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Joe Meek

Joe Meek was born on 05/04/1929 in Newent, Gloucestershire. His full birth name was Robert George Meek. From an early age, Meek was interested in electronics and performance art. He would build electronic circuits and radios in his parent's garden shed. He would even make what is believed to be the first working television in the Newent area. During his national service, he was worked as a radar technician in the Royal Air Force.
In 1953, he started work for the Midlands Electricity Board. Whilst working for them he acquired a disc cutter and produced his first record.
He left the Midlands Electricity Board and began work as an audio engineer for an independent radio production company. The company made programmes for Radio Luxembourg and Meek would make a breakthrough with his work on Ivy Benson's "Music for Lonely Lovers".
In 1956, Meek's technical ability was showcased on the Humphrey Lyttelton jazz single "Bad Penny Blues". Meek modified the sound of the piano and compressed the sound more than normal against Lyttleton's wishes. The record would be a hit. Meek would work at Denis Preston's Landsdowne Studio until Preston and Meek had a falling out. Meek would engineer a lot of jazz and calypso records including vocalist and percussionist Frank Holder and bandleader Kenny Graham. Whilst at Landsdowne Studio, he recorded US actor George Chakiris for SAGA Records. Meek would meet Major Wilfred Alonzo Banks who was a member of the board at SAGA Records.
In 1960, Meek and William Barrington-Coupe with funding from Major Wilfred Banks founded Triumph Records. Barrington-Coupe was working at SAGA records in Empire Yard, Holloway Road. The label had a top ten hit with Meek's production of "Angela Jones" by Michael Cox. The song was given massive promotion but the label was dependent on small pressing plants which were unable to meet demand. The label would close after less than a year because of the business results and due to Meek's temperament. Meek would late licence several Triumph recordings to labels such as Top Rank and Pye.
Meek set up a production company called RGM Sound Ltd with Major Wilfred Banks as his backer. He worked out of his home studio at 304 Holloway Road, Islington which was above a leather-goods store. His landlords lived downstairs and would hit the ceiling with a broom when they felt he was too loud. Meek would place loudspeakers in the stairwell at full volume in retaliation. A privately made black plaque is at the location to commemorate Meek.
In 1961, Meek had a number one hit with his production of John Leyton's song "Johnny Remember Me" written by Geoff Goddard. Leyton's manager Robert Stigwood promoted it by getting Leyton booked to perform the song several times during an episode of the tv soap opera "Harpers West One".
In 1962, Meek had a number one hit with "Telstar" which he wrote and produced for the Tornados. French composer Jean Ledrut accused Meek of plagiarism and issued a lawsuit. He claimed that Telstar was based on the score he had written for the 1960 film "Austerlitz". The lawsuit was not resolved till three weeks after Meek's death and was concluded in Meeks favour. As a result of the length of the lawsuit, Meek would not receive any money from the record during his lifetime, which gave him financial problems.
In 1963, Meek was convicted and fined £15 for "importuning for immoral purposes" in a London public toilet. At the time, homosexual acts were illegal in the UK and Meek was subjected to blackmail. Homophobia was not the only source of pressure for Meek. Meek would suffer from drug and alcohol addiction. He would frequently have attacks of rage or depression. Meek's paranoia would lead him to believe that Decca Records had hidden microphones behind his wallpaper and that Phil Spector was stealing his ideas after he called him on the phone. Meek was also interested in communicating with the dead. He set up tape machines in graveyards and once claimed the mewing of a cat was speaking in human tones asking for help. He also claimed that Buddy Holly communicated with him in dreams along with other dead rock and roll musicians.
In 1964, Meek had his third UK number one with the song "Have I the Right" by the Honeycombs. It would be a number 5 hit on the US Billboard pop charts.
On 03/02/1967 (the 8th anniversary of Buddy Holly's death), Meek killed his landlady Violet Shenton before killing himself at his Holloway Road home/studio with a shotgun he had confiscated from former Tornados bassist Heinz Burt.
Meek would work on 245 singles in his career of which 45 reached the top 50. He pioneered studio techniques such as multiple over-dubbing on one and two-track machines, close miking, direct input of bass guitars, compressing, sampling and effects such as echo and reverb. Most records were made at the time with all the performers playing together but Meek would often record instruments separately.
In 2009, the Music Producers Guild created the Joe Meek Award for Innovation in Production.

The Music History Calendar is written by the Blues Rock artist Marshland Pete
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