WWW.CLAUDESCHNELL.COM - The official site of keyboardist Claude Schnell - Interviews

Rock Stardom and Other Pirate Tales
Column 140 - Remembering Jon Lord
by Charrie Foglio

“Jon Lord was a lovable, mild-mannered person. Intelligent, very talented, great sense of humor and a very generous man. He was a very kind soul.” Willie Fyffe, a long-time friend and co-worker of Lord’s said as he raised a glass to toast what would have been Jon’s 75th birthday.

Willie first started working with Jon with Purple in 1973. “I also did a few shows when he did Sarabande in Germany. Then I jumped in with Whitesnake and Paice, Ashton and Lord. So we’ve been in touch for a good majority of our lives up until the point where he got ill. It was very sad. He was a lovely man. ” Lord died from Pancreatic Cancer in 2012.

Willie remembered a trip to Monte Carlo that he took with Lord right after finishing *Stormbringer*. “The band came to the studio and listened to the album from start to finish. Afterwards we all went to the bar and had a few drinks. Jon and I had a large espresso, grabbed our bags, jumped into his Bentley and off we went. We drove overnight through Munich, then Italy, and saw the sunrise as we came into Monte Carlo.“

They parked the car with the valet and snuck up to drop their bags off in the early morning hours. Jon’s family was already there. They were in Monte Carlo to celebrate his birthday. Since no one was awake yet, the two planned to meet back at Willie’s room for a glass of champagne. When Jon crept in to drop his bags in the foyer, he saw a birthday card waiting for him on the hall table. He took it and opened it on the way back down to Willie’s room. It said, “Happy Birthday Darling Jon. Lots of love from your loving wife Judith and your daughter Sarah. P.S. I want a divorce.”

“He got to my room and showed me the card.” Willie remembered. “We immediately opened the fridge and started drinking brandy and Champagne. We sat and philosophized for a few hours then he said, “I guess I’ve got to go face the music.” It was quite a rough time for him, I think. He braved it well. He was one of those kind of people that if you didn’t know that something was wrong, you wouldn’t have known. He didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve.”

Over the years Jon would invite Willie up to his house in Berkshire. “He’d get a cigar out, a bottle of Cognac and we’d sit in front of his fireplace, with no lights on and talk. It was nice because he would kind of let himself go. They were fabulous days. It became very evident that he wanted to go back to his roots musically, that was classical. Arranging string sections was his passion. I think doing the Purple thing was a means to an end and after the divorce, money may have been an issue. So I am pretty sure that he did the Whitesnake thing just to have an income. But he always said that he wanted to go back and do classical music.”

In 1983, Whitesnake and Dio shared the bill at the Donington Festival in England. Willie remembers it well. Pianist Claude Schnell, was obsessed with Jon and Purple from the moment he heard the *In Rock* record in 1970. He was 12. His first band played Deep Purple covers, and being classically trained himself, remembered being enamored by Lord. “I recognized many of the modalities and the musical motifs that he was incorporating into some of the best rock songs that I had ever heard at that point in my life. I was just enchanted by it.” Claude learned Jon’s solos note for note and credits him with his personal success. “I made a name for myself off of what I learned from Jon Lord.”

So here is Donington, Claude’s first show in front of 120k people. The guys in Dio were teasing him about being nervous in front of such a huge audience. But Claude wasn’t nervous at all. “I was having a grand old time.” Claude begins.

“It comes to the part of the show where it was the drum solo. Vinny Appice catches my eye on stage and points to me with his drumstick. He motions to me to look behind me. But Vinny is always playing jokes, so I was hesitant to fall for it. He looks at me again and mouths “turn around.” So I turn around and six feet behind me is Jon Lord. So NOW I was fucking nervous! I felt my right leg start to tremble as if I was standing on a block of ice. I had never seen him in person, I had never met him. I felt 12 again. There he was, in the flesh, looking just like he did on the album covers, standing six feet away from me AND there is a drum solo coming up which means that I am going to have to walk off stage in that direction!”

“Jon extends a hand to me, which of course, I take. He puts his other arm around me and pulls me in to speak into my ear over the volume of Vinny’s thundering solo. He said, “Claude. Ronnie told me about you. I have to tell you, it does my heart good to see that someone was actually paying attention to what I was trying to do all of those years and has taken it to a new level.”

“If I would have dropped dead right then, I would have been perfectly okay with it.” Claude says laughing. “As a matter of fact, I think that my last thought on my death bed will be of that moment. I owe him so much.”

Happy Birthday Jon Lord. Thank you for the wonderful music and the incredible memories….you are loved and you are missed….Willie and Claude.

This Interview Was Conducted For The DIO Message Board In September 2004

1). Michka asks= I was told you're French. Is it true? (I live in France.)

Bonjour Michka et merci pour votre question. Oui, c’est vrai! Yes, it is true. Even though I was born in Brooklyn, New York, my mother was a French national and as such, provided me with the distinct advantage of dual citizenship. I lived in France until I was six, at which time we moved to New York City. In the ensuing years, I returned to France quite often and to this day, Paris is one of my very favourite cities and my “home away from home”.

2). Warlord asks= When you were in Rough Cutt you played alongside Jake E. Lee. How were those times and how do you rate Jake? I saw him play with Ozzy but never really rated him until he did more of his ‘own‘ thing and I saw him play live with the criminally under-rated Badlands, where he was astounding.

Those times were extraordinary, Warlord. So thanks for asking and jogging my memory. Playing in a rock band in L.A. during the early Eighties was incredibly prophetic. With so many bands and musicians coming up through the ranks, it was like a cradle of rock civilisation, so to speak. Needless to say, some were better than others. And while there was a plethora of good guitarists, there also existed an unmistakable “cookie cutter” mentality. Perhaps you’ve heard the old joke: ‘How many guitarists does it take to change a lightbulb?’ Ten! One to actually change the lightbulb and nine more to say: “I could’ve done that.” Jake was never a part of that mentality. He forged his own path and in my estimation, was always at the head of the pack on all counts. He was a good friend, an insightful musician, obviously a skilled shredder and an absolute joy to work with.

3). Warlord asks= When you were ‘discovered’ by Ronnie you’d already just been working with Glenn Hughes/Pat Thrall. What were those times like?

Those times were extraordinary as well, but in a different way. It was as if I’d gone through some rite of passage and was suddenly playing with the ‘big boys’. And if that wasn’t enough, Glenn and Ronnie were my absolute favourite rock singers ever, since their days with Deep Purple and Rainbow respectively. Two very different but equally brilliant vocalists in their own right, each a fan of the other’s and suddenly, I was in the unique position of working with both of them. It was surreal. Glenn is an incredibly nice guy and he and I were quite close for a while. We met back when I was still playing in Rough Cutt with Jake (waaaaaaay back when). One night after hours, Glenn heard me playing piano at the Troubadour, the legendary Hollywood nightclub. He walked over and introduced himself (as if there was any need to) and asked me if I’d be interested in jamming with him. Can you imagine!! We hit it off right from the start and soon realised that we had a mutual friend in drummer Frankie Banali, who had played with Glenn in Hughes/Thrall. A few weeks after that fortuitous meeting Jake was off to play with Ozzy, which really diminished my interest in staying in Rough Cutt. So when Glenn asked me to go audition for Hughes/Thrall, I couldn’t say ‘yes’ fast enough. I was a big fan of their first album and listened to it all the time. I’ve always been a sucker for a great singer and well, Glenn certainly tears it up on that record. The audition apparently went well because later that same day Pat (Thrall) was singing my praises and I was in the band. I knew what an amazing singer Glenn was, but Pat completely exceeded any expectation I might have had of what a guitar player could do. Having had the chance to play with them was a tremendous opportunity.

4.) Childofthesea asks= Claude, when you think of your years playing in DIO, is there a memory that always springs to mind first? A concert, happening in the studio, or whatever?

Childofthesea, your excellent question really forced me to think. There is indeed always one memory that springs to mind first, but it’s never the same one twice. There were so very many memories created throughout that eight year period, and all of them are quite special, each in their own unique way. Off the top of my head the first thing that comes to mind was the first time I found myself in the rehearsal studio with Vinny Appice playing drums, pretty much spoiling me for any other drummer. No words could accurately describe the volcanic eruption in the room once he started playing. Obviously his reputation had preceded him, but nothing could have possibly prepared me for the visceral impact of playing in the same room with him.

5) Miker asks= What was it like working with DIO and how would you describe his personality?

Thanks for the question, Miker. And I thought Childofthesea’s question forced me to think !! First and foremost, it’s important to point out that there is a significant difference between Ronnie my friend, and Ronnie “the guy I used to work for”. As a friend, Ronnie was one of the nicest, warmest and most compassionate people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Working with Ronnie, on the other hand, was unlike any other work experience I’ve ever had, prior to or since. It was perhaps the best and most difficult learning experience that anyone could ever have hoped to survive! That being said, it was also one of the most enjoyable and rewarding periods of my career. Ronnie is an extraordinarily complicated individual and, like most of us, is a symphony of contradictions. I think the level of musical intensity that the first few albums delivered is testimony to the standard of excellence to which Ronnie held everyone, most of all himself. I would stop short of calling him a perfectionist, but clearly, especially in the earlier days, he was a man with a passionate vision and the means to mould that vision into reality.

6.) Miker asks= Keyboardists get little mention. What is your opinion on that and were you involved in writing any of the songs?

If I am correct in assuming that when you mention keyboardists you’re referring to those who play in rock bands, then with the notable exception of Jon Lord from Deep Purple, you are quite obviously correct. Undoubtedly due to the fact that most rock bands historically have been guitar dominated, it is, in my humble opinion, a most unfortunate consequence. I say unfortunate, because I think in many cases keyboardists become the unsung heroes, contributing more to the sound of a band than they are generally given credit for. On the subject of songwriting, I certainly was involved in the creation of many of the songs to the extent that Ronnie would desire keyboard orchestrations. In some instances this was inherently limited due to the very nature of the band. (See above) Most of the time however, Ronnie’s judicious use of the musical palette that my keyboards provided underscored, what I believe to be, part of the very essence of the band’s musical character. The title track of “The Last In Line” is an excellent example of the impact that the appropriate keyboard parts can have upon the dynamics of a song. It is not coincidental that “The Last in Line” was the first album on which my contributions were heard.

7.) Miker asks= Can you recall any humorous moments with the band?

Yes, of course. Thankfully, there was never any shortage of humour, silliness, practical jokes and other forms of comic relief. And for a band that was as hard working as we were, those moments were very welcome indeed. Beyond the usual assortment of Tour Managers’ attaché cases mysteriously disappearing, or magically turning up with, shall we say “unpleasant” contents, there was an endless parade of individuals who, for one reason or another, managed to keep everyone laughing. For example, there was the famous photographer who often forgot to remove his lens cap. Then there was the bus driver who rarely could find the hotel on his first try. And on more than one occasion, the always entertaining Iron Maiden drummer, Nicko McBrain, had been known to sit in with us for an encore or two. But for me the one incident that truly stands out, and is very reminiscent of a scene from “Spinal Tap”, occurred one night during a show on The Last In Line Tour. One of the things that “Dio” was known for, was having massive, elaborate stage sets. And on this particular tour, that consisted of two enormous Sphinxes on either side of the stage flanking an even larger pyramid in the centre. Within that pyramid, some fifteen feet in the air was the drum riser. During the intro tape to the show, the top of said pyramid would rise dramatically as huge amounts of smoke would gracefully cascade down the sides. Only on this night, that’s not what happened. The intro tape began, the smoke started to fill the top of the pyramid, the tape crescendoed to its ending, and Vinny began playing “Stand Up And Shout”. You can imagine the surprised looks on our faces when, one by one, we all realised that the pyramid had failed to open. As if that wasn’t enough, all of the smoke, which was meant to escape during the intro, was now instead invading the inner fibres of Vinny’s lungs. Much to Vinny’s credit though, he didn’t miss a single beat and it was probably not until half way through the song that the problem was finally corrected. I’m not really sure if Vinny would agree that this was one of the funnier moments!

8.) DreamsonicIVIXXIV asks= Hi Claude, I think there are some truly memorable touches from you on the DIO albums that you participated on, maybe most of all, the middle part on Egypt. When did you actually join DIO, was it right after the Holy Diver sessions or just before the tour started? How did it come about and what were your impressions upon joining the band?

Thanks for the kind words DreamsonicIVIXXIV, and you are quite correct. The fateful call from Ronnie asking me to join the band came soon after the Holy Diver sessions were completed and well before the tour started. Although there had been some discussion of my joining sooner and consequently playing on that album, for whatever reason, it never came to pass. But as they say, timing is everything. At the time Holy Diver was being recorded, I was still quite happy to be playing in Hughes/Thrall and had no real interest in leaving. However, when Ronnie eventually got around to asking me to join Dio, enough time had passed that playing with Glenn had reached critical mass. Pat Thrall had already left the band and the future there didn’t look as promising as it once had.

As for how it all came about, I imagine there were several underlying reasons. Among them, I believe initially Jimmy Bain had visions of playing Bass and Keyboards live, a la Geddy Lee from Rush. I think that may have been a bit overambitious, especially since the set list was to include so many Rainbow and Sabbath tunes. Ronnie was already quite familiar with my playing, since we had worked in the studio together on numerous occasions and he had seen me perform live many times. So as it turned out, Ronnie’s offer presented me a most welcome opportunity for change. Not only was Ronnie gracious enough to telephone me himself, but he also was generous enough to tell me that I was the only keyboard player he had any interest in considering for the band. My singular impression upon joining Dio, was that it was the most potent kick ass band I ever could’ve hoped to be a part of.

9.) Drifter asks= Hi Claude. Thank you for the music you helped create. It left a lasting impression and provided the backdrop to many great times and fond memories.... My question is, do you know who Baal is? Can you tell us if Ronnie ever spoke of him? Any story you might be able to share with us that could shed some light on a dark subject that intrigues many of us, would be great too. Do you know if any demos exist of the Dream Evil LP?

Hello Drifter and thanks for your questions. The subject of Baal is as extensive as it is complex and confusing. In short, it is believed by some that he was one of the pagan idols of the ancient Phoenicians. Widely mentioned in the Old Testament, there are references dating back as far as the 14th century BC. Ronnie did indeed speak of him from time to time, but it was usually in reference to an anecdote from the Rainbow days. If your thirst for knowledge on this subject persists, there is more information available at: http://www.pantheon.org/articles/b/baal.html In response to your Dream Evil LP demo question, I can only speculate that early versions of some of the tracks probably do exist somewhere in the depths of our collective personal libraries.

10.) Drifter asks= Claude, what was it like when Viv left the band? Can you reflect on this for us in your own words? What was going on in the months before the departure and afterwards?

Thanks for another good question, Drifter. Prior to Vivian leaving, there was a slow and steady, yet very perceptible sense that he was drifting away from us. As I recall, it was genuinely bizarre. It first began with him sporting a quite distinctive haircut which, in and of itself, was unremarkable. But then there were more and more little tell tale signs that things just weren’t right, like the ever-present Walkman headphones he would wear on the bus. Again, not a big deal, but as a result he would hardly ever engage in conversation with anyone. It was like he was off in his own little world. And little by little, slowly but surely, he just wasn’t “there” anymore. In retrospect, he had very strong feelings about how he was being, and had been treated; and I think his actions were largely predicated upon those feelings. Once Vivian was gone though, it seemed like Craig magically appeared out of nowhere, almost as if the switch had been carefully orchestrated. Not that I would presume to suggest such a thing, but at the time it was a widely held impression.

11.) Cheryljames69 asks= ”When A Woman Cries” is very special to me and I was wondering whose idea it was and why?

Well Cheryljames69, your question is very special to me so thanks for posting it. “When A Woman Cries” is a very meaningful song and seems to have a huge appeal to many women. I am certainly glad that you are one of them. Since the song only became “When A Woman Cries” once Ronnie wrote the lyrics for it, I suppose the answer that you’re looking for is: it was Ronnie’s idea.

12.) Warlord asks= What was your favourite DIO tour to play on and why?

Yet again Warlord, I can count on you to ask the truly difficult questions. Each and every one of the tours that I was fortunate enough to be on holds a very special place in my heart. They were all great for various different reasons, but I suppose if I am being forced to choose, then I would have to pick the ‘Dream Evil’ Tour. Maybe it’s because that was my last tour with Dio and as such, it sort of represents the end of an era. But I also think that perhaps the fans were more in tune with the band on that tour than any other. One thing’s for sure. Without the fans there would be no tours, and Dio fans are the greatest in the world. On a personal note, I would like to take this opportunity to say a belated “Thank You” to each and every one of you.

13.) Pompey asks= Claude, What was the favourite of the 2 Doningtons (Monsters of Rock festivals) you played with DIO. And why?

Hello Pompey, and thanks for posting your question. Without a shadow of doubt that would have to be the 1983 Donington. For one thing, it was personally my very first festival gig. The feeling of being on stage and looking out to see a virtual sea of fans is an indescribable experience, especially for the first time. In serious addition to that, with Whitesnake headlining that show, I had the distinct pleasure of knowing that keyboardist Jon Lord, who was of monumental influence to me, was watching from the wings. And as if all that wasn’t enough, after the show to receive the praise from him that I did, is a memory that I shall cherish forever.

14.) DreamsonicIVIXXIV asks= How much of an input did you have on the stuff you played as Jimmy and Ronnie both also play a bit of keyboards?

Well hello again, DreamsonicIVIXXIV. I think the operative word in your question is a “bit”. Even though both Ronnie and Jimmy may play keyboards a little, I think that they pretty much confined their use of them to tools for writing. When it came to recording, I had complete input on the “stuff” I played. Bear in mind that some of the music I came up with was at the prompting and guidance of Ronnie who, as the producer, would ultimately determine which of those parts were to be used on the albums.

15.) DreamsonicIVIXXIV asks= Your live solos had some heavy classical influences mixed in there. Did you play something from Bach or Beethoven?

Very perceptive, and thanks for noticing. I hope this means that you enjoyed them. There was indeed a part of the Bach:’Tocata and Fuge in D Minor’ incorporated into what I was playing. For those of you unfamiliar with this piece, it is the ubiquitous “Phantom Of The Opera” theme that most of you will know from your favourite Dracula/Horror films.

16.) Magica asks= Claude, I personally consider you to be Dio's greatest keyboard player. How would you compare yourself to Scott Warren? Also is there any chance that you would rejoin Dio, if the opportunity arose? And do you still keep in touch with Ronnie?

Greetings Magica and thank you very much! I must say that I admire your judgement and personally would have to agree with you! J Questions like yours are always bound to ruffle someone’s feathers, but I will say this. I don’t know that such a comparison is even feasible. But even if it were, I honestly wouldn’t be familiar enough with Scott ‘s playing to make one anyway. Suffice it to say however, if Ronnie has chosen him to play in Dio, he must be doing something right. As far as my rejoining Dio is concerned, they say you should ‘Never Say Never’, but ‘they’ were never actually in Dio. Kidding aside, it truly doesn’t seem to be a likely scenario. Finally, Ronnie and I do keep in touch from time to time. And when we do manage to catch up with each other, we always end up making plans to get better at staying in touch. As I said in my answer to Miker earlier in this Q&A, Ronnie is still a good friend and one of the nicest and warmest people I’ve ever known.

17.) TeRRy asks= Hi Claude. I understand that when you left DIO there might have been some creative differences with Ronnie. Is this true and if so, could you expound on what they might have been? Also, since I have not heard much from you for a while after this happened, what did you do after that? Thanks for your music. YOU ROCK!!!

Hi there TeRRy and YOU ROCK Too!! Thanks for your questions. As is usually the case when any situation comes to an end, more than one factor alone contributed to its demise. My exit from Dio was no exception. In actual fact, there was an assortment of issues precipitating my departure and yes, one of them was musical differences with Ronnie. It had become obvious to me that the role I had defined for keyboards in Dio had significant limitations. And while I have very fond memories of, and thoroughly enjoyed all of the musical experiences that being in Dio afforded me, the time had finally come to move on. As a musician, particularly a keyboard player, it was clear that I had other bridges to cross. So what have I been doing since then? Not a simple question requiring far more than a simple answer. I'll spare you the details of the non-music related issues, although they do indeed account for a great deal of the elapsed time. Almost immediately following the end of my involvement with Dio, I was approached by, and given assurances that, I was to be touring with Whitesnake in the very near future. Even though I was told that I had been chosen for the tour, for reasons that are still unclear to me, it never came to pass. Not that I was trying to follow in the footsteps of past and future band mates or anything. But it did make me take notice of that strange connection between the Dio and Whitesnake camps when it came to band members. Perhaps it comes down to a simple matter of “Old School”. You wouldn’t really expect to find any Dio Alumni playing with say, Madonna, or Counting Crows. In my opinion, players of our ilk are basically part of a unique and fairly small community of musicians who are therefore perceived in certain very specific ways. Soon after that episode, I spent several months writing with, and attempting to put a band together with, Chris Impellitteri. That too, never saw the light of day, which is unfortunate since there were some moments of genuine inspiration that hinted at a chance for success. Then for an extended period of time, I found myself doing an awful lot of session work in various L.A. and N.Y.C. studios. Mostly I was hired for my "trademark" heavy keyboard stuff, but I also did my fair share of traditional piano and Hammond Organ recordings. In addition to that, I did some string and orchestral arrangements that eventually led to doing film cue work. On that note, I am pleased to add that I’ve recently been hired to compose my first movie soundtrack. I was really quite happy with the work I was doing, but to be honest, there was a distinct absence of creative satisfaction. Fortunately during this same period, I had returned to writing original material as well as composing my own music, which was, and continues to be tremendously satisfying. But then I ran into what would prove to be a significant impasse. After so many years of working with arguably two of the best rock singers of all time (Ronnie, and Glenn Hughes before him), I found it almost impossible to find an appropriate vocalist to breathe life into my songs. And it was not for a lack of trying. A virtual parade of singers marched into, and out of my studio. Guys who I thought for sure could pull it off. Robin McCauley and Neil Turbin to name but two. Neil Turbin is the guy from the first Anthrax album. That credit notwithstanding, he has an incredible range and tremendous power. Robin McCauley of course is the great singer known for his work with Michael Schenker in MSG. Apparently the material I had written was far more difficult to sing than I had ever imagined. Working with Ronnie and Glenn for so long obviously had had an impact on my songwriting. Thankfully, this ongoing source of frustration seems to have finally run its course. I’ve recently begun working with an amazing singer from Texas who, unless I'm completely mistaken (yet again), will fit the bill to a "tee". I don't want to say too much about the project until it gets a little further along, but if it comes out as I expect, it will have been worth the wait. I also would like to make everyone aware of my new website. It is still in its early stages, but please go have a look and do check back as it will be completed very soon. You can find it at www.claudeschnell.com

Warlord says= Thank you Claude so much for taking the time out to do this interview for us. We REALLY appreciate it. We hope things go well for you in the future and please keep us posted of any new developments/projects if/when you can. Thank you again Claude for everything.

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