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Gary Brooker, lead singer and pianist of Procol Harum, dies at 76

Gary Brooker of Procol Harum performs at O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire on May 13, 2017 in London
(Image credit: Burak Cingi/Redferns)

Gary Brooker, the lead singer and pianist for the legendary British band Procol Harum, has died at the age of 76, the band announced (opens in new tab) today. Brooker had been receiving treatment for cancer, but, Procol Harum said (opens in new tab), died peacefully at his home.

Born in East London in 1945, Brooker co-founded Procol Harum in 1967 with lyricist Keith Reid, organist Matthew Fisher, guitarist Ray Royer and bassist David Knights. The nascent group found immediate success with their Brooker/Reid/Fisher-penned debut single, A Whiter Shade of Pale.

Heavily influenced by baroque and classical music and featuring a powerful vocal performance from Brooker, A Whiter Shade of Pale topped the charts in the UK for six weeks during the 1967 "Summer of Love," and went on to sell (opens in new tab) over 10 million copies around the world.

After the success of the song, Royer left the group, and was replaced by future blues guitar legend Robin Trower, with whom Brooker had previously played (opens in new tab) in the R&B band The Paramounts.

Though the band never again matched the monster success of Whiter Shade of Pale, they proved highly influential, earning themselves a number of famous fans – many of whom would later collaborate with Brooker.

After Procol Harum split in 1977, Brooker joined (opens in new tab) Eric Clapton's live band, contributing keyboard work onstage and to Clapton's 1981 studio album, Another Ticket.

Brooker was also a friend of George Harrison's, and played piano on his 1970 masterpiece, All Things Must Pass. Brooker also contributed keyboard work to some of Harrison's latter-day solo albums, such as 1981's Somewhere in England and 1982's Gone Troppo, and – after Harrison's death – participated (opens in new tab) in the Concert for George at the Royal Albert Hall in London on November 29, 2002.

He also collaborated with Ringo Starr, performing with his All-Starr Band from 1997-1999, and toured (opens in new tab) with former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman and his Rhythm Kings band for a time.

Brooker even had a brief, but notable, film career, playing Juan Atilio Bramuglia in the blockbuster 1996 musical drama, Evita

Brooker would go on to be a key part of Procol Harum's 1991 reunion, remaining with the band as their singer and pianist onstage and in the studio for the next 30 years.

"Gary’s charisma was by no means confined to the stage," the band concluded (opens in new tab) in their statement. "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."

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Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player (opens in new tab). Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder (opens in new tab) and Unrecorded (opens in new tab). Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.