The four were teamed up with songwriters Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber, who had a great track record with The Drifters, The Coasters, and Ben E. King. United Artists had just finished the movie version of West Side Story and offered the boys heavy promotion if they recorded a song from the soundtrack called "Tonight". Under the name "Jay and the Americans", Tonight sold 50,000 copies, but was far overshadowed by an instrumental version by Ferrante and Teicher.
Their second effort though was to be their breakthrough. "She Cried" gained national attention when a West coast D.J. locked himself in the booth a played the song for four straight hours. The wire services picked up on the story and the song and the group gained national attention.
After their first hit, the band went through some changes. Singer Howie Kane, also working as a mortician, couldn't work on Sundays, when Murray The K had his Coney Island shows, so he dropped out, as did Jay Traynor. Marty Sanders, from the Empires, joined the group and introduced the others to a powerful singer named David Blatt, who agreed to use the stage name, Jay Black.
While rehearsing one day in the studio, Kenny Vance brought a song to other's attention. It was a tune recorded by The Drifters called "Only In America". Given the group's name, he suggested they record it too. When Atlantic Records vetoed the Drifter's version, (in the early sixties, a black group couldn't sing about becoming President) The Americans changed some of the offending lyrics like, "only in America, do they make you sit in the back of the bus..." and released it in August of 1963. The song made it into the top forty.
In 1964, they recorded a tune which had been written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. "Come A Little Bit Closer" climbed all the way to number three on the national charts and solidified the group's reputation as one that was capable of producing hits.
Further success followed in 1965: "Let's Lock The Door" [And Throw Away The Key], "Some Enchanted Evening", and a song that was Neil Diamond's first big hit as a songwriter, "Sunday and Me". That odd 'Mexican feel' reappeared on their next hit, "Cara Mia," which was a rather astonishing exercise in sheer top-range vocal power by Black.
Everything about the group was clean-cut, from their alpaca sweaters to their well choreographed stage act. Then, The Beatles introduced teens to the rebellious "mop haired" look and suddenly, Jay and The Americans were out of date. Songs like "Living Above Your Head" and "French Provincial" couldn't crack the charts.
The group found themselves playing smaller and smaller venues until they teamed up with producer, Tommy Kaye to do an album of "oldies". A song originally recorded by their old friends, The Drifters, called "This Magic Moment" took off like a rocket and went to the top of the U.S. charts, selling over two million copies in 1968. The group stayed with the oldies and released another top ten hit, "Walkin' In The Rain".
When the seventies came, Jay and The American's music once again went out of style and in 1974, Kenny, Sandy and Marty all quit, leaving Jay Black to the oldies revival tours. He also did some solo recording, placing "Love Is In The Air" on the European charts in 1975.
Several members of the band stayed in show business in later years. Two members of Jay and the Americans' backup group during the 1970's, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, moved to the West Coast and formed Steely Dan. Marty Sanders pursued writing and Sandy Deane went into producing. Kenny Vance recorded some solo albums and became a musical director for TV's Saturday Night Live as well as several Hollywood movies. As an actor, Kenny has appeared in Hurly Burly, Billy Bathgate, American Hot Wax, Eddie and The Cruisers and has also appeared in several Woody Allen films.
Original lead singer Jay Traynor formed two other groups, "Great Jones" and "Friends" and recorded some singles for various labels over the years, but none caught on. He also toured the oldies circuit for a while as Jay Traynor and The Americans and by the summer of 2001, was singing with The Joey Thomas Band, a Jazz / Big Band group that recorded a Grammy nominated album called "The Sinatra Show".
In 2006, Jay Black filed for bankruptcy and his ownership of the name Jay And The Americans was sold to Sandy Deanne (Yaguda), Black's former band mate, for $100,000. With the name purchase, former members Deanne, Howard Kane, and Marty Sanders reunited and recruited John Reincke, a sound-alike singer from Chicago. Reincke became the third "Jay" and the band returned to playing both national and international music venues. In 2012, they were still heavily booked across Canada and the United States.
David Blatt continued to tour 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.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' Interview With Kenny Vance