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Fabulous Flip Sides In Memoriam – Producer Jerry Ross and Rhondels Drummer and Vocalist Ammon Tharp

We look back at hits and flip sides which were “A Jerry Ross Production,” including songs from Bill Deal and the Rhondels. We also explore the Dutch Invasion and share heartfelt reflections from Jay Proctor of Jay and the Techniques.

By Warren Kurtz

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Jerry Ross photo on left courtesy of Randy Alexander

Ammon Tharp autograph - “The Best of Bill Deal & the Rhondels” album

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We were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the back to back 1967 Top 40 hits “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” and “Keep the Ball Rollin’” by Jay and the Techniques this month when we learned of the passing of record producer Jerry Ross, on October 4. Lead singer Jay Proctor shared his ‘60s reflections with Goldmine, “I remember sitting in the recording booth, listening to a playback of one of the songs we had just finished and as I watched Jerry, swaying to the music, I couldn't understand how such a brilliant producer could not keep the beat with the song. It always made me laugh, but mostly I remember the first time that I met him and how cool he was and how nice he was to me and the guys. I guess he knew that we were intimidated and he made us feel at home with his kindness. Every time I was in his presence he made me feel like I belonged there even though I was just a kid from the streets. He gave me confidence at times when I really needed it. I loved Jerry. He will be missed.”

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After serving in the armed forces, stationed in Alaska as part of Armed Forces Radio, Jerry Ross joined Mercury records in the A&R department in 1965, working with new talent for their main label and its subsidiaries, Philips and Smash. His first major success came with Bobby Hebb in 1966.

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Bobby Hebb 

Flip side: Love Love Love

A side: A Satisfied Mind

Top 100 debut: October 8, 1966

Peak position: 39

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Bobby Hebb grew up in a musical family in Nashville. Both of his parents were blind musicians, who taught him to play guitar. His brother Hal Hebb was a member of the doo-wop group Johnny Bragg and the Marigolds. A tragic weekend in November of 1963 ultimately led to Bobby Hebb’s biggest success. On Friday, President Kennedy was assassinated. On Saturday, Bobby Hebb’s brother Hal was mugged and suffered a knifing death outside of a club in Nashville. On Sunday, Bobby Hebb immersed himself in music. He wanted to write something positive, and eventually his composition “Sunny” was written.

In 1966, after several publishers passed on “Sunny,” Jerry Ross was the first person to show interest in Bobby Hebb as a songwriter. There was time left at the end of the recording session for Bobby Hebb’s debut album for Philips, and they recorded “Sunny.” This became the first single from the album and the title of the album, too. The single spent two weeks in the number two position in the summer of 1966, and went gold as well.

The next single from the album was a cover of a 1955 Porter Wagoner country and western song called “A Satisfied Mind.” It was a mellow story of wealth being less important than having a satisfied mind. The flip side, also from the album, was a lively dance number called “Love Love Love,” written by Jerry Ross and Joe Renzetti. Piano and hand claps gave the recording a party sound similar to Chris Montez’s “Call Me” record from earlier in the year, and the female background singers added a sweet sense of soul. In the early ‘70s, when England was enthralled with U.S. R&B acts of the ‘60s, they embraced this flip side, bringing it into the UK Top 40 in 1972.

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In addition to the debut of Jay and the Techniques on the Smash subsidiary fifty years ago in 1967, Jerry Ross had tremendous success with the parent Mercury label that year, beginning in January with a Top 10 single from Philadelphia’s James Barry Keefer, known as Keith. “98.6,” with baking vocals from the Tokens, became Keith’s highest charting single.

The summer of 1967 saw the debut of Spanky and Our Gang in the Top 40. When Terry Cashman and Gene Pistilli presented their composition “Sunday Will Never Be the Same” to the Mamas and the Papas, it was rejected. When Jerry Ross heard this song he told the songwriters to stop playing it for others and he would take it. Beautifully and powerfully sung by Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane, “Sunday Will Never Be the Same” became the breakthrough Top 10 hit and highest charting single for Spanky and Our Gang.

Jerry Butler had been absent from the Top 40 since 1964. Thanks to Jerry Ross and Larry Weiss’ composition “Mr. Dream Merchant,” Jerry Butler returned to the Top 40 on Thanksgiving week of 1967 for the first in a string of nine Top 40 hits to last through the end of the decade.

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In November of 1968, the Motown album “Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations” was released. It included “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” a song Jerry Ross had co-written a few years prior with Kenny Gamble, for a Dee Dee Warwick record. A television special called “TCB” followed the next month along with a soundtrack, but radio stations began playing “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” from the studio album, versus any song from the “TCB” soundtrack, so “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” became the first single from the combined groups. This million selling single reached number two in early 1969.

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Bill Deal & the Rhondels

Flip side: Are You Ready for This

A side: What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am

Top 100 debut: August 16, 1969

Peak position: 23

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Less than two weeks before losing Jerry Ross, we lost Ammon Tharp on September 22, the drummer and one of the two lead vocalists for Bill Deal and the Rhondels. After leaving Mercury records, Jerry Ross formed Heritage records. 1969 was the big year for the label. Bill Deal and the Rhondels were the biggest act on the label with three Top 40 singles that year, all cover versions of R&B songs that Bill Deal and Ammon Tharp grew up listening to in the Virginia Beach area.

The single “May I,” initially looked liked “May 1st” on the charts, which was also Jerry Ross’ birthday, until the record began receiving airplay and listeners heard its lyrics. With Ammon Tharp singing high powerful notes over his drum kit, he asked “May I have your kiss, on a night like this?” This was a cover of a mid-‘60s Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs R&B single. The arrangement was up-tempo and the single reached the Top 40. Three months later with a similar tempo, Bill Deal’s arrangement of “I’ve Been Hurt,” a prior southeast regional hit for the Tams, also spent time in the Top 40. Ammon Tharp led most of the vocals, with a power to match the anger portrayed in the lyrics. Three months after that single the group was back with another Tams cover, “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am.” Ammon Tharp’s rugged vocal delivery was offset by Bill Deal’s smoothness, making for a fun mix of vocal styles, and became their highest charting single.

The flip side of “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am” was “Are You Ready for This.” Jerry Ross co-wrote this song with Mark Barkan and Ritchie Adams, who had just provided the flip side to the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” with “Melody Hill.” The backdrop excluded the brass from the hit singles, with mainly keyboard, guitar and Ammon Tharp’s percussion backing Bill Deal’s vocals.

“Swingin’ Tight,” in late 1969, and “Nothing Succeeds Like Success,” in early 1970, followed as the group’s final two charting singles on the Heritage label.

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In 1969, Bill Deal & the Rhondels had three Top 40 hits in a row in the U.S., which were covers of R&B songs from earlier in the decade. European audiences were becoming nostalgic for this type of sound, so Jerry Ross headed to Europe late that year to check on the progress of the Rhondels’ records. He discovered an unexpected outcome from that trip. In a February 21, 1970 article in Record World magazine titled “Jerry Ross Discovers Gold in Netherlands,” his late 1969 trip was detailed. In a club in Zurich, Jerry Ross heard a new regional hit “Ma Belle Amie” by the Dutch group the Tee Set. In Hamburg, he was equally impressed when he heard the new single from the Dutch band, the Shocking Blue, called “Venus.” Quickly, Jerry Ross signed three Dutch acts to another new U.S. label he had created, with a distribution deal with MGM, called Colossus. With unbelievable odds, all three acts’ U.S. debut singles became hits in 1970. The George Baker Selection’s “Little Green Bag” went to number 21, “Ma Belle Amie” went to number five, and “Venus” went to number one. This 1970 surge of hits from Holland has been nicknamed the Dutch Invasion.

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The Shocking Blue

Flip side: Hot Sand

A side: Venus

Top 100 debut: December 13, 1969

Peak position: 1

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The first album on the new Colossus record label was the twelve song debut from the Shocking Blue. It contained a European hit that preceded “Venus” called “Send Me a Postcard.” It also featured their next two U.S. Top 100 singles “Mighty Joe” and “Long and Lonesome Road.” The album was solid with all songs written by their guitarist and sitarist Robby Van Leeuwen. What was missing from the album was the flip side of “Venus,” a song called “Hot Sand.” This flip side had more of a rock edge than “Venus” with intense verses like what Led Zeppelin brought to their flip side “Living Loving Maid” during that season and what Alice Cooper would achieve later on with their flip side “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.” Robby Van Leeuwen was featured on lead guitar followed by sitar after each couplet. Mariska Veres’ vocals on the choruses brought a strength that we would later hear in Blondie.

The Shocking Blue had one final single on Colossus, not on the album, late in the year, called “Never Marry a Railroad Man.” It had limited airplay and just missed the Top 100 at 102. Its flip side was from the album called “Hear My Song,” although on the album it is listed as “California Here I Come,” the next line in the chorus.

Due to the success of Jerry Ross’ Dutch Invasion, U.S. audiences were eager to accept more bands from the Netherlands a few years later. The band Focus achieved Top 10 status with “Hocus Pocus” in 1973 and Golden Earring reached the number thirteen position the following year with “Radar Love.”

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BillDeal and Ammon Tharp’s 1992 compilation “The Toast of Virginia Beach,” on Ripete records, a top beach music label, includes the Rhondels’ singles produced by Jerry Ross and ends with a live medley of their three biggest hits, as they performed throughout the ‘90s in the southeast region. The CD photo shows Ammon Tharp on the left and Bill Deal on the right. Their 1997 collection, “Once Upon a Time” included a Sam & Dave medley, which was popular in live shows, called “Hold On / Soul Man.”

Last year, the British oldies label Ace released “Some Kinda Magic,” with two dozen songs co-written by Jerry Ross including the original version of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” by Dee Dee Warwick, “Love Love Love” by Bobby Hebb, a cover of “Mr. Dream Merchant” by Dusty Springfield and a version of “Are You Ready for This” by Jay and the Techniques as the flip side of their final charting single in 1969.

Jerry Ross was inducted in the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame in 2013

Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, on WVCR radio as part of “Moments to Remember.”