Born Robert George Meek, 5 April 1929, Newent, Gloucestershire, England Died 3 February 1967, London, England
A significant, influential figure in British pop history, Joe Meek was England’s first independent producer. He developed idiosyncratic production techniques that were way ahead of their time. Most of his ultra-prolific output was recorded in a tiny, cluttered studio in his London apartment. There he made highly individual music on relatively crude and largely self-built equipment, experimenting with multitracking, bizarre sound effects, and liberal (at the time, radical) use of echo, distortion and compression. A workaholic with a violent temper, Meek seems to have been a http://www.joemeekpage.info/index.htmldisturbed, complex and insular person.
From an early age Joe Meek was obsessed with electronics and music. (Later he also became fascinated with the occult and outer space.) In 1953 he moved to London, where he found a job as an audio engineer at the International Broadcasting Company. Three years later Meek produced his first record, Humphrey Lyttelton’s “Bad Penny Blues”, a # 19 UK hit. In 1958 he designed and set up the Lansdowne Studio for independent jazz producer Denis Preston. At Lansdowne, Meek proved to be quite the maverick, frequently ignoring his superiors in order to pursue his quest of developing new sound techniques. One Lansdowne production in which he played a crucial role was “Be Mine” by Lance Fortune, a # 4 hit in March 1960, but already recorded in August 1959. After a falling out with Preston, Meek decided to go it alone as an independent record producer. He co-founded Triumph Records in January 1960. The label scored two hit singles, “Green Jeans” by the instrumental group The Flee-Rekkers (# 23) and “Angela Jones” by Michael Cox (# 7), but distribution was poorly organized and Meek pulled out in June 1960 in order to pursue fully independent status. By September he had built his own recording studio (soon to be known as RGM - Robert George Meek), at 304 Holloway Road in London, above a leathergoods shop.
One of Meek’s discoveries, Mike Berry, needed a backing group, and Joe recruited The Outlaws, who became the initial house band at RGM. They had two minor instrumental hits in 1961, “Swingin’ Low” (# 46) and “Ambush” (# 43) and Joe wrote all twelve songs for their LP “Dream of the West”, under the pseudonym Robert Duke. They also provided the backing on Meek’s first # 1 production, John Leyton’s “Johnny Remember Me” (1961). Soon thereafter, Mike Berry scored his first hit with “Tribute To Buddy Holly” (# 24). Other artists that Meek produced in 1961 were Screamin’ Lord Sutch, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers and the Moontrekkers. Most of his productions were released on EMI labels like HMV, Parlophone and Top Rank, always with “R.G.M. Sound Production” printed on the label.
Though Meek wrote many songs, he couldn’t read or play music, which meant that he could not always communicate adequately with the musicians. His main songwriter during the 1961-64 period was Geoff Goddard (composer of “Johnny Remember Me” and John Leyton’s other hits, “Tribute To Buddy Holly”, “Just Like Eddie” and several other chart successes). Following an acrimonious split with Meek in 1964, Goddard completely retired from the pop music scene. Meek would never have a Top 30 hit again, apart from “That’s the Way” by the Honeycombs (# 12 in 1965). Without Goddard he was lost. But let’s go back to 1962, the year of Meek’s biggest hit. Inspired by the first live trans- missions from the new transatlantic satellite, Joe wrote a tune called “Telstar” and rushed his new house band, The Tornados, into the studio to lay down the backing track. Meek finished the track with satellite sound effects and by having Geoff Goddard overdub the now-famous organ/clavioline lines. Released in late August 1962, “Telstar” topped the charts in both the UK (for five weeks) and, a few months later, the USA (three weeks). Thus the Tornados (spelled Tornadoes in the US) became the first British group to score a number one single in America, 13 months ahead of the Beatles. The band would go on to score four further Meek-produced UK hits in 1963, each one peaking lower than its predecessor.
Meek was a homosexual and he was in love with Heinz Burt of the Tornados. He tried to launch Burt as a solo singer (under the name Heinz), though Burt could hardly sing. Heinz was successful with his second single, “Just Like Eddie” (a “tribute” to Eddie Cochran), which rose to # 6 in the summer of 1963.
The year 1964 brought Meek another UK # 1 (also # 5 US) in the shape of “Have I the Right” by the Honeycombs, a group that featured a female drummer, Honey Lantree. But after the split with Geoff Goddard, things went downhill for Meek, though he kept churning out records like crazy (254 singles were released between 1960 and 1967, 45 of which went Top 50 in the UK). The British beat-group boom, led by the Beatles, made Meek’s style seem old hat. A series of lawsuits and financial disputes with his artists, plus trouble with the British tax authorities, had a devastating effect on Meek. Also, his homosexuality (then still illegal in the UK) made him a target for persecution, which contributed to his ever-increasing paranoia and depression.
On February 3, 1967, Joe Meek shot his landlady, Violet Shenton, and then killed himself. A tragic death under never fully-explained circumstances. Gone was one of the most original eccentric music men on the British scene during rock’s early days.
More info :
Books : - John Repsch, The Legendary Joe Meek : The Telstar Man. London : Woodford House, 1989. 350 pages. Reissued in 2000 by Cherry Red Books and in 2011 as an e-book. - Barry Cleveland, Joe Meek’s Bold Techniques. 2nd ed. London : Eleven Eleven, 2013. 292 pages. First edition under the title Creative Music Production, 2001. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QepdppzYQg
Recent CD compilations :
Acknowledgements : Roger Dopson, Alan Blackburn, Scott Schinder.
Dik, June 2015
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