Jay and The Americans
The Harbor Lites, Sandy Yaguda, Sydell Sherman, and Kenny Vance In 1959, Kenny Vance and Sandy Yaguda were part of a vocal group called the Harbor Lites; so called because they lived in Belle Harbor, New York. The other members were Sydell Sherman, Gail Sherman, Linda Kahn and Richie Graff. They all attended the same school. One of the owners of IVY Records, Stan Feldman, also lived in that neighborhood and the Harbor Lites went to his home to audition for his label. He thought that the group was terrible and told them to go home and do a lot of practicing. Linda, Gail and Richie left the group at this point and the three remaining members practiced constantly. When they thought that they were good enough they went back to his office to audition again. This time they were signed to a contract and their first record was “Is That Too Much To Ask”- originally on Ivy but Jaro Records purchased the master. Jaro stood for The 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 minor hit.
The Harbor Lites, had, like so many other white groups of that era, been managed by Jim Gribble. Another of his groups was The Mystics, who, at that time, were minus a lead singer, Phil Cracolici, who had to drop out of the group for awhile – just after their hit record “Hushabye”. John Traynor (Jay) was filling in as lead until Phil returned to the group. Jay sang lead on two of The Mystics’ songs – “White Cliffs Of Dover” and Blue Star”, as well as on some of their unreleased records, but was unhappy with the group because they had not accepted him. They were guys who had grown up together and they resented anybody taking Phil’s place. Jay considered himself an outsider. At this time. Kenny and Sandy decided that they wanted to have a male recording group. Through the Gribble Office, they met Jay and he agreed to join their, as yet, unnamed group. Shortly after, Sandy called on an old buddy of his, Howie Kane and got him to join the group. Living also in Belle Harbor was a song writer/producer named Terry Philips (now the owner of Perception Records). The group auditioned for Terry and he liked the way they sang. Terry knew Danny Kessler, who was partners with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in a publishing company. This was when Leiber/Stoller were the hottest producers/writers in the business. The group sang “Wisdom of a Fool” for their audition and some songs that had been written by Terry. L&S (Leiber and Stoller) loved the group but didn’t want to record any of Terry’s songs. There was a dispute in the office between L&S and Terry, and L&S threw Jay and the Americans (although they still had no name at the time) out, along with Terry. L&S had promised the guys the world and four very dejected boys walked out of the office. Kenny got angry and decided to go back to their office and tell them off. Apparently L&S were not used to this kind of back talk because they finally said that they would go through with the deal.
L&S had a production deal with United Artists and got the group signed to that label. They (L&S) were into “spoofs” and wanted to call the group, Binky Jones and the Americans, but the guys didn’t go for it. Hence, they compromised on Jay and the Americans. They went into the studio and cut Tonight’ from “West Side Story’.
United Artists had also produced the film and had the piano duo, Ferrante and Teicher under contract. U.A. promised Jay and the Americans a great deal of promotion if they would record “Tonight” and apparently offered Ferrente and Teicher the same deal . Ferrente and Teicher recorded it and it became a big hit. It was also a hit (though not as large) for Jay and The Americans – selling well in New York – about 40,000 copies.
Their second record was “Dawning” b/w “She Cried”. “Dawning” was supposed to be the hit side but very little was happening with it. The record was out for about six months when Danny Kessler came running into the office yelling “We’ve got a hit.'” There was a West Coast Disc Jockey (unfortunately, the guys don’t remember his name) who flipped over
“She Cried” and locked himself into the broadcasting booth, playing it over and over for about four hours. He got into quite a bit of trouble but he’s the one responsible for “She Cried” becoming a hit. The album “She Cried’ was released shortly thereafter, containing almost all Drifters and Ben E. King material.
To go back to 1959 – David (Jay) Black and Marty Sanders were next door neighbors who started to sing together in High School. A friend of theirs took them to Nat Garrick who decided to manage them and took them to Ivy Records as The Two Chaps. Atlantic Records heard the master of “Forgive Me” on Ivy and purchased it. The record didn’t do much and that was the brief career of The Two Chaps. Subsequently, Marty formed another group called The Interludes who later changed their name to The Empires when they started recording for Epic. The group consisted of Marty, Eddie Robbins, Leo Rose (lead) and two other guys called Phil and Gary. Here again, their names (last) are not remembered. Right after their demo session, Leo dropped out of the group and Marty called in Jay Black. The Empires cut one record entitled “Time And A Place” b/w “Punch Your Nose”. Jay and Marty wrote “Time And A Place” and Jay sang lead. “Punch Your Nose” was written by Marty and he sang lead. This too, was a short lived group.
During the album session of “She Cried”, Danny Kessler asked Marty, who was then Jay and The Americans’ guitarist, to sing with the group. Marty agreed and has been with them ever since.
Due to the success of “She Cried”, the group was doing a lot of traveling and this proved too much for Jay Traynor. He started missing rehearsals and the guys thought that he wanted to solo. Jay admitted that he had been thinking about it and the guys said that they would go on without him. Marty said that he had sung with a guy who had a great voice and the next day, he brought Jay Black to Sandy’s house to audition. Jay sang “Cara Mia” (acappella) and they flipped. Jay and the Americans’ first record with the new Jay was “Only in America” and the story behind it is fascinating.
L&S were having great success with their other acts and the choice material was going to them. Jay and the Americans felt that they were getting the leftovers and were quite unhappy. They were in the studio one day and heard a master of the new Drifters’ record “Only In America”. They complained to L&S that this was a great song and would have been perfect for them. At that moment, L&S received word from Atlantic Records that they were not going to release the record by the Drifters because it was outrageous for a black group to be singing about becoming President in those pre-Civil Rights days. L&S thought the song had “great social comment” and might bring people to realize that things in this country were not as they should be. Atlantic Records had the final say and the record was never released. It is rumored that there are several copies of the Drifters’ version around. L&S said that they could get the song for Jay and the Americans if they wanted it. They said they did and Les called Atlantic and said that they were interested in purchasing the master tape. Atlantic agreed to sell it for the cost of the session. The music track was retained and Jay and the Americans went into the studio to overdub the voice track. The rest is history. Many people are under the impression that this song is from “West Side Story” and apparently get in confused with the song from that show called “America”. There is no connection between the song and the show.
After this record, L&S became extremely busy with The Drifters, The Coasters, Ben E. King, etc., so an outside producer was called in. He was Artie Ripp – at that time of Kama Sutra Productions (later to become Kama Sutra Records). The first record he did with the guys was “Come A Little Bit Closer” and producer credits were shared with L&S. The group was also the first to have a hit with a Neil Diamond song. “Sunday And Me”
After “Sunday And Me”, Jay cut a solo record for UA – “What Will My Mary Say” b/w “Return To Me”. He also cut a solo album but somehow or other the master tape was lost.
When Jay auditioned for the group, he sang “Cara Mia” and for 3 1/2 years. the group did it in their act. Jay had always wanted to record it but the people in the business thought that nothing could happen with this song. Jay finally got his way and shortly thereafter, the song hit the top of the charts,
Gerry Granahan, a house producer for U.A. also cut the group. Gerry, you will remember, had a smash hit in “No Chemise Please” and was also the lead singer of Dicky Doo and The Don’ts. Dicky Doo was known as the lead singer but it was really the voice of Gerry Granahan that was heard.
In 1969, Jay and The Americans: Kenny Vance, Marty Sanders, Jay Black and Sandy Yaguda produced their first album – “Sands Of Time” for their own company – JATA (For Jay and The Americans) Enterprises, consisting of oldies. Throughout the years, The Drifters held a very special place in the hearts of the guys and their single released from this album was “This Magic Moment” which went on to be one of their biggest hits. Sandy told me this album was a tribute to the way they all feel about R&B music of the 50’s. They felt that this album was their greatest effort and are very proud of it. Sandy said, “We were recording it white, but feeling it soul.” Their following two singles “When You Dance” and “Hushabye” were also taken from this album followed with the album
“Wax Museum” which also was all oldies.
“Tricia Tell Your Daddy” was their last Single before the group fell into Inactivity for a year and a half.
Recently they did a show at Madison Square Garden In New York along with The Four Tops, Frankie Valle and The Four Seasons, and Martha Reeves and The Vandellas. The show (a sell-out) was a smash and was video taped for television showing. If you ever have a chance to see Jay and The Americans in a club or show, don’t miss them. They put on a class act that is extremely enjoyable.
We are fortunate in that they are now recording again and their new release Is another Drifters’ song – “There Goes My Baby”. When I heard a test pressing of this record, I flipped. I think it’s great and I loved the violin part, taken from “True Love, True Love” also by The Drifters.
Jay and The Americans are back on the scene again and it is a pleasure seeing and hearing them once more.
To this day, Jay Black is a major concert attraction. Kenny Vance is heading a highly acclaimed group with a loyal following; Kenny Vance and the Planotones (https://planotones.com), blending a unique style of R&B, and Oldies with new arrangements, which transcends the idiom. Kenny is also an actor and musical director for films. Howie Kirschenbaum is a social worker and heads a drug and alcohol program. Sandy Yaguda went on to produce Beatlemania and owns a health spa and Marty Kupersmith is still performing and recording and co wrote with Joan Jett “Bad Reputation” which was in the smash animated movie,”Shrek”.
- A Wake in Providence (1999) (performer: “Cara Mia”)
- The Sandlot (1993) (performer: “This Magic Moment”)
- A.K.A. The Sandlot Kids
- Wild, Wild Winter (1966) (performer: “Two of a Kind”)
- Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database