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Kenny Vance (born December 9, 1943) is an American singer, songwriter, and music producer who was an original founding member of Jay and the Americans. His career spans from the 1950s to today, with projects ranging from starting doo-wop groups to music supervising to creating solo albums. The core of Kenny's interest in music was vocal harmony, from the doo-wop groups (where he began) to his long tenure as a founding member of Jay & the Americans in the 1960s. From the 1970s on he used his musical knowledge in a series of films while also releasing the occasional solo album. In the 90's he returned to his original love by forming his own neo-doo-wop group, Kenny Vance and the Planotones. Throughout his career he served as a mentor to a generation of younger musicians that included Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (Steely Dan), Peter Himmelman, John Cafferty and others.
Vance was born Kenneth Rosenberg in Brooklyn. He grew up hanging around the famous Brill Building, the Tin Pan Alley song machine, and started his first vocal group, the Harbor Lites, at 15. The group recorded two singles for Ivy in 1959. He then formed another group and auditioned for Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who signed them to United Artists, and named the group Jay and the Americans. Vance grew up in Brooklyn and later, Belle Harbor, in New York City's borough of Queens, where as a teenager he developed an interest in rock and roll. By the age of 15 he was traveling into Manhattan to hang around the Brill Building, New York's center for pop music and songwriting. He formed his first vocal group, the Harbor Lites, with school friends. Initially a sextet, the group was down to the trio of Vance, Sandy Yaguda and Sydelle Sherman by the time they recorded one single in 1959 "Is That Too Much To Ask"/"What Would I Do without You" on Ivy and released on Jaro and a second single "Angel of Love"/"Tick a Tick a Tock" on Mala in 1960. After those records failed to score the Harbor Lites broke up and Vance and Yaguda formed another group with John Traynor and Howie Kirschenbaum that auditioned for songwriters/producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The group auditioned with an a cappella version of "Wisdom of a Fool". Leiber & Stoller had a production deal with United Artists and signed the group to the label. The producer's initial idea was to give the group a comic name and call them Binky Jones & the Americans. The singers rejected that and compromised on Jay & the Americans with lead singer Traynor using his nickname Jay. Jay & the Americans debut single "Tonight", a cover from "West Side Story", appeared in the fall of 1961 becoming a regional hit in the northeast. They broke through to national success with their second single "She Cried" which became a top five hit in 1962. After their third single, and "She Cried" album, Traynor left the group and was replaced as lead singer by David Blatt who took the stage name Jay Black.
Jay and the Americans
Jay & the Americans released eight albums after their first hit "She Cried," which was released in 1962. The group was the opening act for not only The Beatles' first US performance, but also for The Rolling Stones' first US performance. They also appeared on Shindig, Hullabaloo, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and the Red Skelton Show and with Sammy Davis Jr. backed by the Count Basie Orchestra. They had many other hit singles in the 60s, and started their own publishing and production company, JATA Enterprises.
Jay & the Americans enjoyed considerable chart success through the early 1970s. Like other performers in the '60's, they eventually began performing self written material. Vance co-wrote "Livin' Above Your Head" which was a chart single in 1966 and in 1969 the chart singles "Learnin' How to Fly" and "Capture The Moment" the group's final chart single in 1970. Jay & the Americans also set up a publishing and production company JATA Enterprises with an office in the Brill Building. In 1967 two aspiring songwriters, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, knocked on the door of the office where they met Vance who listened to their songs and offered to manage and produce them. Under his auspices they recorded demo tapes and Vance spent the next few years trying to get someone to sign the duo and help them form the band they had in mind.
In 1967, the songwriting duo of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen came to the Brill Building to sell their songs, and ended up knocking on Vance's door. Vance liked what he heard, and offered to manage them. The duo arranged horn and string sections for Jay and the Americans on their Capture the Moment LP, and toured with them as bassist and keyboardist, eventually recording demos and masters with Vance in 1969. Vance continued to work with Becker & Fagen until 1971, when he brought one of their songs ("I Mean to Shine") to Richard Perry, who then brought it to Barbra Streisand and recorded it on Barbra Joan Streisand. They were hired as songwriters at ABC Dunhill, and released their first Steely Dan album, Can't Buy a Thrill, in 1972. They went on to become one of the best selling and critically acclaimed bands of the 1970s.
Film and television
After this, Vance began doing session work, producing, and writing music for movies. He was the music supervisor for the movies Eddie and the Cruisers, Animal House (which also featured an uncredited Robert Cray as bass player with fictional group, Otis Day and the Knights) and American Hot Wax with Tim McIntire, Jay Leno, and Fran Drescher. He wrote the theme for the score, produced the soundtrack album (which made the Top 40), and appeared in the movie as "Professor La Plano" to lead his fictional group, the Planotones, in a performance of "Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay". The Animal House soundtrack also made the charts and sold over 1 million copies and the Eddie and the Cruisers Soundtrack Album sold triple Platinum. He contributed music for many other films and TV shows, and after being a guest singer on Saturday Night Live in 1977, became the musical director in 1980-1981. He booked Aretha Franklin and Prince, as well as James Brown, who on his only appearance on the show performed for far longer than his allotted time, forcing the producers to go to a commercial while he was still singing.
As Jay & the Americans popularity subsided in the early '70's Vance began to do session work singing background vocals on such albums as Yusef Lateef's "Part Of The Search" (1971), Don McLean's "Homeless Brother" (1974) and Peter Allen's "Continental American" (1974). He also began producing and handling the board for albums by Ralfi Pagan "Ralfi" for Fania with the Fania All Stars, Toni Basil, Danny O'Keefe "American Roulette" (1977) and Diane Keaton. In 1975 he released his debut solo album, "Vance 32" on Atlantic. After this Vance began producing and writing music for movies. He was the music supervisor for the movies "Eddie and the Cruisers", "Animal House" (which also featured an uncredited Robert Cray as bass player with fictional group Otis Day and the Knights) and "American Hot Wax" with Tim McIntire, Jay Leno and Fran Drescher. He wrote the theme for the film, produced the soundtrack album (which made the top 40) and appeared in the movie as "Professor LaPlano" to lead his fictional group the Planotones in a performance of "Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay." The "Animal House" soundtrack, wherein Vance produced John Belushi singing "Louie Louie," also made the charts and sold over 1 million copies and the "Eddie and the Cruisers" soundtrack album went triple platinum producing the top five single "On The Dark Side". He contributed music to many other films and TV shows and after being a guest singer on Saturday Night Live in 1977 became its musical director in 1980-1981 writing the opening and closing themes. He booked Aretha Franklin, Prince, as well as James Brown, who on his only appearance on the show performed for far longer than his allotted time, forcing the producers to go to a commercial while he was still singing. The twin successes of "American Hot Wax" and "National Lampoon's Animal House" gave Vance a continuing career in the movies, as a composer/musical director/soundtrack producer and as a character actor. He went on to contribute music for "See The Funny Little Clown" (1962), "The Warriors" (1979), the "Hollywood Knights" (1980), "Eddie and the Cruisers" (1983), "Streets of Fire" (1984), "Ishtar" (1987), "Hairspray" (1988), "Eddie and the Cruisers 2: Eddie Lives! (1989), "Heart of Dixie" (1989), "Cobra" (1992), "Hard Promises" (1992), "Into My Heart" (1998), "Sunburn" (1999), "The Story of a Bad Boy" (1999) "Just Looking" (1999) and "Pinero" (2002). He also worked on several television movies, including HBO's "Long Gone" (1987) winning an ACE award for best movie. As an actor he had parts in "Eddie and the Cruisers", "Billy Bathgate" (1991) and "Hurly Burly" (1988) and he became a particular favorite of director Woody Allen joining Allen's informal stock company and appearing in "Manhattan" (1979), "Stardust Memories" (1980), "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989), Husbands and Wives (1992), "Everyone Says I Love You" (1996), and "Deconstructing Harry" (1997). Vance is credited as "mentor" on Peter Himmelman's 1987 album "Gematria" and his friendship with Himmelman led to the long overdue follow up to "Vance 32". Vance's second solo album, "Short Vacation", released on Gold Castle Records in 1988, included "The Performer", a number one single on the easy listening chart. Himmelman served as the album's co-producer.
In 1992 Vance re–formed Kenny Vance and the Planotones, his fictional group from American Hot Wax as a real group, to sing the doo-wop music he loved as a kid. The group consisted of other music business veterans with similar taste: Joe Esposito, Bruce Sudano, Eddie Hokenson, Jerry Friedman, and songwriter Garry Bonner (co–author of the Turtles hit "Happy Together") who joined in 1994. The group's first album Teenage Jazz was released in 1994. The 32 Jazz label issued a second Vance & the Planotones album, Looking for an Echo, in May 1996. In 1999 this was also the title for a film in which Vance served as musical director and which spawned a soundtrack album released in November 2000 consisting of Kenny Vance and the Planotones performances.
In October 2001 Varese Sarabande released Live and Out of This World followed in August 2002 by Kenny Vance and the Planotones on Collectables. A new studio album, Lovers Island, was released in October 2005 and included interpretations of such standards as "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" and "Stormy Weather". The next Kenny Vance and the Planotones album was Countdown to Love, released in October 2007. In January 2008 the group released its first DVD, Live at the Cuillo, through Alpha Video. In 2009 Ace in England released Soundtrack to the Doo Wop Era. In 2010 Dancin' and Romancin, Oceans of Time (2011), Mr. Santa (2012), Acapella (2013) and Lost and Found – Archives – Vol. 1 (2014). His latest CD to be released in 2015 is Lost And Found – Archives – Vol. 2.
2002 – Inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame 2007 – Inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame
Other artists produced and performed with
Phoebe Snow, Danny O'Keefe, Delbert McClinton, The Kingsnakes, Ralfi Pagan, Peter Himmelman, Toni Basil, Peter Allen, John Cafferty, Yusef Lateef, Tracey Ullman, Diane Keaton, Kenny Kirkland, Paul Griffin, Toni Basil, Don McLean, John Cafferty, Betty Carter, Johnny Pacheco, Aaron Neville, David "Fathead" Newman, Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, John Belushi, Larry Harlow, Brooklyn Dreams, Brenda Russell, Ruben Blades, Mandrill, James Campagnola, Ersel Hickey, Peter Himmelman, Hugh McCracken, Ishmael Miranda, Eric Mercury, Jerry Gonzalez, Elliot Randall, Genya Ravan, and Stephen Bishop, The Beaver Brown Band, among others.
- 1975: Vance 32
- 1988: Short Vacation
- 1994: Teenage Jazz
- 1996: Looking For an Echo
- 2000: Looking For an Echo (Motion Picture Soundtrack)
- 2002: Kenny Vance and the Planotones
- 2005: Lover's Island
- 2006: Soundtrack to the Doo Wop Era: A Kenny Vance Collection Volume 1
- 2007: Countdown to Love
- 2007: Dancin' and Romancin'
- 2009: Soundtrack to the Doo Wop Era: A Kenny Vance Collection Volume 2
- 2010: Oceans of Time
- 2011: Mr. Santa
- 2013: Acapella
- 2014: Lost And Found: Archives - Vol. 1
- 2015: Lost And Found: Archives - Vol. 2
- 2002: Live and Out of this World
Videos and DVDs:
- 1978: American Hot Wax
- 2000: Looking For An Echo
- 2007: Kenny Vance and the Planotones: Live at the Cuillo
- 2015: Happy Holidays DVD
- 1978: American Hot Wax (music producer, music supervisor)
- 1978: Animal House (music supervisor - uncredited)
- 1979: The Warriors (music supervisor: additional music)
- 1980: Hollywood Knights (soundtrack producer)
- 1980-1981: Saturday Night Live (TV series) (musical director)
- 1983: Eddie and the Cruisers (music producer, music supervisor)
- 1988: Hairspray (Producer title song, composer)
- 1989: Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! (music supervisor - Lead vocal on "Those Oldies But Goodies,"(Remind me of you)
- 1989: Heart of Dixie (composer: additional music, orchestrator: additional music)
- 1991: Hard Promises (composer: additional music)
- 1996: Erotic Confessions: Volume 1 (video) (musician: "The Performer")
- 1998: Into My Heart (music supervisor)
- 1999: Sunburn (music supervisor, music producer)
- 1999: Story of a Bad Boy (music supervisor)
- 1999: Just Looking (music supervisor)
- 2000: Looking for an Echo (music producer, music supervisor, score producer, singing voice: Armand Assante)
- 2001: Piñero (music supervisor)
- 1978: American Hot Wax
- 1979: Manhattan
- 1980: Stardust Memories
- 1983: Eddie and the Cruisers
- 1986: Sweethearts
- 1987: Power, Passion and Murder
- 1987: Great Performances (TV series)
- 1987: Tales from the Hollywood Hills: A Table at Ciro's (TV movie)
- 1989: Crimes and Misdemeanors
- 1991: Billy Bathgate
- 1992: Husbands and Wives
- The Last Bachelor
- 1996: Everyone Says I Love You
- 1997: Deconstructing Harry
- 1998: Hurlyburly
- 2000: Looking for an Echo
- 2007: Kenny Vance and the Planotones: Live at the Cuillo (video)