Gary Brooker passed from this earth Saturday, Feb 19, 2022. He was the voice, piano, and composer in the English band Procol Harum (named after a friend’s cat’s birth certificate). Mr. Brooker lit up many a musical imagination with over fifty years leading that band. He was a huge influence on my music path.
Gary spent 1960-66 playing R&B and soul in the English band The Paramounts. Brooker decided to become a songwriter exclusively. He was introduced to lyricist Keith Reid. They began writing songs to present to others. Since no one seemed interested in recording/performing them, he formed Procol Harum originally for that purpose in 1967.
Procol Harum was a band that featured classical-influenced rock music. The lineup featured both piano and organ, not one or the other. This unique pairing allowed for many more textures, lending to classical music extension. They had a very dynamic range, from whisper to most intense. Their first release was the huge hit “Whiter Shade of Pale” in 1967, and they toured on and off until 2019.
During those 52 years, Gary Brooker and Procol Harum (despite the many personnel changes) recorded thirteen studio and eight live albums. Procol Harum Live: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra particularly stands out for its 1972 hit recording of “Conquistador“. By the way, Gary wrote the orchestral arrangement for it, as well.
April 15, 1973
On April 15, 1973 in Charleston, Illinois, I witnessed Procol Harum in concert. The band was touring for their new (at the time) Grand Hotel album, and they were in a class by themselves. I saw the complete command of artists at work (side note: Their drummer- the late B.J. Wilson- played drums sounding like a whole orchestral percussion section playing along with his drum kit-amazing!). Blazing the way forward, Gary Brooker was the one constant the entire time. Below is a live clip from that same time period:
Like No One Else
Procol Harum sounded like no one else before or since Gary Brooker. Although his music was sophisticated, there was a working man mentality that kept it nailed to the ground. He didn’t underestimate anyone’s intelligence; kept the listener challenged.
Gary Brooker showed me that anything could be achieved musically, something I’ve always carried along my convoluted way.
© 2022 J. Mark Witters Skyypilot Media Skyypilot.com