Friday, March 11, 2011

The JAY BLACK ATTACK, Part One!


I retired my "other" blog, David'Z RantZ, almost two years ago. It still receives hits, most of them for a two-part post about singer Jay Black of Jay and the Americans. So, since somebody obviously likes it, and since I haven't contributed much to this blog lately, I'm gonna reprint the whole thing here. Part One is today's post, and Part Two will come very soon.

*  *  *  *  *


This post is Part One of a two-parter about Jay Black, former lead singer of a group called Jay and the Americans. If you aren't familiar with them and don't want to learn, or are familiar with them but don't give a damn anyway... Come back in a couple of days. No hard feelings.

Okay, now that we're all on the same page here -- literally and figuratively -- let's start this one off with a personal timeline:

I "became aware" of the music playing on AM radio during the years 1962 and 1963, when I was roughly six years old. I say "roughly" because I didn't turn six until very late 1962, namely, November.

Just for the hell of it, I went to a website called "The All-Time Greatest Hits," which lists the top 20 songs for every year since 1944!

I can recall about a dozen songs from their 1962 list, and by that I mean that I can recall hearing them then. My musical education in the years since then doesn't count. I mean, I know pieces by classical composers such as Mozart and Grieg, but that doesn't mean I'm old enough to still be holding onto any ticket stubs from their concerts!

So. 1962: a dozen songs, more or less. 1963: almost three times that!

During those early years, my musical tastes were largely shaped by what my older sister listened to, and bought: the Beach Boys, the early Beatles and most of the other British Invasion groups, Lesley Gore, Gene Pitney... My own purchases -- or rather, stuff that was purchased for me -- throughout the middle and late 1960s consisted primarily of novelty and comedy records like "The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles' Hits," "Alfred Hitchcock's Ghost Stories for Young Children," "Dracula's Greatest Hits," "Pat Paulsen for President," Don Rickles' "Hello, Dummy," Bill Cosby's "Wonderfulness," and Pigmeat Markham's "Anything Goes with Pigmeat."

Chances are, if my sister liked a song, I did, too. And if she bought the song, I had no need to.

That began changing in 1968. Late 1968, I assume, judging from that Top 20 list again.

I had lots of favorites on their 1968 list, but I remember buying/owning only three of them. For the most part, my sister owned the rest of my favorites.

In 1969, I bought... a few more than in 1968. Over two dozen titles, actually. I found most of them on the Top 20 list (I say "most" because every single record I ever bought was not a Top 20 hit.) There was a lot of "soundtrack" stuff, often from movies I'd never seen, as well as other instrumental songs, and more novelty records.

One of them was a song called "This Magic Moment." (Not that it would have mattered anyway, but at that time, I had no idea that the song was a re-make of an old Drifters tune. To me, the Drifters meant "Under the Boardwalk," "On Broadway," and -- I think -- "Up On the Roof.") I'm sure I'd heard other songs from Jay and the Americans over the years -- "Come a Little Bit Closer" was a monster hit, for example, and there was no escaping it -- but this was the first one of their songs that stuck out in my mind to the point where I "had" to own it. What a great voice that "Jay" had!

* * * * *

Back in the days when my friend Wayne and I were young enough -- and stupid enough -- to think that we'd live forever, we'd cruise around in his vehicle or mine -- usually his -- splitting a six-pack or two on nights when both of us were without dates.

One evening, I made the drunken observation that, in my not-so-humble opinion, I thought that if it were possible, Elvis Presley -- who was still alive at the time -- should have recorded every song ever written.

By that, I didn't mean that only Elvis should ever have recorded the songs of the world, but instead, that every song ever recorded by anyone else should also be committed to vinyl by The King.

In response to Wayne's "What the hell are you talking about?" I launched into an Elvis-esque rendition of Boston's "Peace of Mind," a version which owed as much to the King's "Burnin' Love" as it did to Brad Delp, Tom Scholz, et al.

However, although I still think that Elvis should have recorded a version of every worthwhile song ever put to vinyl, I now believe he's not the only artist who should be so entitled.

Which once again leads me to mention "Jay" from the end of this post's previous segment.

* * * * *

And now, allow me -- like you could stop me! -- to give you part one of a very biased history of Jay and the Americans.

Jay and the Americans started out roughly fifty years ago as the Harborlites. The name change came when the group auditoned for, and were signed by, the one and only... I mean, the two and only... that is... Oh, never mind! The Harborlites were signed by the songwriting & record producing team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, who had written -- or would go on to write -- hits for acts like the Coasters, the Drifters, Peggy Lee, Dion, Big Mama Thornton, and that Elvis guy I mentioned earlier.

Lieber and Stoller suggested that the group change its name to Binky Jones and the Americans. None of the members of the group were thrilled with the name -- and can you blame them? -- especially the group's lead singer, John Traynor, who balked at being identified as "Binky Jones" for the rest of his professional career. He suggested his childhood nickname of "Jay" instead, and Jay and the Americans was born. Were born. Whatever.

Jay (Traynor) and the Americans released some singles, and had one big hit with a song called "She Cried." As it turned out, however, Jay opted for a solo career soon after, and the Americans were temporarily "Jayless" until the arrival of a guy named David Black.

David Black was the professional name of a singer born David Blatt. After hearing him audition, beginning with a beautiful song called "Cara Mia" which Black sang -- okay, nailed -- a capella, the Americans asked him if he'd consider changing his name once again, this time to Jay Black. He agreed. What the hell, it was a paying gig...

The new Jay and the Americans' first hit was a song called "Only in America," a song originally planned for the Drifters... However, there were a couple of reasons that the record company execs decided that the tune wasn't quite right for a group of African-Americans. One of those reasons was the line "Only in America can a kid without a cent get a break and maybe grow up to be president." A black president? Not bloody likely. (Not nearly fifty years ago, anyway!)

In the following years, which encompassed most of the 1960s, the group piled up an impressive number of hits like "Come a Little Bit Closer" (their biggest hit), "Sunday and Me," "Crying" (the Roy Orbison tune... and Jay Black had one of the few voices good enough to dare to pull this one off!), "Let's Lock the Door (And Throw Away the Key)," "Think of the Good Times," their cover versions of "This Magic Moment" and "Walkin' in the Rain," and, of course, "Cara Mia."

After the group broke up in 1973, Jay toured occasionally as "Jay and the Americans."

The story of Jay Black -- with or without the Americans -- doesn't end there, of course, but today's post does. (I'm trying to keep these puppies down to a readable length.)

Part Two continues tomorrow, with "the rest of the story" -- pardon the theft of that line -- and the introduction of a self-proclaimed "greaser" named Jon Bauman, a third "Jay," and my own recent concert experience...

Plus I ask the musical question, "What the hell does all of this have to do with 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight?!?' "

Thanks for your time... and catch you on the "B" side!

7 comments:

  1. Never heard of Jay Black, but the read didn't lack.
    You wanted elvis to record every song, that just be a bit wrong.
    If he went all disco and rap, that just be crap.
    Of course don't know if that was around then, as I wasn't even ten.
    Heck I wasn't born aren't you torn.
    Side A was great, lets see if B is late.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Pat:

    You've really never heard Jay's voice?
    That's quite an oversight.
    But never fear, for my next post
    Will surely set things right.

    ReplyDelete
  3. No not that I recall
    Although who knows maybe I did
    Just never knew who it was at all
    There I rhymed the hard way kid

    ReplyDelete
  4. There's lots of ways
    That one can rhyme.
    I'm sure you know more'n one way.
    But back to Jay:
    Part Two, you'll find
    When this day turns to Sunday!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm sure all the ladies thought Jack was quite dreamy back in the day! :)

    Were you still an Elvis fan past your teen years?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Actually, not long after Elvis died -- but, I should stress, not because he'd died, like some people! -- I became and even bigger fan!

    ReplyDelete

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