Prolific producer-songwriter Jerry Ragovoy, who crafted a string of memorable ’60s soul records by Garnett Mimms, Erma Franklin, Lorraine Ellison and Howard Tate, died July 13 in New York after suffering a stroke. He was 80.
Ragovoy’s songs are probably best known to most listeners from renditions by ’60s rock vocalist Janis Joplin, who covered “Piece of My Heart,” “Cry Baby,” “Get It While You Can” and “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder).”
Ragovoy was also an in-house producer-songwriter at Warner Bros.’ R&B subsidiary Loma Records and operated the noted New York recording studio the Hit Factory.
Born Jordan Ragovoy in Philadelphia, he got his start producing the local act the Castelles’ 1953 single “My Girl Awaits Me.” For the Philly pop label Chancellor Records, he wrote the Majors’ 1962 hit “A Wonderful Dream.”
In the early ’60s, Ragovoy partnered with the late New York songwriter-producer Bert Berns. The duo co-wrote Mimms’ explosive 1963 No. 1 R&B hit “Cry Baby,” and Ragovoy produced a run of singles by the vocalist for United Artists.
In 1963, Ragovoy wrote “Time Is on My Side” for jazz trombonist Kai Winding, who wanted to branch out into pop. The tune was not a hit in either Winding’s original or a cover by R&B vocalist Irma Thomas, but the Rolling Stones’ 1964 version became the band’s first top 10 single in the U.S.
In 1967, the Ragovoy-Berns composition “Piece of My Heart” became a No. 10 R&B hit for Aretha Franklin’s older sister Erma. It was soon covered by the San Francisco rock band Big Brother & the Holding Company, and became a No. 12 pop hit and lead vocalist Joplin’s signature song.
The producer was instrumental in supplying lift-off for South African singer Miriam Makeba’s U.S. career when he urged her to record a song in a native dialect. The result, the 1967 Reprise single “Pata Pata,” became a No. 12 pop hit here.
Ragovoy’s best work of the late ’60s featured a pair of cult R&B performers. At Warner Bros. and Loma, he worked with Lorraine Ellison, whose intense, heavily orchestrated “Stay With Me” was a No. 11 R&B hit in 1966; the song was covered by artists as diverse as the Walker Brothers, Bette Midler, and rock guitarist Terry Reid. He also wrote and produced superb albums for Verve and Atlantic with Philadelphia soul singer Howard Tate.
While Ragovoy worked with acts like Bonnie Raitt and Barry White in the early ’70s and won a Grammy as producer of the cast album for the Broadway show “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope,” he was largely inactive in later years.
However, in 2001 he reunited with Tate after the singer, for many years thought to be dead, miraculously resurfaced. Financed, produced and written by Ragovoy, the 2003 album “Rediscovered” resurrected Tate’s long-dormant career.
He is survived by wife Beverly and two daughters.