by Chip Taylor
[Jerry died a few days ago and what follows is what Chip Taylor remembers about working with Jerry during the 60s. At the end we'll discuss some of Jerry's other indelible work.]
I was so saddened to hear of Jerry’s passing. Here are a few recollections.
Although I didn’t see him often, I loved just being with Jerry. He always met me with a warm, humble, welcoming smile. He was a bit quirky in nature – slightly nervous in a nice honest way. I viewed it as the shy kid in him. And, although a great writer himself, he always made me feel like it was special for him to work with me.
I think that was one of his great qualities. Although he brought genius to the table, he was quick to recognize and encourage that in others – whether that person was a singer or another writer of songs. He brought out the best in talented people.
I had first heard about Jerry from my old bandmate/friend Ted Daryll (aka Ted Meister). Somehow Ted got connected with Jerry in Philadelphia where he produced a recording of Ted singing “She Cried”. I was impressed with the orchestration and sound of that record and the fact that Jerry had the “ears” to hear Ted’s cool song, which later became a number one hit for Jay and the Americans.
(I’ve heard that as a kid growing up in Philly, Jerry worked as a record buyer in a black neighborhood. It was there that he learned to play piano and totally immersed himself in gospel and rhythm and blues.)
WRITING WITH JERRY
I seldom wrote songs with others as that process was usually painful to me. Alone I can quickly get to the layers underneath – where the real magic comes from. I craft late in the game. When most people co-write, the crafting is usually immediate and almost the entire game. I hate that.
But with Jerry & me, it was different. We were both able to allow the organic stuff out in each other’s presence. During our first writing session, working on a new song “I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face”, he allowed things out of him that were honest and guttural – the same kind of honest stuff that I might do by myself. I remember thinking, “Man this is going to be special – and so, so easy!”
So there we were, with Jerry creating a setting by paying chords on a piano with a cool little Bossa Nova-like feel on the piano and me playing a bit of acoustic guitar. As words, with a cool little melody flew out from each of us, we grabbed a bunch and within an hour or so, the song was finished. It was that easy.
Shortly after we wrote it, Baby Washington’s version of “I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face” was a big R&B hit, and the Pat Thomas version, arranged by Jerry, went to the top of the jazz charts. Great versions by Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin also followed.
TRY (JUST A LITTLE BIT HARDER)
Jerry and I originally wrote this song as a ballad for Garnet Mimms – kind of like an Otis Redding thing. It was sweaty & good. A few days later, Jerry called me and asked if I could change it into an up-tempo song for Lorraine Ellison. He needed to have a version by the following day.
Wanting to be at Aqueduct Race Track the next day by 1:00 to bet on a horse, I worked hard that night to have something ready by morning. I took the words to our “Try” and squeezed them into the groove of another of my songs, “On My Word”. Before I went to sleep, it felt pretty good.
I played it for Jerry the next morning at around 10:00 and he loved it. After a few adjusts, he banged it out on piano and recorded it onto his reel to reel. I made it in time to bet my horse and forgot about the song.
Later I found out that Lorraine had recorded a cool version. The following year, as I was driving down the Hutchinson River Parkway, heading for New York, the DJ said, here’s the new Janis Joplin single. He played “Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)” and I just about drove off the road. I had no idea she had recorded it!
But it all started with a ballad for Garnet Mimms – a cool, soulful one.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
Simplicity and honesty was Jerry’s musical credo. He lived and breathed street soul. His writing was passionate, not clever.
The great artist and music historian, Billy Vera, said :
“He was not a melody writer like Carole King or Burt Bacharach, but he really got the gospel-based black idiom. With singers like Mimms and Tate,” he continued, referring to Garnett Mimms and Howard Tate, “and later Lorraine Ellison, New York R&B went deeper into gospel than it had previously. That was his contribution.”
I guess what Billy said is absolutely true. But from my side of things – from writer to writer – I loved that Jerry was one of the very few writers that didn’t let his brain screw up his honest emotion.
Aside from that, Jerry was just a great, quirky (in a kind, warm way), honest and honorable guy.
A total one-of-a kind.
[Before we end this post on a great Rock and Roll Joe, we need to mention at least a few other outstanding tracks that Jerry brought us. He wrote Time Is On My Side for a jazz artist named Kai Winding but we all know the tremendous versions by Irma Thomas and the Rolling Stones. Stay With Me, written, produced and arranged by Jerry, is one of the greatest soul tracks of the 60s that is not widely known.
And finally, one of Jerry's last projects was with Howard Tate who made an absolutely stunning 1967 record that not many heard (out of print for a long time and unfortunately gone once again) and subsequently disappeared for many years. But Howard Tate was found again, a reverend in New Jersey who didn't know that he had developed a cult following over the years, and he re-teamed with Jerry to record a solid album in 2003. To get many of these tracks in one place check out the Jerry Ragovoy Story.]