We won’t be the first today to say Jon Lord was the nicest bloke in rock and roll (which he was, unquestionably) and rest assured we won’t be the last. Platitudes like this are always trotted out when someone of the stature of Jon Lord dies. But this is real deal. Jon Lord was a gent. A proper gent.
I met him 13 years ago. I was a cub reporter at the local rag in Leicester with a record collection brimming with Deep Purple and Whitesnake records. I knew Lord was from Leicester. I wanted to interview him. To be fair, there wasn’t a queue. Everyone else in the newsroom was into Blur and indie and all sorts of awful toss. They didn’t know what they were missing. “If you can get him,” the boss said, “then we’ll run it. But you won’t get him.”
Somehow, I don’t know how, I managed to wangle the number of Deep Purple’s manager. Can I interview Jon, I asked. He was curt and unpromising but he did say he’d pass him my number. I didn’t hold out much hope. Months went past without a word. That’ll be that, I thought.
And then one day, sitting at my desk, there was a phone call. It was Jon Lord. Do you want to come down, he said. As in down to my house. We’ll have a chat.
I went two days later. I took with me a bag of albums – Purple and Whitesnake albums – and he signed every one. I had never done that with any famous person before I interviewed Jon Lord and I’ve not done it since. I felt he was a worthy exception. We spoke fleetingly from then on. It would be fanciful to pretend we were buddies, but I liked him and I liked interviewing him. He was smart. He was funny. He had things to say. He could tell a story.
So when Classic Rock asked if I wanted to interview him for the magazine – two separate pieces; one for the Machine Head tribute album, and another more detailed and considered piece on him and his cancer, his treatment and the future – I said yes. Of course I did. It would be a pleasure.
We spoke a week ago. His manager had suggested the interview should last about 30 minutes or so. I think I might need more than that, I said.
“Yes, well, you know Jon – once you get him talking…”