That, my friends, is one of the most recent pictures of Jon Lord, quite possibly the greatest keyboard player in rock history. (That’s saying a lot, since it would make him cooler than the late Ian Stewart of Rolling Stones fame.) He was not as flashy as his friend Rick Wakeman or as pompous as Keith Emerson. And let’s be honest, Mr. Lord’s chosen instrument might have been the Hammond organ (specifically the B-2 and B-3 models), but without him, there would be no Geoff Downes (Asia, The Buggles, Yes), no Thomas Dolby getting blinded by science, no Gary Numan here in his car.
But Lord was like Emerson in one very special way: Both men were guitarists born into keyboard players’ bodies. Emerson might have been Jimi Hendrix on the organ, the Moog, and even the piano. Lord was to Deep Purple what Keith Richards is to the Rolling Stones.
Jon Lord passed away yesterday of pancreatic cancer. I’ll miss him. He was one of the classiest guys in rock and roll. A founder of Deep Purple, he retired in 2002, picking his own successor, Don Airey, and even leaving him his beloved Hammond B3 (which he bought off of Christine McVie during Fleetwood Mac’s pre-Buckingham/Nicks phase).
Jon Lord was the quiet center of Deep Purple and later gave gravitas to later, pre-hair metal incarnations of Whitesnake, fronted by protege David Coverdale. Genial, sounding almost like the missing Beatle when he spoke, Lord was a literate guy who could be found backstage with his nose in a book.
A classical music aficianado who nonetheless cut his teeth on the blues playing in early bands with the Stones’ Ronnie Wood, Lord’s eclectic tastes made him the perfect partner for his more fiery bandmate, Ritchie Blackmore.
That Hammond organ sound is Lord’s signature sound. Rick Wright of Pink Floyd made his bones on that instrument, but like Wright, Lord put his fingerprints all over rock with his technique. You can hear it even in the hair metal days of Whitesnake and on every Rainbow album, even though Lord was never in Rainbow and only in Whitesnake for a few years. But it’s a sound forged over Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar and woven into Coverdale’s psyche during his apprenticeship with Purple.
He was also a brilliant composer, creating the classic Concerto for Group and Orchestra, painstaking recreated after the original score was lost. Deep Purple performed it just over a decade ago for the first time since 1969.
I always liked Jon Lord. He showed a refreshing lack of ego, had a sense of fun about him, and was all class. In 1979, he was one of the most outspoken detractors of founder Rod Evans’ attempt to mount a bogus Deep Purple. However, in later years, he publicly defended Evans, saying he was conned into the scheme by people who made him the brunt of lawsuits. In recent years, he kept up contact with Evans, even convincing him to agree to a one-off Deep Purple show featuring every surviving member since the band was founded. (Can you imagine Blackmore, Joe Satriani, and Steve Morse on the same stage? Awesome!) Although the show never panned out, Lord expressed concern for his friend’s declining health, yet made a point of maintaining his privacy. Jon Lord knew where Rod Evans lives. You never will.
And that’s Jon Lord, in every way, a true gentleman. I already miss the hell out of that guy.