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Jay and The Americans’ Sandy Yaguda celebrates the 60th anniversary of their Top 40 debut

“She Cried” in 1962 was the beginning of ten Top 40 hits for Jay and The Americans. Sandy Yaguda discusses Leiber and Stoller, The Beatles, Steely Dan and Joan Jett.
L to R: Marty Sanders, Howie Kane, Jay Reincke and Sandy Yaguda

L to R: Marty Sanders, Howie Kane, Jay Reincke and Sandy Yaguda

GOLDMINE: Congratulations on sixty years of hits. My wife Donna and I are looking forward to seeing you again here in Daytona Beach. It was such a great show last time you were here, with the third “Jay,” Jay Reincke, as your great lead singer. Now Joe Mirrione is bringing you back along with Lou Christie, Dennis Tufano of The Buckinghams, Jay Siegel’s Tokens and La La Brooks from The Crystals.

SANDY YAGUDA: Thank you very much. We are looking forward to the show, too.

GM: Sandy, over the years I have seen you listed as Sandy Yaguda and sometimes as Sandy Deanne.

SY: After “She Cried” became our first Top 40 hit in 1962, we became very popular. We lived in Brooklyn, there was no such thing as an unlisted phone number in the phone book, and we all lived at home. With our real names out there, our parents used to get so many phone calls at two in the morning from giggling girls and my father said, “If you wake your mother up one more time, I’m going to kill you!” We all decided that we would take stage names. Yaguda became Deanne. Kirschenbaum became Kane and Rosenberg became Vance. We used these names for most of our career, only recently with all the online content available will you see me use my birth name.

GM: As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of “She Cried,” please tell us about the first time you heard the song.

SY: I first heard it as a country and western demo that Leiber and Stoller took and changed the entire rhythm, and then they played it for us. It was planned to be the flip side with “Dawning” as the A side, which was based on a classical piece of music, Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite.” We adapted the classical piece of music into a pop song. Leiber and Stoller got a big kick out of it, because they were fooling the public with a classical piece. They loved to play tricks on the public. They had a great sense of humor, which showed with their compositions “Charlie Brown” and “Yakety Yak.” “Dawning” was the initial A side that United Artists was pushing for months and months and finally, it was just dead. UA told us, “OK guys. We are going to give you one more chance to record another single and if nothing happens, we are going to release you from your contract.” We were rehearsing to record some new music and some DJ flipped the single over in California and played it over and over and the response he got was so dramatic that it became a hit all over the state of California and moved its way eastward, which is why it never reached No. 1 nationally, because by the time it was No. 1 in the Midwest, it had fallen out of the Top 10 on the West Coast. By the time it reached No. 1 on the East Coast, it was No. 12 in the Midwest. Without having that national thrust all at once, it was a Top 5 hit but not a No. 1 hit nationally but was still a huge record for us.

GM: I saw Jay Traynor as a member of Jay Siegel’s Tokens, here in Florida in 2009, and in the middle of their set of Tokens tunes, Jay Traynor sang “She Cried” and it was wonderful. I was so glad that I got to witness that while he was still alive.

SY: I am glad that he got that gig. After Jay Traynor left our group, he didn’t do music for a long time. The Tokens and The Americans were Brooklyn groups who knew each other since we were kids. We were in the business together and we were good friends. One day I got a call from Jay Siegel and he said, “One of The Tokens has left the group, so I have an opening. What’s the deal with Jay Traynor?” I said, “He’s a great singer. He’s a great harmony guy. He’ll be terrific in your group.” Jay Siegel hired Jay Traynor and stayed with him for eight years until he passed away. I was happy for him. His decision to leave our group haunted him for a long time, so for his final eight years he got recognition every night with “She Cried.”

JATA flip side

Jay and The Americans

Flip side: Dawning

A side: She Cried

Billboard Top 100 debut: March 17, 1962

Peak position: No. 5

United Artists UA 415

GM: Jay and The Americans toured with The Beatles in the 1960s and in the next decade you were the musical director for the Broadway musical Beatlemania.

SY: Yes. We toured with The Beatles, and we toured with The Rolling Stones too. We were there with The Beatles for their first concert in Washington, D.C., at the Washington Coliseum on February 11, 1964, two days after they were on The Ed Sullivan Show. We had seen the newsreels of the girls screaming and fainting at the airports. We knew that the DJ Murray the K was playing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” and we had seen photos of the quartet. That is all we knew. We were trying to make our records with the best audiophile sound and these guys from England sounded like a bunch of guys singing in their garage in the beginning. Boy, did that change in a hurry. When we played their first concert in Washington, it was us, The Righteous Brothers, Tommy Roe and The Chiffons were supposed to be there, but the snowstorm kept The Chiffons away. At that time, we had two hits, “She Cried” and “Only in America,” our first with Jay Black. We pulled up to the Coliseum, where it was snowing very hard, the marquee read “The Beatles and others.” Jay Black said, “I’m turning this car around. We’re leaving!” I said, “We can’t. We signed a contract. We have to perform.” He was very disgruntled about the whole thing. The Beatles were brand new in the U.S. Top 40. We went inside and there were a zillion press reporters. There were grandstands, with the Coliseum being primarily a boxing ring. The dressing rooms were downstairs in the locker rooms. We were upstairs watching The Beatles at their press conference and were sitting in the grandstands to the left of The Beatles, me, Kenny, Marty, Howie and Jay, listening to the reporters yell their questions and hearing these good answers coming from The Beatles. We started to get a sense that these kids were more hip than we thought they were. All of a sudden someone asked, “How do you find America?” and Ringo said, “We made a left at Greenland.” We looked at each other and said, “These guys have got something going on.” We went downstairs to the locker room and waited. They called us up and we went on stage hearing the kids yelling, “We want The Beatles.” Jay said to the crowd, “I’m glad you all came out to see us today.” They all started laughing. They thought that was very funny. They paid attention to us. We sang our three songs, got a great round of applause, and they were a very polite audience to us. They gave us our due. Then we left and went back downstairs. Murray the K said, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles.” The screams were so loud in this enclosed arena that the sound kept reverberating. We held our ears, and the sound didn’t stop, going on for almost a full minute. We all looked at each other and said, “Wow! Something just happened.” Then they started singing and the screaming never stopped. At that moment we knew this was something special. The prior hysteria of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley was rolled into one. We felt it at that moment. In the middle of the following decade, I received a call from Steve Leber and David Krebs saying that they were putting together an off-Broadway show called Beatlemania. Steve was with the William Morris Agency, was the agent for Aerosmith and used to be our agent when we were doing college tours. He said that his kids were busting his chops for years to put The Beatles back together. Everybody had offered millions of dollars and they wouldn’t do it, so the next best thing was to put a show together. He told me that he wanted me to find guys who looked like The Beatles, could play like them and could sound like them. He wanted to put on a theatrical show. I passed three times. I didn’t want to be involved with a copycat Beatle band. All of a sudden, Kenny Laguna, who is Joan Jett’s partner and manager, who is also a good friend of ours, and was a big follower of Steve Leber and David Krebs, encouraged me to get involved as they wanted to do a real Broadway show, not an off-Broadway show anymore and they had some heavy hitters involved. I sat with Steve and David and they said, “You are a record producer of hit records. You produced ‘This Magic Moment.’ You produced ‘Walking in the Rain.’ We need this live show to sound like a record because nobody will accept a Beatles show if it doesn’t sound like the records. You have an unlimited budget. Go out and audition people and rehearse them so that they sound and behave like The Beatles.” I found sixteen guys, four groups of John, Paul, George and Ringo and we rehearsed with the films and records for two years in New York City. We got it down and people came to see it. Aerosmith saw it, were wowed and invested money. Opening night was huge. This was the first time that a Broadway show used existing music from a popular band. For the first two years it sold out. We did traveling tours of it, too, throughout the U.S., England, Australia and elsewhere. It ran for about ten years.

JATA Beatlemania

GM: You mentioned Jay Black, the 2nd “Jay” for the group who we wrote an In Memoriam article on last year and we send our condolences.

SY: Thank you. He was a big, big part of our history, a bigger than life guy with a magnificent voice. “Cara Mia” was his signature song, summing up his vocal acumen. He auditioned to be our lead singer, after Jay Traynor’s departure, with that song. Marty, who was one of the original Americans, had an early duo of Marty Kupersmith and David Blatt called The Two Chaps. They had a recording contract and one of the songs that they sang was “Cara Mia.” When David came to audition at my house, I wasn’t familiar with his singing, and I asked him to sing something that would show off his voice. He started singing “Cara Mia” and everybody’s head exploded. We had never heard pop music sound like that. We said, “You aren’t David Blatt anymore. You are ‘Jay’ our new ‘Jay.’” He became Jay Blatt and then we did The Mike Douglas Show, Mike misheard Blatt as Black and from there on Jay Blatt became Jay Black and he did great vocal work for us on our hit singles and our albums that I produced.

1970 “Capture the Moment” inner album photo: Jay Black, Marty Sanders, Howie Kane, Sandy Yaguda

1970 “Capture the Moment” inner album photo: Jay Black, Marty Sanders, Howie Kane, Sandy Yaguda

GM: Capture the Moment is my favorite Jay and the Americans album, filled with original songs like the single “I’d Kill for the Love of a Lady” its flip side “Learnin’ How to Fly.”

SY: Tommy Kaye, who co-produced a lot of our albums with me, co-wrote those songs. On “Learning How to Fly” it was Tommy Kaye, me, Kenny Vance and J. Piper, which was the name Marty used for ASCAP. Marty was signed to BMI so in order to write an ASCAP song he had to choose an alias. Piper was his daughter’s name, so he used that.

GM: There is a bit of a country sound with “(I’d Kill) For the Love of a Lady” and the harmonies in “Learnin’ How to Fly” are outstanding.

SY: Jay loved Roy Orbison and we were big fans of Roy. We toured with him. He wanted to do something like a Roy Orbison song. Nobody was giving us anything like that so we thought we would write one, so Jay, Tommy and I wrote “(I’d Kill) For the Love of a Lady.”

GM: The album also has four songs, including the title song, with strings and horns arranged by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, before their Steely Dan days.

SY: Yes, we hired Becker and Fagen. They were broke kids who had just graduated from Bard College and came into our office, trying to get their career started. They needed rent money and were starving. Marty and I said, “We’ll hire you to be our keyboard player and our bass player so you can make a living, eat and pay your rent, while we get your career started.” They stayed with us for two-and-a-half years. I asked them if they thought they could do some arrangements for us and asked if they had done that before. They lied and said, “Sure!” They studied music books, learned, and did a great job.

GM: My favorite of the songs that they arranged is “Tricia (Tell Your Daddy),” a gentle protest song of sorts.

SY: That should have been a hit. Marty co-wrote that one with Jeff Barry, “Tricia tell your daddy on a family Sunday morning when he comes downstairs a-yawning from his bed… Tell him he’s the man, Tricia. The world is in his hands, Tricia. Tell him that you’re not his only child, ‘cause he’s everybody’s daddy for a while.” That really got us all, emotionally, during the Nixon years. Marty has written some great songs including “Bad Reputation” with Joan Jett, Kenny Laguna and Ritchie Cordell. Thank you so much for our time and we’ll see you next month at the concert. Goldmine readers can go to our website to see the shows coming to their areas, too.

Stars of the Sixties concert

Stars of the Sixties concert

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