The Legend of Jay B. Ross

Ross moved mountains for tons of Chicago house artists from the early days to the present. The legendary "Rappin Lawyer" died on March 1.

In every underground movement, there is always at least one person whose participation seems so out of place, so baffling, almost incomprehensible.

In Manchester it was Tony Wilson; in Chicago’s house music scene it was Jay B. Ross.

Larger than life, Jay B. Ross passed died on March 1 2018 and was lain to rest at a private ceremony at Rockford Hebrew Cemetery on March 4.

Ross was an entertainment attorney with deep roots in Chicago, lending his expertise to figures from James Brown to to Willie Dixon. He founded Jay B. Ross & Associates in 1969; the city paid tribute in 2014 by naming the street his law office was on as the honorary Jay B. Ross Way.

For years, working the Chicago house beat, I often heard the name of some guy named “JB” who handled business for some of the guys who knew how to handle their business. Later I would learn he had written many of the contracts for the earliest house music classics. Ross was an indispensable guide in the murky world of copyright that had to be navigated with early classics with shaky legal standing, such as “Love Can’t Turn Around.” It was a job for which he had a unique expertise, coming after years of tending to penniless Blues and R&B artists who kept finding their songs “borrowed” by British rock’n’roll bands.

According to Farley Jackmaster Funk, Ross also gave him $1,000 to start his first house music label.

Ross, from the people I talked to, liked to cultivate a distinct image – a legal Peter Falk from the old television show, Columbo. A few years ago he had a blast shooting a commercial and music video as the “Rappin’ Lawyer” for a song called “Sue The Bastards.”

Ross was active to the very end, presenting panels at festivals like the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival where he spoke on “How to Negotiate Great Deals in Both Music and Film” in November 2017.