It might be expected from a compassionate drummer that his “musical hero” would be a drummer. Indeed, I have some idols, of course. Billy Cobham as an extraordinarily versatile and technically supreme drummer has always been an inspiration for me. I liked Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater until I found that he is not that special after all. Thomas Lang presented an extremely mind-blowing drum workshop at a music fair in Frankfurt that I have visited (in 2001, I think). Other big names in different genres are certainly Jack de Johnette, Virgil Donati, Gavin Harrison, or Marco Minnemann. However, the most “complete” and outstanding personality in music, in my opinion, is not a drummer but the British piano, organ and keyboard player John Douglas ‘Jon’ Lord (1941-2012).
He is best known as founding member of hardrock pioneers Deep Purple, but also as composer of orchestral works, almost purely “classical” music. Not only was he extraordinarily skilled and technically on a top level, but also was he described by most of his companions and collaborators as a decent, humble, kind and gentle person. He was dedicated to his sound and the musical value of what he produced, hard-working and “stubborn” (according to Deep Purple’s drummer Ian Paice), but never aggressively overambitious or uncomfortable. Perhaps the most significant reason for choosing him as “my music hero” is his unique level of originality. He didn’t want to sound like “anybody else”, he didn’t care about genre boarders or expectations. He wanted to merge classical approaches to playing key instruments (piano, organ) with the typical features of rock music. He famously combined Hammond Organs (B3, C3) with Lesley amplifiers to create a unique organ sound that harmonises with a rock band setup and that can compete with the dominant extraverted expression of a Ritchie Blackmore (the guitarist of Deep Purple). At the age of 27/28 he wrote the “Concerto for Group and Orchestra”, an unprecedented but highly successful and impressive attempt to combine a rock band with a full orchestra, a milestone in music history! Sadly, in 2012 he died from pancreatic cancer, leaving many scores and musical ideas unfinished and unrealised. As his friend Rick Wakeman (himself an outstanding rock organist) said: Sad to think what we have missed! But on the other side: How happy what we have got from him in over 40 years! To get an impression about him, watch this great documentary and tribute by Rick Wakeman:
I’d like to quote from an interview with Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich because I couldn’t have said it better:
“We can all be guilty of lightly throwing adjectives like ‘unique,’ ‘one-of-a-kind’ and ‘pioneering’ around when we want to describe our heroes and the people who’ve moved us, but there are no more fitting words than those right now and there simply was no musician like Jon Lord in the history of hard rock. Nobody. Period. There was nobody that played like him. There was nobody that sounded like him. There was nobody that wrote like him. There was nobody that looked like him. There was nobody more articulate, gentlemanly, warm, or fucking cooler that ever played keyboards or got anywhere near a keyboard. What he did was all his own.”