Which Jay was the best singer? Sandy Deanne, one of the original members of Jay and the Americans, has been asked that a million times, and he knows how to handle the question.
"I always tell people, we've had three fabulous Jays, and to be the lead singer in our group with the music we do, you have to be fabulous," said Deane, who will be backing up Jay Reincke (Jay No. 3) when the current incarnation of Jay and the Americans take to the Proctors stage Saturday at 7 p.m. for the Sixties Spectacular concert. "We've been to Proctors three or four times in the last few years, so the people in Schenectady know how good our current Jay is, and that doesn't take anything away from the other two. All three were great singers."
The original Jay and the Americans formed back in the late 1950s in New York City and had their first hit, "She Cried," in 1962. The lead singer then was Jay Traynor, who grew up in Greenville just south of Albany. When the group's next two singles didn't go anywhere, Traynor left to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Jay Black, who sang all the group's major hits during their heyday. "Come a Little Bit Closer" got as high as No. 3 in 1964, while other successes included "Cara Mia" (No. 4) in 1965, "This Magic Moment (No. 6) in 1968 and "Walkin' in the Rain" (No. 19) in 1969.
"We were pretty ticked off when Jay [Traynor] left," remembered Deanne. "I wouldn't say we wished him well. But we didn't know we were going to find a Jay to replace him in two weeks. Years later he still didn't have a hit, and we were doing great, so we kind of got over being angry at him."
When Jay Siegel of the Tokens called Deanne looking for a replacement for one of his backup singers, Deanne gave Traynor a glowing recommendation.
"He asked me what Jay was like and I told him he would be the best vocalist up there onstage," said Deanne. "He's a great harmony singer, and when I recommended him he still sounded great. He had a good eight years with the Tokens."
The group broke up in 1973, but Black continued to tour as Jay and the Americans. In 2006, Black went bankrupt and Deanne was able to regain control of the name, "Jay and the Americans." He grabbed former members, Howard Kane and Marty Sanders, and that trio found another Jay (Reincke), who had been singing professionally in the Chicago area.
"The thing about this Jay is that he never has a bad night," Deanne said of Reincke. "Our first Jay was a stylist, sort of a crooner, like Sinatra or Mel Torme, and then our second Jay was like a Mario Lanza. He had a big powerful voice that could break glass. This Jay is more of a combination of the two of them. We call him our Roy Orbison Jay. He's done a fantastic job for us for 12 years now."
The group plays between 50 and 60 dates a year, and Deanne doesn't want to see that end anytime soon.
"People say we're keeping the music alive, but we like to say the music is keeping us alive," said Deanne. "We have to be in good health. We take vitamins, we got to bed early, we go to the gym and work out. If you're gonna be up there for 90 minutes, you have to be in shape. So as long as we keep having fun we'll do it. Jay's only been with us for 12 years, but these other guys have been my friends for 57 years now. We love what we do."
While Jay Traynor passed away in 2014, and Jay Black is retired and living in an assisted-living center, Jay and the Americans keep performing. And all of the Americans, even the backup singers, use stage names.
"We got famous early, and when I was 17 I was getting phone calls at my parents' house at 2 in the morning," said Deanne. "My father told me, 'If some phone call wakes up your mother at 2 in the morning again, I'm going to kill you.' So we decided we would all take stage names. It wasn't out of vanity. It was just the thing to do."
Also performing as part of the show on Saturday night will be The Vogues; the Brooklyn Bridge; Dennis Tufano, the original lead singer of the Buckinghams; and the 1910 Fruitgum Company.
WHERE: Proctors,. 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $54.75-$39.75
MORE INFO: (518) 346-6204, or visit www.proctors.org.