Audio engineer Geoff Emerick, who worked on several of the Beatles’ most important albums, died on Tuesday from a heart attack. He was 72 years old.
His manager William Zabaleta confirmed the news, saying Emerick fell ill when Zabaleta was on the phone to him.
“Today, at around 2 o’clock, I was making my way back from Arizona to Los Angeles to go pick up Geoff so we could transport some gold records and platinum plaques to our show in Tucson,” Zabaleta said in a statement online.
“While on the phone with Geoff Emerick, he had complications, dropped the phone. At that point I called 911, but by the time they got there it was too late,” he said. “So Geoff suffered from heart problems for a long time. 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.”
Emerick is credited as being an innovator, willing to do anything to help his demanding clients craft their sound. When John Lennon said he wanted to sound like the “Dalai Lama singing on a mountain” for the 1966 song “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Emerick and other sound engineers fed his voice through rotating speakers to distort it. “I remember the surprise on our faces when the voice came out of the speaker. It was just one of sheer amazement,” Emerick said, according to Beatles chronicler Mark Lewisohn.
Emerick joined EMI at the age of 15 in 1962, sitting in on the Beatles’ first session for the record label during his first week of work.
“It was the right place at the right time,” Emerick told CNN in a 2006 interview about his time with the Beatles. “It could have happened to anybody,” he said.
“At the time of doing those albums we never realized it was going to develop into what it developed into.”
He became the right-hand man to late producer George Martin, working the board through the ’60s for seminal Beatles’ albums like “Revolver,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Abbey Road” and much of “Magical Mystery Tour” and “The White Album.”
After the Beatles split in 1970, Emerick continued to work with Paul McCartney, producing his third studio album “Band on the Run.” He also worked with Elvis Costello, The Zombies and Johnny Cash.
His work won him four Grammy Awards, including Best Engineer for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Band on the Run” and “Abbey Road.” He won the technical Grammy in 2003 for “pushing the boundaries of studio recording techniques to new frontiers of creativity and imagination,” according to his website.
In 2006, he released the book, “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles,” which received criticism for its dismissal of the work of George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
“A lot of people think I’m being hard on George. But I haven’t glossed anything over. It’s my memory, it’s the way I perceived, from my situation, the way we went through those albums,” he told CNN at the time.
Emerick remained active through the years and had a number of appearances scheduled for this year, including one on October 6 in Tucson called “Geoff Emerick’s London Revival.”