Vance particularly enjoys playing at the college.“They get a very enthusiastic crowd there, people still seem to love the music,” he said. “In Queens this music still is very, very strong.”
Kenny Vance grew up in Belle Harbor and attended Far Rockaway High School where he was in the chorus. One day, one of the chorus members brought in a doo-wop record that he had recorded and played it for the group. After that, Vance thought to himself, “Well, maybe I can make a record.”
He and his friends were influenced by Alan Freed, the 1950’s radio disc jockey who played rhythm and blues-doo wop music and who coined the phrase, “Rock and Roll.”
“We heard the songs on the radio and then we would get together in someone’s basement and we would either try to imitate the songs that we heard on the radio or we would try to write our own songs with the aspiration of making our own record,” Vance said.
Growing up, two groups from Queens who had a big influence on him were The Heartbeats, who had a hit song called, “A Thousand Miles Away,” and Shep and the Limelights, with the hit, “Daddy’s Home.”
At the age of 15, Vance and his high school friends formed his first vocal group: Harbor Lights and auditioned for a Belle Harbor record company called Ivy Records where they recorded two singles, which unfortunately did not score.But Vance was not deterred by this setback.
After graduating from high school he attended Long Island University but left at the age of 19 to pursue music full time with Jay & The Americans, of which he was a founding member, and reached the top of the Billboard charts with “She Cried,” “Come a Little Bit Closer,” and “This Magic Moment.” In their 11-year run the group recorded 15 albums and toured extensively, opening for the Beatles’ and the Rolling Stones’ first U.S. performances.
In the early 70’s Jay & the Americans began to wind down.
Vance launched a new phase in his career in 1978 when he appeared in the movie “American Hot Wax,” which depicted events in the life of Alan Freed as Professor La Plano and led the fictional group, the Planotones. Vance also wrote “Hot Wax Theme,” and was the musical director for the movie. That same year Vance produced the soundtrack album for National Lampoon’s Animal House which made the Billboard charts.
With the success of American Hot Wax and National Lampoon’s Animal House Vance continued his career in the movies, both as a composer/musical director/soundtrack producer and as a character actor. Among the movies that he contributed music for were Eddie and the Cruisers, (1983) a triple-platinum soundtrack album, Ishtar (1987) and Hairspray (1988). Vance was also the musical director for Saturday Night Live.
In 1992, Vance re-formed the Planotones, his fictional group from American Hotwax, to sing the doo wop music he loved, with such songs as “Gloria,” “Diamonds and Pearls,” “Devil or Angel,” “This Magic Moment,” “Lovers Never Say Goodbye,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and “This I Swear.”
Vance said the group’s biggest song is “Looking For An Echo,” a song originally recorded in 1975 and re-recorded in 2000 with the Planotones. The song tells the nostalgic story of a Doo-Wop group who were always looking for a good place to sing - somewhere with a good echo to enhance their sound.
In 2002 Vance was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and in 2007 into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” he said. “I’ve been very blessed to do what you love to do, but when you are recognized by your peers, it’s very humbling and it’s also very gratifying to be recognized for what you’ve done ... this is the greatest music that America has ever produced, this is the music of America.”
Catch Kenny Vance and the Planotones at the Queens College Auditorium in Flushing on May 15 and at the Irvington Town Hall Theater in Irvington, NY on May 7.
For more information, visit Vance's website.