Sunday, July 22, 2012

In Memoriam: Jon Lord

The founder and keyboard player of the iconic British rock group Deep Purple has died at the age of 71.  The Telegraph reports:

With his long straggly hair, droopy moustache and garish stage costumes, [Jon] Lord looked every inch the archetypal 1970s rock star. But his popular success, with hits such as Smoke On The Water, was built on a fusion of progressive rock with classical influences; he went on to compose some highly regarded classical works, such as Durham Concerto. On his first solo album, Gemini Suite, he worked with the London Symphony Orchestra.

As such he was a passionate advocate for rock music as a much underrated art form, and ruffled a few feathers in 1973 by claiming that Deep Purple’s music was “as valid as anything by Beethoven”.

. . .

From the outset, Lord – systematically avoiding using the Moog synthesizer so in vogue with many of his contemporaries – saw Deep Purple as a vehicle for his ideas for fusing classical and rock. There were plenty of classical references on the albums The Book Of Taliesyn (1968) and Deep Purple (1969); and his synthesis of genres came to even greater fruition in 1969 with Concerto for Group and Orchestra, a landmark work performed at London’s Royal Albert Hall with the RPO conducted by Malcolm Arnold.

With Ian Gillan now installed as lead singer, the performance was considered a seismic development for rock music, for it occurred even as the tumultuous impact of Purple’s more rock-driven live shows earned them an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as “the globe’s loudest band”. By flirting both with classical music and thunderous arrangements, Deep Purple, in tandem with other bands such as Emerson Lake and Palmer and Led Zeppelin, were laying the groundwork for heavy metal music.

The group’s best-known hit, Smoke On The Water, co-written by Lord, was very much in the conventional rock style. It first appeared on the band’s 1972 album Machine Head, with Lord’s distorted organ imitating Blackmore’s guitar melody line so effectively that it became a test piece for aspiring guitarists. Indeed, so many guitarists played the tune to try out new instruments that some shop owners put up signs banning Smoke On The Water (along with Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven) from being played on the premises.

. . .

Widely respected as one of the finest musicians in the rock firmament, he made guest appearances on numerous other albums, by such artists as Graham Bonnet and Cozy Powell, before in 1984 re-forming Deep Purple for a triumphant world tour, six more studio albums and international sales that topped 150 million records, all of which cemented the group’s reputation as one of the world’s most successful bands.

There's more at the link.

I grew up to the music of Deep Purple.  What better tribute can I offer than this live recording from 1973 of Smoke On The Water, with a young and energetic Jon Lord on keyboards?  The video also offers some background on how the song came to be written.

May he rest in peace.


1 comment:

Noons said...

Machine Head is on my ipod's travel playlist. Every time I have to drive for a few hours, it's almost a rule I'll be listening to it.
RIP, Jon