Don Airey

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Don Airey
Don Airey performing with Deep Purple in 2005
Don Airey performing with Deep Purple in 2005
Background information
Birth nameDonald Smith Airey
Born (1948-06-21) 21 June 1948 (age 75)
Sunderland, England
GenresRock, hard rock, heavy metal, blues rock, progressive rock, jazz fusion
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter
Years active1969–present
Member ofDeep Purple
Formerly ofRainbow, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, Electric Light Orchestra, Gary Moore, Glenn Tipton, Judas Priest, Wishbone Ash, Whitesnake, Ten, Jethro Tull, Hollywood Monsters, Divlje jagode

Donald Smith Airey (born 21 June 1948) is an English musician who has been the keyboardist in the rock band Deep Purple since 2002, after the retirement of Jon Lord. He has had a long and productive career, playing with such acts as Gary Moore, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, Whitesnake, Saxon, Wishbone Ash, Colosseum II, Ten, Sinner, Michael Schenker, Rainbow, Empire, Brian May, Divlje jagode and Living Loud. He has also worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Early life[edit]

Inspired by his father, Norman Airey, Don Airey took a love for music at a young age and was trained in classical piano from the age of seven.[1] He continued his love for music by earning a degree at the University of Nottingham and a diploma at the Royal Northern College of Music (where he studied under Ryszard Bakst).[2] Following his studies, he formed a band and worked on P&O cruise liners travelling the world.[3]


1970s work[edit]

In 1971 he moved to London and joined Cozy Powell's band Hammer. In 1975 he joined Jon Hiseman's highly influential jazz rock band Colosseum II, along with Gary Moore, Neil Murray, Mike Starrs and later John Mole. They made three albums and also formed the core band for Andrew Lloyd Webber's album Variations, based on variations on a theme by Paganini. Don worked on several albums with solo artists and was a session musician on the 1978 Black Sabbath album Never Say Die! Soon after, he joined guitarist Ritchie Blackmore's band, Rainbow, and featured on Gary Moore's solo debut Back on the Streets. With Rainbow he contributed to two hit albums, Down to Earth and Difficult to Cure.

1980s work[edit]

After leaving Rainbow in 1981, Airey joined with Ozzy Osbourne for a three-year stint where he helped with the albums Bark at the Moon and Speak of the Devil. He also played on the Diary of a Madman Tour from 1981 to 1982 and appears on Blizzard of Ozz and was also the only witness to Randy Rhoads's death. Airey joined Jethro Tull in 1987 for their tour in support of Crest of a Knave. The same year also saw the release of Whitesnake's multi-platinum Whitesnake, on which Airey played keyboards. Soon after he quit the band to record the solo album K2 – Tales of Triumph and Tragedy. In it he plays with Gary Moore and Keith Airey – guitars, Cozy Powell – drums, Laurence Cottle – bass, Chris (Hamlet) Thompson, Colin Blunstone, Mel Galley, and Genki Hitomi – vocals.[4]

1990s onwards[edit]

Airey performing with Deep Purple, 2008

In 1990, Airey recorded keyboard parts for several songs on Judas Priest's album Painkiller. However, because Judas Priest wanted the album to have a heavier sound than their previous work, only one song on Painkiller, "A Touch of Evil", prominently features Airey.[citation needed] In a 2020 interview, Airey revealed that he also played most of the album's bass parts on a Minimoog, as Judas Priest bassist Ian Hill was unable to participate in recording sessions due to illness.[5]

In 1997 he arranged and played on "Love Shine a Light" by Katrina and the Waves, conducting the accompanying orchestra at the Eurovision Song Contest. The song won the contest.

In 1999 he joined Manchester-based melodic hard rock band Ten where he played keyboards on the album Babylon, which was released in 2000. He also toured with the band in support of the new album.

Airey played keyboards on the song "Darkness Be My Friend" by Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson, released on the 2002 reissue of Dickinson's debut solo album Tattooed Millionaire. Airey also played keyboards on At Vance's mastermind Olaf Lenk's first solo album Sunset Cruise. In 2006 Airey featured on Gary Moore's release Old New Ballads Blues contributing to all tracks.

In 2008 Airey released his second solo album, A Light in the Sky and recently it has been announced that another solo album from Airey is set to premiere in 2011.

In early 2014 Airey joined hard rock band Hollywood Monsters where he played keyboards (Hammond B3 organ) on the track "Move On" on the album "Big Trouble" which was released in 2014 on Mausoleum Records. The album features Steph Honde on vocals and guitars, Vinny Appice on drums, Tim Bogert on bass and Paul Di'Anno on lead vocals on the bonus track.[6]

On 18 January 2017, Airey was inducted into the Hall of Heavy Metal History.[7]

In January 2020, Airey played two shows with Uriah Heep, filling in for Phil Lanzon after the keyboardists son died.[8]

Deep Purple[edit]

Airey joined Deep Purple in 2001 to fill in for an injured Jon Lord, who subsequently retired from the band. Airey joined the band as a full-time keyboardist in March 2002. He has recorded six studio albums with the band, Bananas, Rapture of the Deep, Now What?!, Infinite, Whoosh! and Turning to Crime.

Interviewed by Jeb Wright, for Classic Rock Revisited, about the album Now What?!, he said "Well, it's Deep Purple and there is a Hammond there. There is only one way to go, really. Over the years, I have really worked on my sound, it didn't just happen overnight. The first two, or three, years I was with the band, I was using Jon's C3 and it was pretty knackered. I had it refurbished. It's been put in mothballs now... I much prefer Hammond A-100's, that's my choice."[9]

Instruments and gear[edit]

Airey has employed many instruments and effect processors to aid him in the creation of his music and is well known for the use of his Hammond A100. In an interview with Keyboard Magazine Don Airey explained that he preferred the Hammond A-100 over other organs (including the Hammond B-3) for their "purer tone" in live settings. He also uses Leslie 122 speakers and a Hughes and Kettner Puretone amplifier. For piano sounds, Airey uses a Kurzweil PC3K8 and also uses a MOOG Voyager. He also uses several rack and pedal based units such as a Roland Fantom.[10]

Airey is also an endorsing artist for several effects companies including Neunaber Audio and TC Electronic and currently uses a Neunaber Seraphim Shimmer as well as a TC Hall of Fame Reverb and a TC Flashback Delay.[11][12]

Personal life[edit]

Airey lives with his wife, Doris, and their three children in South West Cambridgeshire. In 1992, Airey's son suffered from a serious illness, causing him to slow down his musical activity until 1995.[13] Airey is an ardent Sunderland A.F.C. fan.[14]

He has a brother, Keith Airey, who played guitar for Nik Kershaw during the mid-1980s and the reformed version of The Zombies from 2001 to 2010 and is currently lead guitarist for the London stage show Mamma Mia!.

His other brother, Paul Airey, played piano for SlowBone and Rollups and currently works with Robbie Gladwell and his band.

He is currently writing a book about his experiences in the music business.[1][needs update]



Year Title Notes
1988 K2 Studio
2005 E-Thnik (with Mario Fasciano, Steve Morse & Ian Paice) Studio
2008 A Light in the Sky Studio
2011 All Out Studio
2014 Keyed Up Studio
2018 One of a Kind Studio
2019 Contractual Obligation #1: Live in Moscow (with Ian Gillan and Orchestra) Live, BD/2CD
2019 Contractual Obligation #2: Live in Warsaw (with Ian Gillan and Orchestra) Live, 2Cd
2019 Contractual Obligation #3: Live in St. Petersburg (with Ian Gillan and Orchestra) Live, 3LP
2021 Live in Hamburg Live, Recorded 2017

As band member[edit]

Year Band Title
1974 Cozy Powell's Hammer "Na Na Na" (Single)
1976 Colosseum II Strange New Flesh
1977 Electric Savage
1977 War Dance
1979 Rainbow Down to Earth
1979 Denver 1979 (LP)
1979 Long Island 1979 (LP)
1979 Down to Earth Tour 1979 (box set)
1980 Monsters of Rock - Live at Donnington 1980
1981 Difficult to Cure
1981 Boston 1981
1986 Finyl Vinyl
1997 Quatermass II Quatermass II: Long Road
1998 The Snakes/The Company of Snakes Live in Europe
2001 Here They Go Again
2001 Empire Hypnotica
2003 Trading Souls
2003 Living Loud Living Loud
2004 Live in Sydney 2004 (2CD/DVD)
2003 Deep Purple Bananas
2005 Rapture of the Deep
2006 They All Came Down to Montreux (CD) / Live at Montreux 2006 (DVD)
2007 Over Zurich (DVD)
2002 Live at the NEC UK 2002 (DVD)
2011 Live at Montreux 2011 (CD / DVD)
2013 Now What?!
2013 The Now What?! Live Tapes
2014 Deep Purple, Bruce Dickinson, Glenn Hughes, Paul Weller, Rick Wakeman & Many Others Celebrating Jon Lord at the Royal Albert Hall (CD / DVD)
2014 Deep Purple Live in Verona (CD / DVD)
2015 From the Setting Sun... (In Wacken) (CD / DVD)
2015 ...To the Rising Sun (In Tokyo) (CD / DVD)
2017 InFinite
2017 The Infinite Live Recordings, Vol. 1
2013 Live in Rome 2013
2020 Whoosh!
2002 Live in London 2002
2021 Turning to Crime

As session member[edit]

Year Band Title
1977 Andrew Lloyd Webber Variations
1978 Strife Back to Thunder
1978 Black Sabbath Never Say Die
1978 Gary Moore Back on the Streets
1979 Cozy Powell Over the Top
1980 Michael Schenker Group The Michael Schenker Group
1980 Ozzy Osbourne Blizzard of Ozz
1981 Cozy Powell Tilt
1982 Gary Moore Corridors of Power
1983 Gary Moore Dirty Fingers
1983 Gary Moore Rockin' Every Night – Live in Japan
1983 Gary Moore Live
1983 Ozzy Osbourne Bark at the Moon
1983 Cozy Powell Octopuss
1985 Gary Moore Run for Cover
1987 Whitesnake Whitesnake
1989 Whitesnake Slip of the Tongue
1989 Gary Moore After the War
1990 Gary Moore Still Got the Blues
1990 Judas Priest Painkiller
1992 Cozy Powell The Drums Are Back
1992 UFO High Stakes & Dangerous Men
1997 Glenn Tipton Baptizm of Fire
2000 Uli Jon Roth Transcendental Sky Guitar
2000 Ten Babylon
2001 Judas Priest Demolition
2004 Tony Iommi with Glenn Hughes The 1996 DEP Sessions
2006 Gary Moore Old New Ballads Blues
2006 Tipton, Entwistle & Powell Edge of the World
2008 Judas Priest Nostradamus
2008 Michael Schenker Group In the Midst of Beauty
2011 Michael Schenker Temple of Rock
2011 Saxon Call to Arms

Guest appearances[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Wear - The Don Airey interview". BBC. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  2. ^ "Deep Purple's new album is "all recorded" — Don Airey". TASS.
  3. ^ Oakes, Tim (1 February 1984). "Wizard Of Oz (EMM Feb 1984)". Electronics & Music Maker (Feb 1984): 52–54.
  4. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1995). The Guinness Who's Who of Heavy Metal (Second ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 14. ISBN 0-85112-656-1.
  5. ^ "Deep Purple Keyboardist Don Airey: I Played Bass on Judas Priest's 'Painkiller'". Loudwire. 6 November 2020. Retrieved 6 November 2020.
  6. ^ "Hollywood Monsters Signs With Mausoleum". Rock N Growl Records. 5 May 2014. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
  7. ^ Legaspi, Althea (22 December 2016). "Scorpions Among Nominees for Hall of Heavy Metal History". Rolling Stone.
  8. ^ "URIAH HEEP – PHIL LANZON To Miss Shows After Son's Death; DEEP PURPLE's DON AIREY To Fill In". 11 January 2020. Retrieved 21 September 2023.
  9. ^ "CRR Interview - Don Airey: It's Deep Purple & There's a Hammond". Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  10. ^ "Don Airey, Master of Heavy Metal Keyboards". Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  11. ^ "Don Airey | TC Electronic". Archived from the original on 22 March 2016. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  12. ^ "Don Airey". Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  13. ^ "Don Airey". Deep Purple. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  14. ^ "BBC - Wear - The Don Airey interview".
  15. ^ "Peace Dogman -". Archived from the original on 23 April 2018.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]