Jon Lord, the keyboardist who gave the British classic rock band Deep Purple its depth and heavy sonics, died Monday at the London Clinic after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 71.
Lord began his musical life steeped in classical piano, but became a session musician after falling under the spell of early rockers such as Jerry Lee Lewis. He reportedly played an uncredited piano part on the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” After meeting guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in another band, the two started Deep Purple, known both for such early stoner-rock favorites as “Smoke on the Water” as well as for compositional complexity. The latter ambition was fully realized on Lord’s “Concerto for Group and Orchestra,” which the band first performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1969 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
In the ‘70s, the lineup of Blackmore, Lord, singer Ian Gillan, drummer Ian Paice and bassist Roger Glover had several bestselling albums, including “Deep Purple in Rock” and “Machine Head.” Lord left the band in 1976, later joining Whitesnake as a keyboardist and starting his own ensemble, Paice, Ashton and Lord. Deep Purple re-united in 1984 to a warm reception, and Lord also revisited “Concerto” on the occasion of its 30th anniversary. Lord continued to play with the group until 2002, and announced his cancer diagnosis last year.
Rock musicians including Yes’ Rick Wakeman, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and members of Deep Purple-influenced bands such as Anthrax and Iron Maiden all lamented Lord’s passing, with Morello tweeting: “RIP the great Jon Lord, Deep Purple’s cornerstone/keyboardist. So many great great songs and that incredible SOUND of his! Thankyou.”