Following the dissolution of Deep Purple’s classic line-up, the reconstituted version of the band – now featuring the talents of then unknown lead vocalist David Coverdale and young maverick Glenn Hughes – prepared to conquer the rock world anew. While Jon certainly felt queasy about the break-up of Deep Purple Mark II (particularly the manner of Roger Glover’s dismissal), I imagine that he must have been excited and energised by the musical possibilities presented by the new line-up, particularly in light of Ritchie’s renewed enthusiasm for the band, after the acrimony of Who Do We Think We Are. The revamped line-up’s debut offering, Burn, crackled with the same kind of energy and intensity that we associate with In Rock and Machine Head; and, with Purple hitting new heights of popularity in the US, hopes must have been very high all round for the future of the band. However, with the new members asserting their influence over the band’s direction more and more strongly – particularly in terms of Glenn Hughes’s pushing funk and soul influences that did not sit well with all parties – the follow-up album, Stormbringer, would prove one of the most controversial entries in the Purple canon, and would bring Deep Purple Mark III to an abrupt and disappointing conclusion (with Mr Blackmore shuffling off to moderately successful pastures new with a certain Mr Ronnie James Dio in tow). And, while Jon may have been uneasy with the musical direction championed by Hughes on Stormbringer, it is surely a measure of his greatness that he was able to slip so easily and convincingly into musical idioms that must have been decidedly out of his comfort zone.
I doubt if there could be any serious disagreement about what constitutes the first great Jon Lord moment on this opus! The title track, with its strange, relentless riff and its showpiece solos from Blackmore and Lord represents the new line-up continuing the legacy of Mark II most convincingly, recalling earlier classics like Pictures of Home and Highway Star. While Ritchie stole the show on Highway Star, though, Jon evened the score on Burn, with his dazzling Bach-infused shenanigans. The sizzling and wonderfully fluid end solo of Might Just Take Your Life – a song that beautifully showcases the exceptional vocal talents of David and Glenn – is also a great Jon Lord moment for me, as is his working that funky clavier, Stevie Wonder style, on Sail Away. Lastly from this fine album, I’d like to nominate the rollicking piano solo from What’s Going on Here, announced so delightfully by that astonishing downward run after Ritchie’s lead turn. That’s one of the great things about Deep Purple’s minor works – they always allowed the guys to have fun and really cut loose, particularly with the solos. Nothing wrong with a humble slice of unpretentious rhythm ‘n’ blues! Nothing wrong at all.
If Jon sometimes found himself a little sidelined by the Blackmore ascendancy through Deep Purple’s peak years of success, the situation would not notably improve when Ritchie fell out of love with Purple and drifted through the recording of what would be his swansong with the band, until the 1984 Mark II reunion. Calling most of the shots on Stormbringer would be the increasingly assertive Glenn Hughes, as he pushed his funk and soul influences as much to the fore as possible, in a way that must have stunned Deep Purple’s core audience, and that remains a controversial and divisive episode in their history for fans to this day. For my own part, I regard the funk/soul-dominated tracks on Stormbringer as its strongest material, owing to the fact that, driven by the headstrong young singer/bassist, it is the music that has the most conviction on the album (for the record, I am not blind to the merits of Soldier of Fortune, Gypsy and the title track). And, as stated above, Jon’s discomfiture with Glenn’s stylistic makeover did not stop him from contributing some magnificent touches to the album’s funkiest and most soulful offerings. My first great Jon Lord moment from this album, then, is from that Glenn Hughes classic Holy Man – the luscious swathes of synth that wash over you as the song reaches its gorgeous conclusion. Next is the ultra-cool electric piano solo on Hold On; how incredibly daunting for any musician to follow up the solo of casual genius that the apathetic Ritchie Blackmore disdainfully fired off on that song! – but Jon proves himself up to the task with verve and impeccable taste. On High Ball Shooter, Ritchie goes AWOL altogether as far as lead playing is concerned, and Jon’s extended solo spot lights up this otherwise undistinguished track with characteristic aplomb – but this is eclipsed by my other favourite Jon Lord moment on the album: the prickly synth solo dancing over the itchily funky grooves of You Can’t Do It Right.
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for Part V, which will take a close look at Jon’s contributions to Deep Purple Mark IV.