George Martin, Beatles producer, dead at 90

Legendary producer George Martin, who helped shape the British Invasion with the Beatles and other acts, and is credited for arranging the band's ever-evolving sound later in the 1960s, has died at age 90.

Martin began working with the Beatles in 1962 and was a presence throughout their career

George Martin began working with the Fab Four in 1962 and was a vital presence throughout their career 2:54
Legendary Beatles producer George Martin has died at age 90.
London-born producer George Martin was the studio force behind many of the Beatles' memorable songs. He has died at age 90. (Reuters)

Ringo Starr, drummer of the iconic British band who has maintained a solo career since its breakup in 1970, was perhaps the first to announce the London-born producer's death, taking to Twitter.

Starr tweeted a picture of the Beatles and Martin, and said: "Thank you for all your love and kindness George peace and love."

Martin's manager later confirmed the news out of London, saying the music legend died peacefully at his home.

"We can confirm that Sir George Martin passed away peacefully at home yesterday evening," Adam Sharp, a founder of CA Management, said Wednesday in an email.

He called Martin "one of music's most creative talents and a gentleman to the end."

Martin helped shape the British Invasion sound with the Beatles as well as the likes of Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. Martin later produced a host of other artists, including Elton John, Jeff Beck, Tom Jones and Cheap Trick.  
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      He was named by Guinness World Records as the most successful producer ever, with more than 50 No. 1 hit records over five decades in the United States and Great Britain alone. He was knighted in 1995.

      Martin began working on the business side of the music industry in the 1950s with BBC and then Parlophone Records, a division of EMI.

      Martin would make his name in the early years of his music career producing jazz and comedy records, working with the likes of Dudley Moore and Peter Sellers.

      In this Feb. 10, 2008, file photo, musician Ringo Starr, centre, and Beatles producer Sir George Martin accept the best compilation soundtrack album award for Love during the 50th annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press)

      Manager Brian Epstein brought the Beatles to his attention in 1962. He would later say he wasn't overly impressed with the songs he heard from Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison, and particularly with drummer Pete Best.

      "The basic thing was that I didn't like his drumming, it wasn't very solid and he didn't bind the group together," he told Melody Maker a decade later.

      McCartney would say in the documentary Produced by George Martin, "We probably wondered why we got the comedy guy and not the music guy."

      The Beatles nonetheless signed with EMI, and the first session with Martin was on June 6, 1962, with Starr taking his place in the drummer's chair several weeks later.

      For a time, Martin wasn't the biggest fan of Starr, Best's replacement, either. Love Me Do, the band's first single with Martin producing, reached No. 1 in the U.S. later that year with studio player Andy White on drums.

      Martin downplayed his contributions by the time the Beatles were putting out records such as A Hard Day's Night and I Feel Fine two years later to Mojo Magazine in 2007 as McCartney and Lennon would emerge as prolific songwriters.

      "By that time they were a well-oiled machine and knew how to generate energy together," said Martin. "I was doing all the organizing: Let's put a guitar solo in here, a piano there, and so on, but whoever wrote the song was leading it."

      That was keeping with the arranger's modesty. Martin was endlessly called on to perform the impossible, and often succeeded, splicing recordings at different speeds for Strawberry Fields Forever or, for Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, simulating a calliope with keyboards, harmonica and a harmonium that the producer himself played with such intensity he passed out on the floor.

      Martin would have several good turns on keyboard, performing a lively music hall solo on McCartney's Lovely Rita and a speeded-up Baroque reverie on Lennon's In My Life.

      Earned Grammys for Sgt. Pepper

      Martin was nominated for an Academy Award for his score of A Hard Day's Night and won the first of multiple Grammy Awards with a pair in 1967 for his work on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

      Towards the end of the band's lifespan, Martin would be replaced at the helm for the Let It Be album for Phil Spector, a decision that he admitted left him embittered.

      Martin said he felt liberated in the 1970s, and he ended up working on projects with the likes of America, Jimmy Webb and John McLaughlin.

      He reunited with McCartney in 1973 to produce his track Live and Let Die, scoring the James Bond movie of the same title. Nearly a decade earlier, he had produced another of the best-known Bond themes, Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger.

      Former Beatles producer Sir George Martin visits a sculpture of John Lennon in a Havana park named after the musician in 2002. (Rafael Perez/Reuters)

      In the 1980s, Martin's AIR Studio on the Caribbean island of Montserrat would be where the Police and Dire Straits recorded their biggest albums, with McCartney, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones among the many other artists to use the facility.

      Martin wrote several books about his time with the Fab Four and his studio techniques, including All You Need Is Ears, Summer of Love and Playback.

      Martin announced he was scaling back from studio work in the late 1990s due to hearing issues — he helped oversee The Beatles Anthology project in 1995 but did not produce the Free As a Bird track the three living members at the time produced for the project — but he kept up a busy pace with a host of music projects and charitable endeavours.

      That included working with his son Giles Martin, also a producer, to help produce music for Love, the multi-dimensional theatrical portrayal of the Beatles' career performed by Quebec-based theatre troupe Cirque du Soleil.

      He was knighted in 1996 and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three years later.

      Martin was born on Jan. 3, 1926, and began playing with the piano at age five; he later said neither of his parents had any great musical talent.

      He was a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music, studying composition and orchestration and performance on the oboe and piano.

      Martin spent much of the 1940s in non-combat roles with the British War Office and Royal Navy before embarking on his music career.

      Hired by Parlophone in 1950, he worked with primitive technology, recording on wax cylinders with machines which driven by weights, not electricity. In 1955, aged 29, Martin became head of Parlophone. He worked with Judy Garland, jazz stars Stan Getz, Cleo Laine and John Dankworth.

      Martin is survived by his wife Judy and four children from two marriages.

      With files from Reuters and The Associated Press


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