There aren't many bands that I hold higher than Deep Purple when it comes to putting down the groundwork for heavy metal, driven by British rocker Jonathon Douglas "Jon" Lord's effectual, driving tones helped turn Deep Purple into one of the most popular hard rock acts of the past 50 years (he did the same thing with Whitesnake). On Monday July 16, at the age of 71, Lord passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. On behalf of rockers everywhere, I'd like to pay some respects.
Named after a color associated with seeking spiritual fulfillment, as well as imagination and royalty, Deep Purple's music truly was a labor of love. They chose the moniker Deep Purple after guitarist Ritchie Blackmore's grandmother kept asking if they would sing the Peter DeRose's song, which was one of her favorites.
Quite fitting for the legends that contrived a smoldering, sharper sound than the blues-based riffs that were key in the British invasion's first wave. From "Smoke on the Water" to "Demon's Eye," Deep Purple's jams influenced bands for decades forward, and key in the band's beloved sound was s keyboardist Lord's style of routing his organ through a Marshall amp to give it a warped twang, bringing the keyboards to an entirely new level of complexity on par with the lead guitar.
Yes, I realize that a lot of people would categorize such great British rock bands of the '60s and '70s like Led Zeppelin, the Stones, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple --well, probably minus Sabbath-- as classic rock but not necessarily metal. At the same time, if you don't think that these bands strongly influenced modern heavy metal, that's your major malfunction right there.
Deep Purple has one major difference, though, besides the other three musically masterful acts: great care and time was taken for Jon Lord to indulge in his classical projects. The band raked these compositions over the coals, caressing them with rock guitar licks and pounding drums, fitting them into their metal-laden style--check out the song "April" for a prime example.
Lord was one of those musicians that dabbled in a lot of beautiful things. Chances are, if you heard some phenomenal keyboard work from the late '60s up to the '80s, it had Lord's name written all over it. In 1964, his session credits included playing the keyboards featured in "You Really Got Me" by The Kinks. He guested on albums by such friends as George Harrison and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. He was a breakthrough English composer, pianist, and organ player, fusing hard rock with classical and baroque forms. In the early 2000s, some of his most personal work, Pictured Within, was a prime example of his uniquely crafted, clear musical voice, and embodies Lord's connection with his orchestral spirituality so well that at times it's mind-blowing to think that he influenced the likes of so many heavy metal hitters on the circuit today.
Lord developed his signature keyboard sound in the late 1960s, and one of the reasons it garnered intrigue was because it provided such a great contrast to Blackmore's pace and virtuosity on lead guitar. He played around on a Hammond organ, experimenting with the keyboard sound, striving to create a much heavier distorted version of the blues. Then one day, Lord and his keyboard technician combined his Hammond organ with the RMI (the same Hammond he had through his retirement in 2002), and pushed the sound through Marshall amps. The result was a grating, raw, heavy mechanical sound.
Then, after joining Whitesnake in 1978, Lord incorporated an electric Grand piano and a large bank of synthesizers into his repertoire, setting the stage for the 12-bar blues and recreated string section heard on such tracks as "Here I Go Again" and "Wine, Women and Song."
But all in all, when it comes to a major peak in Lord's career, Deep Purple's Machine Head was by far one of rock's most influential albums, and arguably Deep Purple's most successful, with such immortal tracks as "Highway Star," "Never Before" and "Smoke on the Water."
There's no better way to celebrate Deep Purple in honor of Jon Lord then keep rockin' out to their music. What's awesome is that there is even something new on the horizon: Nearly 45 years after Deep Purple was founded, some of rock and metal's most prestigious acts --think Metallica, Iron Maiden and Black Label Society- -are paying homage to the legends on a compilation CD issued by Classic Rock Magazine, Re-Machined: A Tribute to Machine Head. I can't wait to hear Carlos Santana and The Flaming Lips cover "Smoke on the Water" (thankfully, separately), Black Label Society belt out "Pictures of Home," Iron Maiden rocking "Space Truckin'," and Metallica dominating "When A Blind Man Cries."
The CD comes out September 4, and available with it is a 124-page magazine featuring exclusive interviews with Metallica, Maiden, Chickenfoot, Joe Bonamassa, and Steve Vai. Deep Purple not only discuss the making of Machine Head, but the magazine also provides one of the last-ever interviews with Jon Lord. It should be a moving compilation for sure; the band itself, including Lord, has influenced musicians ranging from orchestra players to Dream Theater, Dragon Force, to Metallica. Even Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead attributes his current status in music to Jon:
"Jon Lord was to a large extent responsible for me being in rock and roll," Kilmister recently said during an interview with Boston Phoenix. "He was in a band called the Artwoods years ago. They were sort of a jazz-blues band, I guess. They played at the place in Wales where I was living, this dingy little boozer, and I was talking to Jon and, like an idiot, he gave me his address in London. So of course I went down there and he wasn't there, but he was living [at Art's mother's house] where Ronnie Wood, who was in a band called the Birds, was living and they let me crash on the couch. I never forgot that Jon -- a complete stranger, and I'm some kid -- gave me his address to come down to London and see him."
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So raise your glass, record player needle, or your devil-horned hand to the sky in honor of a musician who moved from the dark to the light, and truly helped clear the way for some of our favorite past, present and future metal. Anyone who plopped one of our favorite whiskey-and-Marlboro-throated, mustached, warty musicians on the map deserves props, anyway.