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Bernard Alfred Nitzsche (22 April 1937 – 25 August 2000) known by pen name Jack Nitzsche, was an American musician, arranger, songwriter, record producer and film score composer. He first came to prominence in the late 1950s as the right-hand-man of producer Phil Spector and went on to work with the Rolling Stones and Neil Young, among others. He also worked extensively in film scores, notably for films such as Performance, The Exorcist and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. In 1983, he won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for co-writing "Up Where We Belong".

Jack Nitzsche
Jack Nitzsche 1.jpg
Photo by Brian Ashley White
Background information
Birth nameBernard Alfred Nitzsche
Born(1937-04-22)April 22, 1937
Chicago, Illinois, United States
DiedAugust 25, 2000(2000-08-25) (aged 63)
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States
GenresRock, jazz, classical, avant-garde
Occupation(s)Composer, orchestrator, arranger, session musician, record producer
InstrumentsSaxophone, piano
Years active1955–1998
Associated actsThe Nooney Rickett 4, Sonny Bono, Phil Spector, The Wrecking Crew, Neil Young, Crazy Horse, The Rolling Stones, Willy DeVille


Life and careerEdit

Born in Chicago, Illinois to German immigrant parents and raised on a farm in Newaygo, Michigan, Nitzsche moved to Los Angeles in 1955 with ambitions of becoming a jazz saxophonist. He found work copying musical scores, where he met Sonny Bono, with whom he wrote the song "Needles and Pins" for Jackie DeShannon, later covered by the Searchers and many others. His instrumental composition "The Lonely Surfer" entered Cash Box August 3, 1963 and became a minor hit (#37 Cash Box),[1] as did a big-band swing arrangement of Link Wray's "Rumble".

He eventually became arranger and conductor for producer Phil Spector and orchestrated the ambitious Wall of Sound for the song "River Deep, Mountain High"[2] by Ike and Tina Turner. Besides Spector, Nitzsche worked closely with West Coast session musicians such as Earl Palmer, Leon Russell, Roy Caton, Glen Campbell, Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine in a group informally known as The Wrecking Crew. They created backing music for numerous sixties pop recordings by various artists such as the Beach Boys and the Monkees. Nitzsche also arranged the title song of Doris Day's Move Over, Darling that was a successful single on the pop charts of the time.[3]

Nitzsche also was the producer and arranger for two of Bob Lind's albums: Don't Be Concerned and Photographs of Feeling; a compilation disc entitled Elusive Butterfly: The Complete 1966 Jack Nitzsche Sessions, issued in 2007, contains the material on these two albums.

While organizing the music for the T.A.M.I. Show television special in 1964, he met the Rolling Stones and went on to contribute the keyboard textures to their albums The Rolling Stones, Now! (The Rolling Stones No. 2 in the UK), Out of Our Heads, Aftermath and Between the Buttons as well as the hit singles "Paint It, Black" and "Let's Spend the Night Together" and the choral arrangements for "You Can't Always Get What You Want".[2] In 1968, Nitzsche introduced the band to slide guitarist Ry Cooder, a seminal influence on the band's 1969-1973 style.

Some of Nitzsche's most enduring rock productions were conducted in collaboration with Neil Young,[2] beginning with his production and arrangement of Buffalo Springfield's "Expecting to Fly", considered by many critics[who?] to be a touchstone of the psychedelic era. In 1968, Nitzsche and Cooder co-produced Young's eponymous solo debut with David Briggs. Even as the singer's style veered from the baroque to rootsy hard rock, Young recruited Nitzsche for The Stray Gators, the band of session luminaries that backed Young on the epochal Harvest (1972) and Time Fades Away (1973).

Nitzsche also played electric piano with Crazy Horse throughout 1970; a representative performance can be heard on the Live at the Fillmore East archival release. Despite frequent clashes with the rhythm section of Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, Nitzsche remained with the group after Young severed ties with the group in 1970. Nitzsche produced the band's 1971 self-titled debut album and served as lead vocalist on the honky-tonk number "Crow Jane Lady." He left Crazy Horse following the album's commercial failure.

While remaining prolific throughout the 1970s, he began to suffer from depression and problems connected with substance abuse. His relationship with Young began to deteriorate during the 1973 support tour for Harvest that yielded Time Fades Away. During the tour rehearsals, drummer Kenneth Buttrey demanded a salary of $100,000 (roughly $571,000 in 2017) to compensate for lost session work, leading Nitzsche (with support from bassist Tim Drummond) to prevail upon the singer to extend this salary to the other band members. Although Young reluctantly acquiesced, Nitzsche would later reflect that "Neil got so pissed off ... I don't think things ever recovered after that."[4] With his alcohol use disorder in full bloom on tour, he frequently spewed obscenities into his vocal mike (leading Young's sound engineers to surreptitiously disconnect it) and often quarreled with David Crosby, who joined the tour's final leg to assist with vocal harmonies. After he publicly castigated Young in a drunken 1974 interview, the two men became estranged in earnest for several years and would collaborate only sporadically thereafter.[5] Later that year, he was dropped from Reprise Records' roster after recording a scathing song criticizing executive Mo Ostin. This desultory period culminated in his arrest for allegedly breaking into the home of and then raping ex-girlfriend Carrie Snodgress, formerly Young's companion, with a gun barrel on June 29, 1979. Snodgress was treated at the hospital for a bone fracture, cuts and bruises and had 18 stitches. The charge of rape by instrumentation (which carries a five-year sentence) was eventually dismissed.[6]

In 1979, Nitzsche produced Graham Parker's album Squeezing Out Sparks. Nitzsche produced three Willy DeVille albums beginning in the late 1970s: Cabretta (1977), Return to Magenta (1978) and Coup de Grâce (1981). Nitzsche said that DeVille was the best singer he had ever worked with.[7]

Nitzsche began to concentrate more on film music rather than pop music in the mid-1970s, soon becoming one of the more prolific film orchestrators in Hollywood during the period. In 1983, he received the Academy Award for Best Song for co-writing "Up Where We Belong" (from 1982's An Officer and a Gentleman) with Will Jennings and Buffy Sainte-Marie. (Nitzsche had already worked with Sainte-Marie on She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina in the early 1970s.) Nitzsche had also worked on film scores throughout his career, such as his contributions to the Monkees movie Head, the theme music from Village of the Giants (recycling an earlier single, "The Last Race") and the distinctive soundtracks for Performance (1970), The Exorcist (1973),[2] One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975),[2][8] Hardcore (1979), The Razor's Edge (1984) and Starman (also 1984). He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score and a Grammy for his contributions to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, his first of many studio projects with multi-instrumentalist/composer Scott Mathews.[8][9]

At the start of the next decade, he scored Revenge (1990). On Revenge he worked with Joanna St. Claire, who wrote, recorded and produced the original song "Are You Ready" for the film's soundtrack.[10]

His intensive output declined somewhat during the rest of the decade. In the mid-1990s, an inebriated Nitzsche was seen being arrested in Hollywood in an episode of the reality show Cops after brandishing a gun at some youths who had stolen his hat. In attempting to explain himself to the arresting officers he is heard exclaiming that he was an Academy Award winner. In 1997, he expressed interest in producing a comeback album for Link Wray, although this never materialized due to their mutually declining health.

In 2000, Nitzsche was slated to work with Mercury Rev on what would become the album All Is Dream. Nitzsche intended to produce and orchestrate the record, having enthused over the band's acclaimed 1998 album Deserter's Songs; however, he died just before pre-production commenced.[11] All Is Dream was released in 2001, with Dave Fridmann producing and Tony Visconti contributing string arrangements.

Personal lifeEdit

His first wife was blue-eyed soul singer Gracia Ann May; they divorced in 1974. In 1982, he married longtime collaborator Buffy Sainte-Marie; although they had separated by the early 1990s, it is unclear[12] if they ever divorced. He was frequently seen once more in the company of Carrie Snodgress throughout the 1990s.

Nitzsche suffered a stroke in 1998 which effectively ended his career. He died in Hollywood's Queen of Angels Hospital in 2000 of cardiac arrest brought on by a recurring bronchial infection.[2][13] His interment was at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

The Nitzsche-phoneEdit

Nitzsche was a keyboard player on many mid-1960s albums by The Rolling Stones. On several, he was also credited as the player of the "Nitzsche-phone". In an obituary on Gadfly Online, former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham explained the credit:

I made that up for the credits on those Stones albums—it was just a regular piano (or maybe an organ) mic'd differently. It was all part of this package that was created around the Stones. People believed it existed. The idea was meant to be: "My god, they've had to invent new instruments to capture this new sound they hear in their brains." And they were inventing fresh sounds with old toys—therefore, it deserved to be highlighted—it was the read-up of creation, of imagination—getting credit for a job well done.[14]


With Crazy Horse

With The Rolling Stones

With Neil Young


Year Title Dir. Notes
1965 Village of the Giants Bert I. Gordon with The Beau Brummels
1970 Performance Donald Cammell
Nicolas Roeg
with Jagger/Richards
1972 Greaser's Palace Robert Downey Sr.
1973 Sticks and Bones Television film
The Exorcist William Friedkin with Mike Oldfield
1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Miloš Forman Nominated for:
Academy Award for Best Original Score
Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media
1977 Heroes Jeremy Kagan
1978 Blue Collar Paul Schrader Nominated for:
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Music
1979 Hardcore
When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder? Milton Katselas
1980 Cruising William Friedkin with Germs

Nominated for:
Stinkers Bad Movie Award for Most Intrusive Musical Score

Heart Beat John Byrum
1981 Cutter's Way Ivan Passer
1982 Personal Best Robert Towne with Jill Fraser
Cannery Row David S. Ward
An Officer and a Gentleman Taylor Hackford Won:
Academy Award for Best Original Song
Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song
BAFTA Award for Best Original Song

Nominated for:
Academy Award for Best Original Score
BAFTA Award for Best Film Music

1983 Without a Trace Stanley R. Jaffe
Breathless Jim McBride
1984 Windy City Armyan Bernstein
The Razor's Edge John Byrum
Starman John Carpenter Nominated for:
Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score
1985 Stripper Jerome Gray Documentary film
The Jewel of the Nile Lewis Teague
1986 9½ Weeks Adrian Lyne
Stand by Me Rob Reiner
The Whoopee Boys John Byrum with Udi Harpaz
Streets of Gold Joe Roth
1988 The Seventh Sign Carl Schultz
1989 Next of Kin John Irvin
1990 The Last of the Finest John Mackenzie with Michael Hoenig & Mick Taylor
Revenge Tony Scott
The Hot Spot Dennis Hopper
Mermaids[2] Richard Benjamin
1991 The Indian Runner Sean Penn
1994 Blue Sky Tony Richardson
1995 The Crossing Guard Sean Penn


  1. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 9/14/63". 1963-09-14. Archived from the original on 2014-04-20. Retrieved 2014-07-27.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Talevski, Nick. (2006). Knocking on Heaven's Door: Rock Obituaries. Omnibus Press. p. 465,466. ISBN 1846090911.
  3. ^ "Prod. Terry Melcher Arr. & Cond. Jack Nitzsche Part Five - Doris Day and Gentle Soul". Retrieved 2012-03-03.
  4. ^ Shakey by Jimmy McDonough, retrieved on-line from Google Books
  5. ^
  6. ^ "St. Petersburg Times - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 2015-12-17.
  7. ^ See Edmonds, Ben (2001) Liner notes to Cadillac Walk: The Mink DeVille Collection. Edmonds wrote, "During my last conversation with Nitzsche, only months before his death last year, the irascible old witch doctor couldn't stop taking about the new album he'd been plotting with Willy (DeVille) and how DeVille was the best singer he had ever worked with."
  8. ^ a b MacDonald, Laurence E. (1998). The Invisible Art of Film Music: A Comprehensive History. Scarecrow Press. p. 254. ISBN 978-0810883970.
  9. ^ Kim Bouwman (2006-05-29). "Interview with Scott Mathews". Hit Quarters. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  10. ^ "Revenge (1990)". IMDb. Retrieved 2015-12-17.
  11. ^ Worley, Gail. "Creating the Soundtrack For the Movies in Your Head: An Interview with Sean "Grasshopper" Mackiowiak of Mercury Rev". Ink19. Ink19. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  12. ^ "Jack Nitzsche Biography". Retrieved 2015-07-27.
  13. ^ Brown, Mick (2007). Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector, pp. 28-29. Random House, Inc.
  14. ^ Gadfly Online: Turning the Key of the Universe

External linksEdit