- Phillip Brophy, Stuart Coupe, Bruce Milne and others were hanging out
with Jack in Melbourne few months back, all were in awe. Keef
JACK NITZSCHE 1937-2000
Elvis, The Rolling Stones, Phil Spector, Barbra Streisand, Miles Davis,
Darin, Neil Young, The Beach Boys, John Lee Hooker, Tammy Wynette, James
Brown, Captain Beefheart, Jackie DeShannon, Sean Penn, The Germs, Willy
DeVille, William Friedkin, Paul Schrader, Doris Day, Ricky Nelson, Ike &
Turner, Marianne Faithfull, The Monkees, The Neville Brothers, Graham
Sonny & Cher, Randy Newman.
Jack Nitzsche worked with them all. It's hard to name another person
was involved in creating in so much music history. Whether it was pop,
wave, punk, folk, rock, R & B, or movie soundtracks, Nitzsche was there.
otherwordly hits he arranged for Spector. His eerie string work for
Young and others. The two-fisted piano playing for the Stones. His
soundtracks, among the most original and unusual in Hollywood history.
"Jackâs one of the modern-day masters," Young told Gavin Martin. "His
creations are on par with Mozart and the composers of the renaissance."
Bernard Alfred âJackâ Nitzsche was born on April 22, 1937, in
Illinois, but was raised on a farm outside of Newaygo, Michigan. In
moved to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a jazz saxophonist, but quit
school after deciding he wasn't good enough.
Nitzsche wandered into Specialty Records, where then-A&R man Sonny Bono
him as a copyist. "Sonny got me my first real job in the music
said Nitzsche. "We both loved black music." A stint at Capitol Records
most notable for Jack's introduction to aspiring singer Gracia Ann May,
first wife and the woman Nitzsche would credit most for guiding his life
career. "Gracia encouraged me to forget about getting a job and really
the music. To just do what I wanted to do, and she would bring in the
income." Son Jack Jr. was born in 1960.
Various jobs in the record industry led to arrangement work for Phil
beginning in 1962 with The Crystalsâ immortal âHeâs a Rebel,â
on through to Ike and Tina Turnerâs âRiver Deep, Mountain Highâ in
What records: 'Be My Baby,' 'Zip A Dee Doo Dah,' 'Then He Kissed Me,'
Love You.' "Phil and I saw totally eye to eye--on everything. Thatâs
made our combination perfect."
First encountering the Rolling Stones at a 1964 session for Hale and the
Hushabyes, Nitzsche contributed keyboards to such sixties Stones
'Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadows?,' 'Play With
and 'Paint It Black,' as well as the choral arrangements for 'You Can't
Always Get What You Want.' Jack was an integral and influential part of
early Rolling Stones sound. Throughout the sixties Nitzsche did
work with a slew of artists, including Bob Lind, P. J. Proby and one of
favorite female vocalists, Jackie DeShannon. He also wrote (with a
help from Sonny Bono) the classic 'Needles and Pins,' a 1964 hit for The
Searchers which was later covered by The Ramones.
Nitzsche's odd solo career began with the majestic 1963 instrumental
Lonely Surfer,' the title cut of his first solo album for Reprise. He
out of the sessions for a ludicrous, label-instigated follow-up Dance to
Hits of The Beatles. Nitzsche released an album of original orchestral
pieces, St Giles Cripplegate, in 1973.
The work for Neil Young began with 'Expecting to Fly,' a 1967 Buffalo
Springfield track that was one Jack's favorite records. Nitzsche
to Young songs throughout the years, most notably the 1972 Harvest
Man Needs a Maid' (done with the London Symphony Orchestra) and 'Such a
Woman,' from Young's 1992 Harvest Moon. Jack was also a sometime member
Crazy Horse, contributing keyboards and his first recorded vocal, 'Crow
Lady,' to their 1971 debut. He played piano on Young's 1973 live album,
His motion picture work began with largely overseeing the musical end of
1964's The TAMI Show, then scoring the 1965 no-budgeter Village of the
1970 brought Performance, inarguably one of the most original and
influential scores of all time. Nitzsche did Robert Downey Sr.'s 1972
picture Greaser's Palace, contributed music to William Friedkin's The
in 1973, and was nominated for an Oscar for his glass harp/musical saw
for One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest in 1975. He did two pictures for
Schrader, 1978's Blue Collar and Hardcore in 1979. Nitzsche received
Best Original Song Oscar for co-writing (along with Buffy Sainte-Marie,
he married that year) 'Up Where We Belong,' which was featured in 1982's
er and a Gentleman.
1980 saw a punk/new wave score for Friedkin's 'Cruising.' Jack produced
Graham Parker, and did three albums with longtime friend and cohort
DeVille, starting with 1977's 'Cabretta.' "We hit it off. Right away,"
Jack. "Willy pulled out his record collection, he started playinâ
that was it. I said, âHoly shit! This guyâs got taste!â"
particularly proud of the DeVille track 'Cadillac Walk.'
The soundtrack work continued with Cutter's Way in 1981, plus a few
for director John Byrum, including The Razor's Edge in 1984. An unusual
electronic score was featured in 1984's Starman, and a haunting 1990
soundtrack for Revenge was among Jack's favorites. Nitzsche's
pairing of Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker was central to Dennis
1991 picture The Hot Spot. The nineties brought two pictures for Sean
1991's The Indian Runner and The Crossing Guard in 1995. Nitzsche's
studio work (as yet unreleased) was with Louisiana rocker Charles 'C.
Melancholy, bittersweet, ghostly--these are words that come to mind when
think of Jack's sound. But that doesn't quite get it. It was just Jack
Nitzsche music, and once you heard it, you were never the same. If
name was on a record, you could count on something moving, something
And probably something you'd never heard before. "I do a whole number
produce an artist," he said. "I really put them through something.
have an experience. And it changes the record."
Fellow musicians loved Jack--even if they wanted to wring his neck at
point, which was inevitable. Hanging out with Nitzsche was one of the
pleasures of life. Jack was funnier than hell, and he had an opinion on
everything. He thought all rock 'n' roll was stolen from the black
that included his own music. "Jack's one of the mighty few," said
Dummond. "If you don't want to know the truth, don't ask Jack."
Nitzsche loved fencing, doo wop, women and all things Native American,
although not necessarily in that order. He could be a cad when it came
the opposite sex, yet he somehow remained close friends with nearly
Jack remembered every girl he ever had a crush on. In detail. And
occasionally tried to call them while inebriated in the middle of the
many decades later.
With Nitzsche on your side you felt invincible, like you could go ten
with Ali. When he turned on you--which he invariably did--it was an
unforgettable experience. Jack could be a real devil sometimes. You
Nitzsche made no secret of his battle with drugs over the last couple of
decades. It tormented Jack, and his loved ones. He'd been through
many times it was suggested that they name his hospital room 'The
Wing.' He got a kick out of that one, as he did out of any joke at his
e, particularly if it had to do with the sort of high-profile
that landed him in court and earned him an unexpected role on Cops.
The sad irony was that Jack was in better shape than he'd been in years
before his death, fresh from trips to Australia and New York. One of
great joys of his life was being able to attend his son Jack Jr's
Jack Nitzsche was a real record hound. Mention a forgotten 45 by The
Hannibal or the latest work by his beloved Jon Hassell and Jack could
rhapsodize for hours. Despite three decades in the music biz, he still
going to the record store and blowing dough on new sounds. Nitzsche
appeared cynical about many things, but music wasn't one of them.
the sometimes crusty exterior lurked a romantic, even sentimental,
One of his all-time favorite records was 'That's All I Want From You,'
pop ballad covered by many singers, black and white. The version that
Jack the most was the 1954 Jaye P. Morgan hit that he first heard in
grade. He spoke wistfully of the song.
The lyrics go like this:
A little love that slowly grows and grows
Not one that comes and goes
That's all I want from you
A sunny day, with hopes up to the sky
A kiss and no goodbye
That's all I want from you
Don't let me down
Oh show me that you care
Remember when you give
You also get your share
Don't let me down
I have no time to wait
Tomorrow might not come
When dreamers dream too late
Jack Nitzsche died at Queen of Angels hospital in Hollywood on August
2000. The cause of death was cardiac arrest, brought on by a reoccuring
bronchial infection. He was sixty-three years old.
He is survived by son Jack Jr.