Yesterday afternoon, I was terribly sad and upset to learn of the death of Jon Lord, a man best known for being a founder member and the keyboard player with Deep Purple. The first thing I ever learned to play on any musical instrument was the introduction to the song Child In Time, which happened when I was at school in Monmouth in the early 1970s.
I was mesmerised by the song, so I persuaded one of my friends to teach me how to play the riff and the beautiful, melancholy chimes that serve as the opening to Child In Time. I practised it on the piano for a while, but then I got to play it at full volume on the organ in the school chapel and I’ve never forgotten the sheer visceral thrill of being able to unleash these otherworldly sounds upon the world at will. I could continue to write in this vein for hours yet, but suffice it to say that Jon Lord’s wonderful music has been the soundtrack to my life for over forty years, so it’s impossible to express the sheer gratitude I feel for his existence.
I’m a prolific writer, so my first inclination was to come here to my study to write something about Jon, a man I never got to meet. However, I was simply too upset to write, so I passed the evening thinking about precisely who he was and what he did. In essence, he learned to play an instrument, spending many years practising and studying, then he sat down with others to compose and record his compositions, after which he went on tour to perform them.
At their peak, Deep Purple’s songs and performances were so mesmerising that they became the best-selling band in the world for a period in the 1970s. In the process, the band members, including Jon Lord, earned a fortune, and as someone who has contributed to their income over the years, I do not begrudge them a penny. In fact, considering the sheer pleasure I’ve derived and continue to experience from Jon’s performances, I’d say that I still owe him a considerable amount, although that debt can not now be repaid.
When I thought of how Jon Lord spent his life creating beautiful things – songs and performances – for the pleasure of others, my mind inevitably turned to other people I’m forced to share the planet with. I was shocked when I realised just how many leeches, parasites, hangers-on, bloodsuckers and other shameless exploiters of mankind there are – all the individuals, firms, companies, organisations, parties, industries and members thereof who take all, but contribute nothing whatsoever to the common good. It was a depressing experience to ponder this, but I know I’m not alone in thinking this way, so this was some consolation.
Better still, I know for a fact that when our current crop of failures have become forgotten footnotes in history, generations as yet unborn will experience the thrill and wonderment of listening to Child In Time and Highway Star, just as I continue to feel blessed with the existence of Stonehenge, a bequest from the people who lived and loved on Salisbury Plain over 4,500 years ago.
So, on that final note involving magical arts and beings of enormous stature, I will say farewell to Jon Lord, a true giant of a man who will be very badly missed.
Update: Here’s a piece written by my friend Neil Jeffries, who writes for Classic Rock magazine and who met Jon Lord on several occasions:
Jon Lord (1941-2012)
I first met Jon Lord in 1983 at Henley-on-Thames railway station, where I’d gone with photographer Robert Ellis to do a story for Kerrang! to coincide with Whitesnake’s headline appearance at Donington in August of that year. As a huge fan of Deep Purple, and latterly Whitesnake, I was excited to be asked to interview him, along with Micky Moody while David Coverdale was – if memory serves – recording in the US.
Jon pulled up at the station in his Range-Rover, and greeted us with a warm smile and a friendly handshake, his trademark aviator shades in place on his nose and a very un-rock’n'roll pair of sandals on his bare feet. There were no airs or graces as he helped Robert load his camera gear into the boot, explaining the case of beer in there was for us that afternoon and apologising that he hadn’t bought it earlier so it would be better chilled. As I now digest the news of Jon’s passing, I remember that day like it was yesterday…
It was warm enough for us to sit outside his large and beautiful house, relaxing and sipping beer – from glasses, not the bottle, because Jon was as classy as the beautiful white piano in the lounge we walked through to reach the terrace. At one point, he went back inside to the nursery upstairs and emerged on a balcony with a tiny toy piano on which he played the riff to Smoke On The Water, making a sweeping gesture as he finished and joking: “It paid for all this, you know!” Jon wasn’t showing off, just being an amusing host.
Robert was disappointed to see Jon duck back into the house before he could grab his camera, but I had a sense that Jon had imagined that the image of him dwarfed by his huge country pile might make him look boastful, and he was too much of a gentleman to let that happen…
They say never meet your heroes, but they weren’t talking about Jon Lord. He was an extraordinary talent who has left us a wealth of music that is both important and inspirational. For this much we can be grateful, but the world is a poorer place for his passing and I am very saddened by it.
And finally (for now) here’s a piece of artwork created by my friend Rich Voysey, in honour of Jon Lord.
BBC Last Word on Jon Lord.
A wonderful and moving piece from Lee Marlow of Classic Rock magazine on Jon Lord.
GTFM hour long tribute to Jon Lord on Soundcloud.
Tribute to Jon Lord in the Henley Standard.
Jon Lord obituary in the Guardian.
Jon Lord obituary in the Telegraph.
Rasmus Heide’s wonderful tribute to his friend Jon Lord.