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Jerry Ragovoy dies at 80; songwriter had hits with Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin
Jerry Ragovoy wrote or co-wrote hits including 'Time Is On My Side,' 'Piece of My Heart,' 'Cry Baby,' 'Get It While You Can' and 'Stay With Me.'
By Valerie J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times
July 19, 2011
Soul songwriter Jerry Ragovoy wrote one of his more famous tunes – "Time Is On My Side," which turned into a massive hit for the Rolling Stones — under the pseudonym of Norman Meade.
He was saving his own name for the works he planned to write one day for Broadway.
Instead, Ragovoy found his metier in the 1960s as a pop music producer and writer or co-writer of now-classic records that also included "Cry Baby" and "Piece of My Heart." Both were covered by Janis Joplin, who heavily relied on him to forge her style.
Ragovoy died Wednesday at a New York City hospital of complications from a stroke, said his wife, Bev. He was 80.
"Jerry was a giant of soul, R&B and rock songwriting and record production," Jim Steinblatt, a spokesman for the performance rights group ASCAP, told The Times in an email. "His songs were far better known than he was."
"Cry Baby" is considered by some to be "the first true soul song, marking the place where black church first bleeds over into pop music," Robert Meyerowitz wrote in the Phoenix New Times in 1997 when a Ragovoy-heavy Joplin collection was released.
The song was originally penned by Ragovoy and one of his writing partners, Bert Berns, for Garnet Mimms, who had the biggest hit of his career with "Cry Baby," which topped the R&B charts in 1963.
The Ragovoy-Berns team also wrote "Piece of My Heart" for Erma Franklin, Aretha Franklin's older sister. Erma broke into the top 10 R&B charts with it in 1967 before Joplin made it one of her signature songs. (Berns died in late 1967 of a heart attack at 38.)
Self-taught as a composer, Ragovoy once said he came up with "Time Is On My Side" in an hour after an arranger friend inquired if he had written any songs that jazz trombonist Kai Winding might record.
After New Orleans singer Irma Thomas' version charted, Ragovoy fielded a call from a representative for the Rolling Stones, a band he said he'd never heard of.
"Next thing I know, it's out and it's their first hit in this country," he told New Times in 1997. "I was amazed 'cause … I listened to it and thought, 'What on Earth is this?"
Other notable songs that Ragovoy co-wrote include "Get It While You Can," one of many he composed for singer Howard Tate; and the ballad "Stay With Me" for Lorraine Ellison. She also originally recorded "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)," which he wrote with Chip Taylor. Joplin covered all three.
"Stay With Me" was a classic example of his style, according to the All Music online database, "a slow, emotionally wrenching number which could almost be a gospel song but for the symphonic orchestral production, vocalized passionately and played with faint echoes of Broadway and opera."
He was born Jordan Ragovoy on Sept. 4, 1930, in Philadelphia but since childhood had preferred to be called Jerry. His father was an optometrist who also practiced alternative medicine.
Growing up, Ragovoy was steeped in classical music, but after graduating from high school he was exposed to — and became transfixed by — gospel and rhythm and blues while working in an appliance store in an African American neighborhood in Philadelphia.
Outside the store in 1953, he heard a group of kids singing and decided to produce a record with them. The resulting "My Girl Awaits Me" by the Castelles sold more than 100,000 copies, and Ragovoy realized he had discovered a career.
In 1969, he founded the Hit Factory, a recording studio in New York City that he sold in 1975. He was considered a first-class producer and arranger, with a roster that included Bonnie Raitt and Dionne Warwick.
"Jerry was humble and self-effacing," said Jeff Jampol, who manages the estate of Joplin, who died in 1970. "Once he said, 'I used to talk to Janis Joplin a lot. I was working on a couple of songs for her, but then she passed away and I never got a chance to record them.'"
Soon after the new musical "One Night With Janis Joplin" premiered in May in Portland, Ore., Ragovoy was in the audience. The show closes with one of the previously unproduced songs he wrote for her. It is called "I'm Gonna Rock My Way to Heaven."
Ragovoy had lived in Stamford, Conn., with his wife, Bev. He is also survived by twin daughters, Melissa Ragovoy of Houston and Gillian Ragovoy Ferguson of New York City; a sister, Loretta Margulies of Philadelphia; and a granddaughter.Jerry Ragovoy dies at 80; songwriter had hits with Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin