Beatles first sound engineer

Adrian Barber

“I nearly died that day,” shouted Adrian, with anger in his voice and a finger pointed to the chairman. He was testifying at a public meeting before the Environmental Protection Agency who were considering a new geothermal drilling permit application in lower Puna, Hawaii. Adrian described how he was working in a shed on his property near the geothermal plant when he got knocked to the ground while the hydrogen sulphide monitoring station on his property went off the scale for eight and a half minutes. This 1998 meeting was only one of many similar passionate gatherings and there have been numerous anti-geothermal protests over the decades with dozens of activists arrested. Even today, this struggle to resist unethical drilling continues to haunt the Big Island.

I was one of those arrested in 1988–while protesting in a clown costume on stilts. Russell Ruderman, who now serves as a Hawaii state senator, was also arrested twice and later declared, “We were convinced that we had exhausted every remedy to prevent this hazard from happening.” Protesting worked to prevent one development, but then others came.

Adrian, serving as the spokesman for Puna Malama Pono–our local advocacy group–declared to the media, “The community isn’t sufficiently engaged, and they’re still not. We demand equal representation in all future discussions.” His pleas appeared to fall on deaf ears, which was a great shame because Adrian’s other recorded works are world-renowned.

Adrian is the person responsible for recording the earliest known complete live concerts of the Beatles (Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962). He’s been heard by millions, but sadly not by the geothermal proponents.

Born in Ilkley, Yorkshire, he worked as a sailor for four years, from age 16, and learned to play the guitar. He then moved to Liverpool as a guitarist, initially as a member of ‘Cass and the Casanovas,’ a band that subsequently became The Big Three, “one of the loudest, most aggressive, and visually appealing acts.” Brian Epstein signed them to his agency and sent them over to Hamburg‘s Star-Club.

It was during that trip in July 1962 that he stood out as a technician building amplifiers (called ‘coffins’) for several Liverpool groups. Thanks to his talent, he became The Beatles’ sound technician–first in Hamburg, and then on their first US tour. 

Adrian subsequently emigrated to the United States, where he later become an in-house recording engineer and producer at Atlantic Records. He had a very successful career producing numerous hits for the Allman Brothers, Cream, The Velvet Underground, The Rascals, Buffalo Springfield, The Bee Gees, and Aerosmith.

In 1973 he produced the Aerosmith’s classic hit, Dream On.

After we met, I hired Adrian to run the sound board at one of our annual Hawaiian Juggling Festival shows. I honestly thought he was terrible and never hired him again! In 1993, when I was elected president of the Friends of the Akebono Theatre, he became a board member and we worked together to preserve the 75-year-old historic building. Sadly, it burned down in 2015 and all that we are left with are the memories of good times past.

Most unfortunately, Adrian suffered a similar fate–succumbing to a serious heroin addiction and now lives in a hovel in Hilo town. He’s still willing to share his amazing stories with rare visitors and I took my friend Rumple Stiltskin to see him in 2012. Tragically, he was just a shell of his former self and dreaming about writing his book. Apparently, not all renegades thrive: some struggle to survive and some just burn out!

Adrian in 2012 with Rumple Stiltskin

 Adrian died of Covid at the Hilo Life Care Center, Hawaii, on August 8, 2020. R.I.P.

Published by Graham Ellis

As a child of the '60's with a wanderlust spirit I just followed my dreams and opportunities as they arose. My journey took me to some of the brightest and darkest places imaginable. I met amazing people on the way, some were famous and some are infamous. Some are just great friends with stories that blended with mine as we traveled together on land, on the sea and in the sky. We all share the renegade spirit !

3 thoughts on “Beatles first sound engineer

  1. Bittersweet. Truly a hero that deserved more in life than to sink into the smack pit. I considered asking you if I can circulate this story on my Hawaii contacts pages but perhaps best not to include the latest section of his life.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Aloha Graham. Don’t know if you were aware, Adrian died of Covid in the ravage of the Hilo Life Care Center’s Covid outbreak on August 8, 2020. Thanks for writing this story about him, it really just skims the surface. He had a rich musical career and many disappointments in life.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing this Dawn I’m passing the sad news along to his old mates at Atlantic Records. He talked about writing a book about his stories and I wish he had because he had some wonderful and unique memories many would love to have heard. RIP Adrian.

      Liked by 2 people

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