Legendary music man Jerry Ross dies at 84

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    (October 6, 2017) Legendary Philadelphia record producer, songwriter and label owner Jerry Ross has died at the age of 84.

    Born and raised in The City of Brotherly Love on May 4, 1933, Jerry served in the armed forces and studied at Temple University, where and when he entered radio broadcasting as an announcer. Hired at WFIL TV-Radio, Jerry became the booth announcer for Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. It was during his tenure with D.C. that Jerry learned the in’s and out’s of the record business.

    (October 6, 2017) Legendary Philadelphia record producer, songwriter and label owner Jerry Ross has died at the age of 84.

    Born and raised in The City of Brotherly Love on May 4, 1933, Jerry served in the armed forces and studied at Temple University, where and when he entered radio broadcasting as an announcer. Hired at WFIL TV-Radio, Jerry became the booth announcer for Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. It was during his tenure with D.C. that Jerry learned the in’s and out’s of the record business.

    By 1961, Jerry set up Heritage Records, signed the Dreamlovers and had his first Top 10 hit as a producer/label owner with “When We Get Married.” Soon after, Jerry met a young pre-med student named Kenneth Gamble, who aspired to be a songwriter. As a writing team, Jerry and Kenny came up with “Who Do You Love” (Sapphires, 1964) and “The 81” (Candy & the Kisses, 1964). It was on route to the recording session for the latter that Kenny met pianist/writer Leon Huff in the elevator of the Shubert Building (Leon was on the session).

    Ross continued to work as an independent producer, making records with artists (the Yum-Yums – later Honey & the Bees, April Young) and then selling or leasing the masters to other labels. His work caught the ears of Mercury Records executive, Shelby Singleton, who hired Jerry as a staff producer in early 1966.

    At Mercury, Jerry went on a producing/writing tear – co-authoring “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” with Gamble & Huff (first cut by the late Dee Dee Warwick), manning the boards for hits by Bobby Hebb (“Sunny”), Spanky & Our Gang (“Sunday Will Never Be The Same”, “Lazy Day”), Keith (“Ain’t Gonna Lie”, “98.6”), Jay & the Techniques (“Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie”, “Keep The Ball Rollin’”, “Strawberry Shortcake”, “Are You Ready For This”), the Festivals (“You Got The Makings Of A Lover”) and Jerry Butler (“I Dig You Baby”, “Mr. Dream Merchant” – which he’d co-written).

    In 1968, Ross left Mercury to re-activate Heritage Records and soon charted hits with Bill Deal & the Rhondells (“May I”, “I’ve Been Hurt”) and the Showstoppers (“Ain’t Nothin’ But A House Party”). Two years later, he launched another label – Colossus Records. Under this banner, Jerry signed the Mob (“I Dig Everything About You”), brought the Festivals from Mercury (“You’re Gonna Make It). Then, he licensed recordings by acts from the Netherlands – the George Baker Set (“Little Green Bag”), the Tee Set (the top ten smash, “Ma Belle Amie”) as well as the Shocking Blue, whose smash hit, “Venus”, went to #1 in early 1970.

    By 1971, Jerry entered a production deal with Motown Records and brought to the label the New Jersey-based group, The Courtship (“It’s The Same Old Love” – arranged by Thom Bell), singer Virgil Henry (“You Ain’t Sayin’ Nothin’ New” – first released on Colossus), among others. Years later, he reunited with Jay & the Techniques for a series of singles for Silver Blue/Event Records (“Number Onederful”, their version of Barry White’s “I Feel Love Comin’ On”). In his later years, Jerry served as a publishing executive for Gamble & Huff as well as managing his own companies.

    On a personal note, twenty years ago, I had the honor and privilege of meeting Jerry Ross when he visited the offices of Brunswick Records (where I was employed as a sales/catalog coordinator), during one of his many trips to the Big Apple. Jerry spent many hours sharing with us his adventures in the recording and music industry.

    Months later, Jerry called and invited me to lunch one afternoon. What a conversation we had. – The American Bandstand years (he credited Dick Clark for opening many doors), the Gamble/Huff period, his frustration with the Shocking Blue’s management when they turned down The Ed Sullivan Show (“‘Venus’ would have been #1 even longer!” he exclaimed), his utmost respect for Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson and Melba Moore – who sang backup on many Mercury sessions (“I called them ‘my kids’. They were always there when I needed them”).

    Jerry also shared with me this – “I spent so much time running record labels and producing, I didn’t spend enough time with two things that mattered the most– my children and songwriting. The record business is great, but make sure your family and your true passion come first.”

    When I learned, from producing/mixing titan Tom Moulton, that Jerry had died - the news hit hard. He was one of many that were responsible for a great chunk of music that I grew up with which inspired me to enter the record business. From Jay & the Techniques’ 1968 album, “Love – Lost and Found" (from my older brothers’ collection), hearing the Shocking Blue’s “Venus” on the radio in the backseat of my Dad’s Dodge Polara in 1970, the sunshiny Spanky & Our Gang and Bobby Hebb’s dedication to the higher power on oldies stations, spinning cue-burned copies of “Who Do You Love” and “The 81” on college radio during the 1980’s to finally meeting the man behind the hits in 1997.

    To Mr. Ross, record producer/songwriter/label owner of the highest order, I said this when we met and I’ll say it here again – thank you, sir, for the music that made many smile. You will be remembered, and missed.

    By Kevin Goins

    [Publisher’s Note: Many thanks to Kevin for this beautiful and enlightening tribute]

     
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