SIR GEORGE HENRY MARTIN – 1926 -2016
The Beatles: the cultural axis for a generation, whose music, style, language, and political impact was seismic, fueled by a hypnotic influence unrivaled in the pantheon of art. The Beatles invented a paradigm and then shifted it, over and over and over again. It is impossible to imagine there being a thing called rock and roll, arguably the most lasting global movement of the twentieth century, without it. Beside the four men who made up The Beatles; John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, there stand two others most responsible for this; Brain Epstein and George Martin. As manager and mentor, Epstein created the visual revolution that charmed a planet while Martin, as producer and creative Sherpa, did the heaviest lifting of all; he cajoled, conducted, re-imagined and realized the music that shook the very foundation of human spirit. He made songs, glorious songs; perhaps the best and most revered music of the modern age.
You want to begin to comprehend George Martin’s genius and immense contribution too all this? Simply listen to the music. Do it now. Go ahead. You have heard it a million times, but do it with fresh ears and a pure heart. Deny it is not nostalgic and fresh, bold and endearing, an eruption of joy. I dare you. It is Mozart meets Chuck Berry meets Jackson Pollack meets Abby Hoffman meets vaudeville, theater, sock-hop and cathedral.
Then do yourself a huge favor and read Martin’s 1979 memoir, All You Need Is Ears, Here, There and Everywhere by Geoff Emerick, one of his partners in studio magic, and Mark Lewisohn’s brilliant and seminal, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions.
I can write ten thousand words about George Martin. I may still do it. But for now I’ve asked some very talented friends from all ends of the music business to weigh in on his passing this week. But most of all, I needed to hear their musings on his wide-ranging influence. It is in the following words that the resonance of the man remains, as in every note he arranged, produced and then captured for posterity.
George Martin is the legacy of now. His lasting gift has no time or era; it continues, and will continue, as long as people can make the music wink.
Bob Ezrin, legendary producer of Alice Cooper, KISS, Lou Reed, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Taylor Swift, Rod Stewart, Deep Purple and much more is a direct descendent of Martin’s elaborate studio creativity. Classically trained, as was Martin, Ezrin’s “thematic” and aural storytelling continues to expand the scope of rock music’s oeuvre.
“He is the father of the entire modern recorded music industry. It is his genius and imagination that changed the recording studio from a place for the rigid and faithful reproduction of live performance to an instrument of sublime creativity and endless possibility. He saw in recording the ability to tell stories and create worlds through music and sound using techniques created for radio drama – many by him personally. He extended the “stage” of recorded music past the four walls of the studio out into a whole new universe of sonic imagery. Though it all seems almost commonplace now, this was truly revolutionary stuff in his time. And all of us who tell stories in sound and music owe our craft mostly to him and the Beatles.
At the same time, he was the archetypal refined English Gentleman; a soft and well spoken, brilliant man of profound principle and respect for the world in which he lived. He was warm, humble, impish and imposing all at the same time. And he was, above all, ethical and totally genuine in his dealings with others. He earned his title in every way and I’m sure many called him “sir” even before he was knighted.
I have a funny George Martin story. So many of us do. But right now, as I head to the studio in the same way I have for decades, I can only think of him and his wonderful story, and of my profound gratitude for his historical life and work – and for the wonderful life and career that he (and the late, great Jack Richardson) made possible for me.
And the answer to your question about the making of KISS’s Destroyer without Martin’s influence: Absolutely not. We used the studio as an instrument during the making of Destroyer, trying hard to create a ‘cinematic’ experience for each song. No one even knew that was possible before we heard Beatles records.”
Jay Messina, legendary engineer/producer of Aerosmith, Patti Smith, Miles Davis, Peter Frampton, Krishna Das, Supertramp, Cheap Trick, Ravi Shankar, and more not only worked with ex-Beatles, but many of the artists directly impacted by Martin’s talents. Messina has and still works today with the bedrock laid down by the innovations of the Abby Road edict.
“I can only recall one time I had the honor to meet and work with him. It was to record Aerosmith, doing “Come Together” for the Sgt. Pepper’s movie. The thing that impressed me the most about him, besides his calm and peaceful aura, was that he really didn’t give Jack Douglas (producer/engineer of John Lennon, Aerosmith, New York Dolls, The Who, and more) or myself any particular direction other than to do what we usually do. I was impressed with the confidence he displayed, in himself, by just being able to sit back and observe the session as it unfolded. I miss him.”
Robert “Corky” Stasiak, legendary engineer/producer of Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, The Raspberries, Jim Croce, KISS, The Clash, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, and more came as close as anyone to a Lennon/McCartney reunion before it was curtailed by happenstance that led to Elton John recording the #1 hit, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” for Lennon’s 1974 album, Walls and Bridges. Stasiak’s love and honor as the consummate sound engineer put to the test much of Martin’s best-loved techniques during the classic era of rock.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to George and his family. I am gutted by the news of his passing. We did three albums together (Neil Sedaka, Jimmy Webb) and I was lucky to have worked at his studio in Montserrat (Air). He was a great inspiration to me, and the music universe. It’s hard to imagine a world without this Gentleman, musical Genius among us any longer. Anyone who has ever met him knows exactly what I mean. Our loss is Heavens gain. Rest in peace, Sir George.”
“He is the father of the entire modern recorded music industry.”
David Thoener, multiple Grammy winner and legendary producer/engineer of Carlos Santana, John Mellencamp, Heart, Meatloaf, Bon Jovi, AC/DC, Willie Nelson, J. Geils Band, and more works the world over continuing to spread the international musical flavor of Martin’s work with the Beatles that introduced several and varied styles to the world.
“2016 has brought us the unfortunate passing of such amazing music talent. As a Baby Boomer I guess we can expect more reading that our heroes have died, but the passing of George Martin was a tremendous loss for all of us in the music industry. His contributions have touched millions and many who don’t even know how they were indirectly affected by his genius. My direction in life changed the day I heard The Beatles “Love Me Do”. It sounded like nothing I had heard before. I was instantly not only a fan of the Beatles but was curious how they created such an amazing sound. I was 12.
Moving forward to “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields” was transforming. At 15, I had decided my future; I was going to become a recording engineer and all, because George Martin changed my life forever. I had the opportunity to work with John Lennon in 1974, a memory I will never forget. 42 years later I am still making records, over 400 at this point. I have had a very satisfying journey through life and I owe it all to George Martin.
RIP, Mr. Martin.”
Rod O’Brien, engineer for Grand Funk Railroad, Edgar Winter, Blood Sweat & Tears, Talking Heads, Cindy Lauper, Patti Smith, Ozzy Osbourne has plied his trade in studios everywhere with every style of music, all of which has some connection to George Martin’s incredible body of work.
“I never met the man but like everyone in music I felt his influence and have the highest regard for all his work.”
Dan Bern, singer/songwriter/artist/author (albums include New American Language, Fleeting Days, Drifter, Breathe, among others, and books, World Cup, Quitting Science, 10,000 Crappy Songs) was and still is an avid Beatles freak. He speaks and writes adoringly about his time as a youth being awakened to the beauty and majesty of song through the recorded tapestry commandeered by George Martin. Dan’s hilarious tribute, “The Fifth Beatle” is one of his most beloved songs.
“George Martin did a great job producing Peter Sellers. And some other guys too. It’s hard to imagine The Beatles without George Martin. The Dave Clark 5 comes to mind. OK, that’s not fair. But the Beatles and George Martin went together like Muhammad Ali and Angelo Dundee, the Michael Jordan Bulls and Phil Jackson, Thomas Wolfe and Maxwell Perkins. OK, you get the idea. Three Beatles are gone and two are left. RIP, tall stodgy English man who talked like a schoolteacher and rocked like Amadeus.”
Eric Hutchinson, singer/songwriter/deejay (albums include Sounds Like This, Moving Up Living Down, Pure Fiction, Eric Hutchinson is Pretty Good, among others) is a songsmith and music nerd above all else. In the dozens of lunches and interviews we have had over the years not one failed to include some mention, deconstruction and celebration of Beatles music. We are still trying to formulate an increasingly difficult “Worst Beatles Songs Ever” list. How can we do it?
“Calling George Martin the 5th Beatle always felt a little too easy for me. To me, he was the father figure, the moral compass and the sophisticated class that made The Beatles come to life. Without a doubt his musical vernacular and knowledge enabled the group to grow and grow so quickly. Growing up, George Martin’s name was spoken in my house with the same reference as the president’s. He was that important.”
Nick Howard, singer/songwriter (albums include Something to Talk About, When the Lights Go Up, Stay Who You Are) and proud New Yorker by way of Britain, has carried on the Beatles tradition of pop sensibilities and a unifying message playfulness sometimes lost in today’s music environment.
“George Martin probably had a greater impact on popular music than any producer in history. Less we forget too that he SIGNED the Beatles when everyone else turned them down (something I remind myself of daily in my own quest for success)! In an age when bands and artists were signed on talent and not Instagram followers, he signed the best one of them all and allowed them to grow as men and musicians (to great effect!). To me he is a Beatle, and therefore has helped shaped my life in ways unimaginable.”
Eddie Trunk, radio and television personality, Megaforce Records executive, and author; (Trunk Nation, Sirius XM, That Metal Show, VH1 Classic – Books: Essential Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Volumes I and II) has seen the music business from every angle and as a learned and well-traveled music historian, his voice heralds the many ages of rock music which begins in earnest with the dedication to growth exhibited by George Martin throughout his decades-long career.
“As someone who works in the world of hard rock the influence of George Martin may seem like a stretch. But consider this; almost every single rock and metal artist I’ve ever interviewed sites The Beatles as their primary influence and clearly George Martin had a huge role in that. Let’s also not forget he also produced some great albums for bands like UFO, Cheap Trick and others. The man was simply a giant in the landscape of music in so many ways.”
Scott Shannon, legendary record promoter and radio personality and member of the National Radio Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, watched the world turn upside down by the Beatles phenomenon and then turned its machinations into gold records for dozens of artists, not the least of which earning one of his own from Ringo Starr by breaking his 1974 hit, “No, No Song”.
“I really don’t have much to say that hasn’t been said by more important people than me. He was a genius and a gentleman.”
Ken Eustace, songwriter/producer; whose work with me as a recording artist lo those many years ago, had us scrambling to steal all of George Martin’s tricks with then modern equipment that dwarfed what the Beatles created masterpieces on. Hey, we tried.
“He was the context that gave meaning to Lennon/McCartney’s content.”