It was more than 50 years ago when Jay and the Americans, who are coming to Suffolk Theater on Saturday, entered the popular music scene, but the singers are still as enthusiastic about performing.
These days, the group does about 50 shows each year. “We would do a hundred if we had the opportunity, because we’re crazy and we love what we do,” says Sandy Yaguda, an original American who is better known as Sandy Deanne.
Deanne says the only reason they have stage names is because back when they got their start, there was no such thing as an unlisted phone number. “Our parents used to get calls in the middle of the night with girls giggling and hanging up,” he recalls. His father said he would kill him if his mother was woken up one more time.
So Yaguda became Deanne, Howard Kirschenbaum became Howie Kane, Martin Kupersmith became Marty Sanders, and Kenneth Rosenberg became Kenny Vance.
“When we started out were we kids and had no intention of doing anything other than making a record,” Deanne says. “Three years later, it was a career.
Today, three of the four original Americans are together. “The only missing American is Kenny Vance who has his own career—and we’re very happy he has his own career,” Deanne says. Vance is now the frontman of neo doo wop group Kenny Vance and the Planotones, which, like Jay and the Americans, has performed many times for enthusiastic Long Island crowds.
There have been three Jays in the group’s history. The original Jay was Jay Traynor, who helped give them their breakout hit in 1962, “She Cried.” He eventually went solo and was replaced by David Blatt, who had been using the stage name Dave Black. To fit the bill, he changed the name to Jay Black. With Black, the group recorded a string of hits including “This Magic Moment” and “Cara Mia” before disbanding in 1974.
More than 30 years later, a new lineup emerged. “This group has been together eight years as it is,” Deanne says.
Eight years ago is when Deanne successfully bid $100,000 to get back the name Jay and the Americans, which was held by Black. A bidder from Chicago had offered more, but withdrew his bid. Deanne wanted to find out who and why. He got in touch with the bidder, John “Jay” Reincke, who explained that he had been performing Jay and the Americans songs for 30 years as a cover artist. But the same year that he bid on the name, Illinois passed a Truth in Music law that mandates a musical group must include at least one original member in order to use a preexisting name.
Deanne and Sanders flew to Chicago to see Reincke perform and thought he was so good that they asked him to become their new Jay. “We call him Jay Number 3,” Deanne says.
The new lineup didn’t go out on the road right away. Deanne says they agreed that if it wasn’t going to be great, they wouldn’t do it at all. “We worked six months in a rehearsal hall, every day, killing ourselves.”
Audiences can be skeptical of Jay No. 3, but by the end of the show they give him a standing ovation, according to Deanne. “I know I sound like we’re tooting own horn, but it’s been a very hard job to get to the point where he’s accepted.” And now even the other famous singers they do shows with believe in Reincke. “’Whoa,’ they say. ‘This guy’s got some set of pipes.’”
Backing them up instrumentally is the USA Band. “They’re top-flight musicians,” Deanne says. The Americans began playing instruments on stage when The Beatles popularized that—in fact, they opened for the Fab Four in 1964—but they decided to go back to just singing and let talented musicians take care of the instrumentals.
Deanne says they are blessed to have many hits in their catalog, so when they perform a concert 20 out of 25 songs will be their own, while the remainder are by artists they were close with or who had an effect on their careers.
“We consider doing what we do for a living to be a privilege, not an entitlement,” Deanne says. In fact, he would do it for free. “Travel is what they’d have to pay me for,” he says, because that’s the only part that feels like work.
But for their Suffolk Theater show, they don’t have to travel far. Deanne lives in Long Beach, Kane is in Oceanside and Sanders is in Warwick. “We love playing locally,” Deanne says. They get to drive their own cars and bring their wives along to enjoy the night.
Suffolk Theater, with its intimate setting and table service, is the right kind of venue for the mature audience Jay and the Americans attracts, he says. “They like to sit down and have a drink at a table like grown-ups, get a little something to eat and see a show.”
Jay and the Americans perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 10, at Suffolk Theater, 118 E Main Street, Riverhead. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for bar and dinner service. Tickets are $40 each. Visit suffolktheater.com or call 631-727-4343.