Recording engineer Roger Nichols has died
April 11, 2011 10:45 PM   Subscribe

The veteran recording engineer and seven-time grammy winner Roger Nichols lost his battle with pancreatic cancer and passed away April 9th at age 66. Though not a household name, you've undoubtedly heard at least one album he did the sound for. Some of the artists he engineered recordings for were Stevie Wonder, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Frank Zappa, Donald Fagen, John Denver, the Beach Boys, Crosby Stills & Nash, Al Di Meola, Roy Orbison, Andy Laverne, Plácido Domingo, Gloria Estefan, Diana Ross, Rickie Lee Jones, Kenny Loggins, Mark Knopfler, Michael McDonald, and Toots Thielemans, among others. He also invented the first functional drum sampling machine WENDL (.pdf file), first used on the 1979 "Gaucho" album. He is likely best known for the amazing pristine sound he achieved for every album done by Mssrs. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, aka Steely Dan. He was a giant in his field, a real innovator, and it is a sad loss for the industry.
posted by Seekerofsplendor (28 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You're damn right about that.. wow, if all he ever did was the work for Steely Dan then his reputation was sealed. Whether you're into their shit or you aren't, there's no denying just how GOOD those albums sound. True quality.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:07 PM on April 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

I met Roger and his daughter Cimcie at a NAMM show some years ago. Both lovely people. He seemed like a good dad in addition to everything else. Very sad news.
posted by dagosto at 11:21 PM on April 11, 2011

Note the first link in the FPP - a couple days ago an industry friend indicated that Nichols' family had been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy because of the cost of his treatments. They're accepting donations.

posted by pianoboy at 11:27 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Donated on the first link.

Huh, cool, he was high school classmates with Frank Zappa. That must have been fun.

Roger Nichols Recording Guide

Thanks for the amazing music quality, Roger Nichols.

May you resonate universally in peace.
Condolences to his loving friends and family.

posted by nickyskye at 12:13 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

FPP: the first functional drum sampling machine

From the Wendel link in the FPP: WENDELjr is NOT another drum machine. WENDELjr is a state of the art, digital, percussion sound replacement device.


Echo-L Echo-R (-A- SOUND CART) (Optional)

THIS SOUND IS AMAZING, This sound is amazing, (this sound is amazing). (Get it?). How many times have you rented a digital echo unit just for snare drum echo? This pair of cartridges contains the echo only return of just such a device produced by using our SNARE1 and SNARE4 sounds as the source. These cartridges should save you around $250.00 per day all by themselves. Or, if you feel guilty, just send the $250.00 per day to WENDEL LABS. We'll use it to pay off our lunch debt.

There was always too little money for the off stage crew. Even when there wasn't.
posted by three blind mice at 2:08 AM on April 12, 2011

posted by Splunge at 3:45 AM on April 12, 2011

When you got a new stereo in the 70s, the first thing you did was play a steely dan record on it to see how awesome it sounded, because that was the best sounding music in your collection. RIP.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:10 AM on April 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

If there was ever a symbol of how far backward we've gone in the sound quality of recorded music, anything engineered by Nichols almost 40 years ago is certainly it.

posted by Thorzdad at 4:35 AM on April 12, 2011

Not to be confused with the other Roger Nichols who co-wrote the Carpenters song, "We've Only Just Begun." Still, the recording engineer's struggles with his health nearly bankrupted him at the end of his life. Quite a shame.

posted by jonp72 at 4:46 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have spent many, many hours with the headphones on, learning Gaucho, Aja and The Royal Scam. The cleanness and crispness of the detail, despite the mixes not being overly bright, is amazing. I'm so glad that work wasn't soaked with bad reverb like it could have been in lesser hands. The re-master of Royal Scam is probably the best sounding CD I own. Two Against Nature is also an engineering masterpiece.

He has really helped shape my artistic life, and I owe him a debt of thanks.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:12 AM on April 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

Immortal no longer, alas.

posted by Dr. Wu at 5:44 AM on April 12, 2011

Golden ears, for sure.
posted by Wolof at 5:46 AM on April 12, 2011

came in expecting a WENDEL joke...but happy I didn't.

posted by ShawnString at 5:51 AM on April 12, 2011

I had literally just started Gaucho up and was listening to the amazing coda to Babylon Sister when I read this. I'd dreamt about listening to the album last night for no reason in particular. Spooky!

I eventually gave up on A/B-ing to his stuff years ago, just no point, he was just too damn good. And what a good goddamn shame.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:54 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Holographic Sound. It just _Shimmers_. That will always be my impression of Nichols' production values. And so emblematic of the times, the L.A. sound. Thorzdad is so right, how far we've fallen.

posted by djrock3k at 6:28 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

What a loss. Until I started dating an engineer, I had no idea of the contributions they made to the sound of my favorite bands, but I know I've loved every Steely Dan album I've ever heard from Aja (the first thing I ever put on my teeny-tiny child's record player) onwards. Now I understand why.
posted by immlass at 6:48 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Wow, Steely Dan has always been one of my favorites. He really did an amazing job on all their albums, including their solo work.
posted by Dick Laurent is Dead at 6:51 AM on April 12, 2011

I know the names of two engineers - Roger Nichols and Geof (Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road) Emerich.

Nichols did a lot of work with a lot of people but Steely Dan is as good sounding as recorded music can be, in my humble opinion. Well done, sir.

posted by dirtdirt at 6:54 AM on April 12, 2011

Steely Dan is amazing on many levels; it is like the planets aligned with some of the world's most talented musicians and recordists. But the wisdom of this guy.... nuts.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:11 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know the names of two engineers - Roger Nichols and Geof (Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road) Emerich.

Might want to add Tom Dowd to that short list. The documentary about him has many parallels to Roger Nichols. Technical inventiveness mixed with tremendous musicality.

When the music is committed to tape, and live accommodations need to be made on the fly, then the person who engineers those little fader tweaks is a performer. If you need the engineer to be a musical performer, a very few people can fit that bill.

Tom Dowd also faced financial problems in later life, because for him just doing it seemed like reward enough at the time.

The root of genius is shared with the word generate, he generated a tremendous amount of wonderful art.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:13 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I met him once and was very nervous. He'd been an icon for me for a long time. He's upstairs now manning the console for our dearly departed musical geniuses...
posted by toastchee at 7:29 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

While I was visiting to collect that link, I.G.Y> started playing, and now I can't move.

Has anyone mentioned the technical specs on the back of Katy Lied yet?
posted by Grangousier at 7:34 AM on April 12, 2011

" I mused over the idea that a song from 1982 about 1957 would be considered the height of audio in 2010. "

posted by mikelieman at 8:12 AM on April 12, 2011

There is nothing like the sound on the best Steely Dan records -- The Royal Scam, Aja, Gaucho still shimmer every time you listen to them all these years later. Same for his work on Rickie Lee Jones' debut album and Donald Fagen's first solo album. RIP.
posted by blucevalo at 8:52 AM on April 12, 2011

His work on the Steely Dan records is absolutely crucial. RIP.
posted by evisceratordeath at 9:04 AM on April 12, 2011

posted by Lutoslawski at 11:44 AM on April 12, 2011

I'm posting this on behalf of my gf. She says:

I met Roger Nichols before a Steely Dan show in Virginia in 2000. He was tending to some aspect of the band's live sound, and seemed genuinely flattered that I had recognized him. He smiled at me kindly and called me one of "his people." I've always thought of Nichols as the third permanent member of Steely Dan, because of the way he helped define their sound. He was a genius, and he will be missed. Any major dude will tell you.
posted by freecellwizard at 4:26 PM on April 12, 2011

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