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

(Page 3) A date with Phil Spector

You met Phil Spector in '62.
My first real big successes as an arranger came with Phil and we were making hit after hit. So in between doing session's with Spector everyone was hiring me because they wanted that kind of arrangement for every possible artist, and they never realised that the songs had to be good and the production had to be similar to Spector's and they couldn't understand how if I did a similar arrangement it wouldn't sound the same.

The first record you did with Phil was "He's A Rebel"?

Jack Nitzsche
(Photograph Chris Walter 2006)

How did you meet Phil - a drunken Hollywood party?
No, he wasn't drinking in those days. Hanging around with people who were trying to get a job in the record industry, there were certain offices on Selma Avenue near the Hollywood Legion Lanes where we all used to hang out, these were offices that were independent producers or whatever that could get you deals with record companies. Lee Hazelwood split up with his partner and I went with him and we shared an office and I did arrangements for him for free for office space and a percentage of the records, which none of them ever came close to selling, and his ex partner Lester Sill came in one day and said Phil Spector, whom he'd set up with Ahmet Ertegun in NY, was in LA and needed someone to do arrangements and someone that he could relate to.

What were the criteria?
We shouldn't get into that! We were able to understand each other real well. I was able to understand what he was shooting for.

You said you were jaded by then, was Phil idealistic?
I think so, in a strange way. Have you met Phil? You've heard stories. It's hard to say idealistic in the same way that anyone would understand it. He was - uh - marching to a different drum. So Phil and I hit it off.

It's almost like you were set up, like computer dating.
Yes, computer dating. Lester I think was smart enough to know that the two of us would get along well, we thought a lot alike about records, he knew in advance that it would work and it did, it worked real well. We met in an office and I was familiar with things he had done in the past so I knew he was good right off and he played me this song, "He's A Rebel", and had The Blossoms come into sing it - oh this was supposed to be The Crystals, that's right. The Blossoms were many groups. They were the Ronettes and, they were the Crystals - with the Ronettes Ronnie was always the lead singer and LaLa for the Crystals, but the Blossoms were everybody - Bobby Sox and the Blue Jeans. My wife was one of the Blossoms, except when it came time for 'Shindig' the original Blossoms had to break up because they didn't want a white face between two black faces in those days. That was the end of the Blossoms as they were during the Spector days.

How did you work with Spector - did you sit and discuss things?
Yes, he'd throw out an idea for the record. Everything he thought of I thought was great. And when I wrote it out it came out the way he wanted to hear it, and it worked that way from there on in, "He's A Rebel" on, every record.

Did you always work at Gold Star?

I saw the studio for the first time recently - it's so small, I thought it would be massive.
It's changed a lot.

They told me they kept it just the same - a bit like a shrine.
They said that, but they changed the board and they changed the booth, but the echo chamber is the same and that's what mattered, that special echo chamber.

I imagined it would be the size of St Giles.
No. Have you been to St Giles? It's beautiful, incredible, built in 1200 I think. Stone walls three feet thick and high arched wooden ceilings.

What was it like in Gold Star back then?
Oh it was wonderful. No!

It's incredible to think of these two people in there working on those classic songs.
It was. They never sound like any other records that have ever been made, did they? It was real special I think. It was really like a family. All the musicians were always the same musicians, people really cared about each other, it was a real family feeling, - it just doesn't exist anymore. When you read stories about the old days, the golden years of the movie industry, it must have been fun when everyone knew everyone else. It's not like that now. Now it's computers, Joe Smith (laugh). It has little to do with music anymore. It's sort of disheartening for me. I think the Bee Gees make really good records, they're real good at it, but I mean how many in a row can you really take?

You had 26 chart records in a row one year.
In 1963 - 26 chart records that year. There was only one week out of the whole year when there was nothing on the charts. I saved those. I have one chart from Cashbox that has 7 on at the same time one week, and then there's one week where there was nothing on the charts - for a while I kept a scrapbook.

You had more of a run than the Bee Gees.
I don't know, not in the same way.

Not in the same financial way.
(No, not at all! The old days. Social security's right around the corner, huh - if they don't cancel it!

Was it odd - or did it feel quite natural to you that everything you touched hit the charts?
That's right it seemed that way. God I wish I could say something clever or interesting about it. The record business was still finding its way and we were just kind of leading it, it seemed, that year - '63,'64, everybody it seemed was trying to make Spector records. And it was probably the first - not the first, Leiber and Stoller were pretty accurate with formula - I mean it was a formula, the Phil Spector thing and eventually everybody caught on about formulas and hit records. Has anything come around since the Beatles or the Stones that really changed things that much? I don't want to count disco in that.

Oh, I love that, that's a nice influence.

What was Spector like? Was he excited about having all these hits?
I don't know if excited was the right word. It was sort of taken for granted, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that they were going to be hits.

Did you try and apply the formula to everyone?
Of course.

Were there failures?
Yes, several. Bobby Day - I did some records with Bobby Day, remember him? "Rockin Robin" - and he had a contract with RCA and we made several records that I thought were real good that never happened. The ones that came closest to the Spector sound that weren't as successful as I thought they should be -- Jackie DeShannon...

You did a lot of work with her - co-wrote Needles and Pins.
I really put my heart into those records with her. There were a lot of times when an A&R man would hire me as an arranger to do a Phil Spector type arrangement, I knew that it was wrong and the material was wrong and they didn't know how to go about getting the sound - but arranging became a job.

Was it a wild period then, or just a case of going into the studio and getting down to work and never seeing each other afterwards?
No, we saw each other all the time and that's what I mean about family style. We were together all the time. Phil would come to town, he'd come for 4 or 6 weeks because he lived in New York, and during the time he was in LA I'd just block out all that time. When Phil was here it was always just working with him, and those were the times I'd look forward to, and later the Stones the same way. Wild. Yes, for their time they were pretty wild. Now it would seem tame, some of the childish silly stuff.

Like what?
I can't tell those stories.

Oh, go on!
There was the one where they hired this hooker and got that hotel down on 3rd near Fairfax, Park Plaza, is that it - oh such terrible things - and Neil Temple and Tommy Tedesco nude in the hallway because Phil had locked them out of the room because they had offended the hooker, stuff like that, it seems real childish now doesn't it? It was just like Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady if you look at them for real, for who they were in the late 4Os, it seems like they were foolish fraternity kids, but in the '4Os they would have been like what Lenny Bruce was to his generation I think. It's all relative isn't it?

Sylvie Simmons 2006

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