The Real Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: Jon Lord

On April 18, Lou Reed, Green Day, Ringo Starr, Joan Jett and others will be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, joining everyone from The Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Who to Kiss, Metallica, ZZ Top and, er, ABBA. But what about all the bands this US institution has overlooked, ignored or wilfully snubbed over the years? The giants and innovators of rock, prog, punk, blues and more who weren’t deemed important enough, cool enough or American enough to warrant entry through those hallowed portals. Nearly 50 years after forming, Deep Purple are the greatest band not to be in the official Hall Of Fame. They are one of a diminishing handful of bands who formed in the late 60s who are still active today, who are not content to rest on their laurels and who still exist in a meaningful and creative way. While many of their peers are content to play the chicken-in-a-basket circuit – their tour posters emblazoned with monochrome mug shots of how they looked back in their bushy-tailed heyday – Purple have matured like a fine, expensive wine (a Sweet Burgundy, as their former guitarist, the late, great Tommy Bolin, might have it). From 1968’s Shades Of Deep Purple to 2013’s NOW What?!, Purple’s passage through time resembles a mountain range of breathtaking highs and turbid lows. Via a series of interviews with every key member past and present, we celebrate Purple’s extraordinary, multi-decade career. We highlight the radically different personalities of the musicians who have impacted on the band, and marvel at how these contradicting characters were able to gel musically. We examine the mysterious – and occasionally devious – workings of this at times most volatile of bands. We analyse the contributions of alleged bit-part players including Nick Simper, Joe Lynn Turner and the aforementioned Bolin. Plus much more besides. This is Deep Purple dissected, deconstructed and laid bare. (Oh, and we only mention Smoke On The Water once.)

There is a school of thought that says keyboards have no place in rock. That all you need is guitar, bass and drums, plus someone to squawk a few lyrics, and anything else is superfluous. But can you imagine classic Deep Purple without keyboards? Without Jon Lord’s bombastic presence? The idea, as Ian Gillan might say, is clearly quite absurd.

Arguably more than Gillan’s signature shriekathons, Ritchie Blackmore’s trademark Strat-attack and Ian Paice’s studious drum patterns, Lord’s super-powered Hammond organ defined and underpinned Purple’s celebrated sound.

Lord was the band’s early leader, guiding them through three formative studio albums before bringing his classical influences to bear with Concerto For Group And Orchestra, all of which laid the foundations for the career-defining In Rock.

Can you imagine Child In Time without Lord’s masterful intro? Lazy without his thrumming Hammond histrionics? Woman From Tokyo without its towering, imperious, Lord/Blackmore riff? Any Mk II or III live show you care to mention without the brinkmanship that would ensue when Jon’s keyboards tussled with Ritchie’s guitar? (Lord: “What the hell’s going to happen next? The audience didn’t know and, nine times out of ten, neither did we. That was very exciting.”) And let’s not forget Smoke On The Water. Legendary as a guitar riff but, again, underpinned throughout by keyboards.

“I’m just a lad from Leicester whose parents sent him to piano lessons,” Lord told Classic Rock in an interview shortly before he died, on July 16, 2012. He was sweet-tempered and self-effacing, to the end.

Many rock bands have suffered similar losses to Purple’s. But somehow, in this instance, it’s different. It seems the band have an unspoken intention to never forget their founding keyboard player, to always recognise and respect his towering contribution, wherever and whenever they can.

After years of acrimony between them, David Coverdale reached out to Blackmore to express his sorrow over Lord’s demise. Blackmore, in turn, wrote a haunting instrumental tribute to his old sparring partner, Carry On Jon, that – typically – he told practically no one about. Ian Paice and wife Jacky, for their part, celebrated Lord’s career via the Sunflower Jam. Purple dedicated their recent NOW What?! album to Lord and, in the song Above And Beyond, included the poignant words:

Souls having touched are forever entwined.’

So the Lord’s work lingers on. And it will continue to do so.

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is a British journalist who founded the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and was an editor of Sounds music magazine. He specialised in covering rock music and helped popularise the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) after using the term for the first time (after editor Alan Lewis coined it) in the May 1979 issue of Sounds.