|Jay and The Americans
Web site: http://www.jayandtheamericans.net/
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John Traynor • Sandy Deanne • Kenny Vance • Howie Kane
Incarnation (1) starts in 1959 with a vocal group called The Harborlites. It consisted of Sandy Yaguda (Deanne), Sydelle Sherman, and Kenny Rosenberg (Vance), and was so called because they lived in Belle Harbor, New York. Actually it originally consisted of six, Sydelle’s sister Gail, Ritchie Graff, and Linda Kahn. The prerequisite for joining was owning a white dinner jacket and not being completely tone deaf. They all attended Far Rockaway High. One of the owners of Ivy Records, Stan Feldman, also lived in that neighborhood and The Harborlites went to his home to audition for his label. He thought they were terrible and told them to go home and do a lot of practicing. Linda, Gail, and Ritchie turned in their white jackets and the three remaining members practiced constantly. When they thought they were good enough they went back to his office to audition again. This time they were signed to a contract and recorded their first record “Is That Too Much To Ask” written by Sandy with Sydelle singing lead vocals and Kenny & Sandy as back up vocalists. Released on Ivy Records but purchased and distributed by Jaro Records (J. Arthur Rank Organization. Cousin Brucie (Morrow), a very popular New york City disc jockey, liked the record and because of him it was a local hit. About then they met a man named Jim Gribble. He was a manager and he handled a lot of popular groups that were having record success like the Mello-Kings, The Jarmels, The Mystics, The Passions, Paul Simon of Tico & the Triumphs, and we were impressed . We signed with him. The Mystics at the time were minus a lead singer, Phil Cracolici, who had to drop out of the group for a while, just after their big hit “Hushabye”. John Traynor filled in as their lead singer and recorded “White Cliffs Of Dover” and “Blue Star” with them, but he was unhappy because he felt like an outsider and knew they would never accept him as an equal. They had grown up together and resented anyone trying to replace Phil. Just about then Sandy and Kenny decided they wanted to have a male group, and in Gribble’s office,, they decided to join together and form a new group. Sandy called his boyhood Brooklyn friend Howie Kirschenbaum (Kane), and the then unnamed Jay and The Americans was formed. John “Jay” Traynor was born in Brooklyn, New York March 30, 1943, and moved with his mother to Mineola on Long Island in 1959 where he formed his first group The Ab-tones. Then on to the Mystics and then to the un-named group.
In 1960 the group auditioned for another Belle Harbor music writer/ producer named Phil Teitlebaum (Terry Phillips). Through Terry’s connections the group auditioned for Jerry Lieber &Mike Stoller the hottest producer/songwriters in the business. They sang acappella, a song by The Five Keys“Wisdom Of A Fool” and some Phillips material. When Lieber and Stoller criticized the Phillips material the group had been practicing, Phillips pulled the boys out of their office. Kenny got angry and upset and marched back into their office the next day and told them off. He walked out of their office again, but this time with a record deal. L & S built on the groups natural doo-wop harmonies but pushed the envelope with Traynor’s pop flavored lead vocals. They also were into spoofs and tongue in cheek writing. But when they tried to name the group Binky Jones and The Americans, the boys were having none of it. Hence the compromise of Traynor’s nickname, Jay. Hence, Jay & The Americans were officially in business.
West Side Story was a big movie at the time, ready for release. United Artists needed some music coverage to promote the movie.
Lieber & Stoller had a production deal with U. A. & signed J & The A’s to them. Their first recording was Tonight from West Side Story. It was a really good record but U.A. had two of their other acts record Tonight also. Most of the promotion money was spent on the two more well known acts, Ferante & Teicher & Ralph Marterie. The single by J & A’s still was a local hit selling 40,000 copies around the New York area.
The second record was “ Dawning” b/w “She Cried”. “Dawning was supposed to be the hit side but very little happened with it. The record was out for six months when Danny Kessler came running into the office yelling “we’ve got a hit”. A
West Coast Disc Jockey,had flipped out over “ She Cried” and had locked himself in the broadcast booth, playing it over & over again for six hours.The phones at the station lit up and the record became a huge hit. The “She Cried” album was released shortly thereafter. It contained almost all Drifters and Lieber & Stoller material.
With the success of “She Cried”, Jay and the Americans were booked on a continuous string of one niters. The constant travel and the failure of the next two singles, proved too much for Traynor. He started missing rehearsals and the guys thought he wanted to go solo. He admitted he had been thinking about it and the guys said “don’t think, we’ll go on without you” (Brooklyn Attitude) Actually it was a sad day for everyone involved. John Traynor”s solo career was less than it should have been. To this day The Americans always say “ Traynor was a great singer with great style and as smooth a voice as they ever heard.
Meanwhile (back in the jungle ) The Americans were without a lead singer. While minus a lead, The Americans sang backup vocals on Bobby Goldsboro’s “See The Funny Little Clown” Marty Sanders who had been with the group off & on as a guitar/background vocalist (on salary for live gigs ) and who had also sung some backup on the “She Cried” album was now a full member of the group. This had happened when they were performing in Washington D.C. at the Rocket Room. Traynor was still singing lead & Danny Kessler ( their manager) had suggested it since he was making more than the rest of them as a paid musician. Marty was thrilled “til he figured out the math. Anyway he was with them at a rehearsal at Howie’s house when a bulb lit up over Howie’s head. Hey Marty he said, “what about that guy you sing with”. Who, Dave Blatt? Marty replied. He‘s married with a kid and he works full time selling shoes at Thom McCann, so I doubt if he’s interested, but I’ll call him anyway, ’cause ya never know.
So he called David Blatt his neighbor and singing buddy and tells him J & A’s are looking for a lead singer. You know they sing “She Cried”. Dave says, “I can sing that easily“. He was a really great mimic and sounded exactly like Traynor when he later did that song on stage. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Marty and Dave sang together in “The Two Chaps”. The Two Chaps. also had been signed to Ivy Records at the same time as The Harbor-lites, though they never crossed paths. They recorded “ Please Forgive Me “ on Atlantic label and later recorded with the Empires on Epic Records. One record only was released. Written by Marty & Dave called “Time And A Place”, with Dave singing lead b/w “Punch Your Nose” with Marty singing lead. This too was a short lived group.
Anyway, Dave skeptically drives from Brooklyn to Belle Harbor. Queens (The Rockaways ) for an audition at Sandy’s parents home. He pulls up with rope tying down the hood of his car, since the latch had been broken.
They are waiting in the basement to meet this guy that Marty says can really sing. When he gets there Sandy says “why don’t you sing something that you are comfortable with, that will show us how you sing. Marty plays one chord on his guitar and Dave sings “Cara Mia” acappella and blows all of them off their chairs. At the end of the song they are all laughing because they look at the staircase leading into the basement and its filled with Sandy’s parents and several neighbors who came running in to hear who was singing.
It was obvious that Dave wasn’t Dave anymore, he was Jay # 2. The first recording with the new Jay was “Only In America”, and the story behind it is fascinating.
Lieber & Stoller were having great success with their other acts (Drifters and Coasters) and the choice material was going to them. J & A’s felt they were getting leftovers and were quite unhappy. They were in L&S office one day and heard a master of the new Drifters’ record “Only In America” ( a Mann &Weil composition) playing. They immediately complained to them. How could you not give a song named Only In America to us. What would make more sense or be more natural than J & A’s singing a great song titled “Only In America”. Jerry Lieber looked them in the face, shrugged his shoulders and said” that’s the way it goes”. But timing is everything. At that moment, L&S received word from Atlantic Records that they would not release that record because firstly, it was outrageous for a black group to be singing about becoming President in those pre Civil Rights days and second, a bomb had blown up a church in Selma Alabama within weeks of this happening and three little girls had been killed. L&S had thought it would be a good social comment but Atlantic was firm about how they felt. L&S said they could get the song for J&A’s if they wanted it. They of course did and L&S called Atlantic and offered to purchase the master track for the cost of the session. Atlantic agreed and J&A”s went into the studio and overdubbed their voices in the key that it was recorded in for the Drifters. It was then sped up to get into a groove but to this day J&A’s claim they sound like the chipmunks on the record and perform it live a whole key down from that of the record. Many people think this is another song from West Side Story but unlike their recording of “Tonight” it is not. It is still a great record. Now with a hit from both Jays, the group was starting to perform live again. Only problem being, Dave was so nervous every time they would announce “Here they are Jay and The Americans”, he would be puking in the nearest men”s room. The guys took turns, wiping it off his boots and leading a shakey guy by the elbows onto the stage. Once there however he was worth the price of admission since Cara Mia was part of their live act.
Again J&A’s were being treated like redheaded stepchildren by L&S. They were so very busy with other acts that they turned to an outside producer Artie Ripp, then of Kama Sutra Productions (later to become Kama Sutra Records). The first record he did with the guys was “Come A Little Bit Closer”. Not bad for starters. Followed with “Lets Lock The Door” and “Think Of The Good Times“. This resulted in them going on the Beatles first American tour in 1964, which also included the Righteous Brothers, as well as playing with the Rolling Stones at Carnegie Hall. After three and a half years of singing Cara Mia in their live act, they finally recorded it after much arguing with the powers that be. That started a whole new phase for the group. ”Some Enchanted Evening” came next and the boys had solidified themselves as a group with longevity. The group was also the first to have a hit with a Neil Diamond song. ”Sunday & Me”. After “Sunday & Me” Dave cut a solo record for UA- “What Will My Mary Say”. He also cut a solo album but somehow the master tape was lost. Finally in 1969 the group formed its own production company (JATA) and took control of their own recording. The first album - “Sands Of Time” is a tribute to Alan Freed and all the songs J&A’s loved and listened to as youngsters. The album ends with Alan Freed’s last sign off of his radio show. It was truly the first rock revival album and was a labor of love. They felt this was their greatest effort. The resulting single “This Magic Moment” was their largest selling hit.
They said they were recording it white but feeling it soul. Two other singles from that album charted, “When You Dance” originally by the Turbans and “Hushabye” originally by The Mystics. The next and last album “Wax Museum” also remakes, had a hit originally by “The Ronettes”- “Walking In The Rain” .
Their last chart record was “Capture The Moment” 1970, and their last release was “There Goes My Baby” another Drifters remake. In 1974 the group disbanded.
To this day David still performs. Kenny has his own group, “ The Planotones” Marty still records and performs and is a successful songwriter, having written “Bad Reputation” with Joan Jett and “Words” with Sandy and F.R. David. Sandy directed “Beatlemania” on Broadway & in Los Angeles, became A&R Director of ABC Dunhill Records. He also owns a fashionable ladies clothing boutique with his wife. Howie is a well known and respected social worker and heads a drug & alcohol program. He is a consultant and speaker on these subjects. And that’s it...OR IS IT.
O.K. FAST FORWARD 30 YEARS OR SO. DAVID BLATT IS FORCED TO GO BANKRUPT DUE TO BACK TAXES CAUSED BY GAMBLING DEBTS. THE BANKRUPTCY COURT APPOINTED TRUSTEE ASKS DAVE, DO YOU HAVE ANY ASSETS. NONE HE REPLIES. THE TRUSTEE SAYS, I DISAGREE. YOU HAVE THE NAMES YOU HAVE BEEN PERFORMING WITH FOR THIRTY YEARS. HE LAUGHS AND SAYS, “NOBODY CAN USE THOSE BUT ME. NOBODY CAN SING THOSE SONGS BUT ME. A JUDGE WOULD NEVER TAKE THE NAMES FROM ME”.
The trustee says we’ll see about that and puts the names up for auction with the stipulation that the music must be represented in a proper manner similar to the manner in which they have been represented in the past. Trustee receives two bids, both substantial.
Long story short- the federal judge awards the name “Jay and The Americans” and “The Americans” to Sandy Yaguda and his son Todd. Sandy & Todd, fearing the name would fall into the hands of imposters as so many other groups names had, took pro-active action.
Now the story gets better. At the auction Sandy says where are the other bidders? They tell him the other bidder had pulled out because he lived in Illinois where a law had been passed prohibiting anyone from performing under a musical name without having at least one original member (the truth in music act). Which is now passed in many states. Sandy was curious. Who was the bidder? The trustee shows a letter from a Jay Reincke that states:
I have been singing “ Jay and the Americans” songs for thirty years with my band in Chicago and I can represent the music properly. I offer $114,000 for the name. Sandy thought either this guy is an idiot from AMERICAN IDOL, with a bankroll, or he’s really good.
Sandy drove home, legal papers signed and sealed and immediately called the phone number he had coppied off that fateful letter.
Hi, is this Jay Reincke? I’m Sandy Yaguda from --- and before he could say who he was, Jay said ---- I know who you are and It’s an honor to speak with you. Sandy thought ---- Is this guy for real!!
Sandy then told him he had purchased the name and was looking for a great singer with a big voice to be Jay #3. Are you any good. Are you working this weekend and if so where? Tell you what Howie and I will fly out to your next gig and check you out.
That weekend the two “Americans” flew to Chicago to see Reincke perform. It was a typical rowdy club. (the best kind) to see an act do their thing. The place was jumping with all types having a fun nite.
Jay took the stage and opened with “ Only in America”, we were impressed and hopeful. Next came a Gary Pucket song “ Young Girl”, again we were impressed. Next he sang “Come A Little Bit Closer” and he nailed it. Howie & I looked at each other but didn’t say a word. High anxiety. Then he sang “Cara Mia” and the whole place erupted just like it used to thirty years ago. I was done. Howie was done. We’d been here before. Same song, same reaction. We stood up with the rest of them and clapped for a long time but for a different reason. Jay then introduced us to the audience, first a hush, then a roar went through the room like they knew what we knew.
He flew to New York City the next week to meet Marty (the third original Americano) and some new players we thought would round out the musical entity that was evolving. It was like it was living and breathing all by itself. Nobody could have forseen nor planned this. It just kept happening.
We are now rehearsing and having a lot of fun. Music is always fun in the beginning. The singing and playing is getting better and tighter. The group is working on old and new material to record and play live in concert. It is most amazing to think that four kids from Brooklyn have survived, from 2 track recording & vinyl 45’s to downloading on I- Tunes.
I hope there isn’t a Chapter Four (You Break Up -- Won’t You Give It Just One More Chance)
Remember. "It’s all about enjoying the music"