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Joe Meek
Birth name Robert George Meek
Also known as Robert Duke, Peter Jacobs
Born 5 April 1929(1929-04-05)
Newent, Gloucestershire, England
Origin London, England
Died 3 February 1967 (aged 37)
London, England
Genres Pop
Rock
Occupations Record producer, Songwriter
Instruments Recording studio
Years active 1954 - 1967
Labels Triumph (co-owner), Pye Nixa, Piccadilly, Decca, Ember, Oriole, Columbia, Top Rank, HMV, Parlophone
USA: Tower, London, Coral

Joe Meek (born Robert George Meek; 5 April 1929 Newent, Gloucestershire — d. 3 February 1967 in London[1]) was a pioneering English record producer and songwriter. His work and popular success in the music field is more remarkable since it is known he was tone deaf and could not recognise pitches properly[2].

His most famous work was The Tornados' hit "Telstar" (1962) About this sound audio clip , 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 A-Side" of 1962.

Meek's other notable hit productions include "Don't You Rock Me Daddy-O" and "Cumberland Gap" by Lonnie Donegan (as engineer), "Johnny Remember Me" by John Leyton, "Just Like Eddie" by Heinz, "Angela Jones" by Michael Cox and "Have I the Right?" by The Honeycombs, "Tribute to Buddy Holly" by Mike Berry. Meek's concept album I Hear a New World is regarded as a watershed in modern music for its innovative use of electronic sounds.

Joe Meek was also producing music for films, most notably Live It Up! (US title Sing and Swing), a 1963 pop music film starring Heinz Burt, David Hemmings and Steve Marriott, also featuring Gene Vincent, Jenny Moss, The Outlaws, Kim Roberts, Kenny Ball, Patsy Ann Noble and others. Meek wrote most of the songs and incidental music, much of which was recorded by The Saints and produced by Meek[3].

His commercial success as a producer was short-lived and Meek gradually sank into debt and depression. On 3 February 1967, using a shotgun owned by musician Heinz Burt, Meek murdered his landlady before turning the gun on himself. Aged only 37, he died eight years to the day after his hero, Buddy Holly.

Contents

Biography

Pre-London years

Meek developed an interest in electronics and performance art at a very early age, filling his parents' garden shed with begged and borrowed electronic components, building circuits, radios and what is believed to be the region's first working television. A stint in the Royal Air Force as a radar operator escalated his 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.

London 1954-1959

He left the electricity board to work as an audio engineer for a leading independent radio production company that made programmes for Radio Luxembourg, and 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" (Parlophone Records, 1956) when, contrary to Lyttleton's wishes, he 'modified' the sound of the piano and compressed the sound to a greater than normal extent. The record became a hit. He then put enormous effort into Denis Preston's Landsdowne Studio but tensions between Preston and Meek soon saw Meek forced out.

Triumph Records

In January 1960, together with William Barrington-Coupe, Meek founded Triumph Records. The label very nearly had a #1 hit with Meek's production of Angela Jones by Michael Cox. Cox was one of the featured singers on Jack Good's TV music show Boy Meets Girls and the song was given massive promotion. Unfortunately, Triumph, being an independent label, was at the mercy of small pressing plants, who couldn't (or wouldn't) keep up with sales demands. The record made a respectable appearance in the Top Ten, but it proved that Meek needed the muscle of the major companies to get his records into the shops when it mattered.

Despite an interesting catalogue of Meek productions, indifferent business results and Joe proving difficult to work with eventually led to the label's demise. Meek would later license many of the Triumph recordings to labels such as Top Rank and Pye.

That year Meek conceived, wrote and produced an "Outer Space Music Fantasy"' concept album I Hear A New World with a band called Rod Freeman & The Blue Men. The album was shelved for decades, apart from some EP tracks taken from it.

304 Holloway Road

Meek went on to set up his own production company known as RGM Sound Ltd (later Meeksville Sound Ltd) with toy importer, 'Major' Wilfred Alonzo Banks as his financial backer. He operated from his now-legendary home studio which he constructed at 304 Holloway Road, Islington, a three-floor flat above a leather-goods store.

His first hit from Holloway Road was a UK #1 smash: John Leyton's Johnny Remember Me (1961) written by active psychic Geoff Goddard. This memorable "death ditty" was cleverly promoted by Leyton's manager, expatriate Australian entrepreneur Robert Stigwood. Stigwood was able to get Leyton to perform the song several times in an episode of the popular TV soap opera Harpers West One in which he was making a guest appearance. Meek's third UK #1 and last major success was with The Honeycombs' Have I The Right? in 1964, which also became a number 4 hit on the American Billboard pop charts. The success of Leyton's recordings was instrumental in establishing Stigwood and Meek as two of Britain's first independent record producers.

When his landlords, who lived downstairs, felt that the noise was too much, they would indicate so with a broom on the ceiling. Joe would signal his contempt by placing loudspeakers in the stairwell and turning up the volume.

A privately manufactured "black plaque" (designed to ape the famous blue plaque, for which Meek does not qualify) has since been placed at the location of the studio to commemorate Meek's life and work.

Murder and death

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 one instance capturing the meows of a cat he claimed was speaking in human tones, asking for help. In particular, he had an obsession with Buddy Holly (claiming the late American rocker had communicated with him in dreams) and other dead rock and roll musicians.

His professional 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. Upon receiving an apparently innocent phone call from Phil Spector, Meek immediately accused Spector of stealing his ideas before hanging up angrily.

Meek's homosexuality - illegal in the UK at the time - put him under further pressure; he had been charged with "importuning for immoral purposes" in 1963 and was consequently subjected to blackmail. In January 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, Meek became concerned that he would be implicated in the murder investigation when the Metropolitan Police stated that they would be interviewing all known homosexuals in the city.

In the meantime, the hits had dried up and as Meek's financial position became increasingly desperate, his depression deepened. A French composer, Jean Ledrut, accused Joe Meek of plagiarism, claiming that the tune of "Telstar" had been copied from "La Marche d'Austerlitz", a piece from a score that Ledrut had written for the 1960 film Austerlitz. This led to a lawsuit that prevented Meek from receiving royalties from the record during his lifetime. On 3 February 1967, the eighth anniversary of Buddy Holly's death, Meek killed his landlady Violet Shenton and then himself[4] with a single barreled 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 the gun from Burt when he informed Meek that he used it while on tour to shoot birds. Meek had kept the gun under his bed, along with some cartridges. As the shotgun had been registered to Burt, he was questioned intensively by police, before being eliminated from their enquiries.

Meek was subsequently buried in plot 99 at Newent Cemetery in Newent, Gloucestershire. His black granite tombstone can be found near the middle of the cemetery.

The lawsuit against Meek was eventually ruled in Meeks's favour three weeks after his death in 1967. It is unlikely that Meek was aware of Austerlitz, as it had been released only in France at the time.

Meek's legacy

Despite not being able to play a musical instrument or write notation, Meek displayed a remarkable facility for writing and producing successful commercial recordings. In writing songs he was reliant on musicians such as Dave Adams, Geoff Goddard or Charles Blackwell to transcribe melodies from his vocal "demos". He worked on 245 singles, of which 45 were major hits (top fifty).

He pioneered studio tools such as multiple over-dubbing 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 many studio engineers were still wearing white coats and assiduously trying to maintain clarity and fidelity, Meek, the maverick, 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.

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's style was also substantially different from that of his contemporary Phil Spector, who typically created his famous "Wall of sound" productions by making live recordings of large ensembles that used multiples of major instruments like bass, guitar and piano to create the complex sonic backgrounds for his singers.

In 1993, ex-Joe Meek session singer Ted Fletcher introduced a line of audio equipment named after Joe Meek, due to his influence in the early stages of audio compression. The name and product line were sold to the American company PMI Audio Group in 2003. This product line includes a microphone series called "Telstar", named after Joe Meek’s most famous work.[5][6].

Meek's reputation for experimention and innovation in recording music was acknowledged by The Music Producers Guild who created The Joe Meek Award for Innovation in Production in 2009.[7] MPG chairman Mike Howlett said the award was "paying homage to this remarkable producer’s pioneering spirit".[7] The winner of the inaugural award in 2009 was producer and musician Brian Eno.[7]

Artists Meek recorded

He passed up the chance to work with the then unknown David Bowie, the Beatles (the latter he once described as "just another bunch of noise, copying other people's music") and Rod Stewart. John Repsch, in The Legendary Joe Meek recounts that upon hearing Stewart sing, Meek rushed into the studio, put his fingers in his ears and screamed until Stewart had left. He preferred to record instrumentals with the band he sang with - The Moontrekkers.

In 1963 Meek worked with a then-little-known singer Tom Jones, then the lead vocalist of Tommy Scott & The Senators. Meek recorded seven tracks with Jones and took them to various labels in an attempt to get a record deal, with no success. Two years later after Jones gained popularity with the worldwide hit It's Not Unusual in 1965, Meek was able to sell the tapes he'd recorded with Jones to Tower (USA) and Columbia (UK)[8]. Meek also recorded the following artists:

Robb Shenton,Screaming Lord Sutch and The Savages, The Tornados, The Honeycombs, The Syndicats, The Buzz, Mike Berry, The Outlaws, The Moontrekkers, Gene Vincent, Billy Fury, Deke Arlon and The Offbeats, David John and the Mood, John Leyton, Geoff Goddard, Petula Clark, Lonnie Donegan, Humphrey Lyttelton, Diana Dors, The Blue Men, Tom Jones, Tony Dangerfield and the Thrills, Heinz and The Wild Boys, Dave Adams, Joy and Dave, Chico Arnez, Jimmy Miller and the Barbecues, Mike Preston, Emile Ford and the Checkmates, Chris Williams and the Monsters, Lance Fortune, Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers, Yolanda, Big Jim Sullivan, Ricky Wayne, George Chakiris, Michael Cox, Frankie Vaughan, Iain Gregory, Danny Rivers, Gerry Temple, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, The Charles Blackwell Orchestra, Don Charles, The Stonehenge Men, Andy Cavell, The Dowlands, Houston Wells and the Marksmen, The Packabeats, Jenny Moss, Burr Bailey and the Six Shooters, The Checkmates, The Saints, The Cameos, Sounds Incorporated, The Puppets, The Beat Boys, Mike Sarne, The Ambassadors, Pamela Blue, Glenda Collins, The Sharades, Roger LaVern and the Microns, Gunilla Thorne, Kim Roberts, Billie Davis, Freddie Starr and the Midnighters, Shade Joey and the Night Owls, Flip and the Dateliners, Valerie Masters, Alan Dean and his Problems, The Blue Rondos, Peter Cook, Jess Conrad, The Saxons, The Shakeouts, Bobby Rio and the Revelles, Peter London, The Four Matadors, The Cryin' Shames, The Riot Squad, The Millionaires, The Impac, Shirley Bassey, Anne Shelton, Kenny Graham and the Satellites, Tommy Steele, Chris Barber, The Fabulous Flee-Rakkers, Carter-Lewis and the Southerners, Brian White & The Magna Jazz Band, The Ferridays (Scorpions), Ray Dexter and The Layabouts, Neil Christian, Kenny Hollywood, Jamie Lee and The Atlantics, Toby Ventura, Wes Sands, The Thunderbolts, Silas Dooley Jr., Bobby Cristo and The Rebels, Malcolm and The Countdowns, The Diamond Twins, The Hotrods, Charles Kingsley Creation, Danny's Passion, The Classics, The Manish Boys, Pete, Chris and The Outcasts, Simplicity Pattern, and Joe Meek himself.

Unreleased recordings aka the Tea Chest Tapes

After the death of Joe Meek the thousands of recordings Meek hid at his studio remained unreleased and preserved by Cliff Cooper of The Millionaires. At the time of Joe's death in 1967, Mr. Cooper is said to have purchased all of Joe's recordings for ÂŁ300. These recordings were called the "Tea Chest Tapes" among fans, as they were stored in a tea chest when Cooper took them out of his apartment.[9] Alan Blackburn, former president of the Joe Meek Appreciation Society, is the only person known to the public who has listened to all these tapes, as he catalogued all of them in the mid 1980's .[10]

On September 4, 2008 these unreleased recordings went up for auction in Fame Bureau's 'It's More Than Rock 'N' Roll' auction. The auction website states they fetched ÂŁ200,000, but others have said considerably more was taken. The auction site says that there are over 5000 recordings on 1850 tapes containing recordings by David Bowie as singer and sax player with the Konrads, Gene Vincent, Denny Laine, Billy Fury, Tom Jones, Jimmy Page, Mike Berry, John Leyton, Ritchie Blackmore, Jess Conrad, Mitch Mitchell and Screaming Lord Sutch. The tapes also contain many examples of Joe Meek composing songs and experimental sound techniques. Tape 418 has Meek composing songs for the film' Live it up'."[11]

The future of these unreleased Joe Meek "Tea Chest Tapes" recordings remains unknown.

J.Repsch: The Legendary Joe Meek Published 2003

Tributes and references

Songs

British punk Wreckless Eric recounts Meek's biography and recreates some of his studio effects in his song "Joe Meek" from the album Donovan of Trash:

On the second floor of number 304
Above a handbag store and the heavy roar
Of traffic rolling down the Holloway Road
A one time bedroom housed the studio of Joe Meek
Where he conjured with the sound of another world
That Tin Pan Alley thought was too absurd
But miles of wire and recording tape
Brought fortune fame and no escape for Joe Meek
As he stirred up the sound of a hurricane
Joe Meek
Called upon forces from beyond the grave
Joe Meek
Suffered alone for his madness and pain
These were the only rewards that the hit parade
Held in store for Joe Meek
Joe Meek[12]
  • According to some, the song "Green Door" alludes to Meek. "When I said, 'Joe sent me,' someone laughed out loud behind the green door".[13]
  • CANE 141 'JOE MEEK SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH'. Artist: Cane 141 (Release: The Hot is Too Hot. Format: EP. CATALOGUE number: exec50 Track listing: A1: The Hot is too Hot, A2: Joe Meek Shall inherit the Earth; B: Cycle Mall. http://www.exceptionalrecords.co.uk/releases_detail.asp?id=113
  • The Marked Men, a Texas punk band, have a song titled "Someday" with lyric: "Joe Meek wanted all the world to know about the news he found."
  • The Frank Black song "White Noise Maker" deals with Meek's suicide by shotgun, the white noise maker of the title. "It's been so long since my Telstar."
  • The Bleeder Group, a Danish alternative rock group has a song on their second album Sunrise, called "Joe Meek Shall Inherit The Earth"
  • Matmos, an Electronic duo, have a song on their 2006 album The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast called "Solo Buttons for Joe Meek".
  • Pluto Monkey, British left field artist, released a three track CD single on Shifty Disco featuring the tracks "Joe Meek" and "Meeksville Sound Is Dead"
  • Swing Out Sister include a short instrumental named "Joe Meek's Cat" on their 1994 album Shapes and Patterns, inspired by Joe's 1966 ghost-hunting expeditions to Warley Lea Farm during which he allegedly captured recordings of a talking cat channeling the spirit of a former landowner who committed suicide at the farm
  • Graham Parker's 1992 album Burning Questions includes the cryptic "Just Like Joe Meek's Blues"
  • Sheryl Crow claimed that her song "A Change Would Do You Good" was inspired by an article she read about Joe Meek
  • Jonathan King recorded a song about Meek called "He Stood In The Bath He Stamped On The Floor".[14]
  • Johnny Stage, Danish producer and guitarist released an album in tribute of Meek, entitled The Lady with the Crying Eyes featuring various Danish artists, on 3 February 2007(www.myspace.com/joemeektribute
  • Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin recorded the song "Your Lucky Star" dealing with the life and death of Joe Meek, released on the 1991 album "Spin".
  • Dave Stewart also recorded a version of Joe Meek’s "Telstar" hit on the occasion of its 40th anniversary in 2002. This was later released on the Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin 2009 mini-album “Hour Moon”. The album also features the duo’s previously released Meek tribute "Your Lucky Star" from their 1991 album "Spin".
  • The Spanish label Spicnic released in 2001 a tribute CD, "Oigo un nuevo no mundo. Homenaje a Joe Meek" , featuring various Spanish bands.[15]
  • Trey Spruance from the band Mr. Bungle has stated that the 10 part song/instrumental "The Bends" from their album Disco Volante is inspired by Joe Meek's music. Specifically "I Hear a New World".
  • Thomas Truax regularly performed his Meek tribute "Joe Meek Warns Buddy Holly" on his 2008 tours, a song apparently about Meek's supposed warning via spirit-writing predicting Buddy Holly's death. A single and accompanying video is scheduled for release on February 3, 2009, the 50th anniversary of Holly's demise, also the date of Meek's suicide.

Robb Shenton released /*Lonely Joe*/ as a tribute to the legendary producer on October 28, 2008. Robb was one of Joe's artists and was with five Meek bands between 1963 and early 1966: The Bobcats, David John and the Mood, The Prestons, The Nashpool and Flip and the Dateliners. He also sang backing vocals with many others. The track is available to download on itunes and you can find out more information on Robb's myspace page.

'Meet Joe Meek' sometimes known as 'Just like Joe Meek' by the Babysitars sampled the BBC2 Arena documentary on Joe Meek and their composition 'Crazyhead' said to be inspired by Joe Meek himself.

"Telstar - The Joe Meek Story" - play and film

Telstar, a stage play by Nick Moran and James Hicks which premiered in 2005, is a dramatisation of Joe Meek's life and starred Con O'Neill as Meek and Linda Robson as his landlady.[16] It was also made into a film, released in the UK in June 2009, directed by Nick Moran starring Kevin Spacey, Ralf Little and Pam Ferris with O'Neill reprising his stage role[17][18].

Documentary film

  • The Very Strange Story of the Legendary Joe Meek A 1991 UK TV documentary from the "Arena" series.[20]

Literature

  • John Repsch: The Legendary Joe Meek (UK; 1989, Jul 2003) ISBN 1-901447-20-0
  • Barry Cleveland: Creative Music Production - Joe Meek's BOLD Techniques (USA; Jul 2001) ISBN 1-931140-08-1
  • Nick Moran with James Hicks: "Telstar - The Joe Meek Story", (UK, Oberon Books 1/2007) ISBN 9781840025880[21]
  • The penultimate chapter of Alan Moore's spoken word piece "The Highbury Working" concerns Joe Meek's last moments.

References

  1. ^ Joe Meek
  2. ^ Simmonds, Jeremy; The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches; pp. 11-12. ISBN 1556527543
  3. ^ Live It Up! at the Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ Abbas, Maha (November 6, 2008). "Genius or Insanity? The Mind of Joe Meek". Stony Brook Independent. http://www.sbindependent.org/node/2540. Retrieved 2 June 2009.  
  5. ^ http://www.joemeek.com/
  6. ^ http://pmiaudio.com/about.html
  7. ^ a b c "Brian Eno wins the first Joe Meek award". Audioprointernational.com. http://www.audioprointernational.com/news/968/Brian-Eno-wins-the-first-Joe-Meek-award. Retrieved 2009-10-27.  
  8. ^ "Tom Jones' Visual Discography". B.J. Spencer. http://www.txhighlands.com/deccalisting1.htm. Retrieved February 3, 2007.  
  9. ^ "Meek's 'Tea Chest Tapes' go to auction". http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/forest/headlines/Meek-s-Tea-Chest-Tapes-auctionarticle-305759-details/article.html. Retrieved 26 May 2009.  
  10. ^ "What's on Joe Meek's master tapes?". http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2008/sep/04/joe.meek.master.tapes. Retrieved 26 May 2009.  
  11. ^ "Joe Meek Archive The entire collection of Joe". http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/5715376. Retrieved 26 May 2009.  
  12. ^ Untitled Document
  13. ^ Brian Boyd "The truth behind The Green Door" The Guardian 8 September 2006
  14. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbCsq9Rx-yc Video: "He Stood In The Bath He Stamped On The Floor"
  15. ^ Spicnic label website
  16. ^ musicOMH.com - Theatre - Reviews - Telstar @ New Ambassadors Theatre, London
  17. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/6132464.stm BBC news, 11 Nov 2006: "Rhys Ifans to play '60s pop mogul Meek"
  18. ^ Telstar at the Internet Movie Database
  19. ^ A Life in the Death of Joe Meek (documentary) at the Internet Movie Database
  20. ^ Arena: The Very Strange Story of the Legendary Joe Meek at the Internet Movie Database
  21. ^ http://www.oberonbooks.com/ Oberon Books
  • Tony Kent Holloway Road Hit Factory (Interview, 2007)

External links








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