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“He was not a melody writer like Carole King or Burt Bacharach, but he really got the gospel-based black idiom.”
——Billy Vera

LEGENDARY R&B SONGWRITER JERRY RAGOVOY DIES

Philly Native Wrote Classic Hits by the Stones, Joplin, Lorraine Ellison, Howard Tate, Others
Jerry Ragovoy, who wrote or cowrote a slew of R&B and rock classics, primarily in the 1960s, died last Wednesday (7/13) in Manhattan following a stroke. He was 80.

Born in 1930, Ragovoy started out as a record buyer for Philadelphia appliance store Tregoobs, and at 23 created the Grand label in with the store manager to record local doo-wop group the Castelles, whose first release, “My Girl Awaits Me,” sold 100k copies. After being hired by Philly’s Chancellor Records, Ragovoy wrote arrangements for Frankie Avalon and was a writer on “About This Thing Called Love” for Fabian. But his career really took off after he moved to New York City in 1962, hoping to launch a more “legitimate” career as a Broadway songwriter.

The song that put Ragovoy on the map was “Cry Baby,” a cowrite with frequent collaborator Bert Berns, which became a Top 5 for Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters in 1963. Then came “Time Is on My Side,” written for jazz trombonist Kai Winding and subsequently recorded by Irma Thomas and the Rolling Stones, who scored their first U.S. Top 10 hit with their version.

“Piece of My Heart,” a Berns collab originally recorded in 1967 by Erma Franklin, Aretha’s older sister, became closely associated with Janet Joplin, who cut it with Big Brother & the Holding Company on the band’s 1968 LP, Cheap Thrills. Joplin later recorded “Try (Just a Little Harder),” a collaboration between Ragovoy and Chip Taylor, “My Baby,” “Get It While You Can" and “Cry Baby." She died before she could record a song that Ragovoy and Jenny Dean had written specifically for her, the ironically titled “I’m Gonna Rock My Way to Heaven.”

After becoming the head of  East Coast A&R for Warner Bros. Records in ’66, Ragovoy did some of his best work in the eyes of R&B connoisseurs. Get It While You Can, which he produced on Verve for Howard Tate in 1967, is regarded by many critics as one of the finest soul albums of that decade, and the title song one of soul’s definitive singles. So are Lorraine Ellison’s “Stay With Me” and the original version of “Try (Just a Little Harder),” both released on the Loma label.

“He was not a melody writer like Carole King or Burt Bacharach, but he really got the gospel-based black idiom,” artist and historian Billy Vera told the N.Y. Times. “With singers like Mimms and Tate, and later Lorraine Ellison, New York R&B went deeper into gospel than it had previously. That was his contribution.”

In ’69, Ragovoy founded prominent N.Y. studio the Hit Factory, and in the 1970s produced the Butterfield Blues Band, Bonnie Raitt and Dionne Warwick.

Among the dozens of artists who cut Ragovoy songs were Elvis Presley, Aretha, the Dave Clark FiveBarry WhiteB.B. King, the YardbirdsBette Midler and Faith Hill

He’s survived by his wife, Beverly, and twin daughters.

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