Gary Brooker is one of rock'n'roll's finest traditions personified. Founder, lead vocalist, pianist, arranger and composer for Procol Harum, a band whose mercurial mixture of classicist leanings with rock'n'roll thinking won favor with critics, radio programmers and record buyers alike, Brooker is an undeniably distinctive talent. The vocal grandeur, adventurous painism [sic] and songwriting flair that Gary Brooker is known for are all to be found on this debut Mercury/PolyGram album, Lead Me To The Water.
Produced by Brooker himself (with such helping hands as Tom Dowd and Glyn Johns), Lead Me To The Water features a stellar cast of musicians – George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Henry Spinetti, Steve Holly of Wings, Tim Renwick (Sutherland Bros. and Quiver) and Polydor/PolyGram artist Albert Lee – on what is Brooker's first album of his own music and lyrics (throughout Procol Harum he co-wrote with lyricist Keith Reid). With the same vivid range that Brooker displayed in Procol Harum, Lead Me To The Water is a fluid, varied and utterly conteporary [sic] album, with gritty rockers (Mineral Man, featuring George Harrison, and Home Loving), pastoral moods (The Angler), incisive reflection (Sympathy for the Hard of Hearing) and poignant Ballard (The Cycle).
Brooker has been cutting his own swath across rock'n'roll since the days of his early R&B band, the Paramounts, a Southend, England-based band whose line-up included Brooker and future Procol Harum members Robin Trower, BJ Wilson and Chris Copping. The band cut a number of singles in the mid-60s, most notably a cover of the Coasters' Poison Ivy, but their lack of any large-scale success led Brooker to explore his more adventurous instincts by forming a group that would be a vehicle for his compositions with lyricist and poet Keith Reid – Procol Harum. With a line-up that included organist Matthew Fisher and bassist David Knights, Procol Harum recorded their début single, the mesmerizing A Whiter Shade of Pale. In a matter of weeks after the song's release, it hit No 1 in Englnad, [sic] breaking a number of sales records, and subsequently hitting the Top 5 in America. The song's haunting, atmospheric feel perfectly fit the mood of the era – 1967 – and it became an instant classic.
The swift success of the song drove a rent into the Procol Harum personnel, and ex-Paramounts Trower on guitar and Wilson on drums joined for the remainder of Procol Harum's eponymously titled début LP, which also contained the hit Homburg [sic]. Through such superb albums as Shine On Brightly and A Salty Dog, Procol Harum refined the harder-edged sound they were becoming known for on stage, without forsaking the elegant, masterful melodies and distinctive lyricism that were there [sic] trademark. Fisher left the group following their third album, as did Knights soon after, both being replaced by the multi-talented Chris Copping, another ex-Paramount, who played both bass and organ. After displaying a brilliant fire and flash on Home and Broken Barricades, Trower also left for a solo career that has seen him acclaimed as one of rock's premier guitar stylists.
A revamped line-up of Brooker, Copping, Wilson, bassist Alan Cartwright and guitarist Dave Ball took the seemingly daring move Procol Harum's music begged for – a live recording with the Edmonton (Canada) Symphony Orchestra. Spurred by the single Conquistador, yet another immediate classic, the album was a massive critical and sales success.
Throughout Procol Harum's later albums like Grand Hotel, Exotic Birds and Fruits [sic] and the Leiber and Stoller-produced Procol's Ninth, the band's standard of unclassifiable excellence continued anabated [sic]. When they finally called it a day in 1977, Procol Harum had produced an undeniably impressive body of work that stands as a monument to rock'n'roll sophistication and intelligence.
Biding his time after the Procol split, Brooker released his first solo album, No More Fear of Flying, in 1979. Produced by George Martin and featuring players like Tim Renwick and Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention, Richard and Linda Thompson Band), the LP found Brooker exploring different lyrical avenues with talents like Mickey Jupp, an old Southend R&B mate, and former King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield, as well as new material from the venerable team of Brooker and Reid. A version of Murray Head's cult favorite Say It Ain't So [sic] charted from the album, and was even picked as "Single of the Week" in New Musical Express by the notoriously ultra-critical Julie Burchill.
Following a stint as a member of Eric Clapton's band (a spot Brooker will occupy on Clapton's 1982 US tour) and solo appearanaces [sic] at music festivals in Germany and Polans [sic] and on the prestigious, internationally televised Rockpalast program, Brooker has made Lead Me To The Water – an utterly refreshing musical experience with the unmistakable taste of Gary Brooker's considerable talents. The tradition lives on ...