(A series of occasional posts hearing out the solo excursions of rock history’s supporting players whose breakaway efforts never amounted to a high-profile solo career.)
Founding Procol Harum member Matthew Fisher was one of the early masters of the Hammond organ, the cabinet-encased keyboard whose full-bodied sound could go toe-to-toe with rock music’s dominant electric guitars. Procol’s 1967 mega-hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was constructed around Fisher’s magisterial organ but the fact that he received no songwriting credit (and hence no royalties) was a stick in his craw—and later a lawsuit. Departing P.H. after three albums, Fisher’s first solo record was 1973’s “Journey’s End”, a worthy progressive-pop affair that was nonetheless filled with depressive lyrics that at times directed ill-will at his former musical colleagues, presumably the P.H. songwriting team of Gary Brooker and Keith Reid. These songs (“Going for a Song” and “Play the Game” especially) reveal a comprehensive bitterness at a divide-and-conquer music business that elevates talented and canny individuals and leaves by the side of the road other talented people less prepared to deal with its unsentimental ways. It’s not all gloom and doom, though, as Fisher’s deft melodic and instrumental skills serve as an uplifting counterweight and the would-be hit song “Suzanne” is a real winner.
Fisher would go on to make a few more solo albums and find work as a producer—he even joined up with the re-formed Procol Harum in the early 90s. But soon after he left again in 2004 he brought a suit for a share of future royalties on “Whiter Shade”, noting his undeniable contribution to its success. A fascinating case to be sure and one found in Fisher’s favor in a decision ratified by the House of Lords in 2009. For more on that see below.