Jon Lord was one of the earliest rock keyboardists – along with people like Keith Emerson – to attempt to fuse so-called “classical” music (actually it was usually romantic) with rock. He convinced his band, Deep Purple, to cover Richard Strauss, among others, to include his string and wind arrangements, and to eventually perform his “Concerto for Group and Orchestra” (certainly one of the inspirations for Metallica’s experiment with a symphony). All of this occurred before Deep Purple decided to try out (the early version of) heavy metal instead.
After this change in direction, Lord was certainly one of the major metal keyboardists of his day, although nothing he played in that context really strikes me as being on par with the craziness going on in prog rock keyboard solos of the era. Still he was an important, creative organist of that time, and it seems like it’s a skill that few rock musicians have today, which is to our loss.
In “April,” co-written by Ritchie Blackmore and Lord, Deep Purple do some kind of slow, vaguely spaghetti-western-like ballad, which turns into a string and wind arrangement by Lord (not featuring any members of the group) and culminates in a rock song about how “April is the saddest month, the saddest month.” It’s epic, it’s overblown, and it’s most of what I love about late ’60s prog-rock. It features three musical ideas that shouldn’t go together but somehow do, a silly length and way too much drama.
I chose to include it here because to me it shows, more than anything else Deep Purple recorded, the kinds of areas that could be explored when classically trained musicians got it in their heads that they should play rock music. Jon Lord was certainly a major part of that flowering.
So, for me, Lord is notable in two ways:
- as a player, he was probably without peer among hard rock keyboardists in the 1970s
- as a composer, he was at the forefront (albeit briefly) of breaking down the barriers between high art and popular music.