Legendary Songwriter, Producer Jerry Ragovoy Remembered by Al Kooper
Legendary Songwriter, Producer Jerry Ragovoy Remembered by Al Kooper

Jolly Boys
Jerry Ragovoy (left) with Steely Dan's Donald Fagen in 2010.

(Songwriter Jerry Ragovoy, who died Wednesday, is remembered here by his longtime friend, songwriter/producer/musician Al Kooper.)

Jerry Ragovoy, composer of "Time Is On My Side," "Piece Of My Heart," "Get It While You Can," and "Cry, Baby" and producer of songs by Dionne Warwick, Bonnie Raitt, Howard Tate, Paul Butterfield and many others, passed away in New York City Wednesday of complications from a stroke. He was 80.

He was born September 4th, 1930 in Philadelphia, to Nandor and Evelyn (nee Myrowitz) Ragovoy. He began his career in the early 1950s 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.

Later, in a staff job at Philadelphia's Chancellor Records, Ragovoy began as an arranger on tracks cut by national heartthrob, Frankie Avalon. He soon resigned and packed up for the journey to New York, where he felt his talents would be more appreciated.

Around this time he began writing songs with another soul songwriter-producer, Bert Berns, including "Cry Baby" by Garnet Mimms, a hit in 1963. Ragovoy worked extensively with Mimms during the 1960s, and co-wrote such songs as "A Quiet Place," "Look Away" and "Baby Don't You Weep." During that time, he wrote a song for jazz trombonist Kai Winding, "Time Is on My Side," that was covered by Irma Thomas -- and then by the Rolling Stones, resulting in the group's first U.S. Top 10 hit. (That song and many others were written by Ragovoy under the pseudonym of Norman Meade.)

Ragovoy also co-wrote with Mort Shuman, George David Weiss, Jacob Brackman and Elvis Costello. His songs were performed by Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Janis Joplin, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Barry White, Erma Franklin, Lorraine Ellison, Howard Tate, Miriam Makeba ("Pata, Pata"), and dozens if not hundreds of others.

Joplin recorded many of his songs and included three on her final album, "Pearl," which was released not long after her death in 1970.

Ragovoy is also renowned for founding and operating New York's Hit Factory studio, where he tutored such future producers as Bill Szymczyk and Art Polhemus. In his offtime, he rented out the studio, eventually selling it and semi-retiring to Atlanta. He moved back to New York in the early 2000s but quickly resettled in Stamford, Conn., which was his last residence. He married Beverly Matson in the '80s and they remained happily wed for the rest of his life.

While not necessarily a household name, Ragovoy was a music-industry legend during his six-decade run, and his recorded works will doubtless 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 from British label, Ace Records.

He is survived by his wife Beverly Matson Ragovoy, sister Loretta Margulies of Philadelphia, nephews Richard & Paul Margulies, twin daughters Melissa Ragavoy of Houston, and Gillian Ragovoy Ferguson of New York city, son-in-law James Ferguson, and grandaughter Anabelle Ferguson.

A private family service will be held, however a memoral gathering to honor Jerry's life is being planned for early autumn.

(Al Kooper acknowledges All-Music Guide's valuable research in the writing of this piece.)