Lord is recognised for his Hammond organ blues-rock sound and for his pioneering work in fusing rock and classical or baroque forms. He has most famously been a member of Deep Purple, as well as of Whitesnake, Paice, Ashton & Lord, The Artwoods and Flower Pot Men. He has worked with numerous other artists including Graham Bonnet (following Bonnet's departure from Rainbow).
In 1968, Lord co-founded Deep Purple. He and drummer Ian Paice were the only constant band members during the band's existence from 1968 to 1976 and from when they reformed in 1984 until Lord's retirement in 2002.
One of his finest works was his composition Concerto for Group and Orchestra, which was performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969 with Deep Purple (Lord and Paice with guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, singer Ian Gillan and bass guitarist Roger Glover) and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The concerto was revived for its 30th anniversary in 1999 with another performance at the Albert Hall, again performed by Deep Purple (Lord, Paice, Gillan, Glover and Steve Morse in place of Ritchie Blackmore) with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 2002 he retired from Deep Purple for good, to concentrate on composing and on lower-key blues/rock performances. In 2008, he achieved success as a classical composer when his Durham Concerto entered the classical album charts
Simultaneously, Lord absorbed the blues sounds that played a key part in his rock career, principally the raw sounds of the great American blues organists Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and "Brother" Jack McDuff ("Rock Candy"), as well as the stage showmanship of Jerry Lee Lewis. The jazz-blues organ sounds coming from those musicians in the 1950s and 1960s, using the trademark blues-organ sound of the Hammond organ (B3 and C3 models) and combining it with the Leslie speaker system (the well-known Hammond-Leslie speaker combo), were seminal influences. Keyboard contemporaries in the 1970s Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman generally steered away from the blues or only showcased it as a novelty, but Lord embraced it fully into his style.
Lord moved to London in 1959/60, intent on an acting career and enrolling at the Central School of Speech and Drama, in London's Swiss Cottage. Small parts followed on such contemporary TV series as "Emergency Ward Ten", and Lord continued playing piano and organ in clubs and as a session musician to make ends meet.
He started his London band career in 1960 with jazz ensemble the Bill Ashton Combo. Ashton, now an MBE, became a key figure in jazz education in the UK, creating what later became the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Between 1960 and 1963, Lord (along with Ashton) moved onto Red Bludd's Bluesicians (also known as The Don Wilson's Quartet), the latter of which featured singer Arthur "Art" Wood. Wood had previously sung with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated and was a junior figure in the British blues movement. In this period, Lord's session credits included playing keyboards on You Really Got Me (The Kinks 1964 classic).
Following the break-up of Redd Bludd's Bluesicians in late 1963, Wood, Lord and drummer Red Dunnage put together a new band. The Art Wood Combo also included Derek Griffiths (guitar) and Malcolm Pool (bass). Dunnage left in December 1964 to be replaced by Keef Hartley, who had previously replaced Ringo Starr in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.
The Artwoods focused on the organ as the bluesy, rhythmic core of their sound, in common with contemporaries the Spencer Davis Group (Steve Winwood on organ) and the Animals (with Alan Price). They made appearances on TV shows such as Ready Steady Go!, performed abroad and appeared on the first Ready Steady Goes Live, promoting their first single Sweet Mary, but significant commercial success eluded them. Their only chart single was I Take What I Want, which reached No 28 on 8 May 1966.
The band regrouped in 1967 as St Valentine's Day Massacre, in an attempt to cash in on the 1930s gangster craze triggered by the film Bonnie and Clyde. Hartley left in 1967 to join John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Lord joined Santa Barbara Machine Head (featuring Art's brother, the young Ronnie Wood) but left soon after to cover for keyboard player Billy Day in The Flower Pot Men, where he met bassist Nick Simper. Lord and Simper toured with the band in 1967 to support their Let's Go To San Francisco hit single, but they never recorded with them.
In early 1968, now intent on capturing a heavier sound (given the emergence of Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience), Lord helped form Boz, featuring Boz Burrell (later of Bad Company), session guitarist Ritchie Blackmore (whom Lord first met in December 1967), drummer Ian Paice and bassist Chas Hodges (later of 'Cockney' pop group Chas & Dave). That effort was short-lived, but it spawned Roundabout, which by March 1968 had morphed into Deep Purple Mk I: Lord, Simper, Blackmore, Paice and singer Rod Evans.
Lord pushed the Hammond-Leslie sound through Marshall amplification, creating a growling, heavy, mechanical sound that gave a rhythmic counterpoint to Blackmore's lead playing. It also allowed Lord to compete with Blackmore with an organ that sounded as heavy as a lead guitar. In early Deep Purple recordings, Lord's organ sound is more prominent than Blackmore's guitar, which only started to take over from the In Rock album (1970). Later, Lord's willingness to play many of the key rhythm parts gave the guitarist the freedom to let loose both live and on record.
On Deep Purple's second and third albums, Lord began indulging his ambition to fuse rock with classical music. This enhanced his reputation among fellow musicians, but caused tension within the group. Blackmore was keen to explore riff-based heavy rock, inspired by the success of Led Zeppelin, while Simper later said: "The reason the music lacked direction was Jon Lord fucked everything up with his classical ideas."
Blackmore agreed to go along with Lord's experimentation, provided he was given his head on the next band album. The resulting Concerto For Group and Orchestra (in 1969) was one of rock's earliest attempts to fuse two distinct musical idioms. Performed live at the Royal Albert Hall on 24 September 1969 (with new band members Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, Evans and Simper having been fired), recorded by the BBC and later released as an album, the Concerto gave Deep Purple their first highly-publicised taste of mainstream fame and gave Lord the confidence to believe that his experiment and his compositional skill had a future. The Concerto also gave Lord the chance to work with established classical figures, like conductor Malcolm Arnold (knighted in 1993), who brought his technical skills to bear by helping Lord score the work and to protect him from the inevitable disdain of the older members of the orchestra.
Classical dalliance over, Purple began work on In Rock, released by EMI in 1970 and now one of heavy rock's key early works. Lord and Blackmore competed to out-dazzle each other, often in classical-style, mid-section 'call and answer' improvisation (on tracks like Speed King), something they employed to great effect live. Similarly, Child in Time features Lord's playing to maximum tonal effect. Lord's experimental solo on "Hard Lovin' Man" (complete with police-siren interpolation) on the album is his personal favourite among his Deep Purple studio performances.
Deep Purple released a sequence of albums between 1971's Fireball and 1975's Come Taste the Band. Gillan and Glover left in 1973 and Blackmore in 1975, and the band disintegrated in 1976. The highlights of Lord's Purple work in the period include his rhythmic underpinning of Smoke on the Water, Highway Star and Space Truckin' from Machine Head (1972), his playing on the Burn album from 1974 and the sonic bombast of the Made in Japan live album from 1972.
Roger Glover later described Lord as a true 'Zen-archer soloist', someone whose best keyboard improvisation often came at the first attempt. Lord's strict reliance on the Hammond C3 organ sound, as opposed to the synthesizer experimentation of his contemporaries, places him firmly in the jazz-blues category as a band musician and far from the progressive-rock sound of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman. Lord himself would rarely venture into the synthesizer territory on Purple albums, often limiting his experimentation to the use of the ring modulator with the Hammond, to give live performances on tracks like Space Truckin' a distinctive 'spacey' sound. Rare instances of his Deep Purple synthesizer use (later including the MiniMoog and other Moog synthesizers) include ``A´´ 200, the final track from Burn.
Lord's 1970s career bears comparison with Emerson and Wakeman, the decade's other significant pioneers of rock keyboards. He was much less of a showman, partly because he couldn't compete with Blackmore's stage persona but mostly because he did not wish to. He was able to meld the Hammond soul to a heavy rock sound, demonstrating note control and speed to match Blackmore's technical fireworks on stage. In fact, Lord's working experience of scoring for and performing with leading orchestras far exceeded that of his rock contemporaries by the late 1970s.
Lord's collaboration with the highly experimental and supportive Schoener resulted in a second live performance of the Suite in late 1973 and a new Lord album with Eberhard Schoener, entitled Windows, in 1974. It proved to be Lord's most experimental work and was released to mixed reactions. However, the dalliances with Bach on Windows and the pleasure of collaborating with Schoener resulted in perhaps Lord's most confident solo work and perhaps his strongest orchestral album, Sarabande, recorded in Germany in September 1975 with the Philharmonia Hungarica conducted by Schoener.
Composed of eight pieces (from the opening sweep of Fantasia to the Finale), at least five pieces form the typical construction of a baroque dance suite. The key pieces (Sarabande, Gigue, Bouree, Pavane and Caprice) feature rich orchestration complemented sometimes by the interpolation of rock themes, played by a session band comprising Pete York, Mark Nauseef and Andy Summers, with organ and synthesizers played by Lord.
In March 1974, Lord and Paice had collaborated with friend Tony Ashton on First of the Big Bands, credited to 'Ashton & Lord' and featuring a rich array of session talent, including Carmine Appice, Ian Paice, Peter Frampton and Pink Floyd saxophonist/sessioner, Dick Parry. They performed much of the set live at the London Palladium in September 1974.
This formed the basis of Lord's first post-Deep Purple project Paice, Ashton & Lord, which lasted only a year and spawned a single album, Malice in Wonderland in 1977. He created an informal group of friends and collaborators including Ashton, Paice, Bernie Marsden, Boz Burrell and later, Bad Company's Mick Ralphs, Simon Kirke and others. Over the same period, Lord guested on albums by Maggie Bell, Nazareth and even Richard Digance. Eager to pay off a huge tax bill upon his return the UK in the late-1970s (Purple's excesses included their own tour jet and a home Lord rented in Hollywood from actress Ann-Margret), Lord joined former Deep Purple band member David Coverdale's new band, Whitesnake in August 1978 (Paice joined them in 1980 and stayed till 1982).
During his tenure in Whitesnake, Lord did have a chance to do two distinctly different solo albums. 1982s Before I Forget featured a largely conventional eight-song line-up, no orchestra and with the bulk of the songs being either mainstream rock tracks (Hollywood Rock And Roll, Chance on a Feeling), or - specifically on Side Two - a series of very English classical piano ballads sung by mother and daughter duo, Vicki Brown and Sam Brown (wife and daughter of entertainer Joe Brown) and vocalist Elmer Gantry. The album also boasted the cream of British rock talent, including prolific session drummer (and National Youth Jazz Orchestra alumnus) Simon Phillips, Cozy Powell, Neil Murray, Simon Kirke, Boz Burrell and Mick Ralphs. Lord used synthesizers more than ever before, principally to retain an intimacy with the material and to create a jam atmosphere with old friends like Tony Ashton.
Additionally, Lord was commissioned by producer Patrick Gamble for Central Television to write the soundtrack for their 1984 TV series, Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, based on the book by Edith Holden, with an orchestra conducted by Alfred Ralston and with a distinctly gentle, pastoral series of themes composed by Lord. Lord, now firmly established as a member of UK rock/Oxfordshire mansion aristocracy (in Lord's case, a home called Burntwood, complete with hand-painted Challen baby grand piano, previous owner, Shirley Bassey), was asked to guest on albums by friends George Harrison (Gone Troppo from 1982) and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour (1983's About Face), Cozy Powell (Octopus in 1983) and to play on an adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's classic, Wind in the Willows.
In 1997, he created perhaps his most personal work to date, Pictured Within, released in 1998 with a European tour to support it. Lord's mother Miriam had died in August 1995 and the album is a deeply affecting piece, inflected at all stages by Lord's sense of grief. Recorded largely in Lord's home away from home, the city of Cologne, the album's themes are Elgarian and alpine in equal measure. Lord signed to Virgin Classics to release it, and perhaps saw it as the first stage in his eventual departure from Purple to embark on a low-key and altogether more gentle solo career. One song from Pictured Within, entitled "Wait A While" was later covered by Norwegian singer Sissel Kyrkjebø on her 2003/2004 album My Heart. Lord finally retired from Deep Purple in 2002, preceded by an injury that required an operation. He said subsequently, 'Leaving Deep Purple was just as traumatic as I had always suspected it would be and more so - if you see what I mean'. He even dedicated a song to it on 2004's solo effort, Beyond the Notes, called De Profundis. The album was recorded in Bonn with producer, Mario Argandoña between June and July 2004.
Pictured Within and Beyond the Notes provide the most personal work by Lord, and together, have what his earlier solo work perhaps lacks, a very clear musical voice that is quintessentially his. Together, both albums are uniquely crafted, mature pieces from a man in touch with himself and his spirituality. Lord has slowly built a small, but distinct position and fan base for himself in Europe, collaborating with former ABBA superstar and family friend, Frida (Anni-Frid Lyngstad), on the 2004 track, "The Sun Will Shine Again" (with lyrics by Sam Brown) and performing with her across Europe and subsequently, doing concerts also to première the 2007-scheduled Boom of the Tingling Strings orchestral piece.
In 2003, he also returned to his beloved RnB/blues heritage to record an album of standards in Sydney, with Australia's Jimmy Barnes, entitled Live in the Basement, by Jon Lord and the Hoochie Coochie Men, 2003. He remains one of British rock music's most eclectic and talented instrumentalists. Lord is also happy to support the Sam Buxton Sunflower Jam Healing Trust and in September 2006, performed at a star-studded event to support the charity led by Ian Paice's wife, Jacky (twin sister of Lord's wife Vicky). Featured artists on stage with Lord included Paul Weller, Robert Plant, Phil Manzanera, Ian Paice and Bernie Marsden.
Two Lord compositions, "Boom of the Tingling Strings" and "Disguises (Suite for String Orchestra)", were recorded in Denmark in 2006 and released in April 2008 on EMI Classics. Both feature the Odense Symfoniorkester, conducted by Paul Mann. Additionally, a second Hoochie Coochie Men album was recorded in July 2006 in London. This album, Danger - White Men Dancing, was released in October 2007.
His Durham Concerto, commissioned by Durham University for its 175th anniversary celebrations, received its world premiere on 20 October 2007 in Durham Cathedral by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and featured soloists Lord on Hammond Organ, Kathryn Tickell on Northumbrian pipes, Matthew Barley on cello and Ruth Palmer on violin.
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