Procol Harum

  • British psychedelic rock band formed in 1967 from Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England. There have been many members over the years. Gary Brooker was the lead vocalist, songwriter and pianist from the beginning, and Keith Reid was a member of the group as lyricist throughout. There were six guitarists over the years – notably, Robin Trower was the guitarist from 1967 to 1971, and briefly in 1991 – Trower makes many lists of the greatest guitarists of all time. Matthew Fisher was a founding member on vocals, guitar and organ. The original bassist was David Knights, replaced by Chris Copping and then by Alan Cartwright. The founding drummer was Bobby Harrison, who was with the band for four months, replaced by B.J. Wilson, and many others in later years.
  • Brooker, Trower, Copping and Wilson were members of a beat group named the Paramounts, who had a minor hit in 1964 in the UK – a cover of the Coasters song Poison Ivy. By 1966, with no further success, the Paramounts broke up. In April 1967, Brooker formed Procol Harum with Fisher, Knights and guitarist Ray Royer. Brooker’s friend Keith Reid was a poet, and Reid was made a band member though he only wrote lyrics for the group. The Procol Harum name was chosen by their manager, taken from a friend’s Burmese cat that was named Procul Harun. The record company that signed the Paramounts retained the relationship with this new band.
  • Soon after forming, the group booked time in a studio, using a session drummer, to record the single A Whiter Shade of Pale. Reid first heard the phrase at a party, where someone told a woman friend that she had turned “a whiter shade of pale.” The phrase stuck with Reid, and he penned a girl-leaves-boy song, influenced by classical literature. After the first two takes, they recorded it again, using Harrison as the drummer, but they decided to release the first version. The song became an anthem of the “Summer of Love.” It reached #1 in the UK and eleven other countries, and it peaked at #5 in the U.S. Over the years, it sold more than 10 million copies, and more than 1,000 covers of the song have been recorded by other artists. The song was ranked #57 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Song of All Time list, until it dropped to #271 on the latest version of the list in September 2021.
  • With the success of the song, Procul Harum began to perform concerts, and membership quickly changed. In July 1967, Trower and Wilson were brought in on guitar and drums. This lineup was used for their debut album, the self-titled Procol Harum. The U.S. version included A Whiter Shade of Pale, as well as a track titled Conquistador. Other odd-titled tracks included She Wandered Through the Garden Fence, A Christmas Camel, Salad Days (Are Here Again) and Repent Walpurgis. Albums were released in 1968 and 1969, but no hits came from these albums.
  • In September 1969, Knights and Fisher left the band. Knights was replaced by Copping – Procol Harum had become the same lineup as the Paramounts, with Reid included. This lineup released albums in 1970 and 1971, but again, no singles charted, and the albums sold modestly. In July 1971, Trower left the group, replaced by David Ball on guitar, and Alan Cartwright joined on bass guitar, allowing Copping to focus only on keyboards.
  • In November 1971, Procol Harum performed a concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, and a recording was made of the concert. In early 1972, the live performance was released as an album, and it became their best selling album. It included a live version of the song Conquistador, which was released as a single and peaked at #16 on the Hot 100 chart. It was their last hit single. In 1977, the group disbanded.
  • Brooker, Fisher, Trower and Reid reformed the group in 1991, releasing the album The Prodigal Stranger. With various lineups, they continued to perform and release new music – albums were released in 2003 and 2017, with Brooker and Reid still with the group. Concerts are scheduled to be performed in 2022.
  • Here’s the song that is still paying the bills for Reid, Brooker and Fisher, co-writers of the song. Fisher originally was not given writing credit, but in 2005 he received credit after suing Brooker, and after several years of more legal wrangling, he received 40% of royalties for all monies received after 2005. Oh, the complexities of the business side of the music industry!

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