Rick Jarrard, the Grammy Award-nominated producer who crafted hits for Jose Feliciano, Jefferson Airplane and Harry Nilsson, and counted Elvis Presley among his circle of friends, died Oct. 13 from undisclosed causes.
The American music man got his start behind the mixing desk at a relatively young age, as staff producer in the 1960s for RCA Records in Los Angeles.
He produced four singles for RCA acts that became top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 in the late ’60s — Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” Jose Feliciano’s “Light My Fire” and Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.” Two of these smashes — “White Rabbit” and “Everybody’s Talkin,'” have been voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
In late 1967, Jarrard was assigned the-then new artist Feliciano. They would form a lifelong friendship and rock-solid music-making partnership, one that would make Feliciano a household name and an early Latin superstar.
It was Jarrard who, during a recording session for a holiday album in 1970, encouraged Feliciano to “write a new Christmas song,” according to reps. Jarrard also floated the idea of this Christmas song performed in Spanish.
With a touch of inspiration, “Feliz Navidad” — one of the most enduring Christmas songs of all time — came together at pace. “It just came to me; there’s no rhyme or reason,” Feliciano told Billboard in 2020, ahead of the song’s 50th anniversary. “The first lyric came to me, then I put the English lyric into it, not realizing I had made it the only bilingual Christmas song ever in the world. I created a monster.”
It’s a monster that keeps growing. “Feliz Navidad” last year lifted to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 — its first top 10 appearance on the chart ever.
“No one else was recording in Spanish and English. They were not,” Jarrard told Billboard’s Leila Cobo, for Decoding Despacito: An Oral History of Latin Music.
“Jose was really the first Latin artist in my estimation to have hits around the world, something that’s been an overlooked fact, in my mind. When we recorded ‘Feliz Navidad,’ it felt like a hit single to me. But, of course, the odds were really against it because all the standard Christmas songs were out already, and it was a long shot. But it felt like something incredible to me and I always had that hope.”
Today, the recording is recognized by ASCAP as one of the 25 most played Christmas songs on the planet, and in 2010 was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
On their first album, 1968’s Feliciano!, Jarrard also convinced the Puerto Rico-born artist to leave his comfort zone, for interpretations of songs by The Beatles, The Doors and The Mamas & The Papas. Feliciano! earned Jarrard and Feliciano Grammy nominations for album of the year (Feliciano won best new artist and best contemporary pop vocal performance, male for “Light My Fire”).
In the ’70s, when Elvis Presley wanted to get his band together for a comeback tour in Las Vegas, he called on Jarrard. They remained friends until Elvis passed away in 1977.
Away from the studio, Jarrard served on the Board of Governors for the Recording Academy, and owned a string of music companies, including Rick Jarrard Productions, Uncle Josh’s Song Emporium, Friday Records LLC, Friday Group Music Publishing LLC, and Friday Records Music Publishing LLC.
Across his career, songs produced by Jarrard have been used in over 230 motion pictures, TV shows and commercials.
“His career was legendary,” says a rep for Feliciano.