Donald Smith Airey 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, Saxon, Whitesnake, Wishbone Ash, Steve Vai, Colosseum II, Ten, Sinner, Michael Schenker, Rainbow, Empire, Thin Lizzy, Brian May, Divlje jagode and Living Loud. He has also worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
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. 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).
In 1971 he moved to London and joined Cozy Powell's band Hammer. 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. He was also part of the very influential jazz rock band Colosseum II, with Jon Hiseman, Gary Moore, Mike Starrs, Neil Murray and later John Mole, which also formed the core band that recorded Julian Lloyd Webber's variations on a theme of Paganini, simply called Variations.
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. (The album is known as 1987 in Europe.) Soon after he quit the band to record the solo album K2 – Tales of Triumph and Tragedy. In it he plays with Gary Moore, Keith Airey – guitars, Cozy Powell – drums, Laurence Cottle – bass, Chris (Hamlet) Thompson, Colin Blunstone, Mel Galley, Genki Hitomi – vocals.
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, it ultimately featured Airey on only one song, "A Touch of Evil".
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.
He also worked with Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson on one of Dickinson's solo albums, playing keyboards on "Darkness Be My Friend". 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.
On January 18, 2017, Airey was inducted into the Hall of Heavy Metal History.
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 four studio albums with the band, Bananas, Rapture of the Deep, Now What?! and Infinite.
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."
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