Joe Meek was a recording engineer and producer who had a terrible ear for music yet still changed the landscape of modern recording. He was a tortured soul who had experiences both natural and supernatural, any one of which would have made him a subject of interest. He spearheaded the British Invasion, changed the way records are made, and rejected some of the biggest artists Britain had to offer. His story seems like it was inevitably always going to end in tragedy.
It started in England in 1929. Joe was a prodigy when it came to electronics, and legend has it that he built the first working television in the region where he lived. After a stint in the army he went to work as a sound engineer and eventually a producer. He was the first person in England to mic all the drums, and he compressed the sound so that all the notes could be heard more clearly. He recorded Telstar, the first British single to top the U.S. Top 100. He ended up recording several other big hits of the era.
The strange thing is, for a record producer he had both a terrible ear and terrible instincts. He advised Brian Epstein not to bother with The Beatles. He only agreed to record the Moontrekkers if they ditched their singer, Rod Stewart. His tea chest tapes, a legendary trove of recordings that Meek deemed not good enough for release, feature musicians like David Bowie, Tom Jones, Jimmie Page, Ritchie Blackmore and Mitch Mitchell, who Meeks apparently held a gun on to try to inspire his drumming to greater heights.
Meeks was also gay at a time when this was illegal. It was not a well kept secret, and led to problems in Joe's personal and professional lives. He was one of the people questioned after the murder of a young gay man. although it's disputed whether he actually knew the man or not. It is known that his sexual orientation led him vulnerable to blackmail from the notorious Kray gang.
Joe had a preoccupation with the occult, often trying to speak with and/or record the dead. In one tape he alleged to have captured a cat speaking with a human voice. He also was obsessed with Buddy Holly, feeling they had a spiritual connection. There is a story that during a seance in 1958 Meek and his friends received the info that Holly would die on February 3. Meek tried to warn Holly to no avail. February 3 of 1958 came and went with no disaster, but Meek persisted in his attempts to warn Buddy.
At one point he did manage to slip Buddy a note after a performance, which Buddy mentioned during an on air interview. Tragically Joe's warning proved too true when Buddy Holly died along with Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. Even this did not end Joe's preoccupation with Holly though. He thought Buddy came and talked to him in spirit form.
Of course, Meek was mentally ill by this point. He thought that people were telepathically stealing his ideas. He thought that aliens were controlling him. He thought his landlady was spying on him through his chimney. Tragically all of this came to a head when Meek apparently fought with his landlady and shot her dead, then turned the gun on himself. In one last tie to his spiritual hero, he died on February 3, 1967.
© 2021 Gracchus Gruad