LOS ANGELES (Top40 Charts/ Conqueroo Music) - Sixties vocal quintet, whose hits included 'This Magic Moment,' 'Cara Mia,' 'Come a Little
Bit Closer,' "She Cried" and 'Only in America,' worked with Leiber & Stoller, Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, Neil Diamond, Jimmy Miller, Jimmy Page, and even Donald Fagen
and Walter Becker of Steely Dan
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Jay & the Americans' roots were steeped in New York doo-wop, yet they managed to adapt their sound to compete in the British Invasion-steeped '60s. The group's long complex saga (for starters there have been three 'Jay's) is traced on the forthcoming The Complete United Artists Singles collection, a deluxe 3-CD, 66-track package coming from Collectors' Choice Music on July 21, 2009.
The package contains all of their UA singles (both "A" and 'B' sides) in the original mono mixes - the way fans heard it on the radio in the 1960s - plus two promo-only tracks. All the hits are here, including 'This Magic Moment,' 'Come a Little Bit Closer' Cara, Mia' 'Let's Lock the Door (And Throw Away the Key),' 'Sunday and Me,' 'This magic Moment,' 'She Cried,' 'Walking in the Rain' and more. Producer Ed Osborne (who helmed Collectors' Choice's recent Jan & Dean, Tommy James & the Shondells and Gary Lewis & the Playboys sets), contributed extensive biographical notes utilizing revealing quotes from members Sandy Deanne, Marty Sanders, Kenny Vance, Howie Kane, and Jay Traynor, and record producers Mike Stoller and Gerry Granahan.
The group's story began with a audition for legendary producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1961. Hot off their success with The Coasters and The Drifters, the pair dubbed the group "The Americans" and signed them to United Artists. The first recording was 'Tonight' from UA's forthcoming movie release West Side Story. When member Jay Traynor's voice emerged most dominant, Lieber & Stoller added 'Jay &' to the Americans' handle. The disc sold 50,000 - not bad for a first outing. A subsequent single, 'She Cried,' to which Leiber & Stoller added the voices of Cissy and Thelma Houston, and Dee Dee Warwick, went to No 5 following a stint on American Bandstand. Soon after, however, the group found itself without a lead singer when Jay Traynor left to get a "real" job.
Enter David Blatt, who was soon re-christened Jay Black - Jay No 2. The first single with Black was Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann's protest song 'Only in America,' originally recorded by the Drifters. It shot into the Top 30 in 1963. In 1964, UA released 'Goodbye Boys Goodbye (Ciao Ragazzi Ciao),' a single which did little until its Latin-esque 'B' side, 'Come a Little Bit Closer,' began climbing the charts. Jay Black was incensed; he believed he'd have time to re-do his one-take vocal. He got over his anger, however, when the track rose to No 3 and became one of the group's signature songs.
By now Jay & the Americans had been assigned to UA house producer, Gerry Granahan, who attended a club performance and was floored by a song that always wowed the crowds at live shows, but that Leiber and Stoller, and subsequently Artie Ripp had refused to record: the operatic 'Cara Mia.' The group recorded it and the track ascended to No. 4 - behind the Stones, Herman's Hermits and Tom Jones - in 1965.
New influences began to appear. Brian Wilson coached the band vocally in the Phil Spector production of the wall-of-sound 'Things Are Changing' and the group also began to take steps away from its complete dependence on outsiders for songs by penning 'Livin' Above Your Head,' to which Jimmy Page, then of the Yardbirds, contributed a guitar lick. Although the record was a not a hit for the Americans, the Walker Brothers included it on their second album which peaked at No. 3 in the UK. UA then assigned the group to Jimmy Miller as producer, whose hits included the Spencer Davis Group's 'Gimme Some Lovin'.' Jay & the Americans were never quite one with the Miller-produced song 'Shanghai Noodle Factory.' (It was released as a single by Traffic in late 1968.)
In 1969, Jay & the Americans returned to the Top 10 with 'This Magic Moment,' a tune dating back to Leiber & Stoller's days with the Drifters. Whereas the Drifters' version hit No 4 R&B and No 16 pop, Jay and company reached No 6, selling a gold-certified 1.6 million copies. Their cover of the Ronettes' 'Walking in the Rain' exceeded the original (a No 23 hit) by making it to No 19.
Even though it was the group's final Top 20 hit, they still had one more important contribution to make; they gave Donald Fagen and Walter Becker - core members of Steely Dan - their big break, hiring them to play on and arrange JATA's final singles. Then, after a decade of hits, Jay & The Americans called it a day.
As Howie Kane recalls, 'When the British Invasion came in, we were only one of three or four groups that were on the charts constantly." "You don't know how hard it was to be there (on the charts), what we went through," adds Sandy. "It was a miracle. We were blessed.'
In 2006, founding members Sandy Deanne, Howie Kane and Marty Sanders reformed The Americans with Jay No 3, Jay Reincke. They continue to tour to this day.