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Kenny Vance and the Planotones to play Clearwater on Friday

CLEARWATER

Don't mourn your lost youth; relive it tonight as Kenny Vance and the Planotones lead a musical tour down memory lane.

The doo-wop group's "Up Close and Personal Evening" begins at 7:30 p.m. inside the historic Capitol Theatre on Cleveland Street.

The stage will serve as an imaginary Brooklyn basement, where Vance and his group of fedora-topped musicians will plug into the 1950s, spontaneously "rehearsing" old favorites, interacting with the audience and taking requests.

Those might include '60s chart-toppers such as This Magic Moment, Cara Mia or Come a Little Bit Closer that Vance helped create as a founding member of Jay and the Americans.

"If someone yells it out, we'll play it," he said.

Vance, now 65, learned to sing by listening to 45s and imitating 1950s artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.

"It was considered forbidden music back then," he said. "Adults didn't want that stuff in their homes. But when Alan Freed (the disc jockey who coined the term rock 'n' roll) started playing it, we found our voice."

By age 15, Vance was hanging out at Manhattan's legendary Brill Building, harmonizing and singing a capella with other young urban singers and songwriters.

He cut his first record that year and in 1960, when he was only 17, he and other members of Jay and the Americans were signed to the United Artist label.

Even though the group was wildly successful, Vance still remembered his father's concern.

"He was always wondering when I was going to get a 'real' job," he said.

Jay and the Americans would remain together for 11 years, produce 15 albums and open for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones during their inaugural U.S. performances.

But Vance's musical credentials don't end with the breakup of the group.

He pressed on in his field, composing, supervising and producing music for a multitude of feature films including Eddie and the Cruisers, Animal House and the 1988 version of Hairspray.

He was the music director and composer for Saturday Night Live during its 1980-81 season.

Vance has played gangsters, singers, and music and film executives in more than a dozen movies, including Billy Bathgate and Hurlyburly.

He has also appeared in a host of Woody Allen movies.

He recalled his first audition with the comedic screenwriter and director.

"I went into this room and kept wondering when he was going to come in," he said. "Then I discovered him hiding behind a plant."

Apparently Allen had been sizing Vance up from afar to determine whether he had the right vibe for the role.

In the 1978 movie American Hot Wax, Vance played Professor La Plano, leader of the fictional rock band the Planotones. Vance also served as music director on the film.

Fourteen years later, in 1992, as Vance was longing to return to his rock 'n' roll roots, he gathered up the Planotones and the group was reborn.

"We're not a household name," he said. "But we are keepers of the flame. We portray the music of the '50s with authenticity and integrity."

He said he doesn't like to use the term "doo-wop."

"It has taken on a negative connotation — something to do with Grease or Happy Days.

"It's not," he said. "It's heartfelt and soulful."

Tonight, he said, the group may be introduced as "a bunch of guys from the 1900s."

But he'll still feel the joy of youth that comes from performing those early rock tunes.

"We'll all shed 45 years," he said. "(The audience) will be teenagers again, and we'll become the teen idols they remember."

Have a Diversions idea? Reach Terri Reeves at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

If you go

Sounds of the '50s and '60s

What: Kenny Vance and the Planotones, An Up Close and Personal Evening

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland St., downtown Clearwater

Tickets: $39.50 (book through Ruth Eckerd Hall)

For more information: Visit rutheckerdhall.com or richardnader.com or call (727) 791-7400.

Kenny Vance and the Planotones to play Clearwater on Friday 08/27/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 27, 2009 3:16pm]
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