The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: An Interview with Deep Purple’s Jon Lord

Jon Lord, who has died aged 71, was one of rock's most distinctive keyboard players, his aggressive organ playing as central to the power of Deep Purple as Ritchie Blackmore's guitar. In this November 1970 interview from Beat Instrumental, Lord talks of his technique and his equipment——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages

Deep Purple, since their formation from the debris of the Artwoods, Lord Sutch and others, have become increasingly recognized as one of the most progressive and forceful of all British hard-rock bands. Always experimenting, always pyrotechnical, the group have gone from strength to strength since their highly successful LP Deep Purple In Rock.

I finally caught up with organist Jon Lord at the Kingsway basement studio of De Lane Lea after more than a week of missed appointments and crossed lines. He amiably agreed to break off the pre-recording warm-up session that was in progress and while the Beat Instrumental photographer manipulated his apparatus, Jon and I discussed Deep Purple's present role in the rock world.


Fairly recently, Jon, Deep Purple have become known as something of a controversial group — especially in regard to classical music. Where do you feel Deep Purple's present musical direction is going? Is it going to consolidate this marriage of styles?

No, I feel we're moving away from it now because it was never intended to be part of the direction of the group; it was merely an experiment. As you know, we did experiment with classical themes in the beginning — and with classical chord structures in the music, but it all got a bit soulless...planned, you know? We wanted to get a bit more freedom into the music so we don't normally use any form of classical music now — except maybe in our solos. I love classical music; I love the way it's worked ...all those chord sequences so I often use that sort of effect in my solos. The actual group now is trying to develop into being good at what we're best at — which is what we call Rock 'n' Roll. The Concerto was originally intended to be an experiment. What happened was it caused an awful uproar...which was very nice, of course...and that really started us off.

So you see your direction as trying to consolidate your rock base?

Yes. And trying to move out from there, rather than getting into other things without any sort of basis at all.

The classical venture was an experiment, then. Do you foresee any other experiments which Deep Purple are likely to get themselves into?

Yes. There was a thing last week with the BBC which we did under much less of a cloud of publicity. We had been asked to it by the BBC a year ago.

Was that the Gemini Suite?

Yes. It was really a bee in my bonnet — this thing with classical orchestras — and the rest of the group were kind enough to indulge with me.

You've been compared as an organist with Keith Emerson — for obvious reasons, how do you relate your playing to his?

Keith has a very, very excellent technique. I mean, almost unbelievably excellent, and as such, I'm a great admirer of his. I consciously try not to copy Keith...the thing is, we both arrived at the same sort of idea and around the same time. I remember we once did a gig with the Nice. I'd heard of them but I'd never seen them. We found to his surprise — and to mine — that we were both doing similar sorts of things. I don't say that I'm a better organist than Keith, because I'm not. At least, not technically. In that, he's a superior player. What I do feel is that I have more feeling — more soul, if you like — in my improvisation.

I remember you were quoted some time ago as saying that you were going to use less of the Leslie speaker in your playing. Do you still feel the same way about Leslies?

Yes, think I do. I found that I was using it, rather than playing know, switching the rotor on and off to get effects, and things like that...It's very exciting to hold one note down and switch on — very exciting — but it's not playing; I've found it doesn't fit into a Rock idiom.

What equipment are you using now?

Four Marshall Horn cabinets and a 200-watt amp with my C3; direct connections with the organ. What I'm going to do is to make up another 200-watt amp...the organ is putting out around 280 watts at source...basically, though, I've got the sound that I want. And I've got a sound that mixes well with the rest of the group.

Have you changed any equipment within the group?

No. We're still all-Marshall. I'm getting a Fender electric piano for use on the stage. I won't be using it immediately — work it in gradually — but I feel the need for another sound within the group. It's possible that as time goes by we may try some different instrumentation within the group for one or two numbers, but it's hard to say just now. At the moment we're trying to keep what we've learnt. Because we learnt a terrific amount with Deep Purple In Rock, it took six months to make that album: we think it paid off, really. I can honestly say that it's the first album we've been 100% satisfied with; it gave us a hell of a lot of confidence. During that long time we learned a lot about ourselves and our music and our sense of direction. I suppose it's our basis now for our whole sound and our whole way of working.

How do you feel the States has influenced you?

We try very hard not to be influenced by it. We didn't want to come back from America all spaced out, sayin 'Oh Wow', and start playing long introverted ego-trip numbers. We're very extrovert, really. We like to excite an audience, get involved with them. The trouble over there is because of this accent on 'Getting into the music, Man', you tend to get some incredibly boring groups, who receive some excellent criticism over there, and yet we find them rather boring...competent, and quite nice, but rather boring.

You don't feel that about British groups?

No, I don't. I feel that British groups at least make an effort somehow that is more concerned with projection, with putting themselves across.

Which British groups do you respect?

East of Eden, for instance, really put an effort into it. Matthew's Southern Comfort, as well. They're American-influenced, alright, but it's done from an extremely English point of view. I don't think the Bonzo Dog could have evolved in America, nor could the old Nice: because of their musical discipline. This is one thing that British groups do have, a sort of discipline. Sometimes it can get a bit soulless, but on the whole I think it's preferable to the American alternative.

Do you believe in musical discipline?

Yes. You take the great symphony writers like Beethoven...they wrote within an incredibly strict know, it must have a first subject, a second subject, a dominant key...and it must have an exposition based around the theme — that's just the first movement! But look what they produced...incredible music, through putting themselves into a restricted formula, and then expanding from there. It's often like the restriction on a painter. A piece of canvas, some oils and a brush are his restrictions, and he works within those limits, and extends beyond them. Working against a restriction — for me — often produces greater things than getting rid of all boundaries. Free from jazz means absolutely nothing to me. Because there are no boundaries.

What is the guiding musical philosophy of Deep Purple?

We believe in experiment and excitement within the framework that we have set ourselves at this particular moment in time. That will change...we will extend, obviously. We'll get older, get different influences; we've not reached a point where we are perfectly happy and contented to develop naturally. We were trying to develop un-naturally before. We would grasp all sorts of different ideas at a child in a garden full of flowers: he wants them all at once. When Ian [Gillan] and Roger [Glover] joined, something very nice happened within the group.

What are your present recording plans?

We're starting a new album, to be released, we hope, just after Christmas.

At De Lane Lea?

Yes. And Martin Birch is doing most of the engineering. We like this place — seem to have got it together with them.

Any plans for tours in the near future?

Starting in the New Year, we're doing a sort of round-the-country concert-hall thing, but first we're doing tours of Germany, France, Scandinavia and England between now and Christmas.

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