On our tour, each show day began with breakfast in Hosty and concluded with Bus Call, when we were delivered to the Venue, where we moved into our quarters and waited for the words which would officially begin our workday: “The band is welcome on stage.” We were welcome because our heroic crew had completed the impossible task of converting an unwelcoming structure designed to accommodate sports events into an oversized palace of the arts. They had begun their work early in the morning and were almost always completely finished by the time we arrived—an actual miracle, when you think about it, our daily miracle. Our band members quickly headed for the stage to get ready to make music.
Sometimes we played a little by ourselves, and sometimes we played together, those of us who felt like doing so. When Alan Lindgren and I owned the stage for a few minutes by arriving early, we frequently ran through a piece, one that was not in our show and not by Neil. It was a song by the band Procol Harum, sometimes described as a “one hit wonder,” because of the group’s 1967 hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” But that tune, while great, was not the one we used to warm up our chops. Our obsession was with a song called “A Salty Dog.” Yes, there was an old folky tune with that same name, but the Procol piece was something completely different, with irresistible chord changes and haunting lyrics (beginning with "All hands on deck!" which was appropriate to lead into our sound check, and a compelling vocal by the song’s writer, Gary Brooker, who died this week.RiP, Mr. Brooker, we recognize your genius.
Procol Harum was inspirational to many piano players in rock bands, including me. Their melding of piano and organ parts was a large part of our sound and its orchestration. There will be a lot of musicians of my era speaking about Mr. Brooker in the next days, and probably more who should. I know I’ll be listening to the entire Procol Harum oeuvre today. You can get started by watching the live video below.