Joe Meek (born Robert George Meek; 5 April 1929 Newent, Gloucestershire — d. 3 February 1967 in London) 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.
His most famous work was The Tornados’ hit “Telstar” (1962) , 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.
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 1995, the American company PMI Audio Group introduced a line of audio equipment named after Joe Meek, due to his influence in the early stages of audio compression. This product line includes a microphone series called “Telstar”, named after Joe Meek’s most famous work.
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. MPG chairman Mike Howlett said the award was “paying homage to this remarkable producer’s pioneering spirit”. The winner of the inaugural award in 2009 was producer and musician Brian Eno.
From: Ubu: Lonely Joe is a tribute to 1960s record producer Joe Meek who operated from his home studio in a flat above a leather store in Holloway Road, London N1. This single by obscure singer Robb Shenton is curious because Shenton was the name of Joe’s landlady who he shot in 1967 after a row before taking his own life. Were they related?
The Strange Story of Joe Meek Part 1