Raleigh Music had a chance to talk with Brooker about his iconic song.
"If you start a career and you get a big international hit, it opens up lots and lots of doors. This one never seems to go away or fade away what so ever," Brooker declared.
Has Procol Harem [sic] ever played a concert without performing A Whiter Shade of Pale?
"Yes," Brooker said. "There was a period from 1969 to 1970 where we had three albums in our repertoire plus other songs that we'd written and not recorded. So we had a bigger repertory than we did in 1967 or 1968. We didn't have to play A Whiter Shade of Pale. A lot of our time then was spent touring in North America. Believe it or not A Whiter Shade of Pale, although known and popular, was not the most important thing about Procol Harum.
"A prime example of that would be when we went to Edmonton, Alberta to play with their symphony orchestra in 1971. We didn't play A Whiter Shade of Pale at that concert." That evening's show was released on Procol Harum Live In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. The album reached #5 on the charts.
The band has gone through numerous line-up changes during its original decade-long run and the nearly 25 years since they reunited in the early '90s. The only two mainstays have been Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid. Brooker doesn't like having to make line-up changes. Some people leave because they've musically grown apart from the group. The band's split with original guitarist Robin Trower was a result of this, according to Brooker. Others must go because of their vices. He didn't name any names.
When it came time to make Procol's Ninth, the band went back the source of rock and roll with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as the producers. The pair were best known for writing Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock and Stand By Me. In the early 70s, the duo had a hit producing Stealers Wheel's Stuck In the Middle With You.
"We (Keith Reid and Brooker) chose them because we thought, 'They write music and lyrics. That's what we do.' They had just been working with Stealers Wheel so they were doing things outside their normal genres and also in England. It was an opportunity that presented itself. They got asked if they'd like to do and they said yes because they liked to do anything."
"It was quite a traumatic making of the album," Brooker confessed. "I'll tell you why, although I should save it for my book. Leiber and Stoller came in. They had just written a load of material for Peggy Lee. The idea fell through or she had become ill. Every day we would go into the studio and they would play us one of these Peggy Lee songs that they thought we should cover. We would come back with Baby I Don't Care from Ben E. King, something they had written. By the time we'd argue backwards and forwards on the covers, we'd get down to doing Procol Harum songs."
Peggy Lee would eventually record those songs with Leiber and Stoller on her Mirrors album.
The band was also in for a shock on the first day in the studio when Leiber and Stoller announced that they were stopping the session for dinner. When Booker [sic] asked what time they'd be back, the answer was. "In the morning." There would be no around-the-clock studio time with the iconic songwriters. "They were great guys. Great fun. Good producers. It wasn't an unhappy experience."
Brooker is excited to know there's a new generation of listeners that are actively hunting out vinyl copies of records instead of relying on digital files.
"I think you have a real job to knock vinyl," Brooker said. "When you finished it, there was two things about it. You had a limit on how much you could put on it. That limit was around forty minutes. Twenty minutes on each side. You knew how much you had to come up with material. CDs had 75 minutes of music. That's nearly twice what you must create. You used to get ten great songs. You didn't get twenty great songs when you got twice as much time. I also liked the artwork side of it. Somebody would put your album on for the first time and they'd be holding the album cover and absorbing what trouble you put into it."
Brooker still loves his vinyl collection. Although he recently had his main turntable break. When he called around to get a replacement, he was in for a rude surprise.
"'I'm sorry, sir. We don't make turntables anymore.' I said, 'Is that the Bang & Olufsen that does the hi-fi?' 'Yes. Not much call for turntables. Although there are people asking about vinyl.' I said, 'You bloody bet there is. You better start making turntables again.' They were the Rolls Royce of Hi-Fi systems. They can't make a turntable. It's all gone wrong."
Luckily he does have three other turntables, but he has to find them. He has a never-been-used Garrard multi-changer that he might sell. You can ask him after the show.
The oddest moment in our chat was a discussion of A Whiter Shade of Pale in cinema. The song has appeared in the soundtrack of dozens of films over the decades. I received an unexpected answer from Booker [sic] on a question about the King Curtis jazz version used on the opening of the cult classic Withnail & I.
"I didn't realize it was from the King Curtis version. That's good. What about Oblivion, I haven't seen Oblivion either. That has A Whiter Shade of Pale in it. I've not seen The Big Chill," Booker [sic] confessed. "I have not seen My Swedish Meatball, but I don't know what that's about. I just saw it on my royalties."
That's right. Brooker hasn't seen The Big Chill. Don't spoil the ending for him.
Booker [sic] read that A Whiter Shade of Pale was played at the funeral of The Young Ones star Rik Mayall. How does Booker [sic] feel knowing his song can give such comfort to people.
"It's a marvellous feeling," Brooker said. "There's a lot of mystery to A Whiter Shade of Pale." What was the appeal of it in the first place? Why it seems to not go away? There's a little bit of mystery behind it all. It must be something between music and human beings that we don't know about."
Booker [sic] has met a few people who were the result of a connection between his music and human beings.
"I met a girl the other day and she said, 'I was conceived to your record.'" Turns out her mother and father were driving down the road when A Whiter Shade of Pale came on the radio. They pulled off to the side of the road. Nine months later, Procol Harum had a new fan. "We call it Procol's baby boom."
Brooker is looking forward to the Carolina Theatre since he has quite a few friends in the Durham area. "They'll be coming out and being noisy." He had a special message to Panama Fred. The band won't be playing Waltzing Matilda so don't even think of requesting it. What Procol Harum will play is "a vast array of songs for everybody."