Joe Meek - a Portrait
A classic story of rise and fall: This is the life of music producer and pop composer Robert George "Joe" Meek (born April 5, 1929 in Newent, Gloucestershire; died February 3, 1967 in London) - a short life somewhere on the fine line between vision and lunacy, always floating forth and back from the one to the other; oversped, funny, sad, euphoric, depressed; a rollercoaster trip with a dramatic showdown. The story of a man who possibly could have been even a genius - if he weren't standing in his own light all over again. But a leopard can't change its spots.
It's not only the singer or the song that makes a hit, it's the sound as well. Meek was the first European music producer who completely got that. He saw his sound recording studio as his musical instrument, and he was a virtuoso in playing it. As an extra-ordinary sound tinkerer he can be named in the same breath as Phil Spector, George Martin, Lee Hazlewood, Tom Wilson or the "Motown" or "Stax" studio crews; a Meek production is easy to identify. Although Meek didn't like to stand in the spotlight himself, his influence on the pop music scene is still noticeable.
Between 1961 and 1964, Meek's production company R.G.M. Sound Ltd was one of the definitive addresses of Britain's pop world. With this company he produced a couple of smash hits that are internationally known till today; all in all 25 Meek productions reached the UK Top 40. Wannabes were queuing up in front of his door in the north of London; to hear a yes from him they accepted his outbursts of rage as well as his casting couch. For a couple of years he could be called a celebrity; in Great Britain he's still well known. His workshop saw going-to-be pop celebs like Tom Jones (under his then name Tommy Scott), Rod Stewart, Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page or Mitch Mitchell (who later became drummer with Jimi Hendrix); as a member of a band called The Kon-Rads also a saxophone player named Davy Jones entered the studio - today we know him as David Bowie.
As it happens to all pop music figures who drifted into legend or myth (or were sent there by their fans), more than forty years after his death there's a lot of nonsense and half-truths circulating about Meek. Today, a lot of what is taken to be true, actually is no more than myths and rumors. Several contemporary witnesses who worked with Meek have passed away or are not willing to talk about him anymore, some others are willing to talk but unfortunately don't remember anything of importance. So it's very difficult today to get information straight from the horse's mouth.
Several bits of information are mentioned in two or more sources, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are correct. Just too often it simply means that the authors had the same wrong primary source or - even worse - copied from each other. By now, several blogs and other web info as well as magazine articles are showing an increasingly opaque melange created from opinions, myths and rumors. And as the two printed Meek biographies are both around ten years old now, there is some information that came up recently and had to be integrated here.
This portrait neither intends to praise Meek to the skies nor to reduce him to sheer curiosity. My intention is to evaluate Meek's importance for pop history, his work as a sound engineer and his role as a pioneering independent producer, and at least I tried to do justice to his personality. It may be that by doing that I tarnish some classic Meek myths or come to new views about some questions - views that are sometimes different from the "official" Meek history.
Some remarks on the use of sources and references: For this essay I used only information that I (re-) researched myself, or at least I scrutinized it for probability and plausibility by long face-to-face or e-mail discussions with competent dialog partners. If information is unverified, it is named as such.
I always see long references in a text as a sort of tripwire. And because this is no scientific paper, I simply decided to do without references in the text. All the references and sources I used are listed completely at the end of chapter 13.
For sure there are still flaws left, so corrections and further information would be much appreciated. In this connection, I would also like to point to the forum - it's open for discussions about Joe Meek, his music and his life.
Sources see part 13
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© 2006 Jan Eric Reetze
last update: July 17, 2010