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Beyond the Pale

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Gary Lawrence Shepard, 1954–2023

'Another good man down'



It was a terrific shock to the team at ‘Beyond the Pale’ to learn that our talented friend Gary Shepard had died. We had no forewarning of this sad event: Gary, despite having weathered plenty of adversity in his life, always seemed the picture of good health on occasions when Procol Harum music brought us together as performers.


Gary hailed from Boston, latterly living in South Carolina: but, as Roland notes, most of us knew him only in his musical capacity. The tally of days we spent together – preparing our two gigs at Los Angeles. two at at Lejre in Denmark, two in London (one as the Palers’ Project, opening for Procol Rarum) and in Wuppertal, Westbury Long Island, and at Zoetermeer in the Netherlands – represents a tiny fraction of twenty years’ e-acquaintance. But six of those three- or four- day spells intensively rehearsing the music we jointly loved so much, and which had played a significant part in shaping our tastes – if not our very lives – certainly forged a bond of shared excitement, ambition, and (in general!) satisfaction at a job well done.

Bert Saraco's special photograph shows Gary Shepard in front of the massed Palers' Band in Westbury, July 2014


Gary first joined The Palers’ Band in 2003, an immaculately well-prepared guitarist who also turned a useful hand to bass guitar and was a very capable keyboard player too. He came with a lot of rock-band and theatre-pit experience and, though self-taught, was a literate musician with a good practical knowledge of harmony: so it was a pleasure to discuss chord-voicings and the niceties of arrangement with him. He was gifted with a very musical ear, and it was years before I discovered … imagine my surprise … that he was completely deaf in the other.

He took a pride in having good gear, always bringing a fine PRS guitar with him, and was ready on one memorable occasion to lend it to Procol Harum (see below). He also took a pride in wearing rockstar shirts to perform in – often as loud as his guitar playing – which, coupled with his abundant blond hair, made him something of a focal point among his less showy bandmates. But there was no rampant ego behind this high-volume passion, rather the level-headed desire to create an authentic sound with which to emulate his fretman heroes. Gary's delight, playing alongside both Dave Ball and the great Geoff Whitehorn, in both London and Wuppertal (see illustration below), was palpable, and he always did a creditable job. On occasions when Gary Brooker joined us on stage, Dr Shepard (by day, he was a dispensing optometrist) was always the pick of hands safe enough to back The Commander ... there's a fine example of his work here.


As well as the precious few days one spent playing spent with ‘Shep’ (as Mr Brooker occasionally called him) there were of course months of e-mail exchange in preparation for the complex 'Beyond the Pale' fan conventions at which he loved to play. ‘Shep’ was an amusing writer, yet some threads had a surprisingly serious side. I remember quite a long correspondence in which I strove to dispel his reluctance, as a person of Jewish heritage, about going to play in Germany. I’m glad he felt able to 'let history be history', as he was a key element in the celebrations … and I believe he did not regret his decision!

Gary with Geoff Whitehorn, with the present author, and with Gary Brooker MBE


As well as his adept and accurate live work, and his song-writing, Gary was a keen and very capable home studio user. He worked quickly, eschewing sequencers and MIDIfication, and his (largely) one-man recordings radiate energy and confidence. Many of these tracks – Juicy John Pink, The Pursuit of Happiness, Wish Me Well, All Our Dreams are Sold, Crucifiction Lane, and 80% of In Held ’Twas in I found their way on to the second and third Palers’ Project 2CDs.


Cognoscenti will note a pretty heavy Trower emphasis in the foregoing list. In a note Gary revealed that he’d ‘attacked the guitar parts with utmost respect to Trower’s awesome playing, while imbuing it with my own spirit’ (I wish I’d found time to finish my own heavily-reimagined Crucifiction Lane, for which Gary flew in an immaculate guitar solo, recreating my fumbling guide track with characteristically intense arm vibrato). I recall a person very close to Procol Harum, listening to Gary on CD, commenting that he was in a sense ‘more Trower than Trower’. I wish it wasn’t too late to share this compliment with Gary, and I know it will be galling for all his wide-ranging Procol ‘family’ in various countries to come to terms with the notion that we sha’n’t be communicating again. Our sincere condolences, of course, go out to his real family … though few of us have met or know them: expressions of sympathy may be left by visiting


Geoff Whitehorn wrote to ‘Beyond the Pale’, the day Gary’s obituary was published online:


‘Another good man down. Gary was an omnipresent member of the Palers’ Band and a great supporter of Procol Harum. An enthusiastic guitar player himself, he was always appreciative of the music while holding firm opinions of his own. A guitar malfunction on my Strat prior to the first Ledreborg concert resulted in Gary coming to the rescue with his own guitar, which fortunately in the event was not needed. It put my mind at rest, though, knowing it was available should the worst have happened.


‘We enjoyed many after show parties/gigs at which various Procol members happily joined the Palers’ Band and Gary Shepard was always there with his bouncy positivity and musical contributions. He once lent me his guitar for a rendition of Repent at the Wuppertal party: Very generous, as I’m sure he would have rather played it himself! He is a sad loss to the Procol community and will be much missed. RIP, Gary.’ (thanks, Geoff)



At 'Echoes in the Night', 2013's 'Beyond the Pale' Convention in Wuppertal, Germany:
Gary Shepard in triumvirate with Geoff Whitehorn and the late Dave Ball, both of Procol Harum