Growing up in Leicester
Lord was born in Leicester on 9 June 1941 to Miriam (1909–1995; née Hudson) and Reginald Lord, growing up at 120 Averill Road and retaining a strong bond with the city throughout his life. His father was an amateur saxophonist and encouraged Lord from an early age. He studied classical piano from the age of five, with a local teacher, Frederick Allt, and this focus on a classical grounding to his material was a recurring trademark in his work, both in composition, arranging and his instrumental solos on piano, organ and electronic keyboards. In particular his influences ranged from Johann Sebastian Bach (a constant connection in his music and his keyboard improvisation) to Medieval popular music and the English tradition of Edward Elgar. He attended Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys between 1952 and 1958 where he gained O Level passes in French, music and mathematics, participated in amateur dramatics and the school choir alongside his organ and piano studies and then worked as a clerk in a solicitor's office for two years.
Lord absorbed the blues sounds that played a key part in his rock career, principally the raw sounds of the great American blues organists Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and "Brother" Jack McDuff ("Rock Candy"), as well as the stage showmanship of Jerry Lee Lewis and performers like Buddy Holly, whom he saw perform at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester in March 1958. The jazz-blues organ style of black R&B organ players in the 1950s and 1960s, using the trademark blues-organ sound of the Hammond organ (B3 and C3 models) and combining it with the Leslie speaker system (the well-known Hammond-Leslie speaker combination), were seminal influences on Lord. Lord also stated that he was heavily influenced by the organ-based progressive rock played by Vanilla Fudge after seeing that band perform in Great Britain in 1967, and earlier by the personal direction he received from British organ pioneer Graham Bond.
Move to London
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. (September 2014)
Lord moved to London in 1959–60, intent on an acting career and enrolling at the Central School of Speech and Drama, in London's Swiss Cottage. Following a celebrated student rebellion he became a founder of Drama Centre London, from where he graduated in 1964. Small acting parts followed, including in the British TV series, Emergency - Ward 10 and Lord continued playing the piano and the organ in nightclubs and as a session musician to earn a living. He started his band career in London in 1960 with the jazz ensemble The Bill Ashton Combo. Ashton became a key figure in jazz education in Britain, creating what later became the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Between 1960 and 1963, Lord and Ashton both moved on to Red Bludd's Bluesicians (also known as The Don Wilson Quartet), the latter of which featured the singer Arthur "Art" Wood, brother of guitarist Ronnie Wood. Wood had previously sung with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated and was a junior figure in the British blues movement. In this period, Lord altered the spelling of his name from his birth name "John" to "Jon" and his session credits included playing the keyboards in "You Really Got Me", The Kinks number one hit of 1964 however in a Guitar World interview Ray Davies of The Kinks stated it was actually Arthur Greenslade playing piano on that particular track.
Following the break-up of Redd Bludd's Bluesicians in late 1963, Wood, Lord, and the drummer Red Dunnage put together a new band, The Art Wood Combo. This also included Derek Griffiths (guitar) and Malcolm Pool (bass guitar). Dunnage left in December 1964 to be replaced by Keef Hartley, who had previously replaced Ringo Starr in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. This band, later known as "The Artwoods", focused on the organ as the bluesy, rhythmic core of their sound, in common with the contemporary bands The Spencer Davis Group (Steve Winwood on organ) and The Animals (with Alan Price). They made appearances on the BBC's Saturday Club radio show and on such TV programs as Ready Steady Go!. It also performed abroad, and it appeared on the first Ready Steady Goes Live, promoting its first single the Lead Belly song "Sweet Mary" — but significant commercial success eluded it. Its only charting single was "I Take What I Want", which reached number 28 on 8 May 1966.
This band regrouped in 1967 as the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre". This was an attempt to cash in on the 1930s gangster craze set off by the American film Bonnie and Clyde. Hartley left the band in 1967 to join John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Lord next founded the "Santa Barbara Machine Head", featuring Art's brother, Ronnie Wood, writing and recording three powerful keyboard-driven instrumental tracks, giving a preview of the future style of Deep Purple. Soon thereafter, Lord went on to cover for the keyboard player Billy Day in The Flower Pot Men, where he met the bass guitarist Nick Simper along with drummer Carlo Little and guitarist Ged Peck. Lord and Simper then toured with this band in 1967 to promote its hit single "Let's Go To San Francisco", but the two men never recorded with this band.
Formation of Deep Purple
In early 1967, through his roommate Chris Curtis of the Searchers, Lord met businessman Tony Edwards who was looking to invest in the music business alongside partners Ron Hire and John Coletta (HEC Enterprises). Session guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was called in and he met Lord for the first time, but Chris Curtis's erratic behaviour led the trio nowhere. Edwards was impressed enough by Jon Lord to ask him to form a band after Curtis faded out. Simper was contacted, and Blackmore was recalled from Hamburg. Although top British player Bobbie Clarke was the first choice as drummer, during the auditions for a singer, Rod Evans of "The Maze" came in with his own drummer, Ian Paice. Blackmore, who had been impressed by Paice's drumming when he met him in 1967, set up an audition for Paice as well. The band was called the "Roundabout" at first and began rehearsals at Deeves Hall in Hertfordshire. By March 1968, this became the "Mark 1" line-up of "Deep Purple": Lord, Simper, Blackmore, Paice, and Evans. Lord also helped form the band "Boz" with some of its recordings being produced by Derek Lawrence. "Boz" included Boz Burrell (later of King Crimson and Bad Company), Blackmore (guitarist), Paice (drummer), Chas Hodges (bass guitarist).