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Soviet Fans' Lasting Love For Jon Lord And Deep Purple

Jon Lord, keyboardist with legendary British rock band Deep Purple, performs in Berlin in 2004, two years after he'd left the band for good.
The death of innovative composer and Deep Purple founder Jon Lord, at 71 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, has inspired tributes around the world.

Lord's accomplishments went far beyond Deep Purple -- from studio collaboration, to membership in bands like Whitesnake, to decades of work on his Concerto for Group and Orchestra, co-written with Deep Purple lead singer and songwiter Ian Gillan -- but that's how most music fans will remember him.

Founded in 1968, Deep Purple won massive appeal as early pioneers of heavy metal and modern hard rock and sold more than 150 million albums worldwide.

The rich, psychedelic harmony and signature four-note guitar riff made "Smoke on the Water" one of the most recognizable songs of the 1970s.

Here's Lord and Gillan talking about what Lord calls one of the few "story songs" in the rock 'n' roll genre, followed by a performance:

Lord, who was born in England's East Midlands city of Leicester, studied classical piano as a child but soon fell under the influence of jazz and rock music. He went on to play in a number of small bands, including a short-lived group with future Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood.

Lord also worked as a session musician and played keyboard in the studio on the Kinks' smash hit "You Really Got Me":

The Kinks issued a tribute of sorts through their official Twitter feed following news of Lord's death:

Deep Purple enjoyed enormous popularity throughout the Soviet bloc despite -- or due in part to -- authorities' insistence that the same band that wrote and performed the scathing indictment of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, "Child In Time," was an "imperialist" tool.

The group's albums sold for a small fortune on the Soviet black market.

RFE/RL's Merhat Sharipzhan, on hearing news of Lord's death, recalled the days in the late '70s and early '80s when LPs would arrive in northeastern Kazakhstan via a makeshift music market at the Begovaya subway station in Moscow, where the pricetag represented about half-a-month's salary. He was one of several people in his hometown of around 300,000 people who had virtually all of the Deep Purple albums on vinyl, "and we all knew each other."

Many of them used to make money off first- and second-generation cassette recordings of the LPs, he said, and demand was sky-high for Deep Purple and Nazareth.

"For my generation, for those who considered themselves rebels, we wanted a real beast," he said of comparisons with the Beatles.

Lord retired from Deep Purple in 2002.

Still, it seems like you could hardly swing a hippie hairdo in the halls of the Kremlin without hitting a Deep Purple devotee. Prime Minister and former President Dmitry Medvedev is chief among them. Medvedev realized a childhood dream in 2011 when he had tea with members of Deep Purple at his Moscow residence. Lord, already retired from the band, was not among the guests.

Medvedev looks positively giddy in a video report of that meeting.

"The Guardian" reported at the time:

"When I started listening to Deep Purple, I never imagined I would be sitting with you at this table," Medvedev, now 45, told the band in remarks televised Wednesday.

He also revealed that as a DJ at his school in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, he would play rock music at discos, after first getting the approval of the Communist youth organization. "We had quite a strict system then, you know," he said.

Medvedev's 15-year-old son, Ilya, brought out his electric guitar and used the opportunity to jam with his dad's favorite band, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

While President Vladimir Putin's preferences are said to lie nearer to ABBA and the Beatles, there are other Deep Purple fans in the Kremlin. They include current presidential administration head Sergei Ivanov and longtime ideological cog Vladislav Surkov.

Surkov in 2007 famously cited his and Medvedev's mutual admiration for Deep Purple to paper over deeper differences, quipping: "We both like Deep Purple, for instance, just different songs. Medvedev prefers 'Kentucky Woman' and I like 'Lazy.' But there are songs we both like and sing together."

Deep Purple, which has appeared in countless forms in its four-decade existence, has four shows slated for Russia later this year: Yekaterinburg (October 24), St. Petersburg (October 27), Moscow (October 28), and Krasnodar (October 30).

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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