Gary Brooker

Skyypilot logo

Gary Brooker

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.

The Paramounts

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.

Classical-Influenced Rock

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 Palein 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:

Procul Harum live in studio, 1973.

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

Comfort Music

Skyypilot logo


Sometimes it can be good to recharge your batteries with what I call “comfort music”. A rainy Saturday can spell new music adventures, well-worn paths, or both. The result is always rewarding, and opens up new avenues to explore, especially when starting my own compositions.

Starting Off

Starting off the day’s listening was Procul Harum’s 2003 “The Well’s on Fire”. Gary Brooker (Vocalist/Piano) is only remaining original member. The group was founded in London April, 1967. Their breakthrough hit, “Whiter Shade of Pale”, came out the next month to critical acclaim. It is an amazing song that holds up over fifty years since its release.

“Whiter Shade of Pale”- Procul Harum

Procul Harum often utilized classical music infused into rock, featuring both piano and Hammond organ. Their 1972 album Procul Harum Live: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra is a masterpiece featuring the song “Conquistador”.

I saw one of their concerts in 1973 and can say Procul Harum was the finest ensemble I’ve witnessed. B.J. Wilson commanded drums like no one I’ve ever seen. They are a singular symphonic rock group that sounds strong to this day.

Next Up

Next up on the listening list came the late, great Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher. Rory formed the band Taste in Cork, Ireland, 1966. They were an excellent three piece blues-rock group that broke up shortly after the huge 1970 Isle of Wight Festival .

Rory then formed his own band that featured his virtuosity on acoustic/electric guitar, slide, finger-picking, blistering leads; even mandolin! His performances were always first-rate and high energy. Additionally, he wrote some great songs (see “A Million Miles Away”).

“A Million Miles Away” live-Rory Gallagher

Alas, we lost Rory Gallagher in March 1995 at only 47 years old from MRSA complications. His boundless enthusiasm lives on, however.

Comfort Music at its Finest

Just what is comfort music at its finest? For me it’s Percy Sledge. I listened to a ultimate greatest hits album that is a real soul-soother. What a voice!

From a humble hospital orderly who traveled with the Esquires Combo on weekends, he went on to sell millions of records- his first, a grand slam- “When a Man Loves a Woman” in 1966.

“When a Man Loves a Woman”- Percy Sledge

In 1965, Percy Sledge had just been laid off his construction job and his girlfriend left him to pursue a modeling career. He then wrote “When a Man Loves a Woman”-the first song he recorded! His organist and bassist helped him on the song, and the humble man gave them all of the songwriting credits!

Percy Sledge sang many great songs. I love them all. His voice was smooth as silk; and I’m convinced it has healing properties. He passed in 2015 at 74.

Last, But Not Least

Last, but not least, blues legend born McKinley Morganfield, but known world-wide as Muddy Waters. He grew up near Clarksdale, Mississippi and was recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress there in 1941. He moved to Chicago in 1943 where he formed his own band. His first recordings were made in 1946.

Over the years, Muddy Waters recorded such classics as “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “I’m Ready”, and many, many more classic blues songs. He had a deep, rich commanding voice that was instantly recognizable.

In 1977, Muddy teamed up with another blues rock legend for his “Hard Again” album. Johnny Winter (another great guitarist) produced this album. A couple of months later that same year, they would take the album’s band on tour in its support. A compilation of three live dates was released as Breakin’ It Up, Breakin’ It Down. Along with Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter were James Cotton – harmonica, vocals Bob Margolin – guitar, vocals Pinetop Perkins – piano, vocals Willie “Big Eyes” Smith – drums Charles Calmese – bass -masters all.

James Cotton, Johnny Winter, Muddy Waters- “9 Below Zero”- Live

What a great album to wrap up this listening tutorial for now…

Comfort music, indeed!

© 2019 J. Mark Witters Skyypilot Media