Thursday, November 5, 2009

An American homecoming

By Meredith Deliso

On May 8, 1964, Jay and the Americans played the auditorium of Our Lady of Grace Church in Gravesend to a packed crowd of local teenagers.

On November 14, they return to the Gravesend church for a homecoming 45 years in the making.

“I remember it well,” says band founder Sandy Yaguda (aka Deanne), of that night. “When we played a place with a big crowd in Brooklyn, it was kind of gratifying to see all the people turn out.”

It was especially gratifying being that the band has its roots in Brooklyn. Formed in 1960, the band originally consisted of Yaguda, Howie Kirschenbaum (aka Kane), who grew up with Yaguda in Flatbush (“Our parents pushed our baby carriages down the street together,” says Yaguda), Kenny Vance and John Traynor (the eponymous Jay, though by the time they played the Gravesend gig was replaced by David Blatt).

Starting off playing in Kirschenbaum’s Brooklyn basement, everything seemed to click for the band. Soon they had a record deal, their music was blaring on AM radio and they were meeting their idols, touring with Roy Orbison, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Among the pioneers of rock and roll, they went on to have 12 top 10 records from 1962 to 1971, including “She Cried,” “Only in America,” “This Magic Moment,” and “Come a Little Bit Closer.”

After disbanding in 1974, the band has been at it again in recent years, this time with a new, third “Jay” – Jay Reincke – rerecording their hits and reuniting with fans all across the country as they revisit cities they played while in their 20s.

“When we got back and started doing it again, we didn’t know what the response was going to be. Now we’re in awe of it,” says Yaguda. “We knew we were fortunate to have hit records, but we never realized the impact we had on people’s lives.”

While they’ve played nearby in Long Island and Staten Island, the Americans haven’t made it back to Brooklyn since their breakup, and the November show marks their first Brooklyn appearance in over 30 years. You can thank one Brooklynite, who was there from the start, for making it happen.

When he was 17, Chick Palotta, a life-long member of OLOG and Gravesend resident, was working as the chief booking agent for WMCA Radio “Good Guy” Jack Spector, and booked the Americans at the church for their 1964 show. Fast forward to this year, Palotta was looking to arrange a fundraiser for his church. When he heard that the Americans were playing at Monsignor Farrell High School in Staten Island, he thought he’d see about them coming back to OLOG.

“I thought having them back after 45 years would be a novel idea as a fundraiser,” says Palotta, who while working for the radio station made OLOG quite the happening place, with 15 “Good Guy” record hops from 1964-1969. When the Americans return to OLOG, they’ll play their classic hits, as well as new material, since, nearly 50 years into the game, the band’s still making new music.

“It’s really like coming home,” says Yaguda, who moved out to Long Island at the age of 13 and now lives in Long Beach. “Brooklyn is home, it will always be home, and I always cherish those years in Brooklyn. It taught us how to be real people.”

The Brooklyn show will be a course through the band’s history, as they’ll pull from songs related to their career, including those of artists they hung out with, such as Neil Diamond and Roy Oribson, and songs written by other artists for them.

“The show is not just singing, it tells a story about what it was like to be Jay and the Americans from the beginning to the end,” says Yaguda. “It’s a long journey.”

Jay and the Americans play a benefit at Our Lady of Grace (Avenue W and East 2nd Street) November 14 at 7:30 p.m. (doors at 6:45). Tickets are $55 for general admission, or $75 for table seating (call for availability). For more information, call 718-627-2020.


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