Pioneering Producers: Joe Meek

04/01/2016

This is the controversial and some-what strange story of the life and death of pioneering 1950/60s English music producer, songwriter, engineer and all-round circuit bending synthesis guru: Robert George Meek (who is more commonly known as Joe Meek).

Mr. Meek developed a love of electronics and the performing arts at a very young age...re-wiring radios, circuit-bending phones and other found items in his family garden shed, (much to the amusement of his mother and father who had no idea what he was doing). Legend says he accidentally created the regions first television...although this has never been televised...

His obsessive love for electronics and music grew into his early teens and throughout his adulthood which led him to became a radar technician for the Royal Air Force. Unchallenged, he moved on to work for the 'Midland’s Electricity Board' where he secretly used the companies resources to develop strange and wonderful musical gadgets. He later created a disc cutter and tried to produce his first record... put that in your pipe and smoke it!

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From Shed To Studio

1954, heavily unchallenged and seeking to fulfill his growing love for music, Meek left the electricity board to work as an audio engineer for a leading independent radio production company which made programmes for Radio Luxembourg.

His first breakthrough as a music producer was with his work on Ivy Benson's "Music for Lonely Lovers". Soon after his technical ingenuity was shown on the Humphrey Lyttelton jazz single "Bad Penny Blues" (Parlophone Records, 1956) when, contrary to Lyttleton's wishes, Meek 'modified' the sound of the piano and compressed the sound... making it sound... well... awesome. Legend!

The record became a smash hit... his career as a music producer soon flourished producing hit after hit record for the USA and UK... too many to mention! Below is one of his classics. Read on as his career takes a very dark and unexpected twist...

A Shot In The Dark

Meek became 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. It's still uncertain how exactly he 'helped' the cat. But maybe thats better left between him and the cat. In particular, he had an obsession with Buddy Holly - claiming the late American rocker had communicated with him in dreams.

His professional efforts were often hindered by his paranoia. Meek was convinced that Decca Records had put hidden microphones behind his wallpaper to steal his ideas. He was a major drug user and suffered attacks of rage and depression regularly. Upon receiving an apparently innocent phone call from American record producer Phil Spector, Meek immediately accused Spector of stealing his ideas before hanging up angrily. Below is a rare video of Joe in the studio at the height of his career:

Meek was a homosexual, and this was at a time when homosexual acts were illegal in the UK. This put him under further pressure; he had been convicted of "importuning for immoral purposes" in a London public toilet in 1963 and fined £15. In January 1967, police in Tattingstone, Suffolk, discovered a suitcase containing the mutilated body of Bernard Oliver. According to some accounts, Meek became concerned that he would be implicated in the murder investigation when the Metropolitan Police said they would be interviewing all known homosexual men in the city. Unfortunately neither Meek nor Beatles manager Brian Epstein would live to see homosexuality legalized in the UK.

On 3 February 1967 Meek killed his landlady Violet Shenton and then himself with a single-barreled shotgun that he had confiscated from his protégé, former Tornados bassist and solo star Heinz Burt at his Holloway Road home/studio. A genius, a pioneer, a murderer... maybe Joe was all of these and more, however, he is remembered today as someone who engineered the sound of early popular electronically recorded music, and was one of the first people to manipulate and experiment with analog sound before his death.

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3 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Meek

  • As prominent record producer he was often sent demos, when asked his opinion of The Beatles demo tape, Meek told him not to bother signing them.

  • In 1960 he founded Triumph Records alongside William Barrington- Coupe and the label almost had a No.1 hit with Meeks production of Angela Jonesby Michael Cox but the small pressing plants that the record label relied on couldnt keep up with the demand for the product.

  • Meek signed a band on the condition that they get rid of their lead singer, who happened to be a 16-year-old Rod Stewart.

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