 1973, the year I left school or possibly a year earlier, that I first noticed Deep Purple. I read somewhere that they had smashed their way across the United States and elsewhere selling 28 million records, and I had never heard anything by them. I decided I must, and was not disappointed.

Ritchie Blackmore was the band’s mercurial lead guitarist, and Jon Lord was its keyboard player. They were chalk and cheese, but together these two men were largely responsible for three of the first albums I ever bought, and three of the finest progressive rock albums ever made: Shades Of Deep Purple, which included an original cover of Lennon/McCartney’s Help!, the psychedelic The Book Of Taliesyn, and the eponymous Deep Purple, which in common with Santana’s third release is best known as The Third Album.

And what an album; this includes the magnificent April, which was orchestrated by Lord.

Jon Lord was a war baby, he was born June 9, 1941. Although Deep Purple was not his first band, it is the one with which his name will be linked forever in the halls of rock. Like his great contemporary Elton John, he was classically trained from infancy, and moved to the capital as a young man in search of fame.

After early hits and misses, he was introduced to Ritchie Blackmore, and the rest, as they say, is history.

After The Third Album, the original vocalist Rod Evans and bass player Nic Simper left the band to be replaced by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover respectively. Deep Purple Mark II is regarded by purists as the classic line up. It was also classical, for a while, and on September 24, 1969 produced a live recording of a landmark Concerto For Group And Orchestra, which was composed by Lord with lyrics by Ian Gillan.

This was by no means his last such effort; Windows was recorded live in (then) West Germany with David Coverdale of Deep Purple Mark III on vocals. Later, he would play keyboards for Coverdale’s new band, Whitesnake.

It is impossible to cover the breadth and depth of Lord’s work in a mere obituary; my advice is to begin with the Deep Purple songfacts, then the Deep Purple websites and some of the excellent material on YouTube, including interviews with the man. And his own website, of course. By 11.30 last night London time, almost 500 comments had been left on its guestbook, a measure of how widely he was regarded and loved.

Although a fan since I first heard them, I saw Deep Purple only the once, with Lord and Blackmore, at the Hammersmith Odeon in the 1990s. (I also saw Blackmore with Rainbow at Leeds in the early 1980s).

Jon Lord received an Honorary Doctorate last year, in Music, but while some honorary doctorates are handed out on dubious pretexts (and at times to dubious people), this one was well earned. As a contemporary composer, certainly in his chosen field, few have contributed as much, and none have excelled him.

One of the quiet men of rock music, no one seems ever to have said a bad word about him.

Jon Lord was married twice; he leaves a widow, Vickie Lord, and two daughters, one from each marriage.

Jonathan Douglas Lord, born Leicester, June 9, 1941; died London, July 16, 2012.

[The above obituary was first published July 17, 2012 (London time), not July 16 as shown on the archived version. Nicholas John Simper goes by Nick Simper but has also been credited as Nic Simper – as above. As with many ancient words, there are variant spellings of Taliesin.]

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