the German occupation of Belgium, René Magritte the surrealist
artist was walking with his wife Georgette when somebody took their
photograph and named it "René and Georgette Magritte
With Their Dog During the War." Paul Simon saw it, wrote a
song and gave it the same title as the photo.
the tune he informs the listener that minutes after the photo was
taken, René and Georgette went back to their hotel room,
lost their clothes, and danced to "The deep forbidden music
they'd been longing for" The Penguins, The Moonglows,
The Orioles, and The Five Satins.
gem may very well be the finest tribute ever to the doo-wop groups
of the 50's. Another lyric in the tune suggests that others have
been longing for this deep forbidden music and have it hidden away
in their hearts.
of the people who fit that description is Kenny Vance, practitioner
of vocal harmony. He created two groups: Jay and The Americans in
the 60's, and The Planotones for a film in the late 70's. His best
known solo effort, "Looking For An Echo," was another
kind of salute to doo-wop.
Vance & The Planotones performances and recordings are joyfully
preserving this American musical art form and they should be inducted
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for their efforts.
One night last summer, two guys were sitting on wooden stools. One
was all in black 'cept for the tan fedora on his head. He was wearing
shades. The other guy in the pink rust colored shirt said, "And
uh, how 'bout how 'bout we do a song?" So the guy with
the hat gestured and said, "Just like that, no rehearsal?"
The other guy smiled and said, "Who needs rehearsal, right?
How did we do it in the old days? Hanging out on the street corners.
Hey let's sing, OK?"
was like a Broadway play, but it's wasn't 'cause it was real even
though they were on stage in front of an audience of thousands.
follow me or I'll follow you."
then those two guys, Johnny Maestro and Kenny Vance proceeded to
sing an amazing and gorgeous version of "Let It Be Me."
It was a version so perfect that if the Everly Brothers heard it
they'd cry, and Jerry Butler would shake his head and think, "So
that's how it's done."
Understand that this was just a spur of the moment thing, something
they decided to do when their groups, The Brooklyn Bridge and The
Planotones, were on the same bill somewhere in 2008, decades after
this was supposed to be over and done with. That is preserving an
with Johnny Maestro
with the original Teenagers
with Little Anthony and the Imperials
hasn't been easy. In 1964 The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan
Show and almost wiped out the entire genre. Here's a little background:
Fifty-one years earlier in 1913, a building located at 1619 Broadway
in New York City opened. Eventually it was purchased by Maurice
and Samuel Brill, owners of the street-level clothing store, and
it's been called The Brill Building ever since.
the big band era, music publishers and songwriters flocked to the
place. Once a tune was published, song pluggers would go to cats
like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey or Glenn Miller to encourage them
to play the new songs in their sets. By the late 50's there were
over a hundred music-related businesses in the building, ranging
from publishing, radio promotion, and demo recording,. It was the
center of the universe for pop and rock and roll. Songwriters like
Doc Pomus, Carole King, Ellie Greenwich, and Neil Sedaka were churning
out hits on a daily basis. "Save The Last Dance For Me,"
"Calendar Girl," "Be My Baby," "Yakety
Yak", "Chapel of Love," and hundreds of others were
all composed in the Brill Building.
the Beatles took America by storm on that February evening in 1964,
Brill Building pop, nationwide dance crazes, and smooth doo-wop
style vocalizing were out. Longhaired English bands with electric
guitars were in. When the British Invasion hit, American radio stopped
playing dozens of American acts. It was a phenomenon, it was exciting,
and it was very sad. Overnight, artists like Bobby Rydell, Lenny
Welch, The Diamonds, Chubby Checker, Connie Francis, Del Shannon,
The Shirelles, The Mello Kings, The Five Satins, Gary U.S. Bonds,
and The Crests vanished from the radio, the charts, and the fan's
They were wiped out; over; yesterday's news.
were replaced by a lot of great groups like The Animals, The Zombies,
The Stones, and the DC5. But there were a bunch of others, like
Freddie and The Dreamers, Herman's Hermits, and The Honeycombs who
couldn't hold a candle to the pure harmonious sounds of, say The
Earls, The Capris or The Duprees. Several American artists however,
managed to ride out the storm. Motown went toe-to-toe with The British
invasion. The Beach Boys and The Four Seasons gave the Brit's a
run for their money as well. There was one American group that was
often overlooked, but they managed to stay on the charts throughout
the decade, and they were Jay and The Americans.
that night in February right up and into 1970, this crew of guys
from Brooklyn withstood the "invasion" by touring extensively
and creating a decades' worth of hits on 15 albums that included
"Come A Little Bit Closer," "Let's Lock the Door,"
and "Cara Mia." In fact in 1964, while other groups were
stunned and depressed, Jay and The Americans appeared with The Beatles
at their first American concert. In those days The Beatles had a
few hits like "I Want To Hold Your Hand," but most of
their set consisted of material by The Isley Brothers, Chuck Berry,
and Little Richard. When they made their American debut they were
a cover band with a gimmick.
short while later, Jay and the Americans had a taste of the heartbreak
that the British invasion was dealing out to their peers when they
were the opening act for The Rolling Stones at Carnegie Hall. After
the first show they were told that they had to close the second
show. The Stones opened that performance and when they were done,
the local boys began with "Only In America." While they
were singing, the audience emptied out to try and catch a glimpse
of The Stones in their limo. The home team had cleared the theater
and learned first hand that the times were a changing.
It was only a few years earlier when Sandy Yaguda and Kenny Vance
formed the group. They had started out singing with The Harbor Lights,
a group from Belle Harbor in Queens. Kenny Vance was captivated
by the magic of rock and roll and at 15 he was listening to The
Moonglows, The Elegants, The Silhouettes, and a group whose name
would influence him years later, The Monotones. He began hanging
around the Brill Building where he met some other kids who shared
his passion, guys like Paul Simon and Al Kooper.
was there that Sandy and Kenny crossed paths with a guy named John
"Jay" Traynor who had been on a few Mystics records, and
they started singing together. Soon they auditioned for Lieber and
Stoller who had become the hottest producers and writers
in the game with an accapella version of The Five Keys' "Wisdom
of a Fool." Some kind of dispute erupted and the producers
threw the group out, but it was Kenny who went back in and told
them off. Nobody ever did that and several months later Lieber and
Stoller decided to record them and name them Binky Jones and The
Americans. Fortunately, Traynor didn't want to be Binky Jones and
offered to be called by his nickname, Jay.
and The Americans were born. "Tonight," from West Side
Story became a territorial hit, but the next record, "She Cried,"
originally the B-side of a tune called "Dawning," went
Top 5 in Billboard and Cashbox. When the next few singles bombed
Traynor left the group.
Americans with Jay Black (right)
Sanders and David Blatt were in a group called The Empires and Sanders
brought Blatt to audition for the Americans. He was working at a
Thom McAnn shoe store, but when he did an acapella version of "Cara
Mia" he was in. He was using the stage name David Black and
agreed to become Jay Black in order to keep the Jay and The Americans
Around that time The Drifters had recorded "Only In America,"
but the record company didn't feel it was the right lyric for a
black group in those pre-Civil Rights times. After all, they were
singing about a ridiculous notion that anyone, despite the color
of their skin, could become President of the United States. Jay
and The Americans laid down vocals over the Drifters tracks and
it became the first hit with their new singer.
Mia, was written by the Italian composer Mantovani. The title translated
to "My Beloved," and Jay Black loved it ever since he
heard British singer David Whitfield do it on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The group did it in the act for over three years, but no one wanted
to record it. Finally in 1965, the record was produced by Jerry
Granahan and it became a smash hit. In fact, "Cara Mia"
with Jay Black singing lead for Jay and The Americans is one of
those perfect records. "Cara Mia was followed by several other
hits including "Some Enchanted Evening," and the first
hit for writer Neil Diamond called "Sunday and Me."
1968 they recorded an album of their favorite oldies called "Sands
Of Time," and early the next year, when their last incarnation
had Donald Fagen and Walter Becker in the group, (who would later
become Steely Dan), they entered the Billboard Top Ten once again
with a remake of The Drifters "This Magic Moment." Jay
and The Americans were not only able to hang in, but strive during
the entire decade of the 60's because they had the talent and the
magic. You'd be blessed to have either/or, but to have both is the
stuff of legends. The group broke up in the early 70's.
Black, with various musicians who made up his version of "the
Americans," did the oldies shows for decades. In 2006 he filed
for bankruptcy due to back taxes. The court appointed trustee decided
that the things he had of value were the names he had been performing
with for thirty years Jay Black, and Jay and The Americans.
The group name, Jay and The Americans, was put up for auction with
the stipulation that the music had to be represented in a proper
manner similar to the past. Sandy Yaguda, original American, purchased
it and the current incarnation of Jay and The Americans was born
with a third Jay John "Jay" Reincke. Jay Black
was permitted to continue using that name.
the thirty years since the original Jay and the Americans split,
Kenny Vance had gone solo and recorded the previously mentioned
masterpiece, "Looking For an Echo." He served as musical
director for "Saturday Night Live" during the Joe Piscopo,
Eddie Murphy era where he booked Prince, James Brown and Aretha
Franklin. Kenny was also music supervisor for the film "Animal
House," during which time he produced John Belusi performing
"Money," and "Louie Louie." He also had similar
gigs on other films including "Eddie & The Cruisers."
1978 he recreated the first-ever rock and roll show at The Brooklyn
Paramount for the film "American Hot Wax," which was based
on the true-life story of Alan Freed. Kenny cast Screamin' Jay Hawkins,
Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis to play themselves, but he needed
a vocal group so he enlisted some friends and along with himself
they became Professor La Plano and The Planotones. In 1992, out
of his love for singing and performing, he re-formed The Planotones
as a real group. Their first recording was a live CD called "Teenage
The group produced thousands of Planotones fans worldwide and for
over a decade and a half Kenny has used his smooth and soulful vocals
to elevate the art form known as doo-wop to new heights. This is
not some goofy, poodle skirt, greaser parody of the music, this
is a genuine and respectful presentation of some of the greatest
music ever composed. The Planotones bring new life into The Shields'
"You Cheated," The Genies' "Who's That Knocking,"
The Penguins' "Hey Senorita," Robert & Johnny's "We
Belong Together," The Cadillacs' "Gloria," The Impressions'
"It's All Right," and Roy Head's "Treat Her Right."
all instances, Kenny's vocals sweet tenor and/or falsetto
are the glue that holds this easygoing equivalent to an audio
valium together. This is adult doo-wop harmony that never forgets
the teen angst and passion embedded in its roots. Kenny Vance and
The Planotones, featuring Vance, musical director and producer Johnny
Gale, Kurt "Frenchy" Yahjian, keyboardist Chip Degaard,
Jimmy Bense, and drummer Tony Gallino, are not an oldies act. They
are a modern vocal group who have just as much in common with The
Manhattan Transfer as they do with The Moonglows. They are not a
slick cruise ship attraction, they are rock and roll. In fact, they
are the Grateful Dead of doo-wop, often calling their set while
on stage and doing extended vocal jams. Their music is sophisticated
and fresh. They know what year it is, but they also remember where
they are from: Brooklyn USA.
tip their fedoras to Jay and The Americans during their live performances
when Kenny does a killer version of "Cara Mia." On occasion
the group even perform a fun unplugged version of "Come A Little
Bit Closer." I urge you to see this group live wherever and
whenever you can. You will be thrilled, and will have a real good
CDs are equally brilliant. If you've never heard them before I suggest
you start with the British import, "Soundtrack to the Doo-Wop
Era: A Kenny Vance Collection." The blurb on the back of the
CD nails it. It's a collection of "classic doo-wop songs lovingly
crafted into late-night listening, for a mature audience, in Kenny's
inimitable style." The CD contains tracks taken from several
of their albums and soundtracks including: "For Your Precious
Love," "Sha Boom (Life Could Be A Dream)," "Diamonds
And Pearls," "Hushabye," "To Be Loved,"
"Gloria," "Looking For An Echo," and "It's
So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday."
CD worth looking out for is the soundtrack to the film "Looking
For An Echo," which contains the title track plus "This
I Swear," "Wisdom of a Fool," and the greatest version
ever of "Life Is But a Dream." This group are the real
thing and a delight to behold. The next time you hear "American
Pie" don't believe it. The music didn't die. It is alive and
well and it's under the care of Kenny Vance and the Planotones.
To purchase any of their CDs and for their full schedule, check
out their official web site: www.planotones.com