Nicholas Venetoulis, 61, produced recordings

January 05, 1998|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Nicholas Venetoulis, a Highlandtown resident who became one of the most respected behind-the-scenes figures in America's recording industry, died of leukemia Friday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 61.

During his career, Mr. Venetoulis -- who took the name Nik Venet -- produced more than 300 albums, compact discs and boxed sets. Songs from his records were used in major films such as "Forrest Gump," "Midnight Cowboy," "Apollo 13," and "American Graffiti."

He produced recording artists such as Bobby Darin, the Beach Boys, Lou Rawls, Jim Croce, Linda Ronstadt and Frank Zappa.

"My brother had the guts and talent to become great, to dig out of our blue-collar neighborhood in East Baltimore," said Theodore G. Venetoulis, Baltimore County executive from 1974 to 1978.

Like many teen-agers growing up in Highlandtown, Mr. Venetoulis was a member of the Red Shield Boys' Club on Clinton Street. Instead of sports, he became interested in music and acting.

As a boy, he learned to play guitar and banjo from musicians who appeared at the Gayety Theater, a burlesque house on Baltimore's Block. He played the banjo at age 12 with the Salvation Army on Fleet Street.

He left Patterson Park High School for Hollywood before he was 18.

"I'm happy except for one thing," his mother said at the time. "He insisted on changing his name. There was only one Greek star on television and we need two."

In 1957, Mr. Venetoulis signed a contract with RCA and cut four records, none of which were hits.

He played minor roles in television and the movies but eventually found his niche in producing songs and writing them.

"Nik Venet knows a lot more than any one person normally has a right to know and a lot more than he's telling, to boot Venet's place in music history is secure," a writer said in Goldmine 1997 Annual, the standard reference for music collectors.

Mr. Venetoulis also produced spoken-word and comedy albums with diverse artists such as Orson Welles, Lord Buckley, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks.

He taught a graduate class at UCLA before he became ill several months ago.

He also lectured at music symposiums nationwide and was a National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences trustee.

Mr. Venetoulis was active in social causes. He marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and worked closely with American Indian Movement leader Dennis Banks.

He received the George Washington Carver Memorial Award for outstanding work in South Central Los Angeles.

The family said a memorial service is planned this week at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in Hollywood.

Besides his brother, other survivors are a son, Nicholas, of Los Angeles; another brother, Steven, of Los Angeles; a sister, Kathy, of Catonsville, and longtime companion Harriet Schock.

Pub Date: 1/05/98

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