Jerry Ragovoy, Renowned Songwriter/ Producer/ Arranger, Dies at 80

By , Columnist

Jerry Ragovoy, composer of "Time Is On My Side," "Piece Of My Heart," "Get It While You Can," "Cry Cry Baby," and producer of Dionne Warwick, Bonnie Raitt, Howard Tate, Paul Butterfield, Miriam Makeba, and countless others, passed away in New York City on July 13 of complications from a stroke.

He was born September 4, 1930 in Philadelphia, to Nandor and Evelyn (nee Myrowitz) Ragovoy. He began his career in the early '50s as a music buyer for an appliance store in downtown Philadelphia. In 1953 he produced his first recording, “My Love Awaits Me” by the Castelles. From there he took a staff job at Chancellor Records, a local Philadelphia imprint. Ragovy began as an arranger on tracks cut by national heartthrob, Frankie Avalon. Jerry soon resigned and packed up for the journey to New York where he felt his talents would be more amply appreciated.

Once settled in New York City, Ragovoy founded and operated his own recording studio known as The Hit Factory and trained future mega-engineers and producers such as Bill Szymczk and Art Polhemus.

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Around this time he began writing songs with Bert Berns, including "Cry Baby," which was recorded by Garnet Mimms and reached number four in 1963. Ragovoy produced Mimms throughout the '60s, and had a hand in writing other memorable singles for him, including "A Quiet Place," "Look Away," "Baby Don't You Weep," "It Was Easier to Hurt Her," "Anytime You Want Me" (covered by The Who in 1965), and "My Baby."

In the mid-'60s he wrote "Time Is on My Side," originally written for jazz trombonist Kai Winding and later memorably covered by the Rolling Stones (it became their first U.S. Top Ten hit). Ragovoy wrote this and some of his other best known songs under the pseudonym of Norman Meade. Thus began the ascent of Jerry’s career.

His songs were also recorded by Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, BB King, Janis Joplin, Big Brother and The Holding Company, Barry White, Erma Franklin, Lorraine Ellison, Howard Tate, Miriam Makeba, The Small Faces, Manfred Mann, Mike Bloomfield, Dusty Springfield, Ben E. King, Gene Pitney, The Spencer Davis Group, Baby Washington, Lou Courtney, Roy Redmond, Carl Hall, The Dave Clark Five, Maxine Brown, The Marmalade, The James Gang, LaBelle, The Yardbirds, Kate Taylor, Bryan Ferry, The Walker Brothers, Freddie King, Ry Cooder, Bette Midler, The Pointer Sisters, Betty LaVette, Sammy Hagar, and Faith Hill among countless others.

AllMusic notes the affinity between Ragovoy's material and Janis Joplin's style:

Janis Joplin in particular seemed to have a yen for Ragovoy-penned material, covering (with Big Brother & the Holding Company, or as a solo singer) "Piece of My Heart," "My Baby," "Get It While You Can," "Cry Baby," and "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)." In most cases, Joplin's interpretation eventually became the best-known version. Three of these songs were on her final album, Pearl, and Joplin asked Ragovoy to compose a tune especially for her that she could record on the disc. Ragovoy has said that he did do this around the summer of 1970, but that Joplin did not have a chance to record the number - titled, ironically, "I'm Gonna Rock My Way to Heaven" - as she died several weeks later.

In addition, his production and arranging skills were called upon by the likes of Diana Ross, Bonnie Raitt, Dionne Warwick, Barry White, The Majors, Miriam Makeba, Paul Butterfield, Maureen McGovern, Lorraine Ellison, Howard Tate, and Roy Redmond to name but a few.

In his off-time, he rented out the studio, eventually selling it and semi-retiring to Atlanta, Georgia. He moved back to New York City in the early 2000s, but quickly resettled in Stamford, Connecticut, which was his last residence. He married Beverly Matson in the ‘80s and they remained happily wed throughout the rest of his life. In addition to his wife, he is survived by twin daughters and one granddaughter, among other family members. A private family service will be held, but a memorial gathering to honor Jerry's life is being planned for the autumn.

Jerry Ragovoy became a household name in the music industry over his six-decade run and his recorded works will live forever and no doubt inspire listeners for years into the future. Always with a twinkle in his eye and a humorous tale to tell, he will be fondly remembered. His loss is inestimable.

The Jerry Ragovoy Story, a selection of his life's work with detailed notes, is available on compact disc from the UK label Ace Records.

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