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Died On This Date (April 8, 2011) Roger Nichols / Producer & Engineer

Posted by themusicsover on April 8, 2011

Roger Nichols
September 22, 1944 – April 8, 2011

Roger Nichols was a respected producer and recording engineer who over the course of his career, accumulated seven Grammys.  Most closely associated with Steely Dan, Nichols also worked with the likes of John Denver, the Beach Boys, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Frank Zappa, and Diana Ross, to name just a few.  Raised in Southern California, Nichols went to high school with Zappa with whom he made his earliest tapes.  After graduating from college where he studied nuclear physics, Nichols first found work has a nuclear operator at the San Onofre nuclear power plant north of San Diego.  But in the mid ’60s he moved back over to music and opened his own recording studio.  In 1970, he went to work for ABC Dunhill Records where he met Walter Becker and Donald Fagen who were hired writers for the label.  Within a year, Nichols was behind the board for the birth of Becker’s and Fagen’s group, Steely Dan.  He would go on to engineer such landmark albums as their Pretzel Logic, Aja, Countdown To Ecstasy, and Gaucho.  He earned Grammys for his work on Aja, Gaucho, Two Against Nature, FM, and John Denver’s All Aboard!.  Roger Nichols was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May of 2010, and died from it on April 8, 2011.  He was 66.

3 Responses to “Died On This Date (April 8, 2011) Roger Nichols / Producer & Engineer”

  1. Ray said

    Saddened to hear of this news.
    What a truely wonderful body of work this man helped bring to light. Those Steely Dan albums are absolute masterpieces, not to mention his other work.
    Roger ” the immortal” Nichols really made a difference for the better in music and ceratinly with me.
    RIP and deepest sympathies to his family and friends.

  2. Roger Nichols, Me & an API mountain named De Mideo

    I remember being a teenager at some Sciarrotta family gathering and over hearing my friend Tony’s Uncle Donny, (owner of Quantum Recording Studio) talk about “some kid” who was a nuclear engineer that loved hi-fi and wanted to learn how to become a recording engineer. This was the first time I had heard the name of Roger Nichols.

    Roger had moved out of Torrance CA and North thirty miles to the “Big City”, Hollywood CA, by the time I had started working professionally at Quantum (Donny was paying me). Roger did a lot of work for ABC Dunhill Records as did we in working with Bobby Monaco. Bobby was a staff producer there. I think Roger finished the Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds album we started in Torrance. Why we didn’t finish that album is another story for a different time.

    Roger and I shared ABC Dunhill Studio A for several weeks back in 1976. He was mixing ‘Royal Scam’ for Walter and Donald and I was mixing ‘American Pastime’ for Three Dog Night. The control rooms at ABC Dunhill Studios were equipped with custom De Mideo API consoles. Frank (De Mideo) had incorporated the new Allison Research Memories Little Helper utilizing API VCA faders into the 32 main frame desk. It was a huge butterscotch colored mountain disguised to look like some kind of API recording console. It defined control room edge refraction with its massive structure.

    At first glance the automation system looked super cool with its dimly lit voltage driven null meters in the center of each fader. It required a data track on the multi-track master so a lot of reconfiguring happened quickly with the Dog’s project to accommodate a “print” track as well as an “update” track for the automation’s data. Roger and I were asked by Terry Williams, the studio manager, to provide feedback for the new automation system they were prototyping.

    We, the Dog, came into ABC with our 24 track project. Roger didn’t like the “soft” quality of the 24 track format and choose to do his project on two 3M M-79 2” 16 track machines locked together. We had a lot of set-up time during the Dog to Dan change overs, and its reverse. Roger and I used it to share stories of Torrance, how much cooler his Pantera was than my car and oh yeah the automation system.

    On a side note …you could always tell what kind of session Roger was having by where his Pantera was parked. ABC Dunhill was on Beverly Blvd in LA. It was an old apartment building sitting right on Beverly Blvd. Parking for the studio was in the back with access to the lot from the alley behind the building. If Roger parked in the covered area by the back door I knew he’d arrived after the office staff had left. That allowed him to park the Pantera under the security camera so he could watch it during his session on the monitor in the control room. This meant he was most likely having a relaxed evening/morning. If he was parked in the alley I knew he’d be stressed, number one about not being able to see his car, and number two he didn’t have the time to go down stairs and move it over the past 10 hours. Those were the “Hey Roger, see ya bye” change over days.

    Back to the automation system; I disliked it and Roger saw it as our business’s future. It had a lot of issues with phase and latency if you used it for more than two update passes.

    • It would false trigger if you put the data track adjacent to a track with high level, high frequency energy recorded on it.
    • It would false trigger if the data information was recorded at too low of a level and it would bleed across the adjacent tracks if it was recorded at too high a level.
    • If it did bleed there was no undoing the damage it did to its neighboring track.

    The latency was so bad in multiple update passes that we considered turning the 24 track master tape upside down and delaying the data tracks to compensate for the timing discrepancies. This idea amused Roger. Did I mention the sensitivity the automation systems data buffers had to phase anomalies?

    Roger did not have the issues that I had. He had clear space around his data tracks and they mixed using the automation system as a production assistant and not a principle mixdown tool as I was directed to do. Roger had vision to go along with a great smile, an open ear and eyes that told you there was a lot going on behind them.

    As I complained about the automation systems short comings Roger looked to the future when all aspects of the recording console would be automated. I told him that was crazy talk.

    God rest your soul buddy and thank you for sharing your gift with the world, and a very small piece of what little time you had, with me.

    Scott Spain

    • said

      Sorry for your loss, Scott. And thank you for sharing your story here.

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