Geoff Emerick, the audio engineer best known for his work with the Beatles, has died aged 72 following a heart attack.
In the early 1960s, when he was 15 years old, Emerick began working as an assistant engineer for EMI Records. He first met the Beatles in 1963, when he was a tape operator on an overdub session for ‘Misery’ and ‘Baby It’s You’. At 20, three years later, Emerick was promoted to engineer on the occasion of the first session for the Beatles’ album Revolver. While recording the song ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, John Lennon asked Emerick to make his voice sound like “the Dalai Lama singing on a mountain”, as Emerick used to recall.
Of the invitation to work with the group, Emerick said: “That took me a little bit by surprise! In fact, it terrified me … The responsibility was enormous but I said yes, thinking that I’d accept the blows as they came.”
Emerick also worked on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles (AKA The White Album). During the White Album sessions he briefly quit working with the band because of his unhappiness with the studio atmosphere that was often too tense. He stated: “The expletives were really flying.” However, at Paul McCartney’s request, Emerick would mix songs on the Yellow Submarine album and returned full-time to work on Abbey Road.
Emerick later worked on various McCartney solo albums, including Band on the Run, for which he won a Grammy. He also worked with Kate Bush, Elvis Costello, Art Garfunkel, Split Enz, Judy Garland and Ultravox.
In 2006, he published a memoir titled ‘Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles.’However, fans criticised Emerick for dismissing George Harrison and Ringo Starr’s contributions to the band, calling Rubber Soul “not especially noteworthy” and the White album “virtually unlistenable.
His manager William Zabaleta, confirming his death, said: “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.”
Midge Ure from Ultravox wrote: “Geoff was Sir George Martin’s ‘right hand man’ and worked on Ultravoxs Quartet with us. A lovely, quiet, unassuming man who helped change the way music was produced.”
Paying tribute, Julian Lennon described him as “one of a kind”.
Giles Martin, son of the late Beatles producer George Martin, described Emerick as “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.”
Abbey Road Studios MD Isabel Garvey described Emerick as “a true pioneer of the recording industry”. “His contribution to some of the world’s greatest musical recordings and his impact on popular music and audio technology is immeasurable.”