Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Norman Hurricane Smith (1923 - 2008)

Born in North London in 1923 Norman Smith spent sometime in the RAF as a glider pilot before joining EMI’s Abbey Road studios as a tape operator in 1959. Norman worked his way up to become a valued sound engineer and oversaw the Beatles audition at the famous London studios. He worked miracles on their musical equipment which was grossly inferior but the end result was so noteworthy he called Sir George Martin (his boss) to listen to them. Martin signed the unknown Beatles to the Parlophone label.

Norman ‘Hurricane’ Smith remained the main sound engineer at Abbey Road and worked with the Fab Four until 1965 and the Rubber Soul, album.

He wanted to spread his wings and become a record producer and in 1967 took over a new signing to the label. The band was Pink Floyd and Hurricane produced three of their first four albums (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, A Saucerful of Secrets, and Ummagumma). Piper at the Gates of Dawn featured Syd Barrett who was the original singer/songwriter/lead guitarist but after he left the group Norman found difficulty keeping up with Pink Floyd’s new direction.

He switched his attention to the Pretty Things who had been an early UK blues outfit but were now experimenting with psychodelic rock. Norman Smith produced the Pretty Things' single, "Defecting Grey"/"Mr. Evasion," in late 1967.

The following year the Pretty Things released S.F. Sorrow, which was the first concept album that proved inspiration to Pete Townsend who then went on to write Tommy.

Smith’s expertise and encouragement for the concept album project was immense something lead singer Phil May has always acknowledged and even referred to Norman as the sixth member of the band. On the recording S F Sorrow the Pretty Things experimented with the latest sound technology, including the Mellotron and early electronic tone generators. Many of the gadgets and techniques used were improvised by the Abbey Road's technicians. Norman Smith was also a consummate musician and had played drums on Pink Floyd’s "Remember a Day."

It is also reputed he sold one of his songs to the Beatles for 15,000 pounds. The Fab Four needed a last song to complete the Help album and heard Norman’s song and were impressed. Then it was decided that Ringo should have a track on the album and the Beatles recorded "Act Naturally" with Ringo on lead vocals.

Hurricane Smith had his own hit in 1971 when ‘Don’t let it die’ entered the UK charts.

The following year “Oh babe what would you say?” was a hit in the US.

He completed a hat trick of hits with a cover version of Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Who Was It?"

Norman Smith wrote a very interesting autobiography, entitled ‘John Lennon Called Me Normal.’ Norman 'Hurricane' Smith died in March 2008 at the age of 85.

Worth a listen:

Hurricane Smith
Don’t let it die (1971)
Oh babe what would you say? (1972)
Who Was It? (1972)

The Beatles
Act Naturally (1965)
Drive My Car
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
You Won't See me
Nowhere Man
I'm Looking Through You
In My Life
If I Needed Someone
Run for Your Life

Pink Floyd
Interstellar Overdrive (1967)
Remember a Day (1967)

The Pretty Things
Defecting Grey/Mr. Evasion (1967)
S F Sorrow is born (1968)

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