Interview with Jay Siegel of Jay Siegel's Tokens
Posted on 07/24/2019
Jay Siegel's Tokens is one of the four amazing groups coming to The State as part of the Rock and Roll Spectacular on November 2! Jay Siegel returns to All Access and chats with us about the popularity of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in the new Lion King movie and how it will hopefully garner a new fan base!
Read the Transcribed Interview Below
with Bert and Kelly from All Access and special guest Jay Siegel.
Bert: Hi again and welcome to all access with State Theatre New Jersey. This is the show that takes you backstage, behind the scenes, and behind the curtain at the legendary state theatre in downtown New Brunswick. So glad you’re with us here this week, I am Bert Barren joined as always by Kelly Blithe the State Theatre’s director of communications, how are you Kelly?
Kelly: Good, how are you Bert?
Bert: Good, I’m excited for a brand new show, and we have had the privilege over the last couple of weeks to talk to some of the performers who are with the Rock and Roll Spectacular Show on Saturday, November 2nd. With us here this week to open up a show is another one of these great performers.
Kelly: Yes! We are so excited to have back on All Access, Jay Siegel of Jay Siegel’s Tokens. Welcome Jay!
Jay: Hey, how are you doing everybody. And it’s going to be spectacular, it always is!
Kelly: It always is Jay, and we’re so looking forward to having you guys back! I’m going to have to start with this, how do you feel about the new Lion King?
Jay: Isn’t that nice! You know I went to see it just about the day before yesterday and of course I was thrilled to hear the song for about a minute and a half this time, much longer than it was in the first film and then as well on the closing credits, they play the South African version of it as well. I hope we get the same results as we did the first time because when it was played when the first Lion King movie came out, of course it was so super successful that RCA Victor, that was our original record company, re-released our record of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and it became a top 20 international hit for the second time so, who knows maybe it will be a hit for the third time!
Bert: I see no reason why it won’t and it’s got to be an exciting thing because now it’s almost like you’re reaching a new generation of people that maybe are hearing this for the first time it has to be a cool thing for you.
Jay: Oh, absolutely! In fact, a lot of the concerts there are a lot of much younger people because they remember the song from The Lion King which was of course 25 years or actually much more than 25 years after the original record was released so hopefully we have a new audience of 5 year old kids.
Kelly: Yes I was going to ask that, you must on the road when you’re performing these spectaculars get generations of audiences coming up to you saying “I love your song from this” or “I love your song from that” , because really "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" has been really not only The Lion King but just everywhere right! Generations have passed it down, that has to be pretty amazing for you guys!
Jay: Well, you know that record it just has a life of its own when it did come out and was originally released at the end of 1961; it took four weeks for it to become a number one record. It sold about 3 million records when it initially came out and was on the national charts for about three months, then it became a number one record in 36 countries all over the world so we were one of the first American acts to tour all over the world. It was pretty surreal for four kids from Brooklyn, landing in Zurich, Switzerland and everybody knows who we are and they all know our record.
Bert: Yes, that must have been so cool! I was wondering at what point Jay when you’re the guy in Brooklyn there just singing to a mirror or sort of working on the vocals or what not, do you always go focus of I’m going to be a big star as a solo artist or I want to be in a band that really does great things. Is there a point in your career where you just decide if you’re going to be part of a band or be a solo performer? Walk me through that process.
Jay: No, the group started when I was still in high school with this kid that was sitting next to me in the Lincoln High School chorus and we started a group together and I was not even 16 years old and the kid’s name was Neil Sedaka. But you know Neil, he did okay. We are still friends ‘til this day we always keep in touch and see each other but that’s where the group started in Lincoln High School and we were called the Link Tones. Down the road a little bit the name was changed to the Tokens, and I always felt that I wanted to be part of a band or a vocal group because I love to hear the harmonies that surround the lead vocal and I still feel the same way, I love being part of that group. You know I have been doing shows as a solo artist as well, but there’s something about being part of that group and that’s how I grew up in the music business.
Kelly: Jay, I’m always fascinated with how people come up with their band names; The Link Tones, The Tokens, how did you come up with either of those?
Jay: Okay well the Link Tones, that’s an easy one. We went to Lincoln High School, right that’s really a tough one to figure out, The Link Tones.
Kelly: Ahh, yes!
Jay: Name got changed to the Tokens and everybody thought you know you need a token to get onto the subway or the bus and I said, no we don’t want to be associated with bus tokens or subway tokens. What we meant the name to be associated with was like tokens of love, tokens of affection, but people would still joke around and say oh with a token we can take you on the subway and get on for nothing. We didn’t think it was that funny but what the heck! It was tokens of love, tokens of affection; actually we did not choose the name. We had a manager at that time that gave us that name and what do we know okay, we’ll be The Tokens why not! Just as good as any other name I guess.
Bert: It’s like you think about The Who and people are like The Who, what kind of name is that? But they did alright with that one.
Jay: well when we first heard The Beatles, we all thought about beetles being an insect, not being spelled b-e-a-t, we thought that was a terrible name like beetles, ew bugs! They did okay with that name, they did okay.
Bert: Yes, holding out hope for them right! Jay, you’re part of an incredible lineup on November 2nd at State Theatre; The Capris, The Duprees with Chubby Checker and the Wildcats. Have you crossed paths on the road with these acts before?
Jay: We work with them all of the time, The Duprees and Chubby and the other group on this show is The Capris. When we do these multi act shows and we hangout backstage it’s almost like comparing it to a high school reunion. We grew up together in the business with all these entertainers, some of them we see quite often and some of them we don’t see for years at a time. All of a sudden here we all are backstage just like a high school reunion and we all look at each other and say, do you believe we’re still doing this after all those years and we still have a sold out house waiting to hear our music. It’s a great feeling.
Kelly: Awesome! And talking about how you guys have been inspiration for each other through the years as well, but when you were first starting out and you were a part of The Link Tones before you became The Tokens, what were some of your musical inspirations? Were there any groups or solo performers that you were aspiring to be or that you in particular looked up to?
Jay: Well, you know I looked up to the kid that was sitting next to me in the group because he was so super talented, Neil Sedaka. When we were singing in high school, we weren’t singing songs that other groups were singing that we heard on the radio, we were singing songs that Neil Sedaka wrote and performed and he was one of my greatest inspirations in the business and I still say he is. When we were first listening to the radio we would mostly listen to the R&B groups that were great influences to me, groups like The Flamingos or The Teenagers, they just had such beautiful lyrics and such beautiful harmony. I said I wish we could be just like they are one day.
Bert: What a great time Jay. If you look back through history to be in Brooklyn, New York at that period of time and just so much great music that was still to be written and still to be created. It’s like the rulebook didn’t exist yet because it’s like you guys were making the rules up as you were going along. You had these bands with very easy to remember names and these beautiful harmonies and music that people could understand and dance to. This had to be a great, exciting time in the history of our music in our society.
Bert: You just hit it on the head: music that people can understand and sing along with. Back in the late 50’s and early 60’s we weren’t singing about being angry at anybody or wanting to kill. A lot of the music today has those kinds of lyrics and we weren’t like that at all. We have a great job, when we do a show like we will be at the State Theatre, people walk out of that theatre with a big smile on their face and they’re just happy; what a great job that is, we make people happy. I don’t think you could have a better job than making people happy.
Kelly: Sounds good to me Jay, that’s definitely pretty important stuff. You mentioned earlier that you were four guys from Brooklyn landing in Switzerland, where else has your career taken you around the world? There has to be some pretty amazing places!
Jay: Well this year for the second time we performed in Spain in Barcelona, the music of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s is gigantic in Europe, they’re tremendous fans and the fans are much younger than we are. It’s amazing we just came back about a month ago and I would say the demographic of the fans are like in their thirties, forties, and fifties; not fifties, sixties and seventies you know! They just are great fans. We were in Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Zurich, London; we have been all over Europe.
Kelly: Nice! I guess that’s tokens of love for everyone right!
Jay: Tokens of love, thank you very much yes!
Kelly: Awesome Jay, well we’re so excited that you’re coming back to the State Theatre November 2nd and of course The Lion Sleeps tonight is forever part of the memories and everything from you guys and from the Lion King. We’re so excited to hear that and hear you perform at the State Theatre and have you bring it all back to New Jersey. Thank you so much for being on the show today and we look forward to seeing you November 2nd!
Jay: Well thanks for having me on the show and we love working there-actually I don’t want to call it work; the work is the trip to get there! But once we’re on stage it’s a joy and the State Theatre is a great venue and a great place to be and we’re excited to be there in November.
Bert: And you haven’t lived until you have seen Kelly Blithe try to sing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," what a sight that is!
Jay: Now I want to hear it, go ahead let me hear a little bit!
Kelly: Oh no!
Bert: She’s blushing I put her on the spot look at that! Jay Siegel as always thank you for the time, continued success my friend, cannot wait for November 2nd, we’ll catch up then alright!
Jay: Well thank you for having me and I’m looking forward to it as well!