In Memory of Beverly Ross
I met Beverly Ross one summer afternoon in the mid-90s. She was looking for someone to sing a demo and had been given my name. We hit it off over the phone and talked and laughed for quite a while. Bev was like that. She was a great conversationalist and genuinely curious about and interested in the people she met.
We decided we should try writing together so I went to her apartment. I am terribly allergic to cats and Bev had a huge cat. I sat there for hours visiting as my eyes watered and my lips swelled, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave.
That day I learned about some of her biggest copyrights. She wrote Lollipop (Lollipop Lollipop oh lolli lolli – you know the one) while still a teenager. She talked about the value of a copyright – not just writing songs that chart well, but ones that will be licensed for usages for years to come. I remember when she called one afternoon and shouted, “Ringtones, Brittany, ringtones!” She had gotten her BMI royalty statement and Lollipop had made a sizeable amount of money as a ringtone. She also wrote Candy Man for Roy Orbison (later recorded by Mickey Gilley and Charlie McClain), Judy’s Turn to Cry for Lesley Gore, Remember Then for the Earls and later Sha Na Na, as well as having had Elvis Presley cuts and may other hits.
Over the years, I’ve written with many different songwriters and many who have been very successful. It’s very difficult to teach someone how to write a song. There’s more to it than arming yourself with a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary. It is always an honor to sit in a room with someone who has honed the craft witnessing how they turn a phrase to make it fit the melody, convey what needs to be said and then rhyme without sounding pedestrian. Quite often there is a lot of time spent in silence while the wheels are spinning until someone finally conjures up the magic words. There are a few people that I have had the good fortune to write with that seemingly allow you to get into their head – not to see what they are thinking, but to see how their brain is working. It’s hard to put into words what that is like. Bev was one of those people. I was repeatedly amazed by her. She had an incredible vocabulary which was always entertaining. She and I wrote several songs, none of which have been a "hit" yet, but what she taught me about writing made me a much better writer for every other co-writer I worked with.
Bev was never one to rest on her accomplishments. To the very end she worked tirelessly to be the best writer she could be. She spent years pursing musical theater and writing the music for a show called City of Light. It was a thrill and an education to hear the various incarnations of the distinct melodies and brilliant lyrics she composed. In a musical, the songs must serve to move the story along in lieu of dialogue. Yet, she still wanted the songs to be liftable – meaning they could stand on their own outside of the show. It was awakening and sometimes heartbreaking to see how a masterpiece could be discarded because the librettist had decided to take the story in another direction. More than once we would laugh as we imagined what we were going to wear for opening night. Bev didn’t live to see the show play on Broadway, but I sincerely hope somehow someday it will.
Bev was born in Brooklyn, grew up in New Jersey, and in 2013 penned a tell-all book about life in the famed Brill Building entitled I Was the First Woman Phil Spector Killed
. She was tough, outspoken and a shameless self-promoter; traits which were no doubt required for and acquired during her early rock-n-roll success. She moved to Nashville in the late 80’s and it seemed sometimes “Nashville” didn’t quite know how to take her. For me, she was an indelible mentor and above all a friend. She had a habit that still makes me smile. If she called and you didn’t answer, she would immediately call again and possibly a third time. If I wasn’t able to take the call, I didn’t even have to look at the caller ID to know Bev was trying to reach me. I will miss that.