In Memoriam Jon Lord 1941-2012

Not a single keyboard player has been quite as important to me musically as Jon Lord has been. As a young, conservative fan of the heavier side of music – it was around age 10 and I still had music served to me neatly pre-packaged by mainstream media – it was Jon Lord who prove to me that including keyboards in Hardrock wasn’t by any means “gay” at all. In fact, his screaming Hammond organ was at least as heavy as Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar was. It was a validation of the use of keyboards in heavy music for me. Now that he has died of pancreatic cancer at age 71, the Hammond organ will never be the same.

It’s no surprise that it took an intelligent and classically trained man as Lord to introduce me to this side of music. He was a visionary who didn’t just focus on playing his instrument as perfectly as possible, he also tried to push the instrument beyond its limited role it received in many Rock bands by taking on leads often influenced by classical pieces. In addition, he pushed the actual sound of the Hammond beyond its limitations by running the sound from the standard rotating Leslie speaker through a guitar amplifier – a Marshall to be exact – to create this mean, ugly and big sound that was only rivaled in ugliness by Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley at the time.

Lord’s classical background has always been fairly apparent in Deep Purple’s music, but flourished in full on 1969’s ‘Concerto For Group And Orchestra’, on which Lord fused both styles seamlessly. Many bands have tried to imitate this approach later on and many failed. It was a formula Lord continued to experiment with also besides Deep Purple and it made him a respected musician even outside of his own musical circles in a time that music was heavily segregated.

Until his retirement from Deep Purple in 2002, Lord continued to invest a lot of energy into playing and writing with the band, resulting in some brilliant stuff. Even after the band’s Mk II heyday, which spawned classics like ‘Child In Time’, ‘Strange Kind Of Woman’ and ‘Smoke On The Water’, Lord’s keyboard playing had a profound impact on amazing songs such as ‘This Time Around’, ‘You Keep On Moving’, ‘Anya’, ‘The Battle Rages On’ and – one of my all time personal favorites – ‘Knocking At Your Back Door’. And listen to that big intro to ‘Perfect Strangers’. Who else than Jon Lord?

And let’s not forget that Jon Lord was on the first six albums of his former Deep Purple band mate David Coverdale’s Whitesnake. What seems to have started as a service to his friend Coverdale – along brilliant Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice – boasted a number of classics with Lord’s Hammond, piano and synths all over it. And let’s be honest, that Hammond bit over the stomping intro to ‘Don’t Break My Heart’ is heavier than any guitar riff Whitesnake has ever used. And he wore the second most epic moustache in popular music – second only to the equally brilliant Frank Zappa.

Jon Lord is alive no longer, but let’s replace the mourning with a celebration of his rich musical legacy. There’s many, many albums and songs to enjoy to keep his memory alive and all that music will stay alive forever. And mr. Lord, please say hello to Tommy Bolin…

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