After graduating from Erasmus Hall High School, Jeff did a stint in the Army and then returned to New York where he attended City College His main aspiration, as he soon came to acknowledge, was to become a singer: Once he realized that he spent more time performing than studying, Jeff cut his college career short. In 1958 Jeff found himself signed to RCA Records courtesy of music publisher Arnold Shaw. (Around this time, wanting a more show-bizzy name, the budding young talent rechristened himself - borrowing his new first name Jeff from the actor Jeff Chandler, and surname Barry from friends of the family.)
Jeff recorded several singles for the label, including the self-penned “It’s Called Rock and Roll” backed with “Hip Couple,” released in 1959. Before long, it became apparent that the powers that be were more interested in the songs Jeff wrote than in Jeff the singer, and his career took a different turn from the path he’d envisioned for himself. In 1960, Jeff the songwriter landed on the R&B charts with “Teenage Sonata,” as recorded by Sam Cooke, and later the same year Jeff enjoyed his first pop music hit when Ray Peterson recorded “Tell Laura I Love Her” (co-written with Ben Raleigh) and landed on the U.S. Top Ten. British singer Ricky Valance took the song all the way to #1 in the U.K. later that same year. Several more chart hits would follow during the next few years.
By 1963, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich had joined forces, as husband and wife and as songwriting partners. Barry and Greenwich comprised one of the most prolific and successful Brill Building songwriting teams.
In the summer of 1960, Jeff and Ellie recorded Jeff’s “Red Corvette” which was released as a single under the name Ellie Gee and The Jets. Ellie stayed in college (she would graduate in 1962) and commuted to the Brill Building whenever time permitted. Songwriter-producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller offered Ellie a job as a staff writer for Trio Music, their publishing company, after Leiber overheard her singing in an office at the Brill. Jeff was subsequently signed to Trio as well. Jeff and Ellie each continued to write songs with other partners. In addition, both Jeff and Ellie became in-demand demo singers. Some of Jeff’s demos ended up in the hands of Elvis Presley and other major artists of the day.
Jeff and Ellie married in October of 1962 and shortly afterward made the decision to write songs exclusively with each other. Ellie introduced Jeff to her latest partner, songwriter-producer Phil Spector, and the threesome went on to define the “Girl Group” sound of the early 1960s. The Barry-Greenwich-Spector team composed several of Spector’s biggest hits including The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me,” and The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You” as well as the holiday perennial “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love.
In early 1963, Jeff and Ellie had chart success with such songs as “What A Guy” and “The Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget,” recorded by the couple under the name The Raindrops (Ellie provided all the female vocals through the process of overdubbing, while Jeff sang backgrounds in a bass voice). In 1964 Leiber and Stoller brought Jeff and Ellie onboard at their new label, Red Bird Records, as songwriter-producers. Out of Red Bird’s first twenty releases, fifteen hit the charts; all were written and/or produced by the Barry-Greenwich team, including “Chapel of Love,” “People Say,” and “Iko Iko” by The Dixie Cups and “Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand)” and “Leader of the Pack” by The Shangri-Las. Jeff and Ellie also released solo singles under their own names for Red Bird in 1965, Ellie the haunting “You Don’t Know,” and Jeff the uptempo “I’ll Still Love You.”
In early 1966 Jeff and Ellie discovered a talented young singer/songwriter named Neil Diamond and brought him to the attention of Bert Berns, one of the principals of Bang Records. Neil was signed to the label, and Jeff and Ellie produced Neil’s first hits including “Cherry, Cherry,” “Solitary Man,” “Kentucky Woman,” and “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon.” Both Jeff and Ellie can be heard singing backgrounds on many of Neil’s Bang recordings.
During this time period, with Phil Spector, the pair also wrote the classics “River Deep, Mountain High” (Ike and Tina Turner) and “I Can Hear Music” (The Ronettes, The Beach Boys). Penning songs (especially love songs) together was awkward at best given the circumstances, and Jeff and Ellie’s writing partnership soon came to its end. Among Jeff’s new collaborators were Marty Sanders, a member of the pop group Jay and the Americans, and Bang label CEO Bert Berns, with whom he wrote “Am I Groovin’ You?,” a top R & B single for Freddie Scott in 1967.
In late 1966, Jeff Barry was asked by music supervisor Don Kirshner to produce some tracks for the new Monkees music group. Jeff brought with him a few Neil Diamond-penned tunes for the group to record. One among them, “I’m a Believer,” under Jeff’s production baton, would sail up the U.S. charts to the #1 spot and become one of the biggest-selling records of all time. The group also had a hit with another Diamond-composed, Barry-produced single, “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.” After Kirshner’s dismissal from Colgems Records, however, Barry would not produce for the Monkees again until 1970’s Changes, which in fact contained many songs co-written by Barry.
Having been removed from the Monkees project, Don Kirshner became music supervisor for a new Saturday morning cartoon, The Archie Show, in 1968. Kirshner brought Jeff in as producer and main songwriter, and during the next three years, Jeff composed dozens of songs for the fictional Archies group, including the show’s theme song, “Everything’s Archie,” and the Dances of the Week (a staple of the show’s first season). Lead vocals for The Archies were provided by former Detergents member and session singer Ron Dante. Jeff had also recently founded his own label, Steed Records, and one of his most successful recording artists was Montreal native Andy Kim, who had hits with remakes of Jeff’s Ronettes tunes “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You.” Jeff and Andy collaborated on several tunes for The Archies to record, including their best-known single, “Sugar, Sugar,” which hit the #1 spot, became the RIAA Record of the Year for 1969, and earned the group a gold record.
In 1970, Jeff wrote and produced singles and albums for Ron Dante, Bobby Bloom (“Montego Bay”), and Robin McNamara (“Lay a Little Lovin’ On Me”), among others. In addition, Jeff penned his first music for motion pictures (Hello Down There and Where It’s At) and wrote the music for and produced Tom Eyen’s hit off-Broadway revue The Dirtiest Show in Town.
In 1971 Jeff moved from New York to California, going on staff at A&M Records for several years. Between 1972 and ‘75, he produced hit singles for Nino Tempo and April Stevens (together and separately) and the famous acappella vocal group The Persuasions. During subsequent years he shifted his focus to television (writing the theme songs for One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, and Family Ties) and movies (the score for 1980’s The Idolmaker), although he continued his work in the pop music field. In 1974, “I Honestly Love You,” written by Jeff with Peter Allen, became a #1 hit for singer Olivia Newton-John; and, in 1984, Jeffrey Osborne and Joyce Kennedy hit the Top 40 with another Barry composition, “The Last Time I Made Love,” written with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
During the 1970s and ’80s Jeff also scored numerous hit songs on the country charts, among them “Out Of Hand” by Gary Stewart, “Sayin’ Hello, Sayin’ I Love You, Sayin’ Goodbye” by Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius, “Lie To You For Your Love” by The Bellamy Brothers, a remake of “Chip Chip” (originally a 1962 Gene McDaniels pop smash) by Patsy Sledd, and “Walkin’ In The Sun” by Glen Campbell.
In May of 1991, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. During the mid-1990s, Jeff served as president of the National Academy of Songwriters, and in December 1998 he was a recipient of their Lifetime Achievement Award. In March of 2000, Jeff Barry filmed a music special for the PBS television network, Chapel of Love: Jeff Barry and Friends. The show featured performances of Barry tunes by several of the artists who made them famous, including The Dixie Cups, The Crystals, Ronnie Spector, Andy Kim, Ray Peterson, and Ron Dante of The Archies.
In recent years, Jeff Barry has been involved in several projects, among them the Broadway-bound musical comedy Knight Life. Knight Life (subtitled The Girl Who Would Be King) was written by Prudence Fraser and Robert Sternin - best known for their writing and production work on the CBS series The Nanny - with music by Jeff Barry. Knight Life has played in several venues around the U.S. and in November of 2005 had its official world premiere in Vero Beach, Florida.