”A Whiter Shade of Pale” has sold more than 6 million copies since its release in 1967. The song has also been covered by everyone from the Canadian Brass to Willie Nelson. But Keith Reid and Gary Brooker, the two members of Procol Harum who wrote that group’s first and only smash hit, haven’t exactly become millionaires as a result.
In fact, they don’t even own the rights to the song. So while Reid admits that he and his partner ”didn’t do badly,” he also says that ”A Whiter Shade of Pale” has ”made a fortune for other people.”
Brooker and Reid began writing songs together in 1966, after Brooker’s R&B band, the Paramounts, broke up. Reid supplied evocative, cryptic lyrics for singer-pianist Brooker’s classically-flavored melodies. To record ”A Whiter Shade of Pale” (its organ line is borrowed from Bach’s Suite no. 3 in D Major), they enlisted organist Matthew Fisher, guitarist Ray Royer and bassist Dave Knights.
Procol Harum–the name, roughly translated from Latin, means ”beyond these things”–recorded 10 albums over the next decade, but founders Brooker and Reid were the only continuous members.
After the group finally broke up for good in 1977, Brooker took a year off and then undertook a solo career, playing on Eric Clapton’s Another Ticket and recording two LPs, No More Fear of Flying and Lead Me to the Water. A third album, Echoes in the Night, is due out in September. One of the tracks, ”The Long Goodbye,” features Fisher on keyboards and B.J. Wilson, another Procol alumnus, on drums.
In addition, the song’s lyrics were written by Reid, with whom Brooker still collaborates occasionally. (The two also own a music-publishing house called Bluebeard.)
A pioneer in melding rock with classical music, Brooker has continued to perform with symphony orchestras: ”I’ve done concerts in Poland with orchestras and played quite a lot in Germany, including an annual televised night of rock and classics with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra.”
Reflecting on the band, he says, ”Procol always seems to have been well thought of. Everyone’s heard ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale,’ so there’s something in common with everyone I meet.” Now 41, he and his wife live on a ”smallish” farm in southwest Surrey, where they own a local pub.
Reid went on to manage British blues singer Frankie Miller, pub rocker Mickey Jupp and one-time Procol guitarist Robin Trower. Now 38 and living in London, Reid continues to write, with a particular interest in theater. Ending Procol Harum ”wasn’t difficult” for him, he says. ”It was the only sensible thing to do. The band did a lot of good things, but I don’t miss it. I think the worst thing is when you read people moaning about the good old days. I can’t stand that.”