The first time I heard Deep Purple was on this record my father had, Made In Japan (he had Machine Head too but it was scratched to all buggery) so as most guitarists do I learnt Smoke on the Water, but to the weird live version that Blackmore plays on Made in Japan.
Of course I loved and still love Ritchie’s guitar playing, he is a guitar hero, who wouldn’t? But it was only years after my teenage love that I really became aware of just exactly what Jon Lord did in purple. Why he was my favourite.
Gillian’s voice is ridiculously good albeit with some naff lyrics, Roger Glover is a great bass player and songwriter, Ian Paice one of the great drummers but Lord was definitely the favourite for me as I grew older.
Don’t get me wrong - even to my young, just pubescent ears (balls were growing, hair was forming...on my ears) Lord’s playing was phenomenal, his solo on Highway Star on Made in Japan is as much a jaw dropper, heck, more even than Blackmore’s solos on the whole record…
Although on reflection and listening (which I am doing as I type this) I am not sure if I was even aware what parts were the organ and what was the guitar when I first heard it. The fact is there’s still parts of Purple that I am only just realising are organ and not guitar.
And that is the genius of Jon Lord.
He played his organ through a Marshall Guitar amp (think Hendrix, AC/DC, Zeppelin, and Slash et al) and the traditional Leslie speaker (that fluttering organ sound you hear on Booker T & the Mg’s Green Onions) and was able to sound both soulful and heavy.
When you listen back to Deep Purple you realise just how much damn sound he filled out. The first (and only?) real heavy metal Organist/Keyboardist if you will. His Organ was like a rhythm guitar at one time and the most beautiful plaintive vocal-like instrument at another and it changes faster than an old western gunslinger.
Of course he was classically trained up the wazoo, brilliant technically and emotionally etc… But what made him so amazing is his humility in the face of his own ridiculous talent.
Watching the classic albums DVD on the making of their Machine Head album, you hear Lord explaining how he came to his sound and playing style.
'Ricky doesn’t like to play rhythm guitar, I mean he’s a stunning technician, why should he… But it meant somebody had to do it at some stage.'
Incredible. He is so appreciative throughout and in all his interviews of how good his band mates are, even the notoriously difficult Ritchie Blackmore, and he created brilliance around it and through it. That is something to aspire to. I think as a person and as someone who could loosely, very loosely be called a musician.
If you don’t like Deep Purple, perhaps it’s not your style or you don’t like the lyrics, the long jams, or whatever, take a listen to Made in Japan, and if you can only listen to one thing on it or don’t have the time, just listen to Highway Star. Listen to how beautiful yet heavy as hell Jon Lord was.
We’ve lost a spark of brilliance on Monday (well their Monday, our Tuesday), and that’s a damn shame.