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Emmerich: On the Beatles and the Music in the American South

Wyatt Emmerich, photo from www.northsidesun.com
Wyatt Emmerich, photo from www.northsidesun.com

The Delta, home of the blues, can capitalize on music tourism. The new Grammy Museum in Cleveland is a big step in that direction.

The $20 million, 28,000-square-foot museum opened in March with two dozen exhibits and a 130-seat theater. Each month the museum, located on the Delta State University campus, brings different Grammy winners to host a lecture. It’s a great cultural attraction.

Legendary sound engineer Geoff Emerick was in Cleveland last weekend. My friend Scott Coopwood, publisher of the Cleveland Current, the Delta Magazine and the Delta Business Journal, invited Ginny and me up for a reception at his house for Geoff.

Even though we had planned to go to JazzFest in New Orleans that weekend, we couldn’t pass this up. Parties are always great in the Delta. I am a Beatle Baby from way back and Geoff shares my last name.

I have always felt very fortunate to have grown up with the Beatles. I can remember being a fan at age six, when we gathered around a record player and listened to Meet the Beatles until the vinyl was scratched beyond audibility.

I was nine when Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released. That’s an extremely impressionable age.

As a young teen, I was lead guitarist for a local band, the Cairo Speed Limit. We once were featured on the local TV station in Houston, Texas, where I lived at the time. There were only two stations back then, which made us quite famous in the neighborhood. We played many Beatles songs.

So how cool to hang out with Geoff Emerick, who won a Grammy for producing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road. I hung out with a guy that hung out with the Beatles. Only one level of separation. It’s like a bucket list item was checked.

The party was a perfect size, maybe 30 to 40 great Delta people. I got lots of quality time with Geoff who was as nice as a person could be. He patiently told me numerous stories about the Beatles.

As sound engineer, he was like the fifth Beatle, working day-in and day-out for months at a time as they wrote, re-wrote and edited their songs.

The first album Emerick worked on was Revolver with its famous track “Tomorrow Never Knows.” It was Emerick’s innovation to record John Lennon’s vocal through a Leslie speaker on that song to get the ethereal sound Lennon wanted.

At one point, in Benefit for Mr. Kite, Emerick cut pieces of tape with scissors, threw them up in the air and then spliced them back together to get the carnival like atmosphere John Lennon wanted.

Geoff said John was both the most moody and the Beatle with the best sense of humor. Paul was the most outgoing. George and Ringo were far more quiet, as John and Paul were doing most of the composition.

After the Beatles returned from India where they hung out with a maharaja guru, things changed dramatically. “Something happened on that trip that changed everything,” Emerick told me. “They were at each other’s throats when they got back.” Emerick couldn’t take it any more. It was like going through a divorce. In the middle of the White Album, he quit.

Now living in Los Angeles, Emerick has led a very fruitful and productive career in sound engineering. In 2006, he released his book: Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles, which has been critically acclaimed.

I hate to say it, but I was spoiled by the Beatles. They were too good, too creative, too brilliant. Today’s music seems bland and trite by comparison.

Somehow the Beatles were able to reinvent themselves album by album, inventing entire genres of music on the fly. Their bold step into the unknown spurred a cultural revolution still reverberating today. They were, quite simply, the greatest. It was a privilege to grow up with them. Their music no doubt profoundly influenced me.

As for being cousins, there simply aren’t very many Emmerichs in the world, no matter how you spell the name. Geoff was the only Emerick in England when he lived there. After a brief discussion about family genealogy, we concluded we must be cousins, which works for me.

After the party at the Coopwoods, everybody headed to the ultimate juke joint, Po’ Monkey’s in Merigold. Scott put together a makeshift band which included Roger Fisher, songwriter and lead guitar player for the famous band Heart. You couldn’t believe how well they played, Scott included. What a night!

Our musical weekend continued as the family headed down to JazzFest in New Orleans the next day. I was looking forward to hours and hours of great music, great food, great people and sunshine.

As it turns out, a flash flood shut down the show as soon as we got there. Fortunately, I had brought pocket ponchos for everybody and we were not totally soaked. The fairgrounds became a total mess of mud.

Hotel Indigo is brand new and funky in the heart of the Garden District. It was a joy to watch 14-year-old Ruth and her friend Tatum enjoy their first fondue at the Melting Pot. It was a nice night in the Garden, even though my phone was stolen from the restaurant. Oh well, I was due for an upgrade.

The next day, more torrential rains. We split. The handful of fans who stuck it out were treated with two hours of Neil Young with distorted guitar riffs ending every song.

Into every life a little rain must fall. There’s always next year!

A Greenwood native, Wyatt Emmerich is the president of Emmerich Newspapers. For questions or comments, email us at hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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