Jon Lord, the keyboardist for Deep Purple, the band whose hard rock anthems laid the groundwork for heavy metal music, died July 16 at a hospital in London. The British musician, who had pancreatic cancer, died of a pulmonary embolism. He was 71.
In a career spanning four decades, Mr. Lord recorded 16 albums with Deep Purple, played with groups ranging from the Kinks to Whitesnake, and toured extensively as a solo artist, even after his cancer diagnosis.
Mr. Lord rose to prominence in the 1970s as a member of Deep Purple, and he co-wrote many of the band’s biggest hits, including “Smoke on the Water,” “Black Night” and “Strange Kind of Woman.” The band sold tens of millions of albums, and Mr. Lord backed up his rock star swagger with the driving sound of the Hammond electric organ, popularly used on jazz tracks of the era.
Mr. Lord, a classical music aficionado, boasted in a 1973 interview, “We’re as valid as anything by Beethoven.”
The Guinness Book of World Records awarded Deep Purple the distinction of “world’s loudest band.” Many reviewers found it hard to disagree. In a 1972 review of the album “Machine Head,” Rolling Stone music critic Lester Bangs wrote that the band delivered “the Sound, the rushing, grating crunch of the hard attack” with a pace that is “blistering, almost too fast for comfort.”
Jonathan Douglas Lord was born June 9, 1941, in Leicester, England. He described his childhood to his hometown newspaper, the Leicester Mercury, as “perfect.” His father, it was reported, “packed socks by day and played sax by night,” and Mr. Lord began playing classical piano as a child.
“It was always homework and piano lessons,” he said. “Something had to give – and it was usually homework.”
Mr. Lord moved to London in the early 1960s to study acting at the Central School of Speech and Drama, a move that coincided with London’s blues boom. He was swept up by the sounds of blues, jazz, rock-and-roll, and rhythm and blues, and he was particularly drawn to the music of two American musicians, the soul-jazz organist Jimmy McGriff and rock pianist-singer Jerry Lee Lewis.
Mr. Lord began playing with blues and rock acts. As a studio musician, he said, he contributed a keyboard part on the Kinks’ 1964 recording of “You Really Got Me.”
“All I did was plink, plink, plink,” he said of the recording. “It wasn’t hard.”
In 1968, he founded Deep Purple with bassist Nick Simper, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, drummer Ian Paice and singer Rod Evans. The group found initial success covering songs such as Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman.” A year later, Evans was replaced by singer Ian Gillan, and Deep Purple veered into the hard rock phase that would come to define the band.
At the center of Deep Purple’s sound was the acoustic battle between Blackmore’s searing guitar and Mr. Lord’s Hammond organ, fortified with the power of an amplifier. Initially, Mr. Lord tried using a Leslie amp, but it wasn’t loud enough to compete with Blackmore’s intensity.