Smoke On The Water

Last week, Jon Lord went to meet his Lord and Maker. Seventy one years old, he died of pancreatic cancer. You’re wondering, ‘Who’s Jon Lord?’ For rock virgins, Lord was the keyboardist and founder of the rock group Deep Purple. Yeah, the dude who wrote the hit song, Smoke On The Water.

For many of us growing up in the late ’70s, Deep Purple was the Enid Blyton of Classic Rock. The Catcher In The Rye of heavy metal. The band was our introduction to the big bad world of drugs, sex and rock and roll. (Well, rock and roll mainly.) Listening to the magic of this group was like going to vibrant Goa for the first time, after vacations to staid Manali. Deep Purple made The Beatles seem like soya in a world of red meat.

Illustration/ Amit Bandre

In the late ’70s, Bombay’s Kala Ghoda music store, Rhythm House had little curtained cubicles, each with its own private record turntable and headphones. You could pick up an album from the music rack and plug into your own private rock show.

So, morning lectures at St Xavier’s College were bunked. And vacant cubicles at Rhythm House were occupied. The crackle of needle on vinyl was followed by the most unbelievable sound we’d ever heard. Heavy yet harmonious, metallic yet melodic, layered yet lyrical. In an era where music videos hadn’t started and Wikipedia information was lacking, our focus was purely on the music.

Deep Purple churned out five albums in four years and we greedily ate them up. Vocalist Ian Gillan was singing things to us that we couldn’t fully comprehend but still made complete sense. He sang of raging love when all other bands were lost in soppy romance. Lord and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore painted worlds we didn’t know and created images we hadn’t ever seen. This was music that was politically so incorrect, but sonically so textured.

Music has a way of eliciting memory. And Deep Purple and its brand of unbridled rock music, still speaks to me of a gentler Bombay. A time of innocence.

Of rock shows at Rang Bhavan. Where brutal men didn’t grope women. Where cop vans waited passively, intending to protect, not poop the party.

Where live shows could unfold with pomp and pageantry, not struggle to confine themselves to a time limit. And then in keeping with things, Deep Purple came to the city in the ’90s. Aging rockers they were, but they blew our minds like far younger acts could never do. We watched, as a bunch of grey-haired, now slightly pot-bellied hell raisers relived our youth for us.

Twenty years later, as our once beautiful city gradually implodes, I think of a time when in a tiny Rhythm House cubicle, a young man called Jon Lord, his fingers furiously moving over an organ, helped me grow up.

Let it RIP, Jon Lord.

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper. 

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