Before Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell created The Sound of Philadelphia, Jerry Ross created the sound of Philadelphia. The Philly-born producer-songwriter-entrepreneur penned hits for Diana Ross and the Supremes and The Temptations and produced chart-toppers by Bobby Hebb and Shocking Blue, but only now has his remarkable legacy in pop, rock-and-roll and soul been celebrated on disc. Ace has recently issued Some Kinda Magic: The Songs of Jerry Ross, a 24-track compendium of Ross’ finest compositions as issued on various labels including his homes of Swan, Cameo-Parkway and Mercury as well as his own, MGM-distributed label Heritage. His diverse portfolio makes it difficult to pinpoint a “Jerry Ross style,” but these songs share effervescence and energy as well as a production sheen that all but certainly influenced 1970s-era Philadelphia soul.
Ross’ most famous song may be the one that opens this anthology: “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” a No. 2 U.S. Hot 100 hit pairing Miss Ross and the Supremes with Eddie Kendricks on lead for The Temps in 1968. But Ace has chosen the first hit version of the song, recorded by Dee Dee Warwick in 1966. This rendition, with Nick Ashford and Valarie Simpson’s background vocals supporting Dee Dee’s controlled yet defiantly pleading lead, made it to No. 13 R&B/No. 88 Pop. Jimmy Wisner’s arrangement was largely emulated for the more famous Motown version co-produced by Ashford. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” is one of a whopping ten tracks here co-written by Ross’ protégé, Kenny Gamble. “Who Do You Love” was their first collaboration as recorded by The Sapphires. That group is featured on another Ross/Gamble copyright, the sassy “I’ve Got Mine, You Better Get Yours,” while “Who Do You Love” is aired in Reparata and the Delrons’ swooning cover.
Gamble and Ross’ “You Better Believe It Baby” showcased “Twist” man Chubby Checker at his most relaxed and cool. Willie Hobbs’ smoldering version of their “You Don’t Know What You Got (Until You Lose It)” is deep southern soul with strings, and Hobbs’ vocal is somewhat redolent of a young Bill Withers. “He’s No Ordinary Guy” from Dee Dee Sharp, the future Mrs. Kenny Gamble, has a Smokey Robinson lilt crossed with a dollop of grit. The driving “(Will You Ever Be My) Steady Boyfriend” comes from April Young, who became more than Ross’ steady girlfriend. She became his wife! Kenny and Jerry channeled doo-wop on the impossibly rare 1962 single by The Modern Ink Spots, the romantic “Together (In Your Arms).” Tony Rounce hypothesizes in his notes that the vocal group might include Gamble, his friend Thom Bell, and The Dreamlovers. The most exhilarating of the Gamble/Ross co-writes may well be Candy and the Kisses’ 1964 hit “The 81.” Though it didn’t chart any higher than No. 54, the brassy, Motown-inspired floor-filler arranged by Wisner has never disappeared from the oldies airwaves.
Another great Philly arranger, Joe Renzetti, co-wrote and arranged Bobby Hebb’s stomping 1966 track “Love, Love, Love.” Its storming beat was tailor-made for the Northern Soul scene in England, and earned Hebb a belated hit in 1972. The Yum Yums’ “Gonna Be a Big Thing” didn’t live up to that title, but the girl group ditty’s own irresistible beat also ensured it Northern Soul immortality. Renzetti’s name reappears on a number of songs here as either arranger or co-writer including Philly hero Charlie Gracie’s “He’ll Never Love You Like I Do,” a ragged rocker with harmonica that appeared on the small Diamond label in 1965, and Jerry Butler’s catchy, new-to-CD pop-soul confection “Some Kinda Magic” which gives this compilation its title.
Many of Ross’ finest songs crossed the pond, and a couple of those also appear on Some Kinda Magic. Dee Dee Warwick introduced “When Love Slips Away,” heard here in an emotive, Dusty Springfield-esque version cut at Pye by Northern Island’s Margo and the Marvettes. Dusty herself cut a passionate version of Ross and Larry Weiss’ enchanting “Mr. Dream Merchant” in 1968, besting even Jerry Butler’s fine original from 1967. “Mr. Dream Merchant” may be the most sophisticated example of Ross’ songcraft, with piano flourishes that even recall Burt Bacharach’s finest. Scott English (co-writer with Weiss of “Bend Me, Shape Me” and with Richard Kerr of Barry Manilow’s “Mandy”) teamed with Ross and Mark Barkan (Lesley Gore’s “She’s a Fool”) for the spirited dancer “Help Yourself,” introduced by Jay and the Techniques and included here in a recording by England’s Jimmy James and the Vagabonds oddly issued on the Trojan reggae label.
Other writers in Ross’ diverse circle of co-writers included Russell Bloodworth and L. Russell Brown (“C’mon Marianne”) who penned The Showstoppers’ proto-bubblegum novelty “Eeny Meeny” with Ross in 1968 for his Heritage imprint; and Barkan and Ritchie Adams (Toomorrow), responsible for Jay and the Techniques’ pleasantly swinging, Renzetti-arranged “Are You Ready For This.” Ross, Pete Anders and Vini Poncia’s majestic Phil Spector-inspired “You Gave Me Somebody to Love” was recorded by numerous artists including The Dreamlovers and, as heard here, RCA’s ‘The Sidekicks. The Dreamlovers themselves pop up here with Ross and Renzetti’s sweet “These Will Be the Good Old Days” from 1964 but with a throwback sound more suited to a few years earlier.
One of the artists famously guided by Ross to success was the single-named Keith, of “98.6” fame. Keith’s B-side “I Can’t Go Wrong” is a mature highlight here. The dynamic Ross/Artie Wayne tune was arranged by Renzetti with Bacharach-style horn and subtly cascading background harmonies; Ross’ clean, strong production should have warranted A-side status. Keith’s “Daylight Savin’ Time” was the final of the singer’s four Hot 100 hits; the swaggering and quintessentially bright, brassy Ross-ian tune (with lyrics by Doc Pomus’ frequent partner Mort Shuman) found its way to New Zealand’s Sandy Edmonds for the beguiling recording featured here. (The song somewhat recalls both “98.6” and Ross’ other numerical hit, “The 81.”) But the most atypical song on Some Kinda Magic is its closing cut by jazz pianist Les McCann. Co-written and produced by Ross, “Bucket o’ Grease” showed the versatile Ross fitting comfortably in a soulful jazz bag.
Ace’s release includes a 20-page booklet with track-by-track liner notes by Tony Rounce and remastering by Nick Robbins. Jerry Ross’ name might not be as familiar as his songs, but his legacy speaks volumes.
You can order Some Kinda Magic: The Songs of Jerry Ross at the links below!
- I’m Gonna Make You Love Me – Dee Dee Warwick (Mercury 72638, 1966) (*)
- Love, Love, Love – Bobby Hebb (Philips 40400, 1966) (*)
- The 81 – Candy and the Kisses (Cameo 336, 1964)
- You Better Believe It Baby – Chubby Checker (Parkway 922, 1964)
- He’ll Never Love You Like I Do – Charlie Gracie (Diamond 178, 1965)
- When Love Slips Away – Margo and the Marvettes (Pye 7N 17423, 1967)
- You Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Until You Lose It) – Willie Hobbs (Seventy 7 101, 1971)
- Who Do You Love – Reparata and the Delrons (World Artists LP 2006, 1965) (*)
- Some Kinda Magic – Jerry Butler (Mercury 72648, 1966)
- I’ve Got Mine, You Better Get Yours – The Sapphires (Swan 4177, 1964)
- You Gave Me Somebody to Love – The Sidekicks (RCA 47-9174, 1967)
- He’s No Ordinary Guy – Dee Dee Sharp (Cameo 329, 1964)
- Eeny Meeny – The Showstoppers (Heritage 802, 1968) (*)
- Together (In Your Arms) – The Modern Ink Spots (Rust 5052, 1962)
- (Will You Ever Be My) Steady Boyfriend – April Young (Columbia 43046, 1964)
- Are You Ready for This – Jay and the Techniques (Smash 2217, 1969)
- Mr. Dream Merchant – Dusty Springfield (Philips LP SBL 7864, 1968) (*)
- Gonna Be a Big Thing – The Yum Yums (ABC Paramount 10697, 1965)
- The Beachcomber – Joey and the Flips (Cameo 327, 1964)
- I Can’t Go Wrong – Keith (Mercury LP SR 61102, 1967) (*)
- Help Yourself – Jimmy James and the Vagabonds (Trojan TR 7806, 1970)
- These Will Be the Good Old Days – The Dreamlovers (Cameo 326, 1964)
- Daylight Savin’ Time – Sandy Edmonds (Festival FNZK 4, 1967)
- Bucket O’ Grease – Les McCann (Limelight 3077, 1966)
Mono except (*) denotes stereo