Two things happened in between Deep Purple’s US Tour in the early summer of 2001 and their tour of Europe in the late summer. Both of these had an affect on the band’s experience in Europe.
Ironically, the event with smaller implications for the band was the one which included a death. Lord Longford passed away on August 3rd at the age of 95. Longford’s main contribution to Deep Purple history was in the name of a song, “Mary Long”, from Who Do We Think We Are? The song was originally written as a response to Longford and Mary Whitehouse’s morality campaigns of the early 70s. Naturally, these bothered the somewhat rebellious Deep Purple!
As a tribute with questionable motives, the band included “Mary Long” on their setlist for the rest of the year. It had intermittently shown up earlier in the year, but became a permanent part of the performances from this point on.
The second major event was the last-minute pulling out of the tour by Jon Lord. At some point either late in July or early in August, Lord injured his knee badly enough that it needed surgery, which would force him to miss at least the beginning of the upcoming tour of Europe. If not handled properly, the loss of Lord onstage would be a loss seriously felt by audiences and band members alike. Lord was one of the two remaining founding members of the band by this point. He had been at every Deep Purple concert starting on April 20, 1968, the day Deep Purple first took the stage. His history with the band, even the concept of it, stretched even longer; it was Lord who was the first recruit by Chris Curtis back when Purple were still in their “Roundabout” days.
How Deep Purple Reacted to Previous Similar Circumstances
This was not the first time a member of Deep Purple had called in sick or injured. Ian Gillan suddenly fell ill in 1971 before a gig; this resulted in Roger Glover taking over vocals for a single performance before the rest of the tour was cancelled. Ritchie Blackmore’s similarly became ill the next spring. This also had resulted in not one but two attempts at a a similarly short-notice substitution. Al Kooper first stepped in, but a nervous breakdown prior to the show led to Randy California coming in for a single show before the band cancelled again. By the 80s, when Blackmore broke a finger, the group no longer risked substitutions and simply cancelled the tour.
The only major exception to this established pattern occurred in 2000. Steve Morse once arrived at a gig with one hand in a cast, having broken it not long before. By later retellings, he simply cut the cast off his fingers, downed some pain medication, and went on with the show.
Lord, however, chose not to follow Morse’s lead. His his injury was likely too severe to do any sort of intermediate fix. Besides, Lord and the rest of the band did not expect him to sit out the whole tour, but rather just a few dates until he recovered. Despite the history of cancellations due to injuries or illness, as well as a history of last-minute substitutions going poorly, this tour broke the pattern and went forward.
The Ball in the Band’s Court
It’s not entirely clear when the rest of the band learned the news that Lord would be unable to join them. Steve Morse makes no mention of it in a late July update on his website. Neither can anything about Lord injuring himself be found on The Highway Star, then as now the premiere fan site for Purple fans, until August 7. On that day, his impending absence was announced. Later recollections by Lord’s eventual successor suggest that he was similarly contacted as a replacement just two days before the tour began. All of this points to Lord pulling out of the tour perhaps as late as August 5th or 6th.
To return briefly to the question of why the tour was not cancelled with this short notice, it’s possible that it was simply too late to cancel for many of the venues. I’d have to confirm that with someone who’s actually familiar with contracts between acts and the venues they use to say for certain, however. All I can say for sure is that they were definitely too late to change the posters which advertised the tour!
With all these factors in consideration, with potential difficulty in late-stage cancellation on one hand weighed against the potential of upsetting fans with Lord’s absence on the other, Deep Purple made the collective decision to go out on the road. For the first time ever, Jon Lord would not be with them. Ian Paice would therefore soon become the only founding member to have been at every gig. They were likely aware that a Lord substitution could prove dicey. Fans did not always take well to substitutions of founding members, as Steve Morse had learned the hard way throughout the 90s when he was harassed onstage.
Even if he hadn’t been a founder, Lord had also engendered a great deal of respect from Purple’s fans. His collaborations with the four guitarists in Purple’s history were widely considered the lynchpin which held the band together. For this tour to succeed, the band would have to make a particularly good choice in substitute.
Later in the band’s history, interviews would suggest that a keyboard player other than the one who eventually took Lord’s position was floated as the replacement. It’s not clear to me based on the scant information I could find whether this referred to the eventual permanent replacement Lord would need after retiring from the band in 2002 or for this tour. The sources for this idea apparently include the Norwegian Monster Magazine, in which Steve Morse was interviewed, and an unnamed Polish magazine, in which Roger Glover was interviewed. The keyboardist in question was J. Peter Robinson.
Robinson, born in 1945, was classically trained at the Royal Academy of Music in London. His connections with members of Purple began in 1970, apparently on his first major record. He played the keyboards on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s concept album Jesus Christ Superstar; this put him into contact with Ian Gillan, who sang the titular role.
At around the same time, he was a member of the short-lived band Quatermass. Quatermass formed in 1969, released a single self-titled album, and disbanded in 1971. Despite their short life, the connections with Purple and its extended family are far-reaching. Gillan would state in a survey of the five members that Quatermass was one of his favorite bands. Meanwhile, it was a cover of their take on “Black Sheep of the Family” which first brought Ritchie Blackmore into the studio with Ronnie James Dio. This collaboration would become the band Rainbow.
Robinson himself did not spend much time on stages after Quatermass disbanded. He worked primarily as a session artist after that, collaborating with Carly Simon, Phil Collins, and even once more with Ian Gillan on his album Naked Thunder. He also became a composer for film and television, with his credits including the Americanized Godzilla 2000, Wayne’s World, and the tv show Charmed.
This was the person apparently seriously floated as a possibility for Deep Purple. However, according to Morse’s telling, for which there is no evidence to the contrary, he had another name in mind. He was thinking of a gentleman named Don Airey.
News Gets Out
The earliest the news seems to have broken that Lord would not be present was on August 7, 2001. This was a mere two days before the band was scheduled to first take the stage in Skanderborg, Denmark. According to this earliest announcement from longstanding fan site The Highway Star, Lord would be absent from the group for the first eight days of the tour. He was due to return on August 19, coincidentally singer Ian Gillan’s birthday. In the meantime, Don Airey, who “had plenty of practice Lording it in the Whitesnake band The Company Of Snakes”, as the announcement put it, would take up the keys.
However, Don Airey’s connections to the music of Deep Purple, Purple’s extended family, and to Jon Lord himself ran far deeper than copying him in a single spinoff band of a spinoff band. In fact, he was probably the only keyboardist who could be compared to Lord in terms of his familiarity with the Deep Purple extended family.
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- Airey Remembers