happy 70th birthday, jon lord!
he wasnt only one of the founding members of the group that came to life as ’roundabout’ and evolved into deep purple in early 1968, he was one of the creative initiators behind the whole concept. jon shared a flat with the searchers ex-drummer chris curtis around 1967, who had the idea of a group with constantly fluctuating members, like the cars in a roundabout. auditions were held to recruit members, and when the first lineup (referred to as MK I) was complete the ’roundabout’ concept soon was dropped, so was the name.
in 1968 and 69 deep purple MK I released three albums (‘shades of deep purple’, ‘the book of taliesyn’ and ‘deep purple’ – the latter of which is my favourite) that show the brilliant results of the (then) fruitful collaboration between rod evans as a songwriter and singer and jon as a composer (being the only band member who enjoyed a classical training in music) and pianist/keyboarder. especially on their third album there are really beautiful compositions that you could perhaps best describe as melodic art rock – for instance ‘blind’, ‘chasing shadows’ and the incredible masterpiece ‘april‘. although similar tendencies were already present on the previous albums, ‘april’ marks the most striking, and more than successful, early attempt to wed classical and rock music. this exciting combination reached a new point of culmination in ‘fools‘, a track on the 1971 ‘fireball’ album, in which an electronic bass guitar is used to sound like a cello.
in mid ’69 deep purple took the first roundabout and MK I became MK II, with singer rod evans and bassist nick simper leaving and singer ian gillan and bassist roger glover joining the group. MK II was to be the most famous and most successful deep purple lineup after their great breakthrough with ‘deep purple in rock‘ in 1970, that finally led them on the path to hard rock. but even before that, the first big project for MK II was the ‘concerto for group and orchestra‘, that took place in the royal albert hall on the 24th september 1969, with the royal philharmonic orchestra. apart from the lyrics created by gillan, the whole concerto was composed by jon lord – the first time a rock band played together with a philharmonic orchestra on such a large scale – and it was to be highly successful.
jon first left deep purple in 1976, after various lineup changes (including the departure of gillan, glover and the (founding member) guitarist ritchie blackmore) and a rapid decline in the groups success and popularity. jon was part of groups like ‘whitesnake‘ and ‘paice, ashton & lord’ afterwards. the MK II lineup reformed in 1984 and jon finally left the group in 2002, turning to other fantastic projects and he is still active today.
even before his time with deep purple jon had already successfully gained ground in the music business. he played in ‘the artwoods‘, led by ronnie woods deceased elder brother art, who charted some success in 1966. before this he had played as a backing musician on the kinks ‘you really got me’ (yep, that single, repeated piano note). in 1967 jon formed the very short-lived super group ‘santa barbara machine head‘ together with john ‘twink’ alder, kim gardner and ronnie wood. they only recorded three instrumental tracks, but as they were already very progressive and heavy for the time, they already allowed a glimpse on what was to come some years later. between ‘santa barbara’ and deep purple jon also backed the flower pot men (famous for ‘lets go to san francisco’), where he met future deep purple bassist nick simper.
what an extraordinary career, and its still hard to comprehend all the influence he had on the developement of music in the last half of the past century. however, as hes still best remembered for his work with deep purple, heres an extract of the stunning
concerto for group and orchestra, composed by jon lord, at the royal albert hall 1969: