Joe Meek born 5 April 1929 (d. 1967)
Joe Meek (born Robert George Meek in Newent, Gloucestershire) was a pioneering English record producer and songwriter acknowledged as one of the world's first and most imaginative independent producers. His most famous work was The Tornados' hit Telstar (1962), which became the first record by a British group to hit #1 in the US Hot 100. It also spent five weeks atop the UK singles chart, with Meek receiving an Ivor Novello Award for this production as the Best-Selling single of 1962.
Meek's innovative sonic concept album I Hear A New World (1960) is regarded as a watershed in modern music, although it was shelved for decades.
A stint in the Royal Air Force as a radar operator, spurred a life-long interest in electronics and outer space. From 1953 he worked for the Midlands Electricity Board. He used the resources of his company to develop his interest in electronics and music production, including acquiring a disc-cutter and producing his first record.
He left the electricity board to work as a sound engineer at Radio Luxembourg. He made his breakthrough with his work on Ivy Benson's Music for Lonely Lovers. His technical ingenuity was first shown on the Humphrey Lyttelton jazz single Bad Penny Blues (1956).
Despite not being able to play a musical instrument or write notation, Meek displayed a remarkable facility for producing successful commercial recordings. To compose, he was dependent on musicians, who would transcribe his (or: recordings of his) singing. He worked on 245 singles, of which 45 were major hits (top fifty or better).
He pioneered studio tools such as artificial multi-tracking on one- and two-track machines, close miking, direct input of bass guitars, the compressor, and effects like echo and reverb, as well as sampling. Unlike other producers, his search was for the 'right' sound rather than for a catchy musical tune, and throughout his brief career he single-mindedly followed his quest to create a unique 'sonic signature' for every record he produced.
At a time when studio engineers were still wearing white coats and assiduously trying to maintain clarity and fidelity, Meek was producing everything on the three floors of his 'home' studio and was never afraid to distort or manipulate the sound if it created the effect he was seeking. For John Leyton's hit song Johnny Remember Me he placed the violins on the stairs, the drummer almost in the bathroom, and the brass section on a different floor entirely.
Meek was one of the first producers to grasp and fully exploit the possibilities of the modern recording studio. His innovative techniques - physically separating instruments, treating instruments and voices with echo and reverb, processing the sound through his fabled home-made electronic devices, the combining of separately-recorded performances and segments into a painstakingly constructed composite recording - comprised a major breakthrough in sound production. Up to that time, the standard technique for pop, jazz and classical recordings alike was to record all the performers in one studio, playing together in real time, a legacy of the days before magnetic tape, when performances were literally cut live, directly onto disc.
Meek was obsessed with the occult and the idea of 'the other side'. He would set up tape machines in graveyards in a vain attempt to record voices from beyond the grave. In particular, he had an obsession with Buddy Holly and other dead rock and roll musicians.
His efforts were often hindered by his paranoia (Meek was convinced that Decca Records would put hidden microphones behind his wallpaper in order to steal his ideas), drug use and attacks of rage or depression. His then-illegal homosexuality put him under further pressure; he had been charged with 'importuning for immoral purposes' in 1963 and was consequently subjected to blackmail.
In January of 1967, police in Tattingstone, Suffolk, discovered a suitcase containing the mutilated body of Bernard Oliver, an alleged rent boy who had previously associated with Meek. According to some accounts, Joe became concerned that he would be involved in the investigation when the London police stated that they would be interviewing all known homosexuals in the city.
On February 3, 1967, the eighth anniversary of Buddy Holly's death, Meek killed his landlady Violet Shenton and then himself with a single-barrelled shotgun that he had confiscated from his protegé, former Tornados bassist and solo star Heinz Burt at his Holloway Road home/studio (Meek had flown into a rage and taken it from him when he informed Meek that he used it while on tour to shoot animals). Meek had kept it under his bed, along with the shells. As the gun had been registered to Burt, he was questioned intensively by police, before being eliminated from their enquiries.
A blue plaque has since been placed at the location of the studio to commemorate Meek's life and work.
Although he turned down opportunities to work with David Bowie, The Beatles and Rod Stewart, Meek did work with a host of other artists including Gene Vincent, Billy Fury, Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey, Tommy Steele and many more.
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