Joe Meek

From Academic Kids

Joe Meek (April 5, 1929February 3, 1967) was a pioneering British independent record producer and composer. His most famous work was on the Tornados hit Telstar (1962).

Despite being tone deaf and dyslexic, he worked on 245 singles of which 45 were hits (top fifty or better). He pioneered studio tools such as the compressor, and effects like echo and reverb, as well as sampling. Unlike other producers his search was for the right sound rather than musical tune.

Robert George Meek was born in Newent, Gloucestershire. From 1953 he worked for the Midlands Electricity Board. He used the resources of his company to develop his interest in music production, including acquiring a disc-cutter and producing his first record.

He left the electricity board to work as a sound engineer at Radio Luxembourg. He 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 (1956). He built his own home studio at Holloway Road, Islington, and then put enormous effort into Denis Preston's Landsdowne studio. Tensions between Preston and Meek soon saw Meek forced out.

At a time when studio engineers were still wearing white coats, Meek was producing everything on the three floors of his "home" studio. For the song Johnny Remember Me he placed the violins on the stairs, the drummer almost in the bathroom, and the brass section on a different floor entirely. 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 indifference by placing loudspeakers in the stairwell and turning up the volume.

In January 1960, with the promoter William Barrington-Coupe, Meek founded Triumph Records. Indifferent business results and Meek again proving difficult to work with soon led to Meek leaving. He went on to produce records for Wilfred Alonzo Banks as RGM Sound from his home studio. His first hit from his own studio was John Leyton's "Johnny Remember Me" (1961); his last big success was with The Honeycombs' Have I The Right in 1964.

He passed up the chance to work with both David Bowie and the Beatles (the latter he described as "just another bunch of noise, copying other people's music").

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 particular, he had an obssession with Buddy Holly and other dead rock and roll musicians.

His 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. He had been charged with "importuning for immoral purposes" in 1963 and his then illegal homosexuality put him under further pressure.

On February 3, 1967, the eighth anniversary of Buddy Holly's death, Meek killed his landlady at his Holloway Road home/studio and then himself with a hunting rifle.


  • John Repsch: The Legendary Joe Meek (1989)

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