Gary Brooker, Leader of Procol Harum, Dies at 76

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A photo montage of Gary Brooker, via Procol Harum’s social media pages

Gary Brooker, the singer, pianist and primary composer for the English rock band Procol Harum, best known for their 1967 hit, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” died February 19, 2022, at age 76. His death, at his home in Surrey, England, from cancer, was announced on the band’s website.

There are few debut singles in rock history as memorable as “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” with its Bach-meets-soul melody and mysterious lyrics. The song, composed by Brooker with lyrics by Keith Reid—a collaboration that would last throughout the band’s lengthy career—has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It topped the U.K. singles chart and peaked at #5 in America, and was nearly as ubiquitous in 1967 as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, whose creators were among those who raved about the band that recorded it, Procol Harum.

Procol Harum’s debut album

In 2010, Best Classic Bands’ editor, Jeff Tamarkin, asked Brooker about Reid’s lyrics. “I went, ‘OK, I get that,'” he said. “People do get the feeling and the meaning of it. If you ask them, they sometimes go, ‘I don’t know what it’s about,’ but something like that doesn’t stay around so long without the words getting through to somebody. If it was only the music it wouldn’t have been so powerfully accepted. It creates a picture and a mood in people and it is basically a love story, isn’t it?”

Watch a promo video for “A Whiter Shade of Pale” with footage from from 1967

Related: Our interview with Brooker

For the next 10 years, with an ever-changing lineup, Procol—as they were often called—remained prolific, turning out an unbroken string of classic albums including their self-titled debut, Shine on Brightly, A Salty Dog, Home, Broken Barricades and 1972’s Procol Harum Live: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, which, at #5, became their highest-charting LP in the U.S. The album yielded another hit single, “Conquistador,” which reached #16 in the U.S.

Following a handful of underrated releases through 1977, Procol split up, then reunited in 1991. (B.J. Wilson, the band’s drummer during its peak years, died in 1990.)

A portion of the group’s obituary for Brooker reads: “With the deepest regret we must announce the death on 19 February 2022 of Gary Brooker MBE, singer, pianist and composer of Procol Harum, and a brightly-shining, irreplaceable light in the music industry. Aged 76, he had been receiving treatment for cancer, but died peacefully at home.

“Gary’s charisma was by no means confined to the stage. He lit up any room he entered, and his kindness to a multilingual family of fans was legendary. He was notable for his individuality, integrity, and occasionally stubborn eccentricity. His mordant wit, and appetite for the ridiculous, made him a priceless raconteur (and his surreal inter-song banter made a fascinating contrast with the gravitas of Procol Harum’s performances).

“But for all his other interests and skills – prize-winning angler, pub-owner, lyricist, painter, inventor – he was above all a devoted and loyal husband to Franky, whom he met in 1965 and married in 1968. Our thoughts must be with her, their families and friends at this extremely sad time.”

The announcement indicated that there will be a private funeral soon, and a memorial celebration later.

Related: Fellow rockers paid tribute to Brooker

Gary Brooker was born in London on May 29, 1945. Having taken piano lessons as a child, he formed the R&B-oriented band the Paramounts in 1962, along with guitarist Robin Trower (who would become a mainstay of Procol) and others. Procol Harum was formed in 1966, with Brooker and Reid co-composing nearly all of the band’s original music. In addition to Trower, organist Matthew Fisher and drummer Wilson were core members during the early years.

In addition to his work with Procol Harum, Brooker was an in-demand session pianist, who can be heard on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Somewhere in England and Gone Troppo, and albums by Eric Clapton, Kate Bush, the Hollies and others. Brooker was a member of Clapton’s band for some time, took part in 2002’s Concert for George (a Harrison tribute) and was a member of both Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band and Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings.

Related: Musicians and other celebrities we’ve lost in 2022

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  1. TyStick
    #1 TyStick 23 February, 2022, 09:27

    what a unique voice and sound from a very influential band. Gary, you will be greatly missed RIP

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