I'd come to a midtown Manhattan law office to meet Geoff Emerick, the infamous engineer on most of the significant recordings by The Beatles, to talk about his new memoir Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording The Beatles, along with his co-author Howard Massey, an accomplished writer and engineer himself. What's most striking upon meeting Geoff is how mild-mannered he is — he's certainly quite humble considering his starring role in some of the most important recordings of the 20th century. In fact, when I come right out and refer to Geoff as a prime candidate for the "Fifth Beatle" moniker and say what Elvis Costello alludes to in his wonderful preface to Here, There and Everywhere — that Geoff's role was truly as producer, while George Martin's was more that of an A&R man or session "director" — Geoff visibly blushes before shrugging off what to him really does appear to be an outlandish suggestion. But let's face it — this is the guy who crafted some of the signature sounds we all take for granted. Paul McCartney's bass sound post-"Paperback Writer"? Geoff Emerick. Matching up the speeds and editing together two takes of "Strawberry Fields Forever" in two different keys? Geoff Emerick. George Harrison's heart-wrenching guitar sound on "Free As A Bird"? Geoff Emerick. In fact, the list goes on and on...
So, talk a little bit about how the book came to be.
Howard: Well, I interviewed Geoff in 1999 and we just kind of clicked, stayed in touch and became friends. For years I've always been saying to Geoff, "When are you going to write the book?" One day we were talking over the phone and he was telling me some story and I said, "Geoff, you've got to do a book." And much to my amazement he said, "Do you want to write it?"
Geoff: As soon as I hear a Beatle track I'm right back in that moment. So, a lot of these things were so vivid, but I didn't keep notes and stuff. I didn't have time to keep notes! Then we got my assistants who worked on those albums with me — Richard Lush came from Australia and John Smith came back from Canada and Phil McDonald, who lives in Manhattan.
H: And John Kurlander.
G: Yeah, and then all the memories would start coming back.
H: We actually listened to every Beatles track that Geoff worked on in chronological order through the course of the five years we worked on the book. We'd spend a few weeks dealing with the "She Loves You" session.
Talk a little bit about your apprentice- ship with Norman Smith, because that seems to be a really important relationship in the book.
G: Well, it was great. Norman taught me a lot. It was really the basics. One of his biggest things — and I always remember him saying this — was that all we had to do to overcome anything or fix a problem was to step back from whatever it was we were doing and go back to basics. We had a mixing console with eight mic inputs in it. We had a stereo tape recorder and a tape machine that would delay an echo and an echo chamber. That's all we had. And the EQ on the desk was just treble and bass. There were no selectable frequencies. There was a big box that was on the wall [on which] you could actually select a frequency and that was it. So Norman said, "You know Geoff, one of the things that I always do while I'm getting a balance is I lift up any one of the faders, and [then] you know if you're going to have a hit or a miss. You know if it's going to be a good session or not by the vibe coming from the studio." So I always remember Norman when I'm starting a session and the melody of the song or the vibe hits me.
He seemed to have a great sense for that too.
G: Oh, he did. He was a musician himself.
And did you feel that just being around somebody who had confidence about what they were hearing and what needed to be done helped? Did you pick up on that?
G: Yes I did. I picked up enough to reasonably know what he always told me — that you didn't manufacture a hit from the control room, that it was manufactured down on the studio floor.
Did you talk to Norman Smith?
H: No. Unfortunately. I would've loved to have. I can't wait to read his book.
Yeah, he's got a book coming out as well. Tell me about the lead up to recording "All You Need Is Love".
G: Well it was a nightmare. But basically, Brian [Epstein] told [The Beatles] that he was so excited that he'd organized this gig for them doing this broadcast, and they really weren't that interested, honestly. I mean Brian expected a better reaction from them. And then when it got nearer and nearer to the date, everyone was wondering, "Where's the song?" John could be pretty fast when he wanted to be. He only needed a line or he'd think of something he'd seen in the newspaper.
H: What did he say to Neil? "I suppose I'd better do something for that?"
G: So then he just came in with "All You Need Is Love", but they couldn't get into Abbey Road. They went to another studio to...