The Beatles were well known for flouting official rules in order to push the limits of what could be captured on tape, and Geoff Emerick was one of their greatest enablers. Recording engineer and producer Geoff Emerick, best known for his work with the Beatles, died of a heart attack at the age of 72, according to Variety.
“Today, at around 2’o’clock, I was making my way back from Arizona to Los Angeles to go pick up Geoff so we could transport some gold records and platinum plaques to our show in Tucson,” Emerick’s manager William Zabaleta said in a statement.
“While on the phone with Geoff Emerick, he had complications, dropped the phone. At that point I called 911, but by the time they got there it was too late. So Geoff suffered from heart problems for a long time. He had a pacemaker and when it’s your time, it’s your time. We lost a legend and a best friend to me and a mentor. That’s all I can say on the matter.”
In Emerick’s book Here, There, and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles, he recounted a story of getting the evil eye from Paul McCartney for adding a touch of reverb to a bass track. After the Beatles broke up, he continued to work with McCartney. Emerick won a Grammy for his work on the Paul McCartney on the Wings album Band on the Run. Emerick also won Grammy Awards for engineering Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road and a 2003 Special Merit/Technical Grammy Award for “pushing the boundaries of studio recording techniques.” He also engineered McCartney’s London Town (1978), Tug of War (1982) and Flaming Pie (1997).
Emerick produced Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom album, the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle, Ultravox’s Quartet album and worked on records by Kate Bush, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Tim Hardin, Cheap Trick, Jeff Beck, Chris Bell, Badfinger, Supertramp, Art Garfunkel, Split Enz and Judy Garland. Emerick was due to appear at a show called Emerick’s London Revival in Tucson, Arizona on Oct. 6 to discuss working with the Beatles.
When the Beatles first started recording at Abbey Road Studios for EMI Records, the producers were under strict controls to keep the sound under manageable decibels, and the engineers wore lab coats. Born on December 5, 1945, Emerick started working as an assistant engineer for EMI Records when he was 15 years old, putting in time as lacquer cutter, mastering engineer, and balance engineer. His first work with the band from Liverpool was as a tape operator on an overdub session for the songs “Misery” and “Baby It’s You” in 1963. He was assistant engineer on songs like “Love Me Do,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You,” and “A Hard Day’s Night.”
In 1966, Emerick was promoted to engineer on the first session for the Revolver album, where he had to translate Lennon’s request to sound like “the Dalai Lama singing on a mountain” on the experimental tape-loop-laden song “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The 20-year-old engineer recorded Lennon’s voice coming through a rotating Leslie organ speaker.
“Thank You GEOFF EMERICK for being YOU,” his agent David Maida said in a statement. “Though my heart is broken, you will remain in the hearts of many infinite. I am SO blessed to have gotten to know you and hear your wonderful stories along with the many laughs. YOU were a great man besides you being such an innovator. I am also happy that I called you SIR Geoff Emerick as you will always be a true Knight in my book. Rest In Peace my dear friend.”
Emerick continued working with the Beatles on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles (The White Album), and Abbey Road. He briefly quit working with the Beatles during the White Album sessions because of tensions in the band. George Martin’s son Giles said Emerick was “one of finest and most innovative engineers to have graced a recording studio. We have all been touched by the sounds he helped create on the greatest music ever recorded.”
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.