I’ve been asking the questions of musicians over the course of my quarter-century career as a music journalist. But the question I’ve regularly been asked by musicians on the other end of the phone — as well as by fans, industry people, and music geeks — has been, “Are you by any chance related to Jerry Ragovoy?”
The songwriter Jerry Ragovoy — who died last month at 80 — was never as well known as contemporaries Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Burt Bacharach, Gerry Goffin, and Doc Pomus. This was partly his own fault; early in his career he wrote songs under assumed names, including Norman Meade. (Growing up with a name like Rogovoy, I understand why.) Among real music-heads, however, Ragovoy ruled.
Ragovoy wrote two of the iconic soul ballads of the rock era—“Time Is on My Side,” which was made famous by the Rolling Stones, and “A Piece of My Heart,” which is forever identified with and often wrongly credited to Janis Joplin—but his greatest accomplishments lay outside the pop arena. Ragovoy was a genuine soul man, working with black artists and writing, producing, and arranging hits for R&B singers who rarely crossed over to pop.
Jerry’s father, Nandor Ragovoy, and my grandfather, Joseph Rogovoy, were brothers, which made me Jerry’s first cousin once removed. (As for the disparity in the spelling of the last names, that’s simply a case of an immigration officer taking liberties upon arrival.)