Philadelphia was the place to be in the early 1960s if you were aspiring to be in the music business. The charts were dominated by Chubby Checker, Dee Dee Sharp, the Orlons, Frankie Avalon, Freddy Cannon and Bobby Rydell. I was a songwriter and producer at the time, living in New York, and thought of Philadelphia, only 90 miles away, as Mecca!

The first time I met songwriter and producer Jerry Ross was in the waiting room at Jamie/Guyden Records, where we both were trying to sell masters to Harold Lipsius. I didn't know anybody in Philly at the time and Jerry was kind enough to fill me in on who the major players and up and comers were. He introduced me to his writing partner, Kenny Gamble, who was also beginning to make a name for himself as a writer and artist. Jerry also took me to where all the musicians hung out and up to the studio that became Sigma Sound, the hottest recording studio in town. Although we were friendly, it wasn't until 1966 when we became friends.

Shelby Singleton, head of A&R at Mercury Records, brought Jerry to the label and to New York to be an A&R man. In the short time he was at the company, he had an amazing run of hits with Bobby Hebb, Keith, Spanky & Our Gang, Jay & The Techniques, Dee Dee Warwick and Jerry Butler. My first wife, Sheilah, who was his secretary, Jerry, his late wife, April, and I would find ourselves hanging out more and more. It wasn't long before we started writing songs together for Keith and Jay & the Techniques.

The last time I saw Jerry and April was about 20 years ago, when they came into Genghis Cohen, the hot Hollywood hangout I named and hosted. The first time I talked to him since that time was for this interview, by phone; Jerry in Philadelphia, and me in the California Desert.

The Mob [ click image to enlarge ]

April Young

With The Showstoppers

With Dick Clark on
American Bandstand, 1968
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Jay & The Techniques

Jay & The Techniques
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With the Rhondells, 1969

With Claus Ogerman
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The Dreamlovers
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With Dick Clark
on American Bandstand, 1968
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Spanky & Our Gang
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Shocking Blue
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The Tee Set
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In New Jersey, 2006
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AW: Jerry, it's good to be back in touch. How ya' doin?

JR: Fine. It's good to talk to you again!

AW: Although we've known each other a long time, I never knew that you worked at American Bandstand. Spectropopper James Holvay, who recorded for you as a member of the Mob, says hello and wants to know a little more about that aspect of your life.

JR: Jimmy Soul and the Mob! Great, just great blue-eyed soul! As I was growing up in Philadelphia, my pre-teen years, I listened day and night to radio and wanted to be that disc jockey. Then I wanted to be Harry James. Next I wanted to be Dick Haymes and Howard Keel. Eventually I did it all: played the trumpet, studied voice, and spun those records on the radio - Martin Block, move over! During my time in the Service, I was with Armed Forces Radio, AFRS. I did the news, the sports, wake-up shows in the morning and DJed, playing the music of the time, and introducing the new sounds, rock'n'roll and "race" records - yeh, 78rpm "race" records, now known as R&B. When I left the Service, under the G.I. Bill, I enrolled in a communications course at Temple University. One of my instructors took a liking to me and she set up a live on-camera audition with the general manager of WFIL-TV, Jack Steck. He handed me a copy of the Daily News and said, "OK, now ad lib."!

AW: And then what?

JR: They hired me! I found out that they had just fired the host of the local Bandstand show, Bob Horn, that day, and brought in radio personality Dick Clark to replace him. Dick had an afternoon DJ show called the Caravan Of Music and played artists like Joni James, the Four Aces and Tony Bennett. Dick didn't know Chuck Berry from a strawberry! But, he learned very quickly by surrounding himself with local and national promotion people, who knew where the hits were happening - Red Schwartz, Matty Singer, Danny Davis. Dick was doing both shows, so I took over as DJ for Caravan Of Music three days a week. I was a DJ for WFIL radio, and then I would go over to the TV studio and do the station breaks, introduce Dick and do some commercials for Bandstand!

AW: [Laughs] Sounds like they had you running!

JR: Two months later the TV show went national and became American Bandstand! I was one of Dick's first announcers. I was staff there for about two years.

AW: Those were the golden years of Bandstand - the first national TV show that was totally dedicated to playing pop music!

JR: Between the charisma of the kid's dancing - they were the stars - that great "music of your life" and the "Dick Clark appeal", the show just exploded! During that time, we didn't have a green room, and all of the top artists of the day - Bobby Darin, Chubby Checker, Connie Francis, Pat Boone, Neil Sedaka - would come in and hang out in my booth with their managers and promotion people while waiting to go on the show. So I got to meet a lot of movers and shakers early on.

AW: Were you writing songs during this time?

JR: I was writing and crafting songs since I was in high school, but at that time I didn't know what to do or where to go with them. So, now I was starting to make contacts among music movers and shakers. When I temporarily left broadcasting behind (early career move), I took a job as a promotion man with Cosnat Distributors - Dot, Atlantic, Roulette, Jubilee, Time, Gone, End. Why? Because I wanted to learn every aspect of the business, from promo to marketing and back again. Having been a part of American Bandstand, I had an entrée to meet a lot of disc jockeys, music mavens and promotion people around the country and share some of my behind the scenes stories and interests with them, and vice versa. It wasn't long before I opened my own independent record promo office in the Shubert Theater building in Philadelphia, which was like the Brill Building in New York - booking agents, vocal coaches, wannabes and hopefuls, music coming through the walls. Cameo-Parkway was across the street. That's where I became friendly with Dave Appell, Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe, who was the owner of the company. I used to see this group who did doo-wop backgrounds - all the "boogety, boogety, shoops" and "'round and 'rounds" for Cameo's hits - come in and out the studio every day. I asked them when was their record coming out, and they said they weren't signed to anyone! Yo! Timing is everything! Donny Hogan, their guitarist and lead writer, played me a couple of things I liked, and I took them into a studio - Ampex mono - and the first song I recorded with them was "When We Get Married". Bobby Martin played vibes, Bobby Eli on guitar, Joe Macho on bass, Morris Gardner on lead vocals …

AW: … The Dreamlovers! I didn't know you produced that!

JR: I cut some dubs and couldn't wait to play it for my record friends in New York, but every one of them turned it down! I said, "You know something, I think you guys in your ivory towers better come down, 'cause you're followers not leaders!"

AW: It amazes me to hear stories like that, especially when "When We Get Married" sounded like such an obvious hit! The decision-makers at record companies, even today, seem to only want the kind of music the radio is playing right now, as opposed to what they might be playing in six months.

JR: That's the key to the whole thing, if you want to do something, you have to plan, plan ahead. Like Donald Trump says, "Plan the work and work the plan!" If you're gonna record something that's going to be released in three to six months, it can't sound like what's happening now. There's got to be some fresh originality. Having been a disc jockey and a promotion man, I made a lot of friends in the business, like Georgie Woods and Jocko Henderson, and I played "When We Get Married" for them. Jocko loved it - said "Take it to the bank." So I decided to release it on my own label, Heritage Records, and the record went Top 10 all over the country! I went to see Dick Clark, and because my credibility was high, having tipped him on many records that were breaking all over the country, including hits by Skip & Flip, the Dimensions and Gary US Bonds, he played the Dreamlovers, and they were my first act to appear on his TV show, making it an even bigger hit! Dick told me privately that his playing a record that I owned might be considered a conflict of interest, because of my relationship with him and WFIL, but if I broke the record in some other market first there wouldn't be a problem. There … came the plan!

AW: Spectropopper S.J. Dibai wants to know if the Dreamlovers song,"You Gave Me Somebody To Love", was inspired by your wife, April?

JR: Oh yeah. April inspired many of my songs. And I'm really proud of the sides I produced with her on Columbia. "Gonna Make Him My Baby" made her the "Daughter of WIBAGE-land" in Philly. When she and I got married, she put her career aside and never looked back. Whenever you would see me, there she would be. She stood by me and supported me in everything I did until she passed away in 1989.

AW: You were very fortunate to have been with her as long as you were. [Pause] I didn't know that you owned the name Heritage Records for as long as you did

JR: I established Heritage in the early '60s and had a number of releases on it. I even had Kenny Gamble and Tommy Bell on the label - I recorded them a la Don & Juan, "I'll Get By". It was the first time they recorded as vocalists, long before they became hit writers and producers.

AW: Really? I'd love to hear that! Now, before Spectropopper Mick Patrick sends someone over to America to beat my ass, can you tell us a little about Candy & the Kisses? I know "The 81" is a big Northern Soul hit. How many records did you cut with them?

JR: I think we did two or three singles. I think I could have established them. Never did an album, because they jumped ship and went to Scepter and died. "The 81" still gets a lot of play in the Northeast. The 81 is a very popular line dance - the entire room rocks with choreography - popularized by Hi Lit and the Geeter, Jerry Blavat, very popular in Philly, Baltimore and New York too.

AW: Now what can you tell us about the Sapphires?

JR: The popularity of the group is amazing! After all these years - 40! - I still get major airplay on "Who Do You Love", which I produced, and Kenny Gamble and I wrote. By the way, Kenny and Tommy sang background on many of the Sapphires' records. "Slow Fizz" and "Big Thing" have been Northern Soul favourites for years. They're all on my "Best Of The Sapphires" CD on Heritage.

AW: You've got a lot of hits on that CD, as well as some great tracks that didn't quite make it.

JR: I always thought the song that you and I wrote for Keith, "I Can't Go Wrong If You Love Me Right", should've been a hit! We should have a few covers on that. It's surely one of our better songs. It's on "Yo! Philadelphia".

AW: You're one of the few writer/producers I know who controls most of his recorded product. Can you tell us a little about "Yo! Philadelphia"?

JR: What's "Yo! Philadelphia"? You might ask. It's a flashback to the "Music of Your Life", produced by Jerry Ross, now available for the first time in the US on CD from the ORIGINAL MASTERS - '50s, '60s and '70s recording artists from the Philadelphia area, some of which went on to become very successful artists and producers, known throughout the USA and music world. Collectors are going to love this CD. Look for it on my website.

AW: There are so few places to go to get someone to record your songs today. Every artist and producer wants a piece of the writing and publishing pie, and recordings are being made for the moment. Sometimes it's just a thin idea strung together with a few hooks and a couple of musical interludes. Because there's so much sampling and so little diversity, much of the music has started to sound the same.

JR: Well, there are no new copyrights being created, if that's what you mean, Artie.

AW: The only genre of music that has evolved over the years is country music.

JR: That's why I started working with my country artist, Chris Campbell, about two years ago. With the kind of music on the radio today, rap and hip-hop, you know you have to relate to that lifestyle … and I don't! They don't create copyrights, and they don't write songs, and after their CD sells and it dies, you never hear from most of them again!

AW: Now let's talk a little about the time you made your big move to Mercury Records.

JR: I remember Kenny and I were writing together consistently at the time, 1965, when Shelby Singleton of Mercury Records asked me to come to New York. He really liked the local and regional hits I was having, and said if I continued to do what I'm doing, he could give me the marketing and national distribution I needed. He said the way that I produced and promoted was the key to my success. Shelby allowed me that flexibility to be in the studio and on the street follow-through, promoting. I followed the record from beginning to end, from writing it, producing it, to getting it on the air.

AW: Wow!

JR: The first artist he assigned me to produce was Bobby Hebb. Although I sat and listened to about a dozen songs Bobby had written, there was only one with the charisma, the poetry, the style. It was "Sunny". We went into the studio, Joe Renzetti added his magic. With the assistance of Kal Rudman, I promoted it through "our network". Bill Curtis broke it in Detroit on WCHB, Mercury brought it home, and the rest is history - one of BMI's most programmed songs.

AW: Don't I hear Ashford & Simpson singing background?

JR: Funny you should ask. Nick Ashford, Valerie Simpson and Melba Moore sang background on "Sunny", "Mr. Dream Merchant", with Jerry Butler, "Apples, Peaches" and all my Dee Dee Warwick productions. They were always my "go to" backgrounds.

AW: "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" (Ross/Gamble/Huff) is one of my favourite songs of all time! How did that come about?

JR: When I went to New York to A&R at Mercury, I'd always have Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff come up from Philly and write with me - I gladly opened many doors for them - whenever I had an album to do for Bobby Hebb or Jerry Butler or Jay & the Techniques. "Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie" had just gone Top 10. I always kept an open door for new writers, especially for Kenny and Leon. I loved them and I loved their creativity. They had not started to produce their own records yet. By the way, Tommy Bell was often my keyboard guy.

AW: You guys turned out some incredible stuff!

JR: I must've recorded "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" ten times in my career, but Kenny never cut it once with any of his acts - ouch!

AW: Really? He could've cut it with the O'Jays, Lou Rawls, Teddy …

JR: Yeah, but he didn't! Ashford & Simpson, however, who sang background on all the versions that I produced, loved the song! When they signed with Motown, they co- produced it, with Frank Wilson, with the Supremes and the Temptations and had a million-seller No.1 record. They made me proud.

AW: Wow! I brought them to Motown, but I never realized Nick and Val produced that record!

JR: I was flattered that Berry Gordy, who I didn't know yet, called me up personally for a rate on the song, 'cause he thinks "it might be a single". [Laughs] MIGHT be a single? I told him that I already knew it was GONNA be a single! My DJ friend in Philadelphia, Georgie Woods, was playing the song out of his advance white label album, ten times every morning and getting a huge response from his listeners! Three years later Berry hired me to head up the East Coast productions of Motown in New York City.

AW: I didn't know that. Now how did you get together with Spanky & Our Gang?

JR: Shelby sent me to Chicago to see a new group Mercury had just signed. They were playing on The North side at a club called Mother Blues. I walked in on their rehearsal with my Brooks Brothers suit and tie - I was a corporate soldier, you know, ha! As I went over to introduce myself to the group, Spanky looked at me and said, "If you're gonna' work with us, you gotta take your f*#%n' tie off!" I just really enjoyed working with them. They were entertaining, they were good musicians, they worked hard and took direction … then! Years later, Spanky was quoted as saying that Jimmy Wisner and I were tyrants and she never liked her records! So much for success, oh yeah!

AW: I remember going with you to the Scene in New York, while they were doing a sound check, and hooking up with John Denver. He was just beside himself with the group and the recording you produced with Spanky on his "Leaving On A Jet Plane".

JR: Wonderful song! Another song I wish I had first is "Happy Together". That would've been a million-seller for them!

AW: Going to some of those sessions - "Sunday Will Never Be The Same", "Lazy Day", "Like To Get To Know You" - is really etched in my memory! Personally, however, the songs that you and I wrote together stand out among my collaborations, especially since one of them, "The Teeny Bopper Song", showed up on the B-side of one of your biggest hits, "98.6" by Keith. Now, can you tell us a little about Jay & the Techniques?

JR: "Sunny" was zooming up the charts. Most of the other songs Bobby played for me, in my humble opinion, had no magic, so I thought I found the next song for him. I wanted to cut it as a follow-up to "Sunny", it was called "Apple, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie", but Bobby didn't want to do it! He wanted to stay with things he had written. I respected that, but Joe Renzetti and I went in to cut a track on it anyway. Bobby still didn't want to put his voice on this hot track. I told him I would find Mickey Mouse in Back Porch, Idaho and they would have the HIT. A friend of mine who was a disc jockey in Allentown, PA, Gene Kaye, had a group he thought would be perfect for the track. They were a "mixed" group, two black guys and two white, which was unusual at the time. I caught them and they sounded great - they were very entertaining. So we cut a new track and put them on it. "Apple, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie" became a million-seller for Jay & The Techniques. They are still touring off of that record! They just came back from Japan - just keep the ball rolling! I've stayed in touch with Jay over these many years. The last time I saw him was when we were invited guests to the Northern Soul Festival in New Jersey just a couple of months ago.

AW: Where you met the Spectropop guys, Mick Patrick, Phil Chapman, Simon White and Eric Charge.

JR: [Laughs] Yeah - we had a great time! I was really surprised that they knew so much about my records and my career … even things I had forgot about. They are truly amazing and dedicated trivia smart. I am delighted we met.

AW: We mortals may forget, but Spectropop always remembers! Can you tell us why you left Mercury?

JR: Mercury was only interested in selling singles. They didn't know how to sell albums and did not help to develop artists' careers. The only support I had at the label was Shelby Singleton. The label didn't spend a penny on publicity, or do anything to promote or market my artists. Bobby Hebb, who had a worldwide No.1 record, should've been on the cover of Cashbox … but he wasn't! That's nuts. I took the reins at that point, and made sure that it would never happen again. Every one of my Mercury artists got on the cover of Cashbox, even if their record only went Top 10! It went on and on … they'd give me no creative recognition or respect. I was like a number on a ticket, until I just couldn't take it anymore. I was the top producer at the label and in the country. On top of that, Mercury was paying me a fraction of what insiders told me I should be getting. So, when my contract came up for renewal … their offer was not motivating, to say the least. Besides, they screwed me on "Sunny", but that's another story. So I left the label disillusioned, but with no regrets and many new wonderful career offers from the record industry.

AW: Let's move ahead to the time when you formed your own label, Heritage Records. I remember, as you were setting up your new offices, Ron Haffkine (Dr. Hook) and Barry Oslander were in the studio producing the Cherry People for you. Spectropopper Clark Besch, a Left Banke fan, who loved the cover of "And Suddenly" better than the original, wants to know a little more about the record.

JR: "And Suddenly", written by Mike Brown of the Left Banke, was to be the Cherry People's first single, and the first single on the newly formed Heritage label, distributed by MGM. I called my old friend Dick Clark, who had just moved his show, American Bandstand, to Hollywood. He not only wanted to introduce the record and the group on the show, he wanted to do an interview with me as well!

AW: I never heard of him interviewing a record company head before.

JR: He never did, but we go way back. He surprised me by playing a medley of all my hits as I came out. Sitting in the Bandstand bleachers, he tells his audience the story of when Bandstand first started, I was his announcer. It was truly a wonderful reunion.

AW: That was some great exposure for you and the Cherry People!

JR: "And Suddenly" got great airplay and went Top 30 nationally, but it didn't sell a lot of records. Back in the day, unless you had a million-selling single, the album sales were sparse.

AW: I know, I published a song on that album, "Ask The Children" (Wonderling/Budnick/Goldfluss).

JR: That's right. Good song!

AW: Then you really started getting hot.

JR: Yeah, we had Bill Deal and the Rhondells, "What Kind Of Fool Do You Think I Am", "May I", the Duprees, and a few other things. Then MGM, who distributed our label, had yet another "revolving door" president take over the company - Mike Curb. Unfortunately, their entire focus and financial assets of the company went into the building of the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas! And no support on the record side. So, I could see the writing on the wall … and, at great expense, I sued them, and got out of my contract. Heritage becomes an independent label in the US, but without any European distribution deals.

AW: While most American record companies looked to the UK and Germany, you found a new area where world-class commercial records were being produced. Spectropopper Andrew wants to know how did you find all of those great records from the Netherlands that put you at the forefront of "The Dutch Invasion"?

JR: My wife, April, and I went with my sales manager, Hal Charm, to spend a couple of weeks in Europe, to set up distribution - our first time there. We went to Amsterdam, and our distributors take us out to lunch at this fancy upscale chrome and leather US-style diner. The jukebox is playing Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, a lot of R&B stuff. Then this record comes on, with a charismatic guitar riff interlude. I call the manager of the diner over and ask him what is this? It's a great record! He said they were a local group from Amsterdam called Shocking Blue and the name of the song is "Venus". So we met with and signed the artists and secured the rights for their music for North America.

AW: And the rest is history!

JR: I put Mariska, the lead singer, and the group on the 45 sleeve and the rest is history. And the very next day, the same thing happened in Hamburg. I heard another song I liked playing on the jukebox. It turns out to be the Tee Set and "Ma Belle Amie", so we fly back to Amsterdam and sign them as well!

AW: What a magical trip!

JR: We get back to the States and start a new label, Colossus Records, named after our new miniature poodle that we found in Las Vegas. The first record we release is "Venus", which is an instant smash, followed by "Ma Belle Amie" by the Tee Set. Then I heard and discovered "Little Green Bag" with George Baker! We promoted these acts to radio and the trade papers as part of "The Dutch Invasion", and did all sorts of promotions to call attention to their music.

AW: Finally, getting back to Kenny Gamble, I never knew that you and he wrote so many songs together.

JR: Before there was a Rogers & Hammerstein, there was Rogers & Hart. Before there was a Gamble & Huff, there was Gamble & Ross! I discovered Kenny when he was only 17. I managed his career for many years. He always hung around my office, and one day he auditioned for me. He sounded like a young Brook Benton or Chuck Jackson. I brought him to Clive Davis and produced him for Columbia on a song we wrote, "You Don't Know What You've Got Until You Lose It". We collaborated and wrote together for almost ten years. I have been a consultant to Philadelphia International and Gamble & Huff and have licensed their music and record catalogue for many years.