Imagine this. You’re just 15-years-old but you manage to land a job at EMI Studios (the original name of Abbey Road) as an assistant engineer. On your second day on the job, you’re helping George Martin produce recordings for this new band called The Beatles. This was the life of Geoff Emerick.
He was there for the studio sessions for songs like “Love Me Do,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “A Hard Day’s Night.” When his apprenticeship was up, he graduated to being The Beatles chief engineer, helping with things like mic placement and special effects for albums like Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, The White Album, and Abbey Road when he was in his late teens and early 20s.
Next to The Beatles and George Martin, he played an incredibly important role in shaping the group’s sound. For example, when John Lennon asked for a specific vibe for his vocals on “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver, it was Geoff who came up with the idea of putting John’s voice through a Lesley speaker. This is how John’s vocals have that ripply, watery sound on the track.
Geoff had a book on his experiences entitled Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles. It’s a fascinating look at the technical aspects of all those Beatles recordings.
In the time since his Beatles work, Geoff had travelled the world speaking about his experiences. He had a number of gigs scheduled before the end of the year. Sadly, though, it appears he was hit with a fatal heart attack.
William Zabaleta, Geoff’s manager, released this statement to Variety yesterday: “Today at around 2’o’clock, I was making my way back from Arizona to Los Angeles to pick up Geoff so we could transport some gold records and platinum plaques to our show in Tucson. While on the phone, he had complications and dropped the phone. I called 911, but by the time they got there, it was too late. Geoff suffered from heart problems for a long time and had a pacemaker. … When it’s your time it’s your time. We lost a legend and a best friend to me and a mentor.”
Here’s the full statement from Geoff’s people.
October 3, 2018, New York—Legendary Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 72. Preliminary indications are that the cause of death was cardiac arrest.
Geoff began his career at EMI Studios in London (later better known as Abbey Road) at the age of 15. On just his second day on the job, he was witness to The Beatles’ first-ever recording session, of the song “Love Me Do.” He would go on to serve as assistant engineer for many of the group’s most well-known early hits, including “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You,” and “A Hard Days Night.”
At the age of nineteen, Geoff was promoted to full engineer and in April, 1966, recorded The Beatles’ groundbreaking LP Revolver, followed a short time later by the two-sided hit single “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever” and the album that many consider the group’s masterpiece: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the months that followed, Geoff would record tracks for Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album, departing midway through those sessions in the midst of rancor and tension within the group.
In 1968, he left Abbey Road to oversee construction and serve as studio manager for the Beatles’ Apple Studios. Soon afterwards, he was asked to record The Beatles’ swansong album Abbey Road, along with his longtime assistant Phil McDonald. Following the dissolution of the group, he worked with all four Beatles individually and manned the board for Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run, Tug of War, London Town, and Flaming Pie. He then took a position at AIR Studios, where he forged a career as an independent producer/engineer with artists such as Elvis Costello (for whom he produced the stellar Imperial Bedroom album), Badfinger, Robin Trower, America, Jeff Beck, Cheap Trick, and Art Garfunkel. He also recorded such iconic hits as The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” and Steelers Wheel’s “Stuck In The Middle With You.”
Geoff Emerick was the recipient of four Grammys, including a 2003 Special Merit/Technical Grammy Award. In 2006, he published his critically acclaimed memoir Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatlesand in recent years continued to work actively as both an engineer and a teacher. His pioneering approach to audio engineering resulted in many innovations used to this very day, and his work influenced an entire generation of musicians and recordists.
In a statement issued on Facebook this morning, Paul McCartney said of Geoff, “He was a great engineer and friend, and even though The Beatles had many great engineers over the years Geoff was the ONE. He was smart, fun-loving and the genius behind many of the great sounds on our records. I worked with him after The Beatles and it was always fun and the sounds he managed to conjure up were always special.”
Said producer Jack Douglas, who recorded John Lennon’s Double Fantasy: “Now one more member of the most influential team to ever make music is gone. Another piece of us all is missing.” Longtime David Bowie producer Tony Visconti, who worked with Emerick on Band on the Run, added: “Geoff was a humble man, not one to put on airs or beat his chest.”
Geoff will be interred in Westwood Cemetery in Los Angeles. Funeral arrangements are being made by his family and will be announced shortly.