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spacer George Martin, London, 2001
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George Martin, London, 2000

I met George Martin in 1971 in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where he was ensconced in a padded ballroom, producing an album with the band Seatrain. I had been dispatched there by a fledgling radio show called “All Things Considered,” along with an engineer and a reel-to-reel tape recorder, to quiz George on time spent with The Beatles. He had produced all but one of their albums, and was generally known as the Fifth Beatle. But George was reluctant to dish, something that seemed odd but admirable then and, as I got to know him better over the years, totally in character. Trained as a cellist, he became a staff producer for EMI records in London in 1950, and is one of the few real gentlemen in the music business. Quite distinguished looking, as well. My former administrative assistant, a widow roughly his age, would make sure to visit every time she was in London, and was religious about sending him flowers on his birthday. In 1993, while George was in New York producing the cast recording of the stage version of The Who’s “Tommy,” I demonstrated for him a prototype of some technology we had developed at a videogame company I ran. It would allow consumers at home to remix multi-track recording sessions. George, who had always been on the forefront of using technology in music, loved the idea that music fans would be able to change the mix on, say, the “Sgt. Pepper…” album. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm was not shared by the three surviving Beatles, who nixed the idea. But he was so enthralled with the potential of what we had developed that he arranged a demo for Brian Wilson, who agreed to let The Beach Boys’ seminal “Pet Sounds” album be used for the project. That in turn was nixed by their label. (Is there a pattern here?) In 1999, when I started Garageband Records, with Jerry Harrison of The Talking Heads and Amanda Welsh, the research director at Netscape, George immediately understood the logic of using the Internet to vet talent, and signed on immediately as chairman of our Board of Advisors. I once asked George if he had any regrets about the work he had done with The Beatles, and he very gingerly said, “I think I favored Paul’s vocals over John’s too regularly.” And there was good reason to treat the subject gingerly. A few hours after John Lennon had been shot dead in 1980, George was summoned to a studio at the BBC for an interview. In his hour of sorrow, he found himself saying, “I always did think that John’s was the most interesting voice.” Not 20 seconds later, a phone line lit up in the studio. It was Paul McCartney, calling to complain.

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