Times and tastes may have changed over the past 55 years but pop music’s Jay and The Americans remains.
Known for such songs as “Cara Mia,” “Come a Little Bit Closer” and “She Cried,” the members of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame are still going strong and will perform at Harrington Raceway and Casino’s Exhibit Hall Saturday night in a sold-out show with The Fabulous Hubcaps as part of the casino’s On Stage Harrington concert series.
“We started out as teenagers who wanted to sign autographs, get girls and do all that bad stuff and now we’re all grandfathers singing to our grandchildren,” said Sandy Deane, who co-founded the group in 1959.
The road from those days until now hasn’t always been smooth. There have been down periods, three different
lead singers and a breakup in 1973 that lasted more than 30 years but Mr. Deane says he and his partners “stuck to our guns” to make music history.
“We never changed who we were and what we wanted to sing. We were sometimes considered out of touch or old-fashioned but we stuck to it,” Mr. Deane said.
“We’ve always had the big vocal with the big harmonies and the arrangements with all of the strings and the horns and some people thought we were unhip. We were the Rodney Dangerfield of our day. We didn’t get the respect at times. But we all had thick skin and persevered.
“Even our name ‘Jay and The Americans’ — I never thought waving the flag and being patriotic was uncool.”
That perseverance paid off early in their careers. After recording a version of “Tonight” from “West Side Story”attracted them regional fame in the Northeast in 1961, the group went on to record “She Cried” in 1962.
But that wasn’t supposed to be the hit song. It was a B side to another tune called “Dawning” but very little came of that song.
“In the record company’s wisdom, they put ‘She Cried’ on the B side. ‘Dawning’ was a cute record but after about six months, it failed to become a hit,” Mr. Deane said.
“Then we got word that a DJ in California had flipped out over ‘She Cried’ and locked himself in the radio studio and played it over and over again for 12 hours. Our manager came running in to tell us one day that it was gaining steam all over the country and becoming a big hit.
“We went back in the studio and recorded a ‘She Cried’ album that had a lot of Drifters stuff and (songwriters) Lieber and Stoller songs that did very well.”
After a strenuous tour and the failure of the next couple of singles, lead singer Jay Trainor left the group and David Black, who later also went by “Jay,” joined the band in 1963.
“He came in and auditioned for us and sang ‘Cara Mia’ and almost broke the china cabinet in my mother’s house, he was so powerful,” recalled Mr. Deane.
A string of hits followed, including “Only in America,” “Let’s Lock the Door,” “Come a Little Bit Closer” and finally “Cara Mia,” which Mr. Deane calls the first rock opera hit.
“We sang that song for four years in concert and were never allowed to record it,” he said.
“The record company was afraid of a rock opera record but we said we would break our contract unless they let us record it and the rest is history.”
The record went on to hit No. 4 on the pop charts in 1964.
That same year came a memorable, but quite unexpected, appearance with The Beatles.
During the same week the Fab Four appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” for the first time, they played the Washington Coliseum. An East Coast snowstorm didn’t allow the West Coast-based Chiffons to play on the bill and they were replaced by Jay and the Americans, who were already on the East Coast.
“We actually drove down from New York in the snow for the show. We were gangsters that way. I remember as we were driving up to the venue, we saw on the big marquee ‘The Beatles and Others.’ Jay Black was really ticked off by this and told me to turn the car around. We weren’t playing the gig. He felt really disrespected,” Mr. Deane said.
“But I felt like we had signed the contract and we should play.”
Once inside, they realized the crowd was only there to see The Beatles as other acts, including The Righteous Brothers, got booed off the stage.
“But Jay was very glib. He got up there and said ‘Glad you guys came to see us.’ The crowd laughed at that and let us play and applauded for us at the end,” Mr. Deane said.
Downstairs after their set, Mr. Deane quickly realized the phenomenon that would become The Beatles.
“Once they went on, the noise was deafening for five straight minutes. We literally had to hold our ears. It was then we knew that it wasn’t just hype. These guys were the real deal.”
Hits such as a remake of The Drifters’ classic “This Magic Moment” and “Walkin’ in the Rain” kept Jay and The Americans in the forefront of popular music until they disbanded in 1974.
Mr. Deane went on to direct the stage musical “Beatlemania” on Broadway and in Los Angeles and became an artist and repertoire director for ABC Dunhill Records. He also helped produce for the duo Steely Dan, whose members
Walter Becker and Donald Fagan, were in Jay and The Americans’ touring band in the early 1970s.
However in 2006, a chance to get the band back together called and Mr. Deane answered.
Mr. Black, who continued touring using the “Jay and The Americans” name ran into some financial problems because of a gambling habit and put the name up for sale.
Fearing the name would be snatched up by another group, which had no ties to the band, Mr. Deane bought the rights for $100,000.
After recruiting original members Howie Kane and Marty Sanders to rejoin the group, the search was on to find a new Jay.
Enter Jay Reincke, a Chicago-area singer, who had been performing Jay and The Americans’ songs for years and actually had considered buying the name until he learned of the Illinois’ Truth in Music law, which prohibits a group from performing under a musical name without having at least one original member.
Mr. Deane and his bandmates got wind of Mr. Reincke and flew to Chicago to see him perform. His performance blew the guys away and he immediately joined the group for a relaunch of Jay and The Americans.
“This guy is just great. He has an incredibly strong voice and it’s fun seeing all these things through his eyes again.
I’ll get people coming up to me after the show and telling me how good he is. I’ll tell them ‘Don’t say it to me. Say it to him. I already know how good he is,’ ” Mr. Deane said.
These days, Jay and The Americans is back touring the country, singing the hits with the original arrangements and Mr. Deane said the group sounds better than ever.
“We’ve never looked at this as any entitlement. Even today, if we make a mistake, we’ll call each on it. And we know we better hit that note the right way next time,” Mr. Deane said.
“We know how lucky we are to be doing this. There are dozens of other groups just as talented or maybe more so than we were.
“We always say ‘We sing for free. They pay us for the travel.’ That’s the hard part. The singing part for us is an absolute joy. Even after 55 years, we still love it.”
‘The Battle’ continues
This weekend, a popular area Easter tradition continues as The Creative Arts Ministry of Calvary Assembly of God in Dover presents “The Battle: Exposing the Darkness” at 7 p.m. today and Saturday with a 3 p.m. matinée on Saturday and a 10:30 a.m. performance on Easter in Calvary’s sanctuary/theater at 1141 E. Lebanon Road.
Team-directed by Dee Gleason, Yasmin and Josh Walton, Terrence Savagel and Ally Deihl, “The Battle” is a new original musical drama based on the biblical account of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
Admission is free with no reserved seating. Doors open one hour before performances.For more information, call (302) 697-7776, or visit www.calvarydover.org.
New in theaters this weekend is the next installment of the popular “The Fast and Furious” franchise “Furious 7.”
New on DVD and download starting Tuesday are the dramas “A Most Violent Year” and “The Immigrant.”
Reach features editor Craig Horleman at firstname.lastname@example.org