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Remembering Deep Purple/Whitesnake Keyboard Legend Jon Lord

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Remembering Deep Purple/Whitesnake Keyboard Legend Jon Lord

17 July 2012

Pete Pardo

As I sit here thinking about the late, great Jon Lord, and how much his music and keyboard playing as a part of Deep Purple and Whitesnake has meant to my life, it makes it all the harder to accept the fact that he's now gone, dead at 71 from pancreatic cancer.My first instinct when I heard the news yesterday, July 16th, 2012, was to put on Purple's landmark live album Made in Japan, crank it full blast, and let all the memories that these glorious songs helped shape wash over me. Shortly after that one finished, Made in Europe made its way into my CD player, and as I type this 24 hours later, the glorious (and completely underrated) Deep Purple In Concert set is blasting away, featuring some of Lord's finest, face melting Hammond organ work on the extended jams of "Wring That Neck" and "Mandrake Root" alongside his partner in crime in those early days, Ritchie Blackmore.

I can remember being a young kid of around 12 when I first discovered Deep Purple. KISS had been my favorite band for a few years, but their time in the spotlight was waning, and I had started to reach out to other heavy & progresive bands to satisfy certain musical needs that I was searching for. Along came bands like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Kansas, Yes, Genesis, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Styx, Boston, Rainbow, Uriah Heep, and Whitesnake, among others, and my life was changed forever.

The music of Deep Purple thrills me now just as much as it did back in 1978. Though as a young guitarist 'wanna be', it was the mercurial Ritchie Blackmore that first caught my eyes and ears and grabbed me for good, as well as the powerful vocals of Ian Gillan and later David Coverdale & Glenn Hughes, but slowly but surely as I started to appreciate keyboards in heavy rock music, the talents of Jon Lord began to become more and more impactful to me. His raging Hammond organ was right up there next to Blackmore's guitar riffs on many of my favorite tracks, including "HIghway Star", "Black Night", "Smoke on the Water", "Burn", "Fireball", "Lazy", "Speed King", "You Fool No One", "Space Truckin'", "Maybe I'm a Leo",and most importantly "Child in Time", which was my anthem as a teenager.Combining classical chops with rock firepower and sultry blues, Lord's style was unique and commanding, and though I also really appreciated the work of Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Tony Banks, Ken Hensley, and others, it was Lord's playing that made me proud to say "yeah, I'm a guitarist, but I really dig this keyboard player and you should listen to what he is doing" on many an occasion.

Purple had already broken up and were dormant by the time I got into the band, with Lord in the short lived Paice Ashton Lord and eventually joining David Coverdale's Whitesnake for a few years. Though his playing in Whitesnake was not as pronounced as it was in Deep Purple, there is still quite a bit of excellent Hammond organ, piano and synth textures from Lord on albums such as Lovehunter, Trouble, Ready 'an Willing, Come 'an Get It, Saints and Sinners, and the superb Slide It In, which proved to be the first breakthrough for the band in the US, and ironically Lord's last with the band before jumping back with the reformed Mk2 line-up of Deep Purple in 1984.

For me, as a college freshman in 1984, the reformation of Deep Purple was like a dream come true. I can remember playing Perfect Strangers to death, and seeing the band live for the first time ever on that tour was one of the highlights of that period for me. Blackmore and Lord were amazing up there recreating all those classic tunes as well as the new songs, with Glover and Paice anchoring the rhythm and Gillan screaming up a storm. It was a great time to be a Deep Purple fan.

I had the opportunity to see Purple a few more times in the '80's, and numerous more in the '90s and later when Steve Morse replaced Blackmore, thankfully getting to see Lord on stage with his mates before he retired from the band earlier this decade. I'm a Don Airey fan for a long time, and he does a fine job these days in Purple, but Jon Lord will always be 'the man' when it comes to keyboards in Deep Purple. Those Hammond organ sounds from the maestro will never fully be replicated, and remain implanted in my brain now and surely for the rest of my life.

Surprisingly, as long as I've been a fan of the band, I only first heard 1969's Concerto for Group and Orchestra for the first time a few years ago. If you are just a casual fan of Deep Purple, or not familiar with their work and are curious about who this Jon Lord fellow is after hearing of his death, check this album or the DVD of the concert out. This was basically Lord's baby, and for the time it was an incredible achievement, and one of the first instances of combining rock and classical music.

Though Lord has a long and impressive discography of albums with Purple, Whitesnake, solo, and others, if I had to take one album featuring Jon Lord on a desert island, it would have to be Deep Purple's Made in Japan, as it contains some of Purple's most endearing songs from the Mk2 line-up in a raw, live format complete with extended jams. His Hammond is fierce and powerful, paired with Blackmore's violent guitar just perfectly. In saying that, In Rock is perhaps one of the greatest and most important heavy rock studio albums of all time, and along with Black Sabbath & Led Zeppelin's early releases, the genesis of 'heavy metal'. So, I'd probably have to sneak that one on the island as well!

In closing, as someone in his late 40s, it saddens me to see some of my musical heroes leaving us way too soon. In the last few years, we've lost two that have been near and dear to me, Ronnie James Dio and Gary Moore, and now a third in Jon Lord. I'll spend the next few weeks playing a lot of Purple and Whitesnake for sure to celebrate Lord's life and music, but in reality the music is already deep within my body and my soul, and has been for over 30 years. Jon Lord's music and talents have helped shape the soundtrack to my life, and I'll never forget him for that. RIP maestro.

Pete Pardo


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