Jay & the Americans managed to consistently record hit songs and put four of them in the top ten in the 60's. All were recorded for United Artists.
The original lead singer of the group was John "Jay" Traynor, who had been with the Mystics in the late 50's. He got together with a group called the Harbor Lites in New York City late in 1959 from among a group of students at New York University. Among the group members were Sandy Deane (a.k.a. Sandy Yaguda), Sidell Sherman and Kenny Rosenberg (a.k.a Kenny Vance).
Yaguda, Traynor and Vance brought in Howie Kirshenbaum (a.k.a. Howie Kane) and they auditioned for Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. The band was named Binky Jones & the Americans by Lieber and Stoller, but not wanting to be known as Binky for the rest of his life, Traynor suggested his childhood nickname, Jay, in its place. Thus was born the group Jay & the Americans. Guitarist Marty Sanders joined the group at a later date. The group's first chart entry, She Cried, was produced by Leiber and Stoller and made it all the way to number five in 1962. Traynor handled the lead vocal but left the group a short time later. His replacement, Jay Black (real name: David Blatt), sang lead on all of the group's subsequent hits. They recorded Lieber and Stoller's Only In America from a Drifters' track, and it was the group's next tune to reach the top forty.
In 1964 they recorded their biggest hit, Come A Little Bit Closer, which had been written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Produced by Artie Ripp, it was an excellent recording of an excellent song and fit the times very well. Similar songs of the time featured a driving Latin/rock rhythm known as the "baion" beat. This included such tunes as Bobby Freeman's Do You Wanna Dance, the McCoys' Hang On Sloopy, and Ritchie Valens' La Bamba. Come A Little Bit Closer made it to number three and solidified the group's reputation as one that was capable of producing hits.
Other hits 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. Continuing in the vein of cabaret-style music that was somewhat different from mainstream pop in the mid-60's, Jay & the Americans reached number four with their cover of a song that had reached the top ten for David Whitfield in 1954, Cara Mia.
Later in the 60's they organized their own company JATA and recorded more covers that sold well: the Drifters' This Magic Moment (top ten in 1969) and the Ronettes' Walkin' In The Rain.
In the 70's two members of Jay & the Americans' backup group, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, moved to the West Coast and formed Steely Dan. Original member Kenny Vance recorded some solo albums and became a musical director in Hollywood. Jay Black also did some solo recording and had a single in the top 100 as late as 1980. He is still active in the music business.
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