Transcribing the songs of Procol Harum

Date: May 18, 2015 Author: stevehunter Categories: Latest

I've always loved the band Procol Harum, ever since I was a kid and my older brother Paul (since passed on) had their first four albums. He would play them all the time, and since I worshipped my brother and loved all his records, I would too. In retrospect, I think that because they featured piano so much, and had classical overtones to their music, the music naturally drew me in. I was a classical piano nerd, but also listened to all the 60's folk and rock because of both of my older brothers. But it was that first album, released in the U.S. with "A Whiter Shade of Pale" that really drew me in. I listened to the whole album over and over again, as did Paul. Paul put the black & white poster, that was a copy of the album cover, up on the wall, and it and the song empitomized the flower power movement to me. Paul was an arty introspective type of kid who painted and liked Dylan, Leonard Cohen and The Moody Blues. I absorbed all of it without realizing it. I also had a quick ear to pick up songs, and when the album "A Salty Dog" came out, I learned "Wreck of the Hesperus" by ear on the piano, and would play that over and over as well. (I would have been 13) Sadly, Paul developed schizophrenia when he was about 17, and became lost to my family when we moved to Canada away from Pasadena, where we all grew up. I drove down to LA to find him in 1984, and found him at Norwalk's infamous Metropolitan Hospital, the largest mental hospital in the U.S, in a locked ward. Back in Canada, I used to phone him on the ward's payphone, and would play "Whiter Shade Of Pale" over and over again on my Sony walkman, holding one side of the headphones up to the phone receiver. It was his favorite song, and more than any other, reminds me of him.

Fast forward to 2008, when I had some free time and found other musicians willing to form a Procol Harum tribute band. I was surprised to find out that many others loved the band just as much as I did. So I started to transcribe all the songs from the first album, and selected favorites from the next three. I ended up with 19 songs done. I did all the parts, not just a lead sheet. Piano, organ, guitar, bass and drums, all transcribed exactly from the record with chord symbols, rehearsal letters and bar numbers. And then I got busy with other work and lost interest.

In the fall of 2014, I discovered that there was a Facebook group devoted to Procol Harum, and joined. I was shocked at how many fans there were all over the world. And when someone posted something about the song "Salad Days", I posted the first page of my piano transcription and again was surprised at the interest shown. Obviously, this (a proper transcription) was a rare thing. One thing led to another, and I got in touch with Roland Clare, who runs "Beyond The Pale," the official Procol Harum website. (click here for the link) We decided that I would fine tune the existing transcriptions and add a vocal line with lyrics for each song, also adding a separate "Piano/Vocal" part besideds cleaning up the scores to make them more readable. So far I've done 27 complete transcriptions of almost the entire first four albums Procol Harum released, excluding only "In Held Twas In I" and a few others. He and I agreed that they would be available to fans for a small fee to be paid to the website (after being cleared by Gary Brooker, the composer) and dedicated to the memory of my brother Paul, who sadly passed away in 2012 at the age of 59 due to the complications of very bad COPD.

How exciting to think that perhaps Gary Brooker would be looking at my transcriptions of his brilliant music, and possibly listening to my New Orleans piano CD that Roland passed on to him! As yet, we haven't heard back from Mr. Brooker, but apparently he gets to things when the time is right for him. How I would have loved to have told my brother Paul that the man who wrote "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" and all the other songs Paul loved, would have looked at music transcriptions that I did, as well as listening to my CD. I owe so much of my music inspiration to Paul and the albums we listened to together way back then when we shared a room together in Pasadena....