Write to the Point: Jon Lord's passage stresses our mortality, and need for vitality


By John McCallum


The world has once again lost another great musician. Jon Lord, keyboardist and founding member of the rock band Deep Purple passed away due to complications from pancreatic cancer July 16.

For those who thought I was going to say singer Kitty Wells that also is a tragedy given her legacy and the impact she had on country music, especially female performers in the genre. Wells was 92, and country music was not as much of an influence on my musical tastes and, yes, my formative years as Lord and his band mates were.

Lord was 71 and an integral part of what many consider one of the greatest rock bands of all time. For those who don't know or remember who Deep Purple was, four words: “Smoke on the Water.”

Da, da, daaa, da, da, da-da, da, da, daaa, da, da.

But Deep Purple was more than just that one, monster hit whose opening chord progression – notes actually as guitarist Ritchie Blackmore would never stoop to playing chords – is almost as familiar as the alternating drum and hand clap from Queen's “We Will Rock You.”

Deep Purple was one of the biggest bands of the 1970s, and for a while was dueling fellow Brits Led Zeppelin and The Who for the honor – notoriety? – of being the loudest band in the world. If memory serves, The Who won at somewhere around 110 decibels, which is equivalent to standing just feet from a jet engine at takeoff – preferably not in front.

It was heady, important stuff for a young teenager struggling to solidify his identity in our wonderful but strange culture. Lord and company was a big part of that understanding and not just because of “Smoke.”

Lord had that perfect, deep, warm, full-throated slightly oscillated organ sound one can only get from a Hammond B3, his main instrument of choice. And Lord was good, once working with Blackmore on an album with the London Philharmonic mixing symphony with rock band.

Not my shtick, although I do love classical music. I mention it to illustrate Lord's range of musicianship and composition.

For Deep Purple fans, the song “Lazy” off the album “Machinehead” is as much, if not more, of a rock classic as it's album mate “Smoke” and Lord provided a subtle, swelling to powerful then gently drifting back down to funky, organ intro that meshed seamlessly into one of Blackmore's greatest guitar riffs ever.

Ah, those days are reduced to recollections on CD. Damn. Lord is just another in a line of rock greats who were important contributors to popular music passing away, the latest for me being Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright a couple years ago.

There will be others, I know. Even members of the Rolling Stones will eventually pass, although an argument can be made that Keith Richards already has.

I know it happens, but it's sad. In the past, influential rock musicians generally engineered their own demise or were tragically taken. I still remember where I was and my reaction when I heard guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan had perished in a helicopter crash.

But Lord and others are now beginning to leave us through more conventional means, if you want to call cancer “conventional.” At least it's not dying in your own vomit.

It's a sign of passage for a generation, as Pete Townsend sang “My g-g-g-generation.” Those who hoped to die before we got old are now headed firmly in that direction and experiencing the consequences.

It's great to have people like Lord around for as long as we did, but it reminds us that we are still merely human. And time is ticking away, so don't, as the song says “fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way.”


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