Los Angeles, CA (October 3, 2018)—Legendary recording engineer Geoff Emerick died in Los Angeles Tuesday, October 2, of an apparent heart attack. The four-time Grammy winner recorded The Beatles from 1966 through their dissolution in 1970, contributing to albums like Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles (AKA The White Album) and Abbey Road, and additionally worked with dozens of well-known acts in the decades that followed. He was 72.
Born December 5, 1945, Emerick was raised in the North London suburb of Crouch End and became an assistant engineer at EMI at age 15, where he assisted on recordings with Judy Garland, The Hollies, Manfred Mann and the first Beatles session with Ringo Starr on September 4, 1962, which resulted in the single, “Love Me Do.”
Emerick eventually took over the role of First Engineer for the Beatles in 1966; his first track in that position was the pioneering psychedelic song, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” When John Lennon requested that his voice be effected, Emerick suggested warping it by putting it through a rotating Leslie speaker; he also applied close miking on the drums—against EMI in-house regulations at the time—to alter their sound. The results on the track cemented him in his role behind the console.
During his time with the Beatles (he briefly left during The White Album but returned for the next album), Emerick won Grammy awards for his work on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road. Throughout the 1970-90s, he worked with acts as varied as Split Enz, Jeff Beck, Elvis Costello (who he also produced), Cheap Trick, Big Country, Ultravox, Supertramp, Art Garfunkel, Chris Bell (of Big Star), Kate Bush, Badfinger, Trevor Rabin and others.
Still, his connection to the Beatles followed him through the years, as he recorded four Paul McCartney solo albums, engineering in studios around the world and, for 1978’s London Town, on a boat in the Virgin Islands. His efforts ended up netting another Grammy for his work on 1973’s Band on the Run. Emerick took home a fourth trophy—a special merit/technical Grammy—in 2004. Throughout the years, he was an active and vocal member of the Audio Engineering Society.
Emerick had a history of heart problems which led to his having a pacemaker, according to his manager, William Zabaleta. Nonetheless, Emerick’s passing was unexpected, as he was set to host an event, Geoff Emerick’s London Revival, in Tucson this weekend, and had a three-day recording masterclass scheduled for mid-October at Power Station New England in Waterford, CT.
Emerick died Tuesday around 2 PM PST, while on the phone with Zabaleta, who said in a public statement on YouTube, “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. 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.”
In the wake of his passing, Abbey Road tweeted, “We are hugely honoured to be part of Emerick’s story and we are committed to ensuring his legacy lives on at the studios.” Yoko Ono noted, “He was the best engineer. Not only was he the best engineer, he was very, very kind. love, Yoko.”
McCartney posted online, “Woke up this morning to the sad news of Geoff Emerick’s passing. 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. Having seen him earlier this year when he came round to our studio, I’m shocked and saddened to have lost such a special friend. God bless you Geoffrey – love Paul. X”
Artists from later in his career also shared their thoughts online; Neil Finn (Crowded House, Fleetwood Mac) recalled, “He produced the first album I made with Split Enz, amazing sounds and sensitivity, a master.”
Midge Ure (Ultravox, Band Aid/Live Aid) offered, “Geoff was Sir George Martin’s ‘right hand man’ and worked on Ultravox’s Quartet with us. A lovely, quiet, unassuming man who helped change the way music was produced. RIP.”
Nick Heyward, who recorded his first solo album with Emerick after leaving Haircut 100, stated, “The greatest record producer/sound engineer I’ve ever known has passed. RIP Geoff Emerick. Thank you for achieving the dream. My little songs got to sound vast, magnificent and magical thanks to you. An amazing and humble wizard.”