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Keith Olsen, rock hitmaker with a broad résumé, dies at 74
Whitesnake's "Slide it In".

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Keith Olsen, a record producer whose slew of hits included the first Fleetwood Mac album with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, whom he helped bring into the band, died Monday at his home in Genoa, Nevada. He was 74.

His daughter Kelly Castady said the cause was cardiac arrest.

Olsen worked with a roster of successful artists that ran rock’s gamut, including the Grateful Dead, Santana, Pat Benatar, Whitesnake and Scorpions.

Early in his career he produced “Buckingham Nicks” (1973), a folk-rock album by the then little-known Nicks and Buckingham. The album, on which Nicks sang and Buckingham sang and played guitar, flopped — but, as many accounts have it, Olsen played one of the songs for Mick Fleetwood, Fleetwood Mac’s drummer.

Fleetwood Mac, which began in the late 1960s in England as a psychedelic blues-rock combo, had undergone many lineup changes in the years since their guitarist and frontman Peter Green left in 1970. After Bob Welch left the band in 1974, Fleetwood was looking for a new guitarist, and thought he might have found him after hearing “Buckingham Nicks.”

Soon after, Nicks told The Observer of London in 2011, “Mick Fleetwood had asked us to join Fleetwood Mac, sight unseen. Keith Olsen had played him ‘Buckingham Nicks,’ and told him Lindsey and I came as a pair.”

Olsen produced the first album with the new lineup (although the cover pictured only Fleetwood and John McVie, the group’s bassist). Called simply “Fleetwood Mac” (1975), it had a soft-rock sound that marked a departure from the group’s harder-edged blues roots.

In Dave Grohl’s documentary “Sound City” (2013), about the Los Angeles recording studio where that and many other seminal rock albums were recorded, Olsen said that McVie had been a bit reluctant to embrace their new sound.

“John McVie said to me, ‘You know we’re a blues band, this is really far away from the blues,’” Olsen recalled. “And I said, ‘I know, but it’s a lot closer to the bank.’”

“Fleetwood Mac,” which included the hits “Rhiannon,” “Say You Love Me” and “Landslide,” reached No. 1 on the Billboard album chart and went platinum many times over. The follow-up, “Rumours” (1977), was even more successful — it became one of the best-selling albums of all time — but the group and Olsen parted ways after “Fleetwood Mac.”

Olsen went on to produce or co-produce “Terrapin Station” (1977) for the Grateful Dead, “Marathon” (1979) for Santana, “Crimes of Passion” (1980) and “Precious Time” (1981) for Benatar, “Slide It In” (1984) and “Whitesnake” (1987) for Whitesnake, “Crazy World” (1990) for Scorpions and “No Rest for the Wicked” (1988) for Ozzy Osbourne, among many other albums.

He also produced singles that stood out, like Rick Springfield’s 1981 No. 1 hit “Jessie’s Girl.” Springfield wrote on Twitter that Olsen, who produced “Working Class Dog” (1981), the album on which “Jessie’s Girl” appeared, immediately picked it as a hit out of 15 of Springfield’s songs.

“He could be a bit of a pistol in the studio but that was part of his talent,” Springfield wrote. “Sticking to his guns when some whiny artist (me) would say, ‘I don’t think that works.’ He didn’t produce all those hits for all those musicians for no reason."

Keith Alan Olsen was born on May 12, 1945, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Kenneth and Lillian (Aune) Olsen. His father worked for Firestone Tire and Rubber, and his mother was a homemaker. He grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis and was fascinated with music of all kinds from a young age.

He studied music at the University of Minnesota but left to play bass in different bands and toured with singer Gale Garnett before joining the Music Machine, a garage-rock group that had a Top 20 hit with “Talk Talk” in 1966.

Around the same time he started working with Curt Boettcher, best known for producing the Association’s No. 1 hit “Cherish.” In the late 1960s he moved to Los Angeles, where he learned more about record production from the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson among others. In the early 1970s founded the production company Pogologo, named after his husky.

Olsen’s marriage to Wendy Bergdoll ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter Kelly, he is survived by another daughter, Kristen Olsen; his partner, Janice Godshalk; a son, Nick Hormel; a sister, Carolyn Hoffman; and two grandchildren.

In 1997 Olsen told the magazine Studio Sound that even as production technology advanced, he stuck to one core principle: “Remember the source — where the music comes from.”

“All the gear in the world,” he continued, “cannot make a bad guitar player play great.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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