Jay and the Americans were a pop music group popular in the 1960s. Their initial lineup consisted of John "Jay" Traynor, Howard Kane (né Kirschenbaum), Kenny Vance (né Rosenberg) and Sandy Deanne (né Yaguda), though their greatest success on the charts came after Traynor had been replaced as lead singer by Jay Black.
They were discovered while performing in student venues at New York University in the late 1950s. They auditioned for Leiber and Stoller, who gave the group its name.
With Jay Traynor singing lead, they first hit the Billboard charts in 1962 with the tune "She Cried," which reached #5 (later covered by The Shangri-Las, Aerosmith, and others). The next two singles didn't fare nearly as well, and Traynor left the group. Jay's solo singles made little impression, but one, "Up And Over" issued on ABC in 1966 became a Northern Soul classic. Empires' guitarist Marty Sanders (né Kupersmith) joined the group. He brought David Black (né Blatt) of "The Empires" in to take Traynor's place (after David first agreed to adopt the name Jay Black), and Black sang lead for the rest of the group's major hits.
They returned to the charts in 1963 with "Only In America," a song originally meant for The Drifters. Other notable hits for Jay and the Americans were "Come a Little Bit Closer" in 1964, which hit #3, and "Cara Mia" in 1965, which hit #4. They also recorded a commercial for H.I.S. Slacks and a public service announcement for the Ad Council, featuring a backing track by Brian Wilson and Phil Spector. Two tracks from this era later found favour with the Northern Soul crowd: "Got Hung Up Along The Way" and "Living Above Your Head".
In 1968, they recorded an album of their favorite oldies called Sands of Time, which included "This Magic Moment," which was originally done by the Drifters. The single went to #9 in January 1969. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in May 1969. "This Magic Moment" was the last top ten record for Jay and the Americans, although a follow-up album, Wax Museum, in January 1970, did yield the #19 hit single "Walkin' In The Rain," first recorded by The Ronettes. Their next singles failed to chart, and the band grew apart, but the demand for appearances remained. (Around the same time the band recorded "This Magic Moment," Jay and the Americans member Sandy Yaguda produced a Long Island teen sextet called The Tuneful Trolley. Their late-1968 Capitol LP, Island In The Sky — a hybrid of Beach Boys and Beatlesque psych-pop—was reissued in 2008 in the UK on Now Sounds.) From 1970 to 1971 Jay and the American's touring band included Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (of later Steely Dan fame) on backup bass guitar and electric organ.
The group split in 1973. All of the members moved on to solo musical careers, with the exception of Jay Black, who continued to perform as "Jay and the Americans." Black continued until the 1980s with a variety of musicians. The original core group reunited in the 1990s for special performances, most notably the 45 Years of Motown special on PBS. Jay was featured in the PBS special Rock, Rhythm, and Doo Wop as "Jay Black & The Americans" in 2001.
The version of "Cara Mia" went to #1 in Holland when it was re-released in 1980.
Sale of the band name and "reunion"
In 2006, Jay Black filed for bankruptcy due to gambling debts, and his ownership of the name "Jay & The Americans" was sold by the bankruptcy trustee to Sandy Deanne (Yaguda), Black's former band mate and original member of Jay & The Americans for $100,000 to pay Black's debts. With the name purchase, former members Deanne, Howard Kane, and Marty Sanders reunited, and recruited a sound-alike singer from Chicago, coincidentally nicknamed "Jay." Thus, John "Jay" Reincke became the third "Jay" and the band returned to playing both national and international music venues. Their show covers the history of Jay and The Americans, acknowledging all three Jays and featuring all of the top hits in their original arrangements.
David Blatt still tours under his stage name, "Jay Black". Kenny Vance is currently the lead singer of Kenny Vance and the Planotones, a neo-doo wop band that he formed in the 1970s. After leaving the group, John Traynor recorded a handful of songs on the Coral label, including "I Rise, I Fall" in 1964. None were hits, but "I Rise, I Fall" became a minor hit for Johnny Tillotson. The label billed Traynor as "JAY formerly of Jay and the Americans." Traynor toured with Jay Siegel's Tokens until shortly before his death on January 3, 2014.
Awards and recognition
The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002.