Sir George Martin: 1926-2016
The Styx family collectively mourns the passing of the legendary Beatles producer, a man whose work was way beyond compare.
by Mike Mettler
Sir George Martin passed away at the age of 90 in Wiltshire, England on March 8, 2016. Best known for his indelible, enduring, and daringly innovative studio work with The Beatles from 1962–70, Martin also produced a wide swath of artists including Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, America, Jeff Beck, and Cheap Trick.
Styx paid tribute to Martin and The Beatles with a masterful cover of “I Am the Walrus” on 2005’s Big Bang Theory, and the song continues to appear in many of the band’s live sets. “It was probably back in ’99 when I first heard Lawrence [Gowan] singing it during a soundcheck,” recalls Styx cofounding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young. “It jumped into my brain as we were driving to a gig where we were going to rehearse, so I said to him, ‘You know “Walrus.” Why don’t we work up a Styx version of that?’ And we did an incredible version — Lawrence sounds just like John Lennon on it.”
To a man, Styx has deep respect for Martin’s overall legacy as a producer and studio visionary. “Seeing the news of George Martin’s passing literally took my breath away,” admits guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw. “His absence feels like a personal loss. His masterful guidance, experience, and discipline took The Beatles and their incredible contributions to heights that will more than likely be unattainable by any other mere mortals for generations to come. Thank you, Sir George, for being there to shepherd their raw talent through the lens of your great musical mind in their most creative, sea-changing days. On behalf of everyone on the planet and from the bottom of my heart, thank you, sir. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Drummer Todd Sucherman, who had the honor of speaking with both Sir George and his son Giles Martin, also a noted producer, at a UK Hall of Fame event a few years ago for the induction of Brian Wilson, acknowledges, “He was a man who exemplified dignity, style, and grace while changing the world forever for the better.” Adds original bassist Chuck Panozzo, “He was an incredibly talented man, from his work with The Beatles to many other musicians, plus what he did for the lovers of music. Thank you, sir.”
Keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan, a long-acknowledged Beatles aficionado and singer of the aforementioned “Walrus” cover, observes, “George Martin made such a tremendous contribution to the music of our lives. Although his name is intrinsically tied to The Beatles’ music, it is equally notable to recognize that he followed his own musical path to the fullest. It is a beautiful coincidence of fate that his path ran parallel to theirs, but he enriched the entire palette of rock music with his characteristically strident approach to orchestration. Martin expanded great songs into even greater sound experiences. I love his own compositions, particularly the ‘The Pepperland Suite,’ from the  Yellow Submarine soundtrack.” (For those who may not be all that familiar with “The Pepperland Suite,” Lawrence has included a YouTube link to it on his Facebook page.)
“The versatility he showed depending on whose songs he was giving the ‘Martin’ treatment is incredible,” Lawrence continues. “There's such a vast expanse of styles from which to choose, but to narrow the focus, consider his sweeping range between the Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper (1967) records. Listen to how used a string section to lift the pathos of [Revolver’s] ‘Eleanor Rigby’ with Paul McCartney as compared to the mystic flavor he evokes from another string section on [Sgt. Pepper’s] ‘Within You Without You’ with George Harrison. They’re entirely different, and yet both bear the unmistakable Martin stamp. Then there’s the John Lennon masterpieces of daring arrangement and sonic experimentation he helped bring to life on [Sgt. Pepper’s] ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’ and [Revolver’s] ‘Tomorrow Never Knows.’ The list goes on and on, and to each he gave his unique and amazing touch.”
Lawrence concludes by extending “a deep thank you to George Martin for sharing his musical spirit with the world for the past 90 years.”
Finally, as bassist/vocalist Ricky Phillips notes, “Although they're my favorite band, truth be told, The Beatles would not have had the legs of such a storied career without George Martin. He recognized amazing young talent and nurtured it to a place that will never be equaled. What he did with Jeff Beck on the Blow by Blow album (1975) was beyond amazing, and it will always be my favorite instrumental record. He had a gift, and it made all those around him shine. Thank you, Sir George, for all you have given us.”
Amen and fare thee well, Sir George. Good night, sleep tight. Now the sun turns out its light. Dream sweet dreams for me.