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Producer-Composer Jack Nitzsche, Worked With Neil Young And Rolling Stones, Dies At 63

Aug 28, 2000, 2:30 pm PT

Producer-Composer Jack Nitzsche, Worked With Neil Young And Rolling Stones, Dies At 63

Aug 28, 2000, 2:30 pm PT

Jack Nitzsche, whose career in pop music ranged from the classic productions of Phil Spector, to albums by Neil Young, to the soundtracks of such films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, died Friday (Aug. 25) of cardiac arrest caused by a bronchial infection in Hollywood, Calif. He was 63.

Although not widely known to the general public, Nitzsche was a musical renaissance man who played a role in the careers of some of the most important acts in rock and roll, including the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers, Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, John Hiatt, the Neville Brothers, Ry Cooder, and many others. In addition to his pop music work, Nitzsche composed and arranged the scores to such motion pictures as Starman, Cruising, Blue Collar, and The Hot Spot -- the last of which featured an unusual ensemble that included Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, and Taj Mahal.

Bernard Alfred Nitzsche, known as Jack, was born in Chicago on April 22, 1937, but was raised on a Michigan farm near the town of Newaygo. A teenaged Nitzsche moved to Los Angeles and attended music school with the goal of becoming a jazz saxophonist, but abandoned that career course. He later found his first professional work as a copyist at Specialty Records, hired by the label's A&R rep, Sonny Bono. (Nitzsche and Bono co-wrote the Searchers' first hit, "Needles and Pins," which was later revived by the Ramones.) Within a few years, Nitzsche started working with pop impresario Phil Spector on records that included the Crystals' "He's a Rebel" and "Then He Kissed Me," the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," and Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High."

Nitzsche was also a recording artist in his own right, debuting in 1963 with "The Lonely Surfer" on Reprise Records, the title track of which would crack the top 40 that year. Nitzsche began his association with the Rolling Stones in 1964, playing piano on such classic tracks as "Play With Fire" and "Paint It Black," and would later write the memorable choir arrangement for "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Nitzsche co-produced Buffalo Springfield's pivotal Buffalo Springfield Again album, and, after the breakup of the band, continued to work with Neil Young on projects from his debut solo album, through Harvest and After the Gold Rush, to such latter-day releases as Life and Harvest Moon. Ultimately, Nitzsche's production credits included such major artists as Graham Parker, Jackie DeShannon, Mink DeVille, Lou Christie, and many others.

Nitzsche also put his composing and arranging skills to use in the area of movie soundtracks, beginning with the 1964 rock and roll film The T.A.M.I. Show and including Nicholas Roeg's Performance. Among his more than 30 motion picture soundtracks are Stand By Me, The Jewel of the Nile, and The Crossing Guard. In 1982, he won the Academy Award for Best Song, "Up Where We Belong" from An Officer and a Gentleman, shared with his wife, singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Will Jennings.

Jack Nitzsche, who had also been married to Gracia Ann Nitzsche, is survived by his son, Jack Nitzsche Jr. Funeral services will be held Wednesday (Aug. 30).

-- Story by Drew Wheeler

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