Ian Paice of Deep Purple: Celebrating the Lord!

By Jeb Wright

Ian Paice is the founding member of Deep Purple.  He is the only member to appear on every album by the band.  He has seen members come and go, some staying for decades, others only for an album or a tour, yet one member’s exit has touched him deeper than any other: Jon Lord.  Deep Purple keyboardist extraordinaire Jon Lord lost a battle with cancer in July of 2012, leaving a hole in the music world that will never be filled.

Lord was an innovator as well as a virtuoso.  He was classically inclined, yet he played an organ through amplifiers made for electric guitars and gave us the first heavy metal keyboard sounds; can you say “Space Truckin’”? 

Eagle Rock Entertainment has now released the amazing tribute concert that Jon’s closest friends put together for him as part of the charity event The Sunflower Jam. This concert event is an annual gig put on to fund the charity, which was created by Ian’s wife, Jacky, who happens to be the twin sister of Jon’s wife Vicky.  This event was a huge success and featured many guest artists celebrating the musical life of Jon Lord. 

The event can be purchased in many forms, ranging from separate CDs and DVDs to an all-encompassing box set.  Proceeds of the purchase make their way to the charity. 

In the interview that follows, Ian Paice discusses the event, how it came together, the special guests who participated and the emotional aspect of the shows.  He also talks about Jon as a person and as an influential songwriter and performer.  

One can now own a copy of this important event that celebrates the life of a true one-of-a-kind musician, Jon Lord. 

Jeb:  Before we even talk about the Jon Lord tribute concert, I want to congratulate you, as Deep Purple today has defied the odds.  You actually replaced the irreplaceable, Ritchie Blackmore with Steve Morse and Jon with Don Airey. 

Ian: We realized that when Ritchie left there was a big hole to fill.  We did prove that as long as you replace quality with quality then you have a chance.  When Jon decided to retire, there was only one obvious choice, and that was Don; without Jon Lord you would not have a Don Airey.  It was a natural evolution. 

Jeb: I am so happy to see this release.  Jon Lord was a great man.  You are also giving proceeds to the charity.  My parents are both cancer survivors. 

Ian: You are close to this then and you understand. 

Jeb: You are not so different from me, as most good ideas we have seem to come from our wives.  Tell me how your wife came up with the idea to do this for Jon.

Ian: True.  My wife has been running a charity for the last eight years.  It is called The Sunflower Jam.  Her genius idea was to get some very well-healed people to part with lots of money and actually enjoy themselves.  The usual run of the mill fund raisers are not that exciting, to be truthful.  You’re duty-bound to go there, you put your hand in your pocket at the end of the night, and you’re glad when it’s over.  She thought, “Let’s do this with music.  Let’s get our friends who never get a chance to play together to come together for one unique night of music.”  She made it work and she has made it work ever since. 

In 2011, Jon was part of the lineup for that show, as was Rick Wakeman.  Amazingly, those two guys had not met each other before that night.  It is incredible to think about that.  It was the last time that Jon was really on stage.  He was diagnosed six weeks later and then spent the last ten months of his life trying to fight the damn thing. 

When the next Sunflower Jam was being considered, Jacky had a quick word with Jon’s wife Vicky and they decided that the focus of it would be on Jon, his friends and his music.  They decided to make it with a sensible ticket price in a large hall so his fans could come along and enjoy the evening and pay their respects and do some good by buying the ticket.  All that was left over, after the expenses, would go right into Jacky’s fund and she will do some good stuff for others.  That was the idea.  The infrastructure was there through her work, and she just focused it through the 2014 Jam.  We had time to get the organization together.  It was a good time.  Had we left it until the end of the year, then the whole thing would have been in people’s past and it may not have been so successful.  It was so close to losing Jon that it was still part of their present.  Those people wanted to come, and did come, and it was a great night. 

Jeb: You could have had fifty guest artists and made it very robotic, but instead you kept it intimate. 

Ian: The idea also was that everybody on that stage should have a connection to Jon, whether it was music collaboration or personal.  From Jeremy Irons, to Rick Wakeman, to Paul Weller, to Bruce Dickinson, to the house band, to the conductor Paul Mann, everyone was a friend of Jon’s.  Everyone had a personal reason to make time to be on that stage on that night. 

Jeb: People in England tend to be better at controlling their emotions than Americans, but there must have been some emotional moments.

Ian: Of course, it was an emotional night.  There is a magic moment on the DVD where I come on stage with Jon’s wife Vicky, who has never been on a big stage and has never spoken into a microphone before, and we just say thank you to everybody.  If that didn’t bring a tear to your eye then nothing else ever would.  There was all of that going on, but the primary emotion that came off the stage was one of joy and happiness and it showed how music can rise above.  That is the way that he would have wanted it to be.  If you believe in it, that the spirit was looking down, he would have thought it was a great night as there was joy in that room, admittedly tinged with a little sadness.  It was everything that we wanted it to be. 

Jeb: The rock side is there, and then the classical disc is there.  Most people know Jon as a member of a rock band, but you guys were in the same Royal Albert Hall where Jon did his concerto when I was around three years old! 

Ian:  When we did that back in 1969, which is only a year after the band formed, that interest and that love of Jon for orchestration and his belief in it… Zappa said it best, “There are only two forms of music: Good and Bad.”  There was no reason why one form of music shouldn’t mix with another one, if you construct it properly, then it is possible.  His interest, and his belief in that, was there a long, long time ago.  

Jeb: I have always separated classical Jon from rock Jon, but I have to ask did he bring that influence into Deep Purple?  Not so much the music, but rather the knowledge of how music works?

Ian: Exactly, that is it.  Most of the guys who play rock and roll and popular music, from jazz to pop music, from my generation, from my country, were self-taught.  The knowledge for what we need is limited.  For those who play piano, it is different.  The nature of the instrument means they have to learn it properly and they have to learn the unorthodox classical fashion.  Their knowledge about the infrastructure of music and the way it works is far superior. 

What Jon would quite often do, back in the early days, when Ritchie [Blackmore] and Roger [Glover] would be jamming riffs, would be to say, “I think if we changed the inversion of that chord then I think it would work much better.”  He would then demonstrate what he meant and, nine times out of ten, he was right.  He would take something that was sort of obvious and make it into something that was not quite so obvious. 

The difference between us and chimpanzees is two percent.  It is just a little tiny bit, but that two percent is really important.  Jon didn’t do that all the time, as sometimes things were perfect as they were.  Sometimes there was something missing.  You could see his brain kick into gear and he would go into his database of knowledge and come up with something to try and that was sometimes very important to us. 

Jeb: Jon made the keyboard a hard rock instrument when he played it through distortion.  It made that classic Deep Purple sound.  Do you remember when he did that? 

Ian: When we started, he was playing pretty much standard through Leslie cabinets.  When the band went through its first change in late ’69, and the music developed itself to a much harder direction, then he found what he wanted to get across, and he had the sound that he wanted to achieve and that was not going to come out of a Leslie cabinet.  He wanted something with a much more initial bite and aggression.  What he found was that by putting the Hammond directly into a couple of Marshall stacks he was getting what he needed for the music that was being created at that time.  Eventually, he went back to Hammonds through Leslies because the music again changed.  For that moment, we are talking Deep Purple In Rock, Fireball and Machine Head, he wanted that direct in your face, smash your skull open keyboard sound and that was the way he got it. 

Jeb: Tell me about the classical disc.  What were the challenges in doing that for this show?

Ian: The rehearsal time on these things is always minimal.  The orchestra had three days to get ready.  Purple had one day.  We were in the middle of the tour and we were playing somewhere like Scandinavia and we flew in and we had three hours with the orchestra and then the next day was the gig and then the next night we were playing half way up a mountain in Switzerland.  It was a little tense.  Were we perfect?  No.  But was it perfect?  Yes, if you know what I mean. 

It was decided early on that there was no way we could play the music chronologically, as there was no way that could work.  It would have been up, down then loud and quiet.  We decided to split the show into the two factions of Jon’s playing and composing.  To give the night a natural crescendo, we decided to give the audience the more orchestral pieces he played and the ones he was really proud of for the first half of the show.  The second half of the evening we decided to take as many pieces of music from his many collaborations that he had been involved with from his very, very first success.  The only thing that wasn’t done on that night was any Whitesnake tunes.  That was only because when we made the short list up, apart from nudging a couple of artists in the direction we thought they might like to go, we left the choice of songs to the people who were kindly donating their time.  Nobody chose a Whitesnake song.  The short list we came up with we knew were songs that Jon thought were important.  Some of the songs that we thought were important, from a keyboard standpoint, and from Jon’s sort of stamp being on it, made the list.  We let the artist decide what they would be happy playing. 

Jeb: Let’s talk about a couple guys named Paul.  The first is Paul Mann.  Tell me what he brought to this evening?

Ian: Paul Mann is a brilliant young British conductor and he has collaborated with Jon over the last fifteen years.  He has conducted orchestras for Jon when he did his solo stuff.  We met him when we last did an orchestral tour in 2000 or 2001.  He has been a friend and a musical colleague for a long time.  He understood Jon’s music and what Jon was trying to say with each piece. 

More importantly for us, that night the pieces that we played with orchestral accompaniment…Let me put it this way: the conductor of an orchestra is normally the boss.  Paul was in a weird position, because when we do these type of things he is not the boss; I’m the boss.  That is the point.  Basically, I am conducting the conductor, who is conducting the orchestra. 

It is the only way it can work, because in popular music we play on the downbeat and it is a much defined time signature.  The downbeat is definite and that is it.  Orchestras work on the upbeat, which is a little less definite.  The orchestra is always a fraction behind.  What Paul was doing was pre-conducting the orchestra.  Once he got them there, then he could relax and almost let me take over.  It is a very complex thing to get right.  To our benefit, this time, the orchestra was full of young people.  They play classical for their business, but they listen to jazz, rock and roll, and rap.  They know what the feel should be.  You’ve just got to get them started in the right place and it all comes together. 

Jeb: The other Paul is Paul Weller who sang a song from Jon’s pre-Purple past.

Ian: That’s right.  Jon had a successful band in Europe called The Artwoods.  Art Wood was the brother of Ronnie Wood, he is his older brother.  They had a minor hit here with a cover of a Sam & Dave tune called “I Take What I Want.”  We thought Paul’s voice would fit perfect to do that.  Paul is one of the artists that we nudged in a direction, as we thought he’d be right for that.  Paul then chose another song for his second tune. 

Paul was there because he did the first Sunflower Jam in 2006. Paul and Robert Plant were guests on the bill that night… that is how it came together.  At the end of the night we had a big jam where we played an old blues tune and Paul was on stage with Jon and me, and we had a great time back then.  When Jon left us and we were putting this together then, Paul was one of the first guys that said he would be there.  He is a great fellow. 

Jeb: Purple fans will love seeing Glenn Hughes perform on this as well. 

Ian: That was fun as well.  All of those songs we did when Glenn and Dave were in the band were of that period and we don’t play them anymore.  Ian Gillan doesn’t know those songs and he has no connection with them at all.  They are things that we really don’t get to play anymore.  Wracking the memory cells and trying to remember what I even did was very enjoyable, even if they were a little sphincter clenching!

Jeb: Bruce Dickinson was awesome.  I think Iron Maiden is the Heavy Metal offspring of Deep Purple.

Ian: Yeah, you’re right.  Purple were there a decade before Maiden.  Just like no Jon, no Don, no Purple, no Maiden.  Bruce has been a friend for a long time.  The only reservation any of the guys had was so long as they were not halfway around the world.  Luckily, Bruce was able to turn up and do his thing.  He is special.  He is a live-wire stage.

Jeb: If he was half way around the world he could just fly a plane there!

Ian: [Laughter] Yeah, but it still takes a while to get there!

Jeb: You have done a wonderful job with different packages of his concert.  There are many levels fans can purchase. 

Ian:  Some people are in love with Jon’s classical side, and if that is all they want, they just can buy that CD… and if they want just the rock portion, then they can buy that CD.  If they want the whole kit and caboodle then they can buy the box set and experience the whole wonderful night.  Whoever buys whatever, let them be assured that the deal that Jacky struck with the record company is very generous towards the charity.  Every dollar, every pound, ever Swiss franc, every Yen we get goes straight into Jacky’s fund and this time it is going to try to help beat the cancer that took Jon from us. 

We don’t have a big organization here.  It is Jacky, a secretary, my kids and occasionally one other helper and we run it from a room in my house.  There is no big overhead and nobody is driving a car, staying in hotels or flying first class… it is our homegrown thing.  Every dollar that people want to put in our coffers we thank them greatly. 

Jeb: This is my last one.  It is about Jon.  I had interviewed everyone in Deep Purple but you. 

Ian: You’ve now got the set!

Jeb: Well, everyone but your first singer, as no one knows what happened to him.

Ian: That’s true.  No one can find Rod Evans at all. 

Jeb: Anyway, with the history you have with Jon, you have to know that he had a great sense of humor. 

Ian: First off, Jon was an intelligent man and his humor was very witty.  It was very, very cerebral.  He would set you up with what you thought was a story and turned out to be a twenty minute joke.  Within twenty seconds you were like a fish on a hook.  You were stuck there and you could not get away until the end of it. 

Jeb: Is it true he retired from the band by writing a letter?

Ian: No, Ritchie did that; he left the band with a letter.  With Jon, we could see Jon start to fall out of love with being on the road; not the band.  He loved being on stage that two hours every night; it was the other 22 hours that were starting to drive him crazy.  The things he wanted to do, he couldn’t do while he was traveling and changing hotels every night.  He needed to be in one place where he could get this music out of him.  He said, “It probably makes no financial sense, but I’ve got to write this music and the only place I can do this is to be at home.  If the idea comes, then I can get straight in the room and write it down.  This is a decision that comes from my heart and not my head.”  His head should have told him to stay where he was and to continue with a good income, but he made a purely artistic, honest and brave decision that he felt he had to do. 

Jeb: What was your favorite moment during the concert?

Ian: The finale where there is a wonderful keyboard dual between Don Airey and Rick Wakeman where they are bouncing stuff off each other; it is just glorious to behold.  It was free-form, and we were jamming, and no one knew how we would get out of it, but we got out of it.