Kenneth Womack is the author of a multivolume study dedicated to the life and work of George Martin. The second volume, Sound Pictures: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Later Years, 1966-2016), was published in September.
Geoff Emerick grew up as a working-class lad in North London only to make his name as one of the most gifted and innovative sound engineers of his day.
Born in London’s Crouch End area on Dec. 5, 1945, Emerick joined the staff of EMI Studios at age 16 after his father wrote to the stately studio on Abbey Road inquiring about work for his technically minded son. Having been hired as an assistant engineer, Emerick began working at the studio on Sept. 3, 1962.
On his second day on the job, Emerick worked the evening session when the Beatles appeared at EMI Studios to record “Love Me Do” and a cover version of Mitch Murray’s “How Do You Do It” for Parlophone A&R head George Martin. That same night, John Lennon famously rejected “How Do You Do It” before presenting Martin with “Please Please Me,” which, after Martin challenged the band to speed up the song’s tempo, saw the Fab Four soaring toward the top of the charts in the new year.
Over the next few years, Emerick cut his teeth as a young EMI staffer who was promoted from assistant engineer to lacquer cutter to mastering engineer to balance engineer. During this period, he occasionally worked Beatles sessions, including the July 1963 session in which the group debuted “She Loves You” for Martin, as well as during landmark recording sessions for such Beatles classics as “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “A Hard Day’s Night.” During this period, he engineered recordings by Judy Garland and the Hollies, as well as Manfred Mann’s U.K. chart-topper “Pretty Flamingo.”
Emerick’s big break came in 1966, when, at just 20-years-old, he was invited by Martin to serve as the Beatles’ sound engineer to replace EMI stalwart Norman Smith, who had taken on the role of producer for Pink Floyd’s debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
Emerick’s career with the Beatles began in fine style, with his first recording as the Beatles’ sound engineer involving the radically experimental “Tomorrow Never Knows” for the Revolver LP. For the groundbreaking track, he famously captured Lennon’s vocal through a rotating Leslie speaker in order to meet the Beatle’s expectations for sounding like the Dalai Lama singing on some distant mountaintop.
In 1967, Emerick proved his mettle in the studio during the recording of the group’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album, for which the engineer was feted at the annual Grammy Awards. In July 1968, Emerick notoriously resigned from the Beatles’ fold during the production of The Beatles (popularized as The White Album), claiming that the bandmates’ growing tensions inside the studio had become simply too much to bear. By April 1969, Lennon and Paul McCartney had enticed Emerick back to the Beatles’ production team during the recording of “The Ballad of John and Yoko” single, which set the stage for Emerick’s later work on Abbey Road, the Beatles’ swan song LP.
After the group’s disbandment, Emerick served as an employee of Apple Corps. At the Beatles’ invitation, he supervised the construction of Apple Studio in the basement of the company’s Savile Row headquarters. In the ensuing years, Emerick worked on numerous recording projects for McCartney, including Wings’ Band on the Run (1973) and London Town (1973), as well as McCartney’s Tug of War (1982) and Flaming Pie (1997) solo albums. Over the years, he served on the production team for numerous high-profile acts, including Elvis Costello, Badfinger, Cheap Trick, Jeff Beck, Supertramp, America, and Kate Bush. In 2004, he enjoyed critical acclaim for his efforts on Nellie McKay’s debut album Get Away From Me. In 2007, he produced a 40th-anniversary tribute to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for broadcast on BBC Radio, with contributions from such artists as Oasis and the Killers. All told, Emerick won four Grammy Awards for his innovative engineering work.
Beginning in 1984, Emerick relocated to Los Angeles. In 2006, he published his best-selling memoir, titled Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles, which he co-authored with music journalist Howard Massey.
In his memoir, Emerick wrote that “[w]orking with the Beatles was unlike working with any other artists. With them, anything and everything was possible; they had zero tolerance for the words ‘no’ or ‘can’t.’ On the other hand, if something wasn’t right, they knew it, right away, and they had no problem changing direction and moving on. There was no prevaricating; no ifs, ands, or buts; no maybes. It was either good or it wasn’t.”
In recent years, Emerick had become a regular fixture as a lecturer at fan conventions and host of production workshops. He died in L.A. on Tuesday, at age 72, after reportedly suffering a heart attack.