Jon Lord

Metal Express Radio caught up with Hammond organ maestro Jon Lord following his highly successful debut performance of The Durham Concerto. Jon chats about the show and talks about his current projects and reflects on his work with Deep Purple.

A couple of weeks ago your Durham Concerto made its premier in Durham Cathedral. This was 6 years in the making. Did it turn out how you’d initially envisaged when you started the project?

Well, not quite!! In many respects in turned out better. Of the six years, I guess the first four years were just me writing a bit here and writing a bit there. About two years ago I thought “Oh, shit!!… it’s getting closer” so it’s really been the last two years where I’ve done the major amount of work on this. When you’re writing songs that are mostly in your head, when you finally get to hear it, it’s very different to how you’d imagined it but it turned out better than I’d hoped. I’m really, really pleased with it.

You were concerned at the acoustics in the Cathedral during the rousing “Rags and Dolls” section. Were your concerns unfounded after all?

I think they were unfounded to some extent but it was a very challenging acoustic for a large orchestra especially as the placing of the orchestra is so important. They are used to being placed laterally so the distance between the conductor and the last row is as short as possible. In the Cathedral they had to be placed quite a way from the conductor and if you add in the acoustics which is something like a 5 second reverb it made it quite challenging but fortunately we had the afternoon to sort that out. I was so pleased how it turned out on the night. I had friends and family out in the audience and they said the sound was fabulous.

Were you pleased with the reaction from the audience and also from those who have now heard the performance on the radio?

It’s been on Classic FM and the reaction to that was really good. The reaction on the night was wonderful, it was really heart-warming.

As I thought there was a varied mix of people in the crowd ranging from young to old and Classical music lovers and Deep Purple fans. Was it good to see such a cross section of people there?

I love to see a varied audience. I love to think that something that I’ve done is crossing the boundaries so it’s nice to see an audience that varied.

Are you planning any more live performances of the Concerto?

I will be performing this again. The next time will be in April in Liverpool and there’s interest for me to play this abroad.

The Durham Concerto will be available to buy on CD from January?

The CD is out now and I’m very happy with it. This is a studio recording that we made last July in Liverpool in the Philharmonic Hall. We had two and a half days up there to record that. It’s the same piece as you heard in the Cathedral but done under studio conditions so we were able to control the acoustics.

I’d imagine the logistics for doing a full orchestral recording must be pretty complex?

It is!! It’s wonderful however, to be in the hands of professionals when it’s being done. I actually thought the Classic FM live recording was very good and captured the acoustics of the Cathedral but the CD is in a more acoustic controlled setting. I’m thrilled to bits with how it’s turned out.

Have you found that the attitude of the Classical musicians has changed towards you compared to when you did the Concerto for Group and Orchestra in 1969? I’ve always thought they could be a little on the snobby side towards Rock musicians?

Well they used to be, not all of them of course, but are far bigger percentage were like that than they are now. The world has changed enormously since 1969 and orchestras take part so much more in cross style music. They have to; it’s the nature of the game. In 1969 The Royal Philharmonic was a very stiff, established, posh orchestra, a brilliant one, but not one that was used to playing The Concerto For Group and Orchestra. There was a lot of work that had to be done in rehearsals for them to understand the way we played and that was down to the conductor Malcolm Arnold. He was a hero, he was one of them but he understood me so he was the bridge if you like between the band and orchestra. In fact I’ve just done The Concerto for Group and Orchestra in Northampton again with The Royal Philharmonic at the Malcolm Arnold Festival. There was one guy from the original performance who retired about 6 months before this performance so there were none of the original orchestra members left from that performance back in 1969. There were people in the orchestra who knew the piece which was lovely. When we first did it in ’69 it took 2 days of solid rehearsal to get it to sound anything close to being right. This time we rehearsed in early October for about 4 hours and the first read through sounded almost note perfect so the difference in attitude is, I think, striking.

As well as the Durham Concerto you’ve also been busy with The Hoochie Coochie Men which is a real down to earth Blues band, which is as far removed from Classical music as you can get. Do you like to keep your musical interests rich and varied?

I’ve always thought that being a musician meant just that. I’m lucky enough to be able to play different styles and in fact love those different styles and I feel comfortable putting on different hats. I just love playing. When I was asked to put some Hammond on these songs, I listened to them and thought like it’d be great fun so I was happy to do that. I met them down in Australia in ’03 and did some live dates with them. Bob Daisley is in the band and they have a terrific guitarist called Tim Gaze who also happens to be a great singer too. To me he’s an Australian Clapton. He has this lovely laid back voice and this very interesting and accomplished guitar style.

Blues is a pure form of music. Do you find it quite liberating playing Blues as opposed to Classical music or the more overblown aspects of Deep Purples’ material?

Yes, each one has its own demands. Blues is what I first started playing in the mid ’60’s and we used to play the Blues songs that we had great fun interpreting. The good thing about playing Blues is that the structure is so simple. It allows you complete freedom to let your imagination run wild. Recently there was a programme on TV called Classical Stars, it was like an X Factor for Classical musicians. The guy in charge of it was the one who played cello for us, Matthew Barley and he said to one of the young musicians that he should listen to some Blues because if you understand the Blues and how it works and what makes improvisation so important to the form then you’d find it easier for example to understand Bach. He wanted this musician to not just play Classical but to listen to the Blues. I absolutely agree with him as one style of music always has something to teach another style in my humble opinion. Blues is at the roots of all popular music and travels from Africa right through to Hard Rock. I think an open mind is the best gift a musician can have besides his ability to play.

Your first appearance with the band was on the Live At The Basement release. Do you feel a different vibe from these shows being so close to the audience?

Yes. They are both quite different disciplines in a way. Playing in small clubs is where I learned my chops. You also learn an enormous amount about contact with the audience. You can’t help it as they’re sitting in your lap. In those huge arenas I used to try to find someone in the first two rows who I could play to, who I could direct my energy to rather than a huge amorphous crowd which had no identity. It was a huge pleasure to play at The Basement with The Hoochie Coochie Men.

It’s nice to be popular and do large shows but you lose that connection with the crowd?

Absolutely. The great thing about that concert was that there was one short rehearsal the day before and we did a concert the night before to about 1000 people in Melbourne and then we did the show at The basement. We’d only had a couple of hours of rehearsal, I knew most of the material anyway but relied on the moment and the ability as an improviser and that was a very exciting discipline. There are no excuses. You can’t suddenly stop; you have to make it work in that moment. It’s very different to playing a prepared piece that you have written down and rehearsed and rehearsed. The bottom line is the same in that it’s the communication of emotion and of an idea. It’s just a different way of doing it.

You had an injured finger on that performance, although you can’t tell. What happened there?

I’d actually injured it 2 or 3 weeks before. I’d been playing The Concerto for Group and Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and I’d got a bit excited and I whacked my thumb of my left hand on the top of the Hammond and it bruised the bone. It made my left hand very painful to use. I was supposed do be doing 4 or 5 of my cross over concerts on the piano. Without a left hand the piano didn’t come across too well. The stuff I’d written was quite complicated so I had to cancel those shows. I was able to play the organ though as the strength of my left hand is not so important than it is when playing the piano. That’s why I agreed to do those shows. A little drop of red wine helped to ease the pain too!! We call it Dr Music. When you’re out there playing in front of an audience you tend to forget your aches and pains.

You had Jimmy Barnes guesting with you too. He is a fantastic singer. Is that the first time you’ve worked with him?

He’s played with Purple a few years ago during our tour in Australia after Abandon was released. He actually appears on the Total Abandon DVD we made from that tour. Jimmy came up at the end of one of the shows and did “Speed King” and “Highway Star” with Ian Gillan. He has one of those really growly, gritty voices and has total commitment to his work. He’s very versatile and he’s terrific fun to be around.

Talking of Jimmy, he’s guesting on your new Hoochie Coochie Men album, Danger White Men Dancing too?

He’s on two tracks on that album and Ian Gillan’s on a couple of tracks too. This is now available on general release?

It’s out now and doing very nicely thanks. It’s not one of those albums that’ll go into the Top 10 but it’s good Blues party music, its heart on the sleeve, Hammond based Rock/Blues.

Your first album was predominantly Blues standards with a couple of original compositions. Is this the case with your new album or is there more original material this time?

There’s four originals, one of which I co-wrote with Bob Daisley and four or so covers. There’s a cover of an old Rolling Stones track called “Heart of Stone”. There’s a lovely 60’s Blues song on there called “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven But Nobody Wants To Die.”

Will you be going out on the road with the Hoochie Coochie Men?

We’ve talked about it, not as a major, major tour but I’m going to be in Australia at the end of March and I’m playing Adelaide with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and I’ll be playing with a local band too where we’ll be playing some Purple songs with the Orchestra. After that there’s some talk of me doing some Hoochie Coochie Men dates. There’s also talk of coming over to Europe at the end of the summer.

Will this be an ongoing project or just an occasional aside?

It’s some fun for me really although I do take it seriously but I don’t want to go back to being a Blues Rock band organist but from time to time doing that it keeps me in touch with my roots. I’m sure we’ll do something again in the future.

You’re probably best known for your time with Deep Purple. When you first started the band back in the late 1960’s with Rod Evans and Nick Simper you were more of a psychedelic Pop/Rock band. At what point did you realise that you wanted to take the band into a different direction?

It was kind of a hot house atmosphere at the time. We got together quite quickly. I first met Ritchie in December 1967, that’s over 40 years ago, frightening isn’t it!! By January or February we were together as a band and by April we were making our first record. We had to come up with a repertoire very quickly and Ritchie and I had only just started writing together. If you listen to the first three albums, its amazing to think we did those three albums in around 18 months, you can hear the progression in the band that lead us to realising that we needed to change something. Especially with the third album, you can really start to hear us starting to Rock out more. Also on stage we were beginning to push the boundaries a bit and nothing against Rod or Nick they didn’t really fit in to where we wanted to go with the band. Nick Simper disagreed with me, well he would but this is how I remembered it. They say history is written by the winners! I think we realised by the way the band was going particularly with the live performances where we wanted to go. When Roger and Ian came in we quickly began writing what was to become In Rock which was the testament of what the band wanted to be. We were definitely pushing towards a heavier and more experimental sound in those last few months of the first band.

When Ian Gillan and Roger Glover joined you wanted to move in a more Classical direction with the Concerto for Group and Orchestra and others wanted to head more towards the In Rock style. Would you have liked to have continued more in the Classical vein or did you feel when you were working on In Rock that this was the way to go?

We were working on the Concert o at the same time as In Rock. I was perfectly happy to carry on in the direction of In Rock. The Concerto wasn’t really a direction for the band it was more of a direction for me. Its been written that “Jon wanted to play in orchestras and the rest of the guys didn’t.” That’s not quite how it was. I thought The Concerto was a good idea and an experiment and to be perfectly honest so did the band but there was no way I wanted to cart an orchestra around the world; I waited until 2000 to do that. I was perfectly happy to play Rock music and if all I’m remembered as is a Rock Hammond player then I’ll be happy with that. I’m very pleased and proud of my work with Purple and happy to be known as a Rock artist. I just had some ideas that I wanted to try out and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do that.

You made four genre defining albums in the space of 3 or so years with the Mark II line up. Were you under pressure to continue to produce new material or was it just a particularly fruitful time for the band?

I think the fact that we had this rich vein of writing ability was the only thing that kept us sane. We were under enormous pressure as we were viewed by the management at the time as a sort of cash cow, a money making machine. The management kept saying we had to get back into the studio but luckily the ability of the band was such that we were able to work under that kind of pressure but in the end this broke the band up. The band started to break up in ’73 as Gillan just couldn’t take that anymore. He thought we were just being used and he wasn’t far wrong. We should have just sat around a table and said we were taking a year off. Ian chose to leave and he’s since said that it was the wrong decision so who knows what would’ve happened if he’d stayed.

When David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes came in to replace Ian and Roger, Burn was a strong album in the classic Deep Purple tradition. Did David and Glenn exert more of an influence with Strombringer heading in a more soulful direction?

We had a really good change when David and Glenn came in and we did a really good album in Burn and I thought it carried on with the Deep Purple tradition very well. David and Glenn certainly did have more of an influence on Strombringer for the simple reason that Ritchie took his eye off the ball as he had his idea in his head about Rainbow and he didn’t feel that David and Glenn were the right kind of people to carry that side of him forward and then he decided to leave. He could’ve been stronger during the making ofStrombringer and if he had been stronger then Stormbringer could have been a better album, not that it’s a bad album but it could’ve been a better one. It’s quite a confusing album. At the time our fans got a little confused by it. With Burn we picked up the torch and ran with it, I just wish we could have stayed with it. I think Ritchie lost a bit of energy trying to deal with the runaway train that was Glenn Hughes. It’s well documented that Glenn has had his drug and alcohol problems and thank goodness he’s sorted those out now but at the time he was a bit of a loose canon and hard to deal with and I think Ritchie just had enough.

How did the dynamics of the band change when Ritchie left?

For me, it changed things irreparably. My onstage chemistry with Ritchie was part of the energy that drove the band and that was carried into the studio. You can here that its not quite there with Tommy. Even though he was a great guitarist he wasn’t a Blackmore. He and I didn’t click on stage. We clicked OK in the studio as he was more controllable but on stage I was also beginning to run out of energy to deal with the drugs thing that was happening to Glenn and dear Tommy.

Bolin was a real talented player, it must have been hard watching him self destruct by the end and listening to Last Concert in Japan your Hammond carried the show.

Well it had to really. Both Glenn and Tommy were out of it so someone had to step up to the plate. I’m not making myself out to be some kind of hero; I could have been stronger during the making of Come Taste The Band.

Do think Come Taste The Band is a somewhat overlooked album in Purples’ catalogue? It does seem like the album most people re-appraise and give greater credit to now than at the time of its release?

There is some good material on there but if you look back on the iconic albums by Mark II there’s a progression in that. A band can’t stand still it has to move forward otherwise you might as well make three great albums and call it quits but you had to try to move forward. In a way if Ian Gillan had stayed in the band another 3 or 4 years you’d have still seen the progression that we ended up doing. It is a shame it got maybe too diversified by the end but there’s nothing on record that I feel ashamed of. I think its a good, honest catalogue of work with some genuine moments of inspiration.

Were you relieved when Purple called it a day in 1976?

When Paicey and I came off stage at the end of the show at the Liverpool Empire and we looked at each other and said “That’s it” and we wondered how we were going to tell the others at which point Coverdale came running in saying “I’m leaving, I’ve had enough”. We turned round and said “Sorry, there’s no band left for you to leave!!” We thought we’d had a terrific run for our money and there wasn’t really any point in carrying on.

It wasn’t long before you hooked back up with David Coverdale and Ian Paice in Whitesnake. Was it strange going from Purple being your band and Coverdale being your singer to Whitesnake being Coverdales band and you were the keyboard player in his band?

Well that wasn’t the idea, it wasn’t going to be his band and I wasn’t going to be his keyboard player. I wouldn’t have joined if I’d thought that, not that I’m some sort of egotist but it wasn’t the sort project that I would have wanted to do. I spent long enough in Whitesnake trying to imprint myself on something that I was more and more disagreeing with. I still think a couple of those Whitesnake albums, especially Ready and Willing and Come and Get It are fabulous albums with great songs and good performances and I’m still very proud of some of the live shows that we did but again the reason I left them was after 5 years I was still being treated like a sideman. My position in the band wasn’t the position that I wanted to be in so I left. I actually left before Deep Purple reformed although Coverdale says that I left to reform Deep Purple but that’s just not true. I gave David 6 months notice that I was going to leave and it was during the last 2 weeks of my notice period that I got the phone call from Ian Gillan asking if I’d like to put the band back together.

You created some fine British Blues based Rock during your time in Whitesnake. What did you think when they had a makeover into a MTV Hair Metal band?

Well, it worked didn’t it. Its not where I would’ve taken Whitesnake but what do I know?!! He obviously knew what he wanted and he got what he wanted. The 1987 album sold something like 12 million worldwide.

I was talking to Greg T Walker of Blackfoot a while back and he said that for their Siogo album they desperately wanted you to play on the album. Do you remember that?

I do remember that. Ricky Medlocke and I have talked about that many times when we toured with Lynyrd Skynyrd just before I left the band. He kept saying “I wonder what would’ve happened if you’d played with us man?” Ken Hensley did play on the album and there’s not really that many Rock organists around but he’s a great player.

In the early 1980’s there was a somewhat messy Deep Purple tour with Rod Evans. What did you make of that?

Oh, yes!! I remember that. I actually had to go and appear in court because it had to be stopped because it just wasn’t Deep Purple. Blackmore, Gillan, Lord, Glover and Paice owned the name. The advertised themselves as Deep Purple and were playing Mark II material. In some of the publicity pictures they used photos of Blackmore and me!! I don’t blame Rod Evans for it, he was pushed into.

Have you been in touch with Rod or Nick since the Mark I years?

Rod no but Nick, yes. Nick still carries a big grudge and I don’t blame him for it. It must have been hard to be a part of something then have it taken away from you then get to see it become really famous. That can’t be fun but I’d still like to think before we get much older we can sit down and have a pint together. The last time I saw Rod was across a court room.

When you reformed Purple in 1984 how was the first meetings?

It was brilliant. It was one of the best years of my life, it was such fun. If you see the video for the song “Perfect Strangers” was filmed when we met up in the studio. The smiles were real and even Ritchie smiled!! That was a wonderful year. We had enormous fun writing and making the Perfect Strangers album and the first tour was great. We started at the end of ’84 in Australia and appeared at Knebworth in 1985.

How long did it take before old rifts started showing?

It started again during the recording of the next album, The House of Blue Light and things began to crack again.

When Gillan left, were you happy that Joe Lyn Turner took his place?

No, I didn’t want Joe in the band. I thought he was totally wrong and that’s not with hindsight. I fought against it.

How close was Jimi Jamison from Survivor to being in the band?

We auditioned Jimi who had been the lead singer in Survivor and he wanted the gig so much. He sounded fantastic and we had some wonderful rehearsals but then his management told him that he couldn’t as he was going to big on his own. He really would’ve been great in the band I can tell you. You want to hear him sing “Highway Star” it was absolutely marvellous. We did things like “Sail Away” with him and a couple of others like “Maybe I’m A Leo” that he did brilliantly. I think he would’ve been just brilliant for us.

Was Terry Brock considered too?

Yes he was. He was a great singer too. Had it happened however Gillan wouldn’t have come back and we wouldn’t have done Perpendicular so it all happens for a reason.

Gillan came back and Ritchie left for the final time. You played with Joe Satriani for a while. He’s a totally different type of player to Ritchie, did he have to change his style to fit Purple or did he come in and stamp his mark on the music?

Those Japanese shows were a contractual obligation. Had we not gone to Japan we would’ve been sued. Not only us but Ritchie would’ve been sued. Joe Satriani was marvellous and we asked him to join and he said “Yes, as soon as I’ve made these two solo albums that I’ve been paid for and haven’t done yet!!” We asked him how long would it take and he said about 18 months and we thought that was the end.

How did Steve Morse end up joining?

It was Roger who said he’d seen this brilliant guitarist called Steve Morse and we all immediately said yes as he was on all of our lists so we called him up and the rest is history. We jammed, actually we did a concert in Mexico back in early’94 to see if we liked each other and it was brilliant. Its a joy playing with Steve Morse.

He seems a really laid back kind of guy. What do you think he brought to Purple that Ritchie didn’t?

That’s quite a tricky question!! Its difficult to answer without sounding like I’m criticising Ritchie. Ritchie’s onstage commitment could be sometimes moveable shall we say, whereas Steve’s is 100% total. What Steve doesn’t have is the astonishing freedom that Ritchie was very often capable of displaying, that astounding trip outside of what you expect into what you don’t expect. Steve doesn’t quite have that, not in Deep Purple anyway, but what he does have is utter commitment to the band and to its legacy and to what it stands for and he ‘s now been in the band longer than any other guitarist that’s been in the band.

Don Airey was the obvious choice to fill your shoes. Did you help suggest him?

When the management asked me who I’d choose, I couldn’t think of anyone else but Don.

The way you left and Don joined on those final shows was a great way to hand over to Don. Who decided to have both of you on stage at the same time?

Don started then we had a blackout at the beginning of “Perfect Strangers” and I started playing during the blackout and I have to tell you that was Don’s idea. It was a very brave suggestion by Don as he knew that the crowd would go wild and bless him, it was a beautiful suggestion and I’ll always thank him for it. It worked very well. He’s a lovely man, a great player and I think he’s carried on the tradition really well. He has a different style to me but he sounds like he belongs in Deep Purple and I think it works.

Have you kept abreast with Purple’s work and Ritchie’s band since you went you separate ways?

Oh yes, I’ve heard it all. I was very interested to hear Bananas because I co-wrote two of the tracks. They turned out a little different to how I envisaged them. There’s a couple of tracks on Bananas that I really didn’t like. I didn’t like “Haunted”; I really didn’t like that one at all. I’m sure they’ll forgive me for saying that, its just my opinion after all it doesn’t really mean anything. I thought Raptures From The Deep was a fabulous album.

This brings us more or less full circle in a quick over view of your career. What would you say is the high point in your career for you?

There are many. The original Concerto night,California Jam, even though wasn’t with Gillan; some of those shows in ’71 and ’72 with Gillan in his pomp and glory sometimes when he sang “Child In Time” it would make your hair stand on end. I’d also say some of the improvisation battles I’ve had with Ritchie, I’ve had some glorious times.

You mentioned the possibility of doing something to mark your 40th anniversary. Would this ideally include ALL past members including Rod Evans, Nick Simper and Joe Lyn Turner as well as Coverdale and Hughes and the classic Mark II line up?

That’s just my dream. I think it would be fun to try wouldn’t it but I don’t know if it would ever happen. I don’t think it would happen for the 40th Anniversary for the simple reason that the band is still a potent band and they want to make another album and they want to continue touring. If they said they’d call it a day after the next album and tour then there might be a chance it could happen but I won’t be holding my breath. Its just a dream.

You are considered the foremost proponent of the Hammond Organ in the world. Have you ever dabbled with synthesiser or is that not something that appeals to you?

I have used synthesisers before. I used them for a couple of songs on Who Do We Think We Are? I don’t consider myself to be an exponent of the synthesiser. If you listen to Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman they know what to do with them and they’re brilliant with them. They are useful as a tool and they can be fun. I’ve used them on and off over the years but I’m happiest at the Hammond or the piano.

Looking forward now to 2008, what are your plans for the coming year?

So far I’ve got 6 performances of the Concerto For Group and Orchestra lined up in Holland, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Australia. Then I’m definitely doing a new album in 2008 definitely with more Hammond and less strings and less cross-over. I’m putting a touring band together and will be going out on the road. I’m definitely doing a tour as I’ve never done a solo tour of the UK before so I’m going to start that in the UK.

For more on Jon Lord visit Jon Lord Official website


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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