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Bernard Alfred "Jack" Nitzsche (22 April 1937 – 25 August 2000) was an arranger, producer, songwriter and film score composer.


Born in Chicago, Illinoismarker and raised on a farm in Newaygo, Michiganmarker, Nitzsche moved to Los Angeles, Californiamarker 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 Cher, The Searchers, The Ramones, Crack the Sky and Willy DeVille. His own instrumental composition "The Lonely Surfer" became a minor hit, as did a big-band swing arrangement of Link Wray's "Rumble".

He eventually became arranger and conductor for the infamous producer Phil Spector, and orchestrated the ambitious Wall of Sound for the song "River Deep, Mountain High" by Ike and Tina Turner.Besides Spector, he worked closely with West Coast session musicians such as Leon Russell, Roy Caton, Glen Campbell, Carol Kaye, and Hal Blaine in a group 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.

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! (or 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". 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, beginning with his production and arrangement of Buffalo Springfield's "Expecting To Fly", considered by many critics to be a touchstone of the psychedelic era. In 1968, he produced Young's eponymously titled solo debut with David Briggs. Even as the singer's style veered from the baroque to rootsy hard rock, Young continued to work with Nitzsche on some of his most commercially successful solo recordings, most notably Harvest. Nitzsche played electric piano with Crazy Horse throughout 1970 (a representative performance can be heard on the Live at the Fillmore East album) and went on to produce their sans-Young debut album a year later.

While prolific and hard working throughout the seventies, he began to suffer from depression and problems connected with substance abuse. After castigating Young in a drunken 1974 interview, the two men became estranged for several years and would only collaborate sporadically thereafter; later that year, he was dropped from the Reprise Records roster after recording a scathing song criticizing executive Mo Ostin. This culminated in his arrest for a violent assault on longtime girlfriend Carrie Snodgress, formerly Young's companion, in 1979.

In 1979, he 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.

In the 1970s he began to concentrate more on film music rather than pop music, and became one of the most prolific film orchestrators in Hollywood in the period, winning an Academy Award for Best Song for co-writing with Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Up Where We Belong" from 1982's An Officer and a Gentleman (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, The Exorcist, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Hardcore (1979), The Razor's Edge, and Starman.

His intensive output declined somewhat in the 1990s though there were occasional creative works like the soundtrack of Revenge (1990). In the mid-1990s, a clearly inebriated Nitzsche was seen in an episode of the reality show COPS, being arrested in Hollywood 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 Wray, although this never materialized due to their mutually declining health.

In 1983, he married Canadian/First Nations folk singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie. His first wife was blue-eyed soul singer Gracia Ann May; they divorced in 1974. In the 1990s, he was frequently seen once more in the company of Snodgress.

He died in Hollywoodmarker in 2000 of cardiac arrest brought on by a recurring bronchial infection. The R.E.M. instrumental b-side "2JN" was written by guitarist Peter Buck the week Nitzsche died, and the title uses his initials in tribute.




  2. 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.
  3. Liner notes to In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003 special edition, by R.E.M.

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