Thank You Geoff Emerick

I was saddened to hear of the passing of legendary Beatles recording engineer Geoff Emerick last week. I was lucky enough to work with him one time and I wanted to share a few memories I had.

I was working on a commercial with film director Tony Kaye who reached out and pulled Geoff in to help us with the music and audio of the spot. One night, Tony and I were talking about the Beatles. At the end of the conversation, it seemed like Tony had some kind of lightbulb go off in his head. We went our separate ways and met back at the studio for the shoot the next day.

As we were shooting the next day, I noticed a gentleman show up on set at one point. We were shooting in a large warehouse in Hollywood and there was a lot of activity going on with the crew. I recognized the man to be Geoff, as I had seen his picture in articles and books over the years. Tony was busy talking to his lighting team, so I went over and introduced myself to Geoff.

We talked about Tony for a little bit and then Geoff asked me about my thoughts for the music and sound of the commercial. I was immediately struck by how passionate he was talking about work. You wouldn’t think the man responsible with helping the Beatles find their signature sound would be that enthused doing anything else, let alone talking about a commercial aimed to sell computers. But Geoff immediately got excited talking about the possibilities of a sound concept for the spot.

Tony, Geoff and I huddled over the next week throwing ideas around. It was a treat to hear stories about being in the studio with the Beatles by a character who was intimately involved. 

Geoff mentioned how he tried his best to never be in a room alone with John Lennon. He respected Lennon, but not surprisingly, Lennon had bullied Geoff around. He said Paul McCartney was like an older brother to him. Often standing up and defending the teenage Geoff from Lennon’s scrutiny.

At one point we were recording cast members audio for the commercial. Geoff really got into it. He obsessed over the pronunciation of every syllable. He made the actors say their lines over and over again. He squinted and listened to their performances through headphones and held them to the highest level. He moaned that he had the same problems with “the Lads,” especially Lennon who was always singing the wrong lyrics or swallowing certain sounds.

During a break one day, I was fiddling around with a song of my own in GarageBand. Geoff came over, sat next to me and leaned into the interface. He was fascinated by the simple recording program. He had me show him different features and how you could basically adjust the audio. He marveled at how portable and instant it all was. He said it would have been perfect for John and Paul to put their ideas down in.

I played a couple of my songs, extremely self-consciously to Geoff. He kindly replied “This is brilliant.” He called out one lyric in particular and said that it was the kind of songwriting John Lennon would do. Everything had a tie back to the Lads. We all loved hearing every anecdote he freely shared.

Another night, we were in Tony Kaye’s home recording studio, just noodling around with Tony’s instruments. I was playing chords on some sort of portable organ. Geoff came over and kept adjusting the settings as I was playing. Making the archaic machine change tones and pitches. It was musical collaboration. I imagined him making the same adjustments with Sir Paul manning the ivories.

One day Tony, Geoff and I were talking about “modern music.” I remember Geoff specifically calling out Kendrick Lamar and Justin Timberlake. He went on and on about the recording fidelity of Timberlake’s latest album. “Every sound is utterly perfect. Nothing else should come close for the Grammy.” Again, I was struck by how generously positive he was. He definitely held his time and contribution to the Beatles in highest regard, but in my short time spent with him, he openly embraced and acknowledged the creative efforts of others.

Geoff’s legacy will live on for his contributions to the most revolutionary band in music history. I am personally grateful for the kindness and he showed in our short time working together.

Time to go put Sgt. Peppers on again and pay special attention to those non-traditional sounds that Geoff found and engineered into the album.

Below is the commercial Tony, Geoff and I worked on together.