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Rock ’n’ Roll Detective

Jim Berkenstadt relies on his Northwestern roots to solve music industry mysteries.

cu jim berkenstant
Jim Berkenstadt

By Jacob Muñoz
Fall 2020
1 Response

Following leads from England to Australia to Mexico, Jim Berkenstadt ’78 traveled the world looking for Jimmie Nicol, the drummer who subbed for the Beatles’ Ringo Starr for two weeks in 1964, at the height of Beatlemania — then disappeared.

That quest resulted in Berkenstadt writing The Beatle Who Vanished (2013) about Nicol’s 15 minutes of fame and subsequent disappearance. It’s just one of the rock ‘n’ roll mysteries that Berkenstadt, a writer, record producer and historical entertainment consultant, has tracked down.

Berkenstadt optioned the film rights to his best-selling 2013 book on Nicol to the Roy Orbison estate. The film is in development with London-based Ecosse Films with Berkenstadt as an executive producer and script consultant.

With 20 years of experience consulting in the music industry, Berkenstadt has developed relationships with rock ’n’ roll icons and insiders. In addition to the Beatles, Berkenstadt has worked on books, films and shows about George Harrison and the bands the Traveling Wilburys and Garbage.

His other books include Black Market Beatles (1995) about the world of unreleased Beatles material. His exclusive interviews with the band Nirvana and its members’ closest confidants led to Nevermind: Nirvana (1998), which detailed the rock band’s rise to fame.

Berkenstadt, who lives in Madison, Wis., says his work taking depositions as a trial attorney has helped him discern fact from fiction. He is working with a Los Angeles studio to adapt his upcoming book, Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed, for television. The mystery documentary series will analyze and fact-check famous secrets and legends about the Beatles, Elvis, Bob Dylan and more.

The former sociology major says his Northwestern education has been indispensable to his career.

“It was such a rich and rewarding experience,” Berkenstadt says. “I took a lot of classes that I felt would make me a better writer, English courses and film courses. And those classes gave me an opportunity to write something, put it aside, do more research and rewrite.

“I owe a lot to Northwestern for preparing me as a writer and researcher.”

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Reader Responses

  • Thanks for the article. As a Beatles fan, I look forward to reading Jim's books!

    Alan Gornik Western Springs, Ill. , via Northwestern Magazine

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