Gary Brooker was an English singer-songwriter, pianist, and the founder and lead singer of the rock band Procol Harum. He was born in Hackney Hospital, East London, on May 29, 1945, and grew up in Hackney before moving to Middlesex.
His father Harry Brooker was a professional musician, playing pedal steel guitar with Felix Mendelssohn’s Hawaiian Serenaders, and as a child, Brooker learned to play piano, cornet, and trombone. After high school, he went on to Southend Municipal College to study zoology and botany but dropped out to become a professional musician.
Brooker founded his first band in 1962 with his guitarist friend, Robin Trower. The Paramounts gained local respect including The Rolling Stones, in particular, sharing the stage with them several times in the early 1960s.
In 1966, Gary founded Procol Harum with his friend Keith Stuart Brian Reid who would write the lyrics to every Procol Harum song (with the exception of the 2017 album Novum).
Their debut May 12, 1967 single “A Whiter Shade of Pale” has sold over 10 million copies. It reached number 1 in the UK and number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. With its Bach-derived instrumental melody, soulful vocals, and unusual lyrics, the music of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was composed by Gary Brooker and Matthew Fisher, while the lyrics were written by Keith Reid.
The personnel on the single was:
- Gary Brooker – vocals, piano
- Matthew Fisher – Hammond M-102 organ
- Ray Royer – guitar
- David Knights – bass
- Bill Eyden – drums
The title track of Procol Harum’s 1969 album, “A Salty Dog,” featured a dramatic orchestral arrangement by Mr. Brooker, and the band soon began performing with orchestras. Its 1971 album, “Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra,” gave it an American hit with an expansive remake of “Conquistador,” from Procol Harum’s debut album.
Now, without Fisher and Trower, Brooker stood as the band’s clear leader. Their 1973 album, “Grand Hotel,” reveled in orchestration; their 1974 release, “Exotic Birds and Fruit,” emphatically rejected it. Songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller produced “Procol’s Ninth” in 1975.
Brooker started a solo career and released the album No More Fear of Flying in 1979 and also joined Eric Clapton’s band. Gary sang lead vocal on the Alan Parsons Project song “Limelight”, on their 1985 album, Stereotomy. He also toured with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band in 1997 and 1999. During all these years he performed with different re-incarnations of Procul Harum.
In July 1968, Brooker married Françoise Riedo (“Franky”), a Swiss au pair, whom he met circa 1965. The couple had no children. Brooker died from cancer at his home in Surrey on February 19, 2022, at the age of 76.