RIP Jon Lord, Deep Purple’s Organ Grinder

Deep Purple (Jon Lord at the front, right hand side)

The rock world has been paying tribute to Jon Lord, the organist and pianist best known for playing with Deep Purple and Whitesnake, who died yesterday. He’d been fighting off pancreatic cancer.

Born in Leicester, Jon learned classical piano at an early age, but switched to rock, jazz and blues after seeing Jerry Lee Lewis and  Jimmy Smith and wanting to make a similarly brutal noise. He soon acquired a Hammond Organ like Smith’s and began playing gigs and sessions amid the mid-’60s London blues boom. Listen carefully, and you can hear him pounding the piano on the Kinks‘ “You Really Got Me.”

But it was a late ’60s meeting with fellow session ace Ritchie Blackmore that led to the creation of Deep Purple, a hard rock band with jazz and blues roots, modelled on Vanilla Fudge but with more than a nod to Jon’s classical past too. After a little time refining their sound, they proceeded to take over the world, with anthems such as “Black Night,” “Strange Kind of Woman” and the evergreen “Smoke On The Water.”

Paying their respects, the Kinks said: “RIP Jon Lord. A fantastic pianist and composer. Legend.”

Slash tweeted: “Sad day in rock’n'roll. Jon Lord has passed on. One of the biggest, baddest, heaviest sounds in heavy metal. One of a kind. RIP.”

Rage Against the Machine’s star Tom Morello described Jon as “Deep Purple’s cornerstone/keyboardist. So many great great songs and that incredible SOUND of his! Thank you.”

Jon’s friend (and fellow keyboard player) Rick Wakeman said he was  “a great fan.” He added: “We were going to write and record an album before he become ill. His contribution to music and to classic rock was immeasurable and I will miss him terribly.”

So, just for a momentary indulgence, here’s a far too brief roundup of some of Jon’s great moments behind his trusty hammond.

Here he is playing the Purp’s inspired freakbeat version of Joe South’s “Hush” at the Playboy mansion. Jon (interviewed) is by some distance the coolest man in the room (and not just because he’s not wearing puffy sleeves):

This is a selection from Jon’s “Concerto For Group And Orchestra,” performed and recorded at the Albert Hall in 1969. It’s an endeavour which has been variously gasped at in wonder, openly mocked for hubris and all points between over the years. Doesn’t sound too shabby these days, mind:

Also very much sounding rather grand this morning is the Purps doing “Child In Time.” Another Lord composition, with some remarkable screaming from Ian Gillan.

Post Purple, Jon formed Whitesnake with David Coverdale, assisting on “Here I Go Again,” by some distance their greatest song:

Note: One of my favorite things in all of the preposterous world of rock is the way Whitesnake, when re-recording this song in the late ’80s, changed the words from “like a hobo I was born to walk alone” to “like a drifter,” in case anyone thought David was referring to gay men.

And of course, we can’t in all good conscience celebrate the career of Jon Lord without mentioning his involvement in “Smoke On The Water,” a foundation stone of heavy metal and hard rock, and a bloody amazing riff.

Hats off, people.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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