Geoff Emerick, the audio engineer who worked on several Beatles classics including Sgt. Pepper’s and Abbey Road, died Tuesday. Emerick’s agent, David Maida, confirmed the engineer’s death to Rolling Stone, adding that the cause of death was a heart attack. He was 72.
Emerick’s manager, William Zabaleta, posted a video in which he said he was on the phone with Emerick when the engineer suddenly fell ill. Zabelta immediately called 911 but by the time an ambulance arrived it was too late. “Geoff suffered from heart problems for a long time,” Zabaleta said. “He had a pacemaker and, you know, when it’s your time, it’s your time. We lost a legend and a best friend to me, and a mentor.”
“I am so sorry and shocked to hear about Geoff Emerick,” Ringo Starr said in a statement. “He was a great engineer, very helpful to all of us in the studio. With him and George Martin they helped us to step up on Revolver. He will be missed. Barbara and I send peace and our love to his family. Peace & love, Ringo xxx “
Dr. Kenneth Womack, the biographer for storied Beatles producer George Martin, shared a statement with Rolling Stone, saying, “Geoff Emerick was a groundbreaking engineer, particularly in terms of his eagerness to try anything and everything to meet his artists’ expectations. He famously captured John Lennon sounding like the Dalai Lama on a mountaintop for Revolver‘s ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ later bringing the Beatles’ career to a close in fine style on Abbey Road. Like his mentor, producer George Martin, Emerick was always laser-focused on getting the best out of the track that his artists presented. Working at that granular level, he proved himself to be the greatest engineer of his generation.”
Emerick first worked with the Beatles in September 1962 when he was just 16 and had only started as an assistant at EMI Studios – later known as Abbey Road – the day before. Over the next few years, Emerick worked a variety of jobs at EMI – lacquer cutter, mastering engineer, balance engineer – and periodically helped out on early Beatles sessions that produced classics like “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Martin officially asked Emerick to serve as the Beatles’ sound engineer in 1966, and the first track he helped cut was Revolver‘s “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
George Martin’s son Giles Martin tweeted Tuesday, “RIP [Emerick] one of finest and most innovative engineers to have graced a recording studio. I grew up with him as he worked so much with my father. We have all been touched by the sounds he helped create on the greatest music ever recorded.”
Emerick also worked on Sgt. Pepper’s – for which Emerick won the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical – and Abbey Road, though he famously resigned during the “White Album” sessions, claiming he could not handle the tensions between the band members; the engineer eventually rejoined the Beatles during the recording of “The Ballad of John and Yoko” and stayed on their final albums together. During his tenure at EMI, Emerick also served as engineer on the Zombies’ classic Odessey & Oracle.
After the Beatles broke up, Emerick shifted from EMI to the band’s Apple Corps., where he oversaw construction of Apple Studios in the label’s Savile Row headquarters. As engineer, Emerick continued to work regularly with Paul McCartney and Wings, as well as an array of other artists including Elvis Costello (producer on 1982’s Imperial Bedroom), Cheap Trick (engineer on the George Martin-produced 1980 LP All Shook Up), Jeff Beck and Kate Bush.
“We received very sad news today, old friend, Geoff Emerick, passed away,” Wings’ Denny Laine wrote on Facebook. “Our condolences to his family during this time. Geoff was a brilliant engineer and a fine man. He was enjoying his work and masterclasses around the country, connecting with the fans.”
In 2006, Emerick penned his autobiography Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles, a tome that caused controversy in the Beatles community for its unflattering view of the non-McCartney Beatles, with George Harrison especially cast in the harsh light. However, Emerick remained active on the Beatles nostalgia circuit, with the engineer lining up several speaking engagements this fall in anticipation of the 50th anniversary reissue of the “White Album.”
Emerick spoke of his personal highlights working with the Beatles in a 2017 interview with Variety. “Revolver is a high point because of what it represented. It led to Pepper. And perhaps the greatest peak of all was the production of ‘A Day in the Life’ on Sgt. Pepper,” Emerick said. “John first played an acoustic version of the song for George Martin, and I heard it and told a colleague, ‘Wait until you hear this.’ I still had the shivers. And the night we put the orchestra on it, the whole world went from black and white to color.”