Jon Lord: God Of The Hammond Organ, June 9, 1941 – July 16, 2012
More and more of the people I grew up admiring are leaving us. In the last couple of weeks actor Ernest Borgnine, Encyclopedia Brown author Donald Sobol and director William Asher died and on Monday, July 16, 2012 the announcement of Jon Lord’s sudden death really hit home.
Lord who had been battling pancreatic cancer, died unexpectedly at the London Clinic of a pulmonary embolism. He leaves behind his second wife Vickie, their daughter, Amy, and Sara, his daughter with his first wife Judith Feldman whom he married in 1969 and divorced in 1981.
I grew up admiring Deep Purple and they have always been one of my favorite bands. I had seen them perform live which was a very festive and loud experience. After seeing them live I came away with the first hand knowledge that Jon Lord was without a doubt one of the most exciting and greatest rock keyboard players ever.
Being an extremely amateur musician myself, there are two things I wish I had the ability to do. One is to play stride style piano like James Johnson or Fats Waller and the other is to flawlessly play the guitar solo or keyboard solo to Deep Purple’s driving locomotive of a song, Highway Star.
Jon Lord was a classically trained musician and that training always came through in Deep Purple’s music. The structure of many of the bands songs are clearly classically influenced and this is due to the fact that both Lord and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore drew a lot of their inspiration from the classical realm.
In rock n’ roll there are many talented composers that are not great performers. There are great live bands, without good original songs. Then, there are phenomenal studio bands who can’t cut it live. During the height of their fame in the 1970’s, I don’t think there was a more talented group of individuals playing together as a band than Deep Purple. What I mean is each individual was a virtuoso in his own right, a master at their instrument. Together they were able to write great songs, record them in the studio and play them effortlessly with an edge in front of a live audience as few rock bands could. To do any one of these three things well is an accomplishment. Deep Purple was in a rare class as they did all three.
Many accolades and tributes have come from the luminaries of rock n’ roll since Lord’s passing on Monday. The most heartfelt I saw came from Steve Morse, the current guitarist in Deep Purple and Lord’s past band mate who said the following on his web site:
Jon just died. I’m shocked and don’t know what to do, so I’m going to try to tell you a little about Jon.
Jon was the powerhouse keyboard player that brought rock and classical directly together many times. The first was his timeless organ solo on “Highway Star”. The next was his “Concerto for Band and Orchestra”. I was able to perform with the whole band as it was played at Albert Hall before we toured extensively with it. Just weeks ago, I was able to play on a studio recording of Jon’s concerto and share some heartfelt thoughts and words with him.
Jon was the guy that would stop us from giving up on an idea in songwriting because it wasn’t immediately obvious. I remember him encouraging me in the studio to keep doing what I was doing as I played around with an idea that I was intrigued with. After writing something as amazing as his concerto, he still had the imagination to hear ideas on top of anything I suggested. He always had a regal, gentlemanly manner. Like any of us, he could get annoyed, but he would only show it with his wry and dry wit.
Mostly, he was upbeat and a pleasure for anybody to be around. His humor was right up my alley, with us exchanging ridiculous thoughts like,”If Brenda Lee married Tommy Lee, her new name would be Brenda Lee……” Or having him finish the tune when an announcement at an airport would start with several musical notes to get your attention. It’s hard to give anecdotes that convey an ease that somebody could give you, but he sure had that ability. We all love people that will pay attention to our kids, and years ago he charmed my (then) 5 year old son, Kevin with a Donald Duck imitation even while he was being hurried to get out of the dressing room and go to the green room for after show greetings.
Jon retired from the endless DP tour schedule, but continued to do appearances with original material and performances of his concerto. I knew he missed the band he helped start, but at the same time couldn’t stand the relentless travel. From time to time, we would see him on tour, and he would sit in with us. The last time we played, less than a year ago, at the Sunflower Jam at Royal Albert Hall, he had just come offstage from performing with Rick Wakeman. Later I talked with him and his wife about how strange it felt to look around at the keyboards and not see him there at Albert Hall. We promised to do something together. Soon thereafter, we all learned of his battle with Pancreatic cancer. I kept hearing hopeful, positive reports that they might be making progress, but this sudden death caught me totally unaware. I thought we would meet and do a recording project in the future when he recovered from the chemotherapy. Well, we sort of did, but I had to record it and send it to him, as we were in different countries.
If you have friends, family, especially kids, don’t ever miss a chance to do or say something special….or simply appreciate the fact that they are there. One day, they won’t be.
As Steve Morse points out, Jon retired from Deep Purple in 2002 because he was really tired of all the traveling. He still would make occasional appearances with Deep Purple but had returned to his earlier love, composing and performing classical music at his own pace and on his own terms. He was also involved in many side projects that suited his needs as an artist, including a blues band.
The world has lost a fine and generous human being and a musical giant.
To pick one final song to showcase Jon Lord’s immense talent is difficult. Rather than show a video of Lord blazing away on his own during a solo, I felt it would be more appropriate to highlight one of the most underrated songs Jon Lord ever co-wrote. Rarely does a rock song build so slowly only to explode in a fury of sound. The organ driven Child in Time from the album Deep Purple in Rock rocks at levels that stagger the mind. So here from 1970 is Jon Lord and Deep Purple performing Child In Time in front of a silent bewildered BBC audience made up mostly of teens. Look for the very confused young children in the front row who probably thought they were going to see a band like Herman’s Hermits! What a memory that must be for those forty-something-year-olds now.