Gary James' Interview With Jimmie Ross of
In March of 1970, their song "The Rapper" went to number one on the charts. That same month, the group received a Gold Record for that achievement. "The Rapper" would go on to sell five million copies. You know we're referring to The Jaggerz, who would go on to perform with The Beach Boys, The Temptations, The Supremes, The Dells, Tommy James and B.J. Thomas. They even recorded with the late Wolfman Jack. The Jaggerz still play and record these days.
Lead singer Jimmie Ross talked to us about the history of his group.
Q - Let's get something cleared up about the group early on. Is it Jaggerz or The Jaggerz? I've seen it spelled out both ways.
A - Either / Or I guess. (laughs)
Q - Where did that name come from?
A - You won't believe this, but for one of our very first pictures we went out into the woods and around this area (outside of Pittsburgh) when you fall in the woods and you get those little stickers sticking onto your clothes, a lot of those places, they're called briars. In Pennsylvania we call 'em jaggerz. A lot of people thought it was from Mick Jagger, but it wasn't. We thought it was pretty cool and we wrote it out a couple of times and it looked nice and that was it.
Q - You're not going to believe this, but before I went to your website, I thought Jaggerz was a Black group. I never realized you guys were White.
A - Yeah. (laughs)
Q - Do you get that all the time?
A - Well, we used to. Our first album was with Gamble and Huff...Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff in Philadelphia, who handle all Black groups. I think, from what we hear, that's one of the reasons why they never put our pictures on the first album. They really didn't want anyone to know at that time that we were a White group. We were really into the R&B thing. That's how we originally started...way before "Rapper" days. That's what we did. We did all Black R&B music with four or five part harmony. We idolized The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Del Fonics...people like that. So, that's what we did until "The Rapper" came out of left field really.
Q - You put the group together in 1965?
A - Yeah, about '65. All the guys were in different groups actually. We all came together. We all knew each other because at that time there were so many clubs to play around this area, everybody knew everybody...all the musicians. We all got together and picked the best singers we could get. We put The Jaggerz together. Yeah, it was around '65.
Q - So, you did the club work for years?
A - Yeah. Right. Just for a couple of years. We actually started doing the clubs and the college circuit and we started to get a name for ourselves without having a record. Our manager at that time brought us to the attention of Gamble and Huff in Philadelphia. They flew in to see us and signed us to our first record deal.
Q - They had a production company?
A - Yeah. They were Big-Time. They did the Philly sound. They did Jerry Butler, so many people at that time. They had The Intruders, Soul Survivors I believe...people like that. So, they signed us to their production company and put out our first single, which came out in '69, if I'm not mistaken, which was called "Baby I Love You".
Q - What happened to that song?
A - It was kind of regional hit around this area, which really helped us. At the time, we were going into the studio doing some other things and had another song, "Gotta Find My Way Back Home", which was our second single. That was written by two brothers actually, that we ran into that lived close to where we lived out here in Beaver County...Mervin and Melvin Steals. They wrote "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love" for The Spinners. So they wrote "Gotta Find My Way Back Home" for us and Gamble and Huff took us into the studio to do that, along with our first album.
Q - So, who wrote "The Rapper"?
A - Donny Iris. He was one of the members of the group. Played guitar and sang lead. We had three lead singers back then and he was one of them.
Q - That's a strange title for a song in 1970. You could almost say you were ahead of your time...rapper, which led to what? Rapping? Rap music?
A - Actually, that was a Black saying years ago. What it meant was a guy rapping on a girl in a nightclub. We would see that all the time, so Donny wrote a song about it.
Q - So, we might say he was hitting on a girl and a Black guy would say he was rapping on a girl?
A - Exactly. Very good. I never thought of it that way, but that's right. (laughs)
Q - Did you have any idea that "The Rapper" would do as well as it did?
A - No. We had no idea. At the time, when we recorded that, we also did about four other songs which were more R&B oriented, like "But We Really Did". The company wasn't crazy about any of 'em including "The Rapper", but they had us signed to a contract and they said they would put "The Rapper" out and see what happens. So, they put it out and it starts selling like wildfire. (laughs) All over the United States. We were thrown in another bag that we weren't really ready for. At that time, you would call it like a light rock type of thing. That's what I call it anyway, 'cause it was so far away from anything we've done. We weren't ready to be put in that kind of thing. It helped us in a way and it hurt us in a way.
Q - After the song was released, how long did it take before it went to the number one slot?
A - I think it was on the charts nine weeks, on the Record World's Top 100 charts. So, it went to number one in Record World and number two in Billboard. Only to be number two to "Bridge Over Troubled Water", which is really strange.
Q - OK, but from the time it was released until it reached number one, how much time went by?
A - That I don't know. All I know is, it hit in March of 1970. I don't know exactly when it was released. I do know it was on the charts for nine weeks.
Q - You toured behind that song?
A - Yeah. We did some mini tours. We didn't really go out and live out of our cars for like nine months. Maybe we should have. (laughs) We were so comfortable back here in the Pittsburg area because we were making a ton of money with the success of that song and the other two regional hits we had, that we didn't want to go on tour.
Q - What was considered a "ton of money" in Pittsburgh back in those days?
A - Back then, making $2,000 a night was a ton of money for a group that didn't have a record. That was a lot of money, where everybody else was making $200 a night.
Q - You must've really been pulling people into those clubs!
A - Yeah. Our name, The Jaggerz name, was really big in the tri-state area at the time. Just the air-play of the records on the local stations really helped to fuel everything.
Q - We're you getting a guarantee vs. a percentage of the door, plus a piece of the bar action?
A - No. We never did any jobs like that. It was guaranteed. We were always guaranteed of a flat fee. We never did the "against the door" type thing. The only time we took the door is if we had put on our own show somewhere. And then the whole door was ours. As far as the clubs or the concerts we did, it was always guaranteed money. That was in 1968, 1969. So $2,000 a night was a lot of money.
Q - How many nights a week would you work?
A - We'd work almost six nights.
Q - You were making a ton of money!
A - Yeah. (laughs)
Q - When you'd go out on these mini-tours, were you the headliners?
A - Sometimes we were. Sometimes we would open for say, The Beach Boys or Andy Kim, The Spiral Staircase. A lot of '70s group that were out at that time.
Q -How did these people treat you?
A - We made some friends. You know, a lot of friends. B.J. Thomas, he was a friend of ours until one of the guys beat him in a game of pool, then he didn't like us anymore. That's when he had a lot of success back then too. I think we did like, the Iowa State Fair with him. But everybody was pretty nice. We formed our own production company after the success of "The Rapper". We started getting into production and produced James Darren. We also produced Bobby Rydell. Nothing really happened with the tunes, but we got a chance to meet these guys and work in the studio and have some fun.
Q -After "The Rapper", did you have follow-up releases and what happened to them?
A - After "The Rapper" we did another album in California because we got away from...I'm sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself. After "The Rapper" we had another song that Donny wrote also that was in the same vein as "The Rapper", but it was different. It was called "I Call My Baby Candy". They released that and nothing much really happened with that. We also had another release after that called "What A Bummer". And nothing happened with that. A very interesting story, I don't know if this is true or not. At that time, Curtis Mayfield was signed to Buddah Records, which was our record company. Kama Sutra / Buddah Records was the same record company. The president of the label was Neil Bogart. From what I heard, Curtis Mayfield walked into the office and told Neil if he didn't stop pushing those White boys' records and start doing something with him, 'cause he was signed to Neil at that time, that he was going to leave and go to another company. It seemed like the company went cold on us. Something like that must've happened because shortly after that, he (Curtis Mayfield) had one of his biggest songs go Platinum, which was "Superfly". Consequently nothing happened with our other couple records. We continued to work.
Q - You recorded four albums for this label?
A - No. The first album was with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. That was "Introducing The Jaggerz". The second album was with Kama Sutra and Neil Bogart..."We Went To Different Schools Together". The third album was done in California and called "The Jaggerz Come Again". That was on the label Wooden Nickel. But, I think it was RCA, if I'm not mistaken. And then, believe it or not, we did an album with Wolfman Jack. You can imagine what it sounds like. It's hilarious. We even did "The Rapper" with him singing "The Rapper". It was kind of a novelty thing. We backed him up on all those songs.
Q - Was that album ever released?
A - I think it was released. It was called "Through The Ages". I could be wrong. I don't know. It's been a long, long time.
Q - Are you still recording these days?
A - We have two CDs under our belt in the last three or four years. We do sell those and they get local airplay on the oldie stations around here. Pittsburgh and the surrounding area is an oldies town. The CDs are available on our website too.
Q - How many performances do you play every year?
A - Probably around twenty a year, in and around the Pittsburgh area. They're outdoor concerts or "oldies" shows. We're on with three or four other acts. Everybody is doing something different after all these years. Everybody has a real job now. We do it for fun really.
Q - What's your "real" job?
A - I'm a wedding photographer for the last twenty-one years. I have a home studio here. That's what I do.
Q - There's always people getting married, so there's always pictures to be taken.
A - Exactly. I do about forty-nine weddings a year. I do some studio work too...high school seniors, things like that. That's my real job.
Q - Did you ever do overseas tours?
A - No, we never did. I think if we'd had a better manager at that time, hindsight, you never know what would've happened. But, I thought the other follow-up records to "The Rapper" were good enough for Top 40 at least. After you have a million-seller...if you can't follow that up with something. Back then, it seemed like everyone's second record was up there too. It might not have been number one. It just went cold on us after "The Rapper".
Q - I guess you would be upset when people refer to The Jaggerz as a one hit wonder.
A - You know what? That really doesn't bother me. Better to have one than none. That's how I look at it. I got a Gold Record hanging on the wall and I'm satisfied. There's a lot of bands out there that could blow us off the stage that could never do and accomplish the things we did. So, I'm really satisfied what happened. I had a good time doing it. The memories are unbelievable...all the places we've played, people we've met, things that we've did. And we're still doing it. We're still getting the big crowds. I'm talking two thousand, three thousand, five thousand people are there when we're on stage. It's not like, "look at The Jaggerz, aren't they old?" (laughs) It's nothing like that anymore. We still do some of the old stuff. We do a lot of new stuff. Not the new music, but I mean things that we didn't do back then. We're primarily an R&B band right now. We still do "The Rapper". We still do our songs and people still remember.