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One On 1 Profile: Musician Kenny Vance Lost His Home To Hurricane Sandy, But His Doo-Wop Lives On

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Some three-and-a-half months after Hurricane Sandy, there are still many New Yorkers who are dealing with the storm and its aftermath every day, including doo-wop musician Kenny Vance, who lost his Queens home. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following NY1 For You profile.

An empty lot is all that's left of musician Kenny Vance's home by the coast of Belle Harbor in Queens, after Hurricane Sandy.

"We had a recording studio in the basement, we had a piano from the Brill Building," says Vance. "Amplifiers, I had a lot of vintage guitars, I had one guitar for 35 years in the guild. Where is it all?"

Vance is best known as one of the founding members of the 1960s group Jay and the Americans.

He is still going strong with his current group, Kenny Vance and the Planotones. Their latest CD, "Acapella," is a tribute to the Doo Wop Vance first fell in love with growing up in Brooklyn.

At the time of Sandy, the band was performing on a cruise.

"I sent a friend of mine down the block. I said, 'What's up?' He said, 'It's gone.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'Your house is gone,'" Vance says.

Gone were clothing, family photos, mementoes from movies he worked on as music supervisor, and almost every vestige of 50 years in the music business.

"Early Jay and the Americans stuff, the demos that no one ever heard, the dirty version of 'Louie, Louie' that John Belushi sang for 'Animal House' that I had here," says Vance.

Some memories still remain in the rubble of his house.

"I've come here a few times and every time — these are my gardening gloves," says Vance.

When a NY1 crew stopped by, Vance found some of the hotel keys that Vance collected, primarily during the Jay and the Americans years.

Finding a key from Tennessee, Vance remember, "After the show, some guys came over and said, 'Elvis wants you to come back to Graceland and hang with him.' And we said 'No, we're tired,' and we didn't go."

Vance lived in his Belle Harbor home on the ocean for 38 years.

"I would pack up, get the guitar, get on the road, go to the airport, go into the city, do the business. But when I came out here, this was my reality," Vance says.

For three months following Sandy, his reality was a FEMA hotel on Staten Island.

"There were 40, 65 families still living in that hotel that have no place to go. And so for breakfast you know we would hear conversations of people’s lives have been shattered," Vance says. "The residual effects of this is a certain kind of anxiety that you have at all times, a low-grade anxiety about things, a certain sense of alienation because of the disappearance of your reality."

He recently moved back to a rented house in Belle Harbor. His memories of the first weeks after the storm highlight the perhaps inevitable disconnect between those who were affected by Sandy and those who were not affected by the storm.

"A month into it, I had to go into the city and I'm walking around the city and I don't have anything, I'm just here, but everyone's busy and they are going places and they're going to go home to a house or apartment," Vance says. "They're going to go home to someplace, I had nowhere to go."

Vance caught the bug for doo-wop early, with songs like Lewis Lyman and the Teenchords' "I'm So Happy."

"I realized that somebody made this record. That there was something going on in a room and I thought I'd like to be in that room," he says.

Vance tried out for a local group, the Harbor Lites, that eventually morphed into Jay and the Americans.

He says Jay and the Americans auditioned for the great producers of the time, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, at the famed Brill Building. They were initially accepted, and then Vance says they were rejected in heartbreaking fashion the next day.

That's when Vance's mother, whose own musical aspirations had gone unfulfilled, stepped in with advice.

"She says, 'You go back there tomorrow and you tell them that they can't do this to you. I’ve been in the business a long time.' And I thought, 'I've been in the business a month,'" Vance says. "And I went in there and I said, 'My mother told me to tell you guys....' I didn’t know what to say. And they looked at each other and I’ll never forget it, they said, 'Jerry says all right, tell the guys to come back tomorrow.' Eight months later, we had a number-one record with that 'She Cried.'"

Jay and the Americans had a solid 12-year run with several hits. They opened for the Beatles at their first American concert in Washington, D.C. and had the unfortunate task one of closing for the Rolling Stones at Carnegie Hall.

"So the Stones go on, people go crazy. And he says, 'Right now, from Brooklyn, N.Y., Jay and the Americans.' And we come out and we're doing all of these steps and while we’re doing it, the audience is running out of Carnegie Hall," Vance says.

After Jay and the Americans, Vance supervised music for several movies, including one inspired by his song "Looking For An Echo," where he sang vocals sung by Armand Assante's character. Vance also performed in several films, including "Eddie And The Cruisers."

His beloved doo-wop continues to inspire him and bring him to stages all around the country.

"There aren't too many people that are my age that still have a career in the music that they grew up in," Vance says.

Like so many New Yorkers, Vance is dealing with Sandy-related insurance issues, relocation struggles and what he calls a sense of alienation. But he has come back home to the Rockaways, not to the home that Sandy destroyed, but home nonetheless.

"There's something about Rockaway. It's a secret. You're so close to the city but there's a lot of peace of mind here," Vance says. "And I think people that live here, whether they can articulate it or not, they feel that. They'll never leave here."

The new CD from Kenny Vance and the Planotones, "Acapella," comes out Tuesday. The group will also be performing Friday night at the St. George Theatre on Staten Island.

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