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Sylvie Simmons...Interview with Jack Nitzsche, June 1981

(Page 2) Working next door to Art...Banging on the Bongo's.

Had you composed before when tinkling at the piano as a child?
Not for an orchestra. I grew up in a rural area of Michigan and the local piano teacher taught me to play Chopin. I really wasn't into competition. And then as soon as I was in high school it was all rock and roll, I didn't care a thing about piano lessons or classical composers or anything, it was all Moonglows and Chuck Berry.

Did that kid at the piano influence you?
Later. The classical training - I did go to college for a while but I didn't stay for the very reason that rock and roll had come to be. The college I went to, Westlake College of Music, it was one of the music colleges that took the approach that they call Modern Harmony, as opposed to traditional harmony like Julliard and so on. When l got here it was pretty much a jazz school and I wasn't into jazz, and so there was a class called Group Vocal, and at the beginning he said, everybody write down five of your fave vocal groups and through out the semester we will eventually get to some names on your list and we'll study their style and we'll figure out how they form their chords and so on. And everyone wrote down the Hi-Los and Four Freshmen, groups like that, and I wrote down the Moonglows and the Charms, and as he was going through the list he came to mine and said, 'Who wrote this one?' So I raised my hand, and of course everybody turned around and gave me that look, snickering and so on - I didn't last long in that college.

Jack Nitzsche
(Photograph Chris Walter 2006)

So you picked up your suitcase and moved in on Sonny Bono?
First I started to try and write songs and make demos - that's how I met my wife; we were working at Capitol records, she worked in the photo dept and I worked in the IBM dept - and I made demos and went from door to door, and the most receptive was Specialty Records. Sonny Bono was the A&R man there. He gave me my first job as an arranger, I did lead sheets for $3 a piece and for that I was able to sit around with him every day at Specialty Records and meet Little Richard and Don and Dewey and visit sessions. It was great. I loved it - then.

Then you moved on to Original Sound?
It was next door to Specialty Records and Art Laboe was a DJ on KPOP and Sonny got me a job there that was on the order desk. I swept up the place then mailed things, and I got to write and produce Preston Epp's, "Bongo Rock".*

Had you planned to be a producer or singer, or what?
Anything in the record-business, it was real different then. Helen Reddy wasn't around.

But Doris Day was!
Oh God! Where do you know these things from! I was friends with her son Terry Melcher, and he got a job producing at Columbia Records, so I did a lot of arrangements for him and one just happened to be his mother. "Move Over Darling" was the one that sold records in London. Most of the stuff was never released. Her husband was still alive at the time and he thought we were ruining her image.

Not clean enough?
Right "Let The Little Girl Limbo" was one of them. That never was released. She was great though. She said she wished she could sing like Ray Charles!

And Frankie Laine?
That was with Terry also. That was when I was pretty much into it, doing a lot of arranging for everybody. I was already jaded by that time. I still loved it, but it didn't hold the mystery that it did before I was able to see the inside of a studio. The dream wasn't quite the same as it was when I came from Michigan.

So cynical so young?
I think so.

What year are we talking about?
'63. '64

Sylvie Simmons 2006



* This is the only occasion I'm aware that Jack has claimed production duties on, "Bongo Rock". This track is usually attributed to Barney Kessel. It could well be that Jack meant "Bongo, Bongo, Bongo" and its self-titled album.

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