January 2, 2014 – John “Jay” Traynor was born on March 30th 1943 in Brooklyn New York. He was a lead vocalist of the Mystics, singing falsetto on “The White Cliffs of Dover” and lead on “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “Blue Star”.
The foundation of what would become Jay and the Americans was laid in 1959, when two teenagers named Kenny Vance and Sandy Deane formed a doo-wop style group called “The Harbourlites“. After a couple of failed recordings, Sandy began looking for a stronger lead singer. As fate would have it, John “Jay” Traynor, a stand-in singer with a group called “The Mystics” was looking for another band and since the two groups shared Jim Gribble as manager, the three got together, adding a fourth member, Howie Kane.
The four were teamed up with songwriters Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber, who had a great track record with The Drifters, The Coasters, and Ben E. King. United Artists had just finished the movie version of West Side Story and offered the boys heavy promotion if they recorded a song from the soundtrack called “Tonight”. Under the name “Jay and the Americans”, Tonight sold 50,000 copies, but was far overshadowed by an instrumental version by Ferrante and Teicher.
He sang lead on their first hit, “She Cried,” which reached #5 in 1962 and was followed up by the LP, She Cried. In 1964 he went solo when additional hits failed to materialize. releasing “I Rise, I Fall” followed by “Up & Over”, which became a big hit with the UK “Northern Soul” underground dance clubs and also worked at an upstate New York TV station, and behind-the-scenes in the music industry.
After Traynor left Jay and the Americans, he was replaced by David Black, who adopted the name Jay Black. The group went on to score mega hits like “Come a Little Bit Closer,” “Cara Mia” and “This Magic Moment.”
In the late 1960s he worked for Woodstock Ventures, the company that put on the “Woodstock” festival, during which time he picked up behind the scenes working with such 1970s acts as Mountain, West, Bruce & Laing, The Who, Ten Years After, Yes, and gospel singer Mylon LeFevre.
In 1977, Traynor moved to Albany, New York, near his roots in Greenville and worked at WNYT-TV as a studio camera operator. He then performed with cover bands (George and “Friends”), jazz trios, and finally as the singer with the Joey Thomas Big Band, where his love for Frank Sinatra’s music began. The Big Band put out a few CDs with Traynor, including Live On WAMC & The Sinatra Show.
In 2006, Traynor received a call from Jay Siegel, and he toured with Jay Siegel’s Tokens, best known for their hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” for the remainder of his life. He also sang sing with the Joey Thomas Big Band and recorded a few CDs including Live On WAMC & The Sinatra Show.
Jay died after a two year fight with liver cancer on Jan 2, 2014 at the age of 70.
“He was a pro…he was very versatile in his vocal style, from rock and roll to Frank Sinatra,” Siegel told ABC News Radio. “His demeanor and his look were a perfect fit for my group…he just did a great job onstage and more than that, he did a great job offstage. He was a true gentleman, a very humble guy and I considered him like my brother. He was a great talent and a good friend.”