Wednesday, March 09, 2016

My Brush with George Martin

The famed Beatles producer, Sir George Martin, passed away yesterday at the age of 90. I met and spoke with Sir George on the radio via satellite in the mid-90s. This is my story...

Sir George Martin is an icon in the music business. If he had done nothing else in his career, the fact that he was the producer of every Beatles album except “Let it Be” would have been enough to cement his place in rock and roll history.

His contributions to the Beatles were significant. He helped the four of them get the most of their extraordinary talents, and played an important role in creating that famous Beatles sound. He was their mentor, and they were my heroes.

When I received a phone call in December of 1995 alerting me to George Martin’s availability for radio interviews to promote the Beatles Anthology project, I was speechless for a moment. I cleared my throat, booked the interview, and bounced off the walls for twenty minutes or so before I told the host of the show—John Landecker. I wasn’t prepared for John’s reaction.

You should interview him,” he said.

“Why me?” I asked. “It’s your show.”

“Because you’re the Beatles fanatic,” he said. “I want you to do it.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but John had a master plan. He figured his normally unflappable German producer would turn into a stuttering, stammering fool if he was forced to interview one of his heroes. In John's mind, that had much more potential than a straight interview.

When he started promoting the interview a few days later, he laid it on pretty thick to make me even more nervous.

“Don’t blow this Rick,” he said. “There are millions of Beatles fans in Chicago, and since we’re the only station that gets to interview him, you have to speak for all of them.”


Outwardly I wasn’t showing it, but it was getting to me. I called all of my Beatles friends across the country and asked them to submit questions to me. I carefully considered each of them, crossed off the ones that seemed “too inside” or “too geeky,” and prepared diligently. I knew we only had ten minutes with him, so I couldn’t waste a moment with frivolous questions.

The morning of the interview I came to the studio with a list of questions in my cold sweaty hands.

When the hot-line rang to alert us that Mr. Martin was standing by at his microphone in London, the color left my face.

“Look at Rick,” John joked. “He’s white as a ghost.”

“Am not,” I said. My voice cracked.

John couldn’t stop laughing. “Maybe I better start the interview,” he said. “Sir George…are you with us?”

We couldn’t hear anything for a moment and then there he was. His lovely British accent responded: “Hello, John. How are you this morning?”

“I’m great,” John said. “I hope you don’t mind, but we’re going to do something a little different this morning. My producer Rick is a gigantic Beatles fan, and he badgered me to let him do this interview, so I’m turning it over to him now. THis will be fun--Producer interviewing Producer. Sir George Martin, this is Rick.”

He was silent for a moment again before answering politely: “Hello Rick.”

I almost fainted. I realize how pathetic this sounds in retrospect, but I don’t think I can find the proper words to explain how excited and nervous I was to be speaking with this man.

George Martin was the producer of the Beatles! He had been sitting across the glass from John Lennon when he sang “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Hell, he pieced that song together for Lennon, and made suggestions, and…oh my God…I could barely breathe.

It didn’t help that John Landecker was rolling on the floor laughing at me, but I ventured on. I knew I would impress Sir George with my knowledge of the Beatles. I knew he would warm to me instantly when he heard my insightful questions. So I launched right into them.

That’s the last thing I remember.

No, actually, that’s not entirely true. I do remember his response to my first question—even though I don’t remember the question itself.

Total silence.

That’s when I started flop-sweating. I lost all my confidence instantly. If I had my wits about me I would have realized that his silence was caused by the slight satellite delay, but I was too far gone by then. The only thing going through my mind was… “YOU IDIOT! HOW COULD YOU HAVE ASKED HIM THAT STUPID QUESTION? HE’S ICING YOU, AND YOU DESERVE IT, YOU WORTHLESS EXCUSE FOR A HUMAN BEING!”

He eventually answered me, but I didn’t even listen to his answer. I just waited for his silence, and then squeaked out another question.

After my second or third question, Landecker jumped in to rescue me.

John loved every second of the experience. I needed an IV to replenish my fluids.

When I listened back to the interview a few days later, I realized it really wasn’t that bad. Of course, that interview never aired again.

The real interview was forever replaced by John’s version of what the interview sounded like in Rick's mind. He had our technical producer Vince edit out my parts of the interview, and replace them with his impersonation of a stuttering and stammering Rick. That became the George Martin interview that was replayed on the air a dozen or more times over the years.

I was eventually able to laugh about it.

But I can admit it now. I’m the Bill Buckner of Beatles interviewers.