Jack Nitzsche

Bernard Alfred Nitzsche (22 April 1937  25 August 2000), known professionally as Jack Nitzsche, was an American musician, arranger, songwriter, composer and record producer.[1] 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
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
GenresRock, 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 career

Born in Chicago, Illinois, United States,[1] to Jewish 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. While copying musical scores, he met Sonny Bono, with whom he wrote the song "Needles and Pins" for Jackie DeShannon, later recorded by the Searchers.[1] His instrumental composition "The Lonely Surfer",[1] entered Cash Box on August 3, 1963 and reached No. 37.[2]

He became arranger and conductor for producer Phil Spector,[1] and orchestrated the Wall of Sound for the song "River Deep, Mountain High"[3] by Ike and Tina Turner. Nitzsche worked with Earl Palmer, Leon Russell, Roy Caton, Glen Campbell, Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine in The Wrecking Crew, the backing band for many pop acts such as the Beach Boys and the Monkees. Nitzsche arranged the title song of Doris Day's Move Over, Darling that was a successful single on the pop charts of the time.[4]

While organizing the music for the T.A.M.I. Show television special in 1964, he met the Rolling Stones and went on to play keyboards on 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 on their hit singles "Paint It, Black" and "Let's Spend the Night Together"; he also wrote the choral arrangements for "You Can't Always Get What You Want".[3] In 1968 he introduced the band to slide guitarist Ry Cooder, a seminal influence on the band's 1969-1973 style.

He collaborated with Neil Young,[3] beginning with producing "Expecting to Fly" by Buffalo Springfield.[1] In 1968, Nitzsche and Cooder co-produced Young's eponymous solo debut with David Briggs.[1] As he was moving from baroque to hard rock, Young hired Nitzsche for The Stray Gators, the session musicians behind Young on Harvest (1972) and Time Fades Away (1973).[1]

Nitzsche played electric piano with Crazy Horse throughout 1970. Despite frequent clashes with Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, Nitzsche remained with the band after Young left in 1970. Nitzsche produced the band's 1971 self-titled debut album and sang lead vocal on "Crow Jane Lady". He left Crazy Horse after the album's commercial failure.

While remaining prolific throughout the 1970s, he began to suffer from depression and problems connected to substance abuse. His relationship with Young began to deteriorate during the 1973 support tour for Harvest that yielded Time Fades Away. During rehearsals, drummer Kenneth Buttrey demanded a salary of $100,000 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 agreed, Nitzsche thought Young never got over it. He frequently spewed obscenities into his vocal mike (leading Young's sound engineers to disconnect it) and often quarreled with David Crosby, who joined the tour's final dates to assist with vocal harmonies. After he publicly castigated Young in a 1974 interview, the two men became estranged for several years and collaborated only sporadically.[5] Later that year, he was dropped from the Reprise roster after recording a song criticizing executive Mo Ostin. This 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 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 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, 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 the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman) with Will Jennings and Buffy Sainte-Marie. 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 soundtracks for Performance (1970), The Exorcist (1973),[3] One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975),[3][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 Scott Mathews.[8][9]

In the mid-1990s, an inebriated Nitzsche was seen being arrested in Hollywood in an episode of the television show Cops after brandishing a gun at some youths who had stolen his hat. 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 planned to work with Mercury Rev on All Is Dream. Nitzsche intended to produce and orchestrate the record, having praised the band's 1998 album Deserter's Songs, but he died before pre-production.[10]

Personal life

Nitzsche suffered a stroke in 1998 which ended his career. He died in Hollywood's Queen of Angels - Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in 2000 of cardiac arrest brought on by a recurring bronchial infection.[3][11] His interment was at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Nitzsche was a keyboard player on many mid-1960s albums by The Rolling Stones. On several, he was credited as 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.[12]


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 - Academy Award for Best Original Score
Nominated - Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media
1977 Heroes Jeremy Kagan
1978 Blue Collar Paul Schrader Nominated - 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 - 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 Academy Award for Best Original Song
Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song
BAFTA Award for Best Original Song
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Original Score
Nominated - 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[3] Richard Benjamin
1991 The Indian Runner Sean Penn
1994 Blue Sky Tony Richardson
1995 The Crossing Guard Sean Penn


  1. Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 906. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  2. "Cash Box Top 100 9/14/63". 1963-09-14. Archived from the original on 2014-04-20. Retrieved 2014-07-27.
  3. Talevski, Nick (2006). Knocking on Heaven's Door: Rock Obituaries. Omnibus Press. pp. 465–466. ISBN 1846090911.
  4. "Prod. Terry Melcher Arr. & Cond. Jack Nitzsche Part Five - Doris Day and Gentle Soul". Spectropop.com. Retrieved 2012-03-03.
  5. "CRAWDADDY interview". Spectropop.com. Retrieved 2019-10-05.
  6. "St. Petersburg Times". News.google.com. Retrieved 2015-12-17.
  7. 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. 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. Worley, Gail. "Creating the Soundtrack For the Movies in Your Head: An Interview with Sean "Grasshopper" Mackiowiak of Mercury Rev". Ink19.com. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  11. Brown, Mick (2007). Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector, pp. 28-29. Random House, Inc.
  12. "Gadfly Online". Gadflyonline.com.
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