Before Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman tattooed the image of the rock keys virtuoso into our retinas, Jon Lord’s overdriven Hammond in Deep Purple set the tone for what keyboards in a heavy metal band were supposed to be. Two bands spun off from Deep Purple in the early ’80s: Lord would play in the first incarnation of Whitesnake, and keyboardist Don Airey would join Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow. Airey would later record and tour with Ozzy Osbourne, playing one of the most memorable synth intros in rock: “Mr. Crowley.” Here’s a look back at both their rigs from the Keyboard vaults.
At left in the top photo are two first-generation ARP Odysseys—with a knob for pitch bend where later, the better-known pressure-sensitive pitch pads would sit. Lord endorsed ARP at the time, and you can see a peek of the ARP Pro-Soloist sitting behind him atop his Rhodes. In front is a triple stack: an ARP String Ensemble atop a Hohner Clavinet D6 atop Jon’s Hammond C-3 organ.
“I’ve had a lot of modifications done to it,” he said of the C-3 to Keyboard’s Bob Doerschuk in March, 1983. “One of the most startling is that there’s an RMI electric piano built in.” In a brilliant example of pre-MIDI custom work, technician Bill Hough—who’d worked with Keith Emerson and Paul McCartney—wired the key contacts to trigger the RMI’s circuits. “On the top manual I can play just organ, just RMI piano, or both. That’s how I get that really huge, dirty sound, which is a bit of a trademark for me,” explained Lord. “The bottom two octaves of the lower manual can trigger a synthesizer, so I can have my Minimoog on the floor. . . . I just click a switch and there it is.”
Famously important to Lord’s sound were his high-powered Leslies. “I’ve got Crown amps running them,” he told Doerschuk, “but the Leslies are completely gutted, with 15" Gauss speakers and heavy-duty JBL horns. Each cabinet can take about 300 watts before they start to blow up, and I’ve got four of them. It’s a huge amount of power, but I’ve still got that lovely Leslie effect.”
Airey on CS-80’s Strings
Out of all his synths, Airey had the most to say about the Yamaha CS-80 in our July 1982 interview by Russ Summers and Dominic Milano. “The CS-80 does a fantastic French horn sound,” Airey noted. “On the brass presets, you just set the resonance right, give it a bit of reverb, and you’ve got a French horn. And the bass end on the CS-80 is the best on any synth I’ve ever played.” Also, “the CS-80 has got the best string sound I’ve ever gotten on a keyboard.” When asked what attracted him to the CS-80, his answer illustrates how much our expectations of gear have changed over the years, as the 200-pound beast’s oscillators were notoriously temperature- finicky. “It’s very road-worthy,” he said.
Airey with his 1983 Ozzy setup. Left (top to bottom): ARP Odyssey, Oberheim OB-Xa, and Yamaha CP70 electric grand piano. Right: Minimoog and Roland VP-330 Vocoder Plus (not visible) atop Yamaha CS-80.
Airey’s Rainbow rig in 1981, clockwise from left rear: Hohner Clavinet D6 atop Vako Orchestron, Minimoog (left) and ARP Odyssey (right) atop chopped Hammond B-3, and another Minimoog above a Yamaha CS-80. Beneath the B-3 is a Moog Taurus I bass pedal synth.