A peak into the mind of John Hampton

Geoff Emerick and the Legend of Strawberry Fields

Did you know that Julian Lennon’s dad used to have a band with that guy in Wings? I have a vague remembrance as a boy (it was February 1964) of watching “Ladies and gentlemen, The BEATLES!” on  TV’s “The Ed Sullivan Show” for the first time. It was a stunning moment for me and millions of others. That cleverly planned moment (I mean come on … 20 days after the record release … how DID they get that gig?) was that moment that  I fell in love with music. But por mois, it was even more than that, resonating with the spiritual side of me. Have you ever reacted to music like that, or am I the only one? My brother Randy and I went to our room when the show was over and, with a broom and a bed … part, we stood in front of the ceiling lamp watching our shadows on the wall morph into John and George. (I was John and Paul was a leftie) That night defined the beginning of my life in music, as it did many others, I’m sure.

I kept up with the band through every part of their meteoric careers, buying everything they released in America. And then later, and into my twenties, I discovered the stores in New York where you could buy British releases of stuff never released state-side. I found a way to keep up with them after they had disbanded. But when I began the recording studio part of my life, I noticed from reading the inside of Anthology 1 that their “team” wasn’t even mentioned on the records; the team of people putting that music together. I mean surely the band didn’t just walk ino any recording studio in the world, running around plugging in microphones, bringing orchestras in and telling them what to do! And SURELY they weren’t the only ones who, after making these gems, sat behind the recording equipment and put the final balance on all of these guitars and French Horns and vocals and miscellaneous cacophony. Nope, it wasn’t them. But it was a team … that was dedicated to seeing that their artistic vision made it safely into my hands, as un-altered as possible. There was George Martin, their “producer”, whatever that meant. And at first,  the “engineer” was Norman Smith. But toward the end of recording their ear-turning Revolver record,  Norman moved on to produce Pink Floyd, and Geoff Emerick, became the guy sitting alongside Martin in the control room. My older sister was staying in tune with The Beach Boys, who were going through their own metamorphasis with their acclaimed Pet Sounds record as both bands went through the white-hot phases of their careers. It was kind of like Pet Sounds vs. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And because of the subtle rivalry for the ultimate recording, records became so … so really interesting. I preferred the British slant, like I Am the WalrusStrawberry Fields ForeverLucy In the Sky with Diamonds … what exactly WAS this new sonic safari all about? cTomorrow Never Knows was the first song by The Beatles where I  heard a distinct difference between the happy, shiny Beatles, and the new, cerebrally cool Beatles. Radically different. But what was making it so different out of the clear blue?

I believe that answer to be two-fold.

#1 drugsLucy inthe Sky w/Diamonds

And #2… Geoff Emerick

Every other part of the team was the same. Geoff was the force that fulfilled John Lennon’s request of matching up one version of Strawberry Fields with another. The two versions had been recorded weeks apart at two different tempos , and in two different keys! It seems Lennon loved the end product after weeks of working out every nuance he wanted … but he still loved the beginning of the very first “potential” keeper. So Geoff, in a single, magical, musical moment, refusing to say it couldn’t be done, found a way to turn the edit between the two versions into a legendary artistic moment. A moment most engineers wouldn’t have even thought of. Geoff was brilliant. He made it work. (The edit occurs at exactly 1:00, on the word “going” in the phrase “’cause I’m going to … Strawberry Fields”) Click the title Strawberry Fields Forever

I had the pleasure (along with about twenty others) of having dinner one night with Geoff and his co-writer Howard Massey when they were in town promoting Geoff’s book,  Here, There, and Everywhere-My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles. (whew!) Rather than hit him with questions he heard all the time and probably hated down inside by now, I just sat there soaking up his presence and listening to his stories that were not in the book. He was brought to town for a presentation of the book, and some previously unheard music, by the Memphis NARAS chapter… the Grammy folks. I had become so infatuated with the man and his outlook on the subject of records and music and the Beatles, that now the book is in my stable of “READ OFTEN”, alongside Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, Plato’s Republic (which shold be re-titled “Plato’s and Socrates’ Feudalism”), MAD Magazines (about a hundred) and the original screenplay for Hampton Fancher’s “Bladerunner“. Now Geoff’s book. And every day, I discover ways that he and I have many similar viewpoints; he captures the ARTIST’s vision, by finding new and interesting ways to do whatever it takes to bring that vision to fruition. And he sees a clear cut line between engineering and producing, where most (myself included, at first) engineers see a blur and try to get into production eventually, if they can handle that hot seat.
Geoff, if you read this, I am only one of millions of fans who truly appreciate your views since I, too, have been there. Oh, and Geoff …  I regret Yoko’s ubiquitousness as much as you. As do many. But then again, you were sooo lucky to get that gig. Swine …

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