An Interview with Sandy Deanne of Jay & The Americans
Posted on 02/20/2020
All Access chats with Sandy Deanne of Jay & The Americans, one of the headlining groups of our Golden Oldies Spectacular on August 29 at 7pm. Sandy talks about when he knew music was the business for him, wise advice from Tony Bennett, and opening for the Beatles on their first American tour!
read the transcribed interview below
with Kelly from All Access and special guest Sandy Deanne from Jay & The Americans
Kelly: And we're back on All Access with State Theatre New Jersey. I'm your host, Kelly Blithe. We are looking forward to the Golden Oldies Spectacular coming back to the State Theatre on Saturday, March 21,* a 7pm concert featuring Jay and the Americans, BJ Thomas, Lou Christie, Dennis Tufano, and 1910 Fruitgum Company. It is going to be an amazing night of music. With us today from Jay and the Americans is Sandy Deanne. Welcome Sandy!
Sandy: Hey, how you doing?
Sandy: That's quite a line-up you just read there!
Kelly: It is quite a line-up! These are all your friends getting back together for an evening of music, right?
Sandy: Yeah, it'll be a big party!
Kelly: It always is! I always tell everybody that a Golden Oldies Spectacular show is more than just one show, it's basically multiple shows in one. You're getting a concert from each and every one of you guys. So, tell us what we can expect from Jay and the Americans, and the energy you guys are going to bring.
Sandy: Yeah, it's a great night. We're going to bring a perspective of our entire career. We've been lucky enough to have a lot of hit records, so we're going to sing them all to the audience! We're also going to tell them a little bit about each one of the songs. They get a little kind of backstage pass to what goes on with us.
Kelly: I love that. I always enjoy a little kind of storytellers' vibe to whatever you're doing. I don't want you to spoil everything, but give us a little taste of a song, and little background of a song, that you may share on stage.
Sandy: We talk about how we've had three different lead singers. We talk about how the first Jay had the first hit with us, "She Cried." We talk about how the second Jay had his biggest record with us, "Cara Mia." We tell stories about all the songs. We even talk about some of the people we've worked with, crossed paths with, and kind of helped along on their careers. It's a pretty interesting cross section of the '60s and '70s.
Kelly: Nice. Sandy, tell us about your career and becoming apart of the group, and this something you were looking to do when you were growing up? Were you looking to be in the music business?
Sandy: Oh, sure, absolutely. When I would watch TV, and I saw a group come on, called Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and they sang their hit song, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love," on TV—they were kids and they were young—and I went, "I want to do that." I'm sure everyone that does what we do, saw somebody—saw the Everly Brothers do it, saw Dion and the Belmonts do it—and it give us a feeling that, you know that they were young, youthful people, and we felt that we could do that same thing. We were fortunate enough to live our dream.
Kelly: Nice. You say, "I want to do that," you see it on television. Sometimes some parents they shudder and say "Oh no," about their kids having these big dreams.
Sandy: My parents had plenty of shuddering. You have to really want and need it badly to persevere. Believe it or not, just like everybody else in life, when you want something, and you try and get it, you hear a lot of "no" before you finally get the one "yes." If your skin isn't thick enough to take the "no," and if you still can believe in yourself after you hear the "no," then you got a shot.
Kelly: I think that's really important Sandy. Young musicians these days have to hear that. You have to fail before you succeed. Sometimes it's more than you want to, but to get there you have to go through the failures.
Sandy: Ya know, there was an interview by Tony Bennett. They asked him, "What would you tell somebody to do that wanted to get into the music business?" and he said, "I would tell them to study all the people that came before them, learn as much as you can, and find your own way to adapt that to yourself." That was the best advice I've ever heard.
Kelly: Right. Just because it works for one person one way doesn't mean it's going to work for you that way.
Sandy: That's right, make your own path.
Kelly: When you were making your path, how did you come to meet everybody and become a part of the group? Where did you meet everyone?
Sandy: I'm the co-founder of the group. Kenny and I started Jay and the Americans. But, we were in a group together before that, we were in high school. We were the local band, the local group. We got signed to a manager who happened to be managing some groups that had hit records. We heard a guy, that was the lead singer of one of the groups, and we loved his voice, Jay Traynor, and we said, "how would you like to quit your group and join our group?" and luckily he said yes. We got an audition with Leiber and Stoller, the big record producers at the time, and that's how we got started. We were all friends from Brooklyn. We kind of knew each other from the streets, singing at records hops and singing in high school. Everybody sang. There were a lot of people singing in Brooklyn when I was growing up. We were lucky enough to be the group that made it.
Kelly: To land that audition for Leiber and Stoller, wow, those were the guys back then. To prepare for that, what did you guys do? Was it one song, was it a couple of songs? What was that audition process?
Sandy: We did three songs for them. We were so in awe of those guys cause they had so many hit records, and produced for so many hit groups. They produced for our favorite group at the time—we're still huge Drifter fans—and they were producing all the Drifter records. We were very impressed with what they wrote and what they produced. But, the idea of getting an audition with them was very scary. We managed to muster through it, and they heard something. They heard a bunch of young, white kids—because we were their first white act. They were doing the Drifters, the Coasters, the Exciters, a whole bunch of people. The only other act they dealt with, but didn't produce with, was Elvis. Elvis was really a soulful guy, he wasn't a doo-wop guy. They heard our voices and they were impressed with the harmony, and they loved Jay Traynor's voice, like we did. We got a deal with them and the rest is history.
Kelly: From there, I always ask this because I'm always curious, but do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you first heard your song on the radio?
Sandy: I was driving in my car, I was driving on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, and I was listening to radio station WINS. A guy by the name of Murray the K played "She Cried" in a Battle of the Bands. He used to play two to three records, and all of his fans would call in and pick the songs they liked the best. I almost had a car accident when I first heard it.
Kelly: I was going to say, did you drive off the rode?
Sandy: Yeah, pretty close! It was a very exciting thing to hear yourself singing on the radio when it was what you dreamt of for so many years. You get in very innocently. All we wanted to do was hear our record on the radio. That's what we were trying to achieve. It wasn't about fame, it wasn't about money, it wasn't about signing autographs. We just wanted to sing on the radio. And, it happened.
Kelly: Wow, am I right that you were apart of the first Beatles American tour?
Sandy: Yeah, we did the first show they did prior to that first Ed Sullivan Show. In Washington D.C., it was us, the Righteous Brothers, and I think Tommy Row. The kids were screaming, "We want The Beatles," they weren't listening to anybody, they were just screaming. It was a pretty sensational moment.
Kelly: Wow, wow. That's something. Then, you played at Carnegie Hall on the Rolling Stones tour?
Sandy: Yup. We actually closed for them. We were supposed to open for them, but they had a television interview that they had at night. So, the promoter came up to us and said, "listen guys, you got to do us a favor and go on last. They have to go on first or they won't be able to make the TV show." When they left after their set, the whole audience emptied out, chasing after their car down the street screaming, and we played for the clean-up crew.
Kelly: [Laughs] Wow. That's amazing.
Sandy: Yeah, that's what was going on. If you weren't British, they weren't staying for the show.
Kelly: That was the time. That was the fad at that moment. I'm always curious about tour life, it's not for everyone. So, when you guys go out for these tours, and sing all around the country, how is that for you? Were you OK with the tour life? Were you comfortable with it? Was it something you had to really adjust to? What was it like for you?
Sandy: It was like duck taking to water. We were so excited about going on tours with all the other artists. It's like the show that we're going to be doing—it was a party! It's a chance to meet people where you heard their records, and they've heard your records. You wanted to meet them and be friends with them, sing with them, hang out backstage, and swap stories. It was a great experience. When you're that young, travelling doesn't bother you so much. Only when you're older it takes a lot out of you. We were just excited, I mean we went on tour with amazing people. It was a once in a lifetime experience. One of the best tours we've went on was with Roy Orbinson. I got to tell you, that was such an eye-opening experience hearing him sing all those songs he wrote. We became really good friends with him, but he was amazing. The acts we played with—it was just great! It was an admiration society.
Kelly: So, Roy Orbinson, nice guy?
Sandy: He was a true Southern gentleman, he was the nicest guy. He was a superstar, as far as I'm concerned. Now, he's the most underrated superstar I've ever met.
Kelly: Really like no other. A very unique performer. Great stuff. You're on these tours meeting all kinds of people. Do you have a favorite backstage story of talking to someone or running into someone into someone by mistake? Is there a favorite story of yours from those early days?
Sandy: Yeah, it was really on the Roy Orbinson tour. It was really funny. Dave Clark Five were also on that tour. We were all having hit records at the same time. Roy was a huge star in the south—he was as big as Elvis. So, when we were touring, we started out, and while the tour was progressing, Dave Clark's record hit number one. So, they called the agents who booked all of us on the tour and said, "our record's number one, we insist on closing the show." We heard Roy yelling and I've never heard Roy raise his voice. So, we went into his dressing room and asked what's wrong. He said, "I just got a call from William Morris and they're saying that Dave Clark Five insists on closing the show cause their record's number one." So, we said, "Roy, don't worry about it. We're playing Montgomery, Alabama, let them close the show. Just make sure we go on before you do." We went on, we got a huge ovation. Roy went on, the place went crazy, they were ready to rip the chairs out of the floor. He had to go back onstage and sing "Pretty Woman" three times. Then, he left and Dave Clark Five came on and the auditorium emptied.
Kelly: [Laughs] Lesson learned!
Sandy: You live and learn. You got to know when to call the shot.
Kelly: We are talking with Sandy Deanne who is part of Jay and the Americans who is coming to the State Theatre in the Golden Oldies Spectacular on Saturday, March 21* at 7pm. It's going to be an amazing concert! Thank you so much Sandy for being on today's All Access. We look forward to the party on March 21!*
Sandy: Yeah, tell them to bring their party hats!
Kelly: Sounds good!
Sandy: Thank you very much!
Kelly: Thank you!
* = this show was rescheduled to Saturday, August 29, 2020 at 7pm