Joe Meek: Britain’s First Independent Producer

Joe Meek: Britain’s First Independent Producer

JOE MEEK (Born April 5, 1929 in Gloucestershire, England. Died February 3, 1967, in London, England.)

Joe Meek was Britain’s first independent producer and a believer in the occult, Meek was not above holding séances in the recording studio to summon assistance from beyond the veil from his leading inspiration, BUDDY HOLLY (died, February 3, 1959).

Besides being England’s first indie record producer, he was a songwriter who helped bring Britain’s nascent recording industry into the modern age.

He pioneered EXPERIMANTAL POP; his productions employed rudimentary sound effects, celestial choirs, and the development of recording practices like multiple over-dubbing on one and two track machines, sampling, reverb, and majestic melodies to evoke worlds from beyond. Eccentric and inventive, Meek made more of a mark with hit records by artists unknown in North America.

Joe Meek is best remembered for writing and producing THE TORNADOS’ instrumental “TELSTAR” (1962), which became the first record by a British group to reach #1 in the US Hot 100. It also spent 5 weeks at #1 in the UK singles chart. “TELSTAR” sold at least 5 million copies worldwide.

The record was named after the Telstar communications satellite, which was launched into orbit on July 10, 1962. It was written and produced by Joe Meek,

and featured either a clavioline, or the similar Jennings Univox, both keyboard instruments with distinctive electronic sounds. It was recorded in Meek’s home studio in a small flat above a leather-goods shop in 304 Holloway Road, North London.

Meek’s other produced singles include “JOHNNY REMEMBER ME” (John Leyton, 1961),  “JUST LIKE EDDIE” (Heinz, 1963), and “HAVE I THE RIGHT? (The Honeycombs, 1964).  Meek also wrote and produced his CONCEPT ALBUM, “I HEAR A NEW WORLD” (1960), which contains innovative use of electronic sounds.

Joe Meek lived above his landlady who did not appreciate the loud banging of drums, electric basses, Hawaiian guitars, standard electric guitars, cellos, violins, pots and pans, etc.

His landlady, who lived downstairs, felt the noise was too much, she 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.

In the summer of 1963, I had just formed THE GIDDY STATUES. I explained to Joe, a UFO transmitted my band’s name to me. Joe Meek queried, “Did they say anything else?”

“No, just ‘Reggie, You’re nice cuppa tea is getting cold’.”  Then the UFO zoomed off into space.

Wanting to give me and my band, THE GIDDY STATUES, a shot to record a demo. Joe Meek thought he had a cool novelty song idea. He wanted The Giddy Statues to record “THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESSbut with a BO DIDDLEY beat!

Meek was very excited with this idea. We recorded this song made famous by ETHEL MERMAN, but we played it with a Bo Diddley beat. When our recording session was over, we now had a demo we could shop around to all of London’s Record Companies.

However, our demo bombed with every record label in England. Joe stored our demo somewhere in his house.

(In 1965, The Giddy Statues finally got a record contract with Pye Records and American producer SHEL TALMY produced every Giddy Statue LP until 1968.)

Joe Meek phoned me one day with a request: “Reggie, can come to my studio right away? I need your feet”.

Perplexed and curious I responded “My feet? Should I bring anything else?”

“Oh!” Joe blurted out, “And wear Beatle boots or footwear that is very, VERY LOUD when you walk.” I said, “OK. See you in 30 minutes?” I hung up my phone, having no idea why Joe Meek needed LOUD FEET.

I entered the leather-goods shop at 304 Holloway Road’, then walked 3 floors, upstairs, to Meek’s home studio. Joe was very energized to produce his new song, Have I The Right?” (To be recorded by The Honeycombs.)  I took off my comfy sneakers and put on my pair of Beatle boots. I noticed the entire band, The Honeycombs, was also wearing Beatle boots.

“Have I The Right?” is a great song, but I’m not getting enough ‘stomp’ whenever they sing the chorus. You know the part, ‘Come Right Back, I Just Can’t Stand It’…Can you help us out, Reggie?”

We overdubbed the chorus “foot-stomps” fairly quickly, and whenever the chorus of the song came, we stomped with everything we had. The finished results were very, VERY groovy. However, my feet hurt for 3 weeks, but “Have I The Right?” is a great song Joe wrote for The Honeycombs to record in his home studio.

Meek became fascinated with the idea of communicating with the dead. He would set up tape machines in graveyards in an attempt to record voices from beyond the grave, I secretly went with him a few times on these rather creepy mid-night excursions.  In one instance we spent 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 & roll musicians.

Meek’s homosexuality – at a time when homosexual acts were illegal in the UK – put him under further pressure. In 1963 he was convicted and fined 15 pounds for “importuning for immoral purposes” in a London public toilet, and was consequently subject to blackmail.

On 3 February 1967, Buddy Holly’s birthday, Meek killed his landlady Violet Shenton and than himself with a single-barreled shotgun.

At the time of his death, Meek possessed thousands of unreleased recordings he hid at his studio later dubbed “The Tea Chest Tapes”.  On September 4, 2008 “It’s More Than Rock ‘N’ Roll” auction, fetching 200,000 pounds. They contained over 4,000 hours of music on 1,850 tapes, including recordings by David Bowie as singer and sax player with The Konrads, Gene Vincent, Denny Laine, Billy Fury, Tome Jones, Jimmy Page, Mike Berry, John Leyton, The Giddy Statues, Ritchie Blackmore, Jess Conrad, Mitch Mitchell and Screaming Lord Sutch. The tapes also contained many examples of Meek composing songs and experimental sound techniques. Tape 418 has Meek composing songs for the film, “LIVE IT UP!”

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

Most of us, on the planet, have heard Meeks’ songs “Telstar recorded by The Tornados’ and “Have I The Right?” recorded by The Honeycombs; but let’s hear a lesser known Meek protégé’s for whom Joe Meek wrote a song: a tribute to the deceased EDDIE COCHRANE.

Meet HEINZ, and his platinum hair-do; sing Meek’s song, “JUST LIKE EDDIE”

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