William Jan Berry - Born April 3, 1941, Los Angeles, California, died 26 March 2004, Los Angeles

Dean Ormsby Torrence - Born 10 March 1940, Los Angeles

The recent release of "The Complete Liberty Singles" by Jan and Dean (42 tracks on 2 CD's) is a good reason to take another look at this duo and especially at the late Jan Berry, who clearly was the dominant creative force of the two. I'll be the first to admit that Jan & Dean made quite a few ordinary, even bad records (like most artists), but after reading the excellent CD booklet I have become convinced that Jan Berry deserves more credit than he usually gets. In the words of Dean Torrence : how many produced, performed, arranged, sang and wrote while they were getting a college degree? (Jan and Dean were never full-time musicians. They were serious college students just in case the music thing didn't work out.)

I will concentrate on the Liberty years and disregard the early Jan and Arnie period. During 1959-1961, Jan and Dean scored 6 Top 100 hits out of 10 single releases on Dore and Challenge. Not a bad average, but a contract with the bigger Liberty label (secured by their producer, Lou Adler) looked like the real deal. However, during their first year at Liberty, Jan and Dean were still under the watchful eye of the "suits". The song selected for their first Liberty single, the doowop classic "A Sunday Kind Of Love", wasn't their choice. It was Lenny Waronker's favourite song and Lenny, then 14 years old, was the son of Liberty's president, Si Waronker. The four 1962 singles by Jan and Dean were still done in the bomp-a-bomp-bomp style that went back to "Jennie Lee" from 1958. "A Sunday Kind Of Love" lasted just one week on Billboard's Hot 100 (# 95). The second single, "Tennessee" (produced by Snuff Garrett), did a little better, peaking at # 69, but the next two singles didn't chart at all. Enter 1963. A revival of the 1947 # 1 "Linda" turned out to be a transitional single for the duo. The trademark bomps were dropped and from now on Jan would be in charge of future Liberty sessions. He had already made his mark as an arranger and could now add the title "producer" to his label credits."Linda" went to # 28, but it was their next single which would propel Jan and Dean to the number one position on the charts and would be their biggest hit ever.

"Jan Berry was the catalyst for the Beach Boys' sound" said Al Jardine of the Beach Boys. "He was a model for Brian." So when Lou Adler introduced Jan to Brian Wilson, the two hit it off together and started collaborating. The result was "Surf City", which slid into # 1 on June 20, 1963. "Wipe Out" by the Surfaris sat at # 7, while "Surfin' USA" by the Beach Boys was wrapping up its 17 week chart run. Surf music was sweeping the country and Jan and Dean had caught the wave. To fully appreciate Jan Berry's musical legacy, Dean Torrence explains: "Jan was the first guy to hand pick and put together the 'Wrecking Crew'. Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer Tommy Tedesco, Bill Pitman, Glen Campbell, Billy Strange, Ray Pohlman, Jimmy Bond, Leon Russell, Jay Migliori, Steve Douglas, Roy Katon and Tom Scott were all from different bands and backgrounds. Up until 1963 (and the "Surf City" album) none of these guys played together consistently and a couple of them weren't in the rotation at all, and it was Jan who decided to put them together. Earl Palmer was the drummer that we used on all our earlier stuff, and Jan wanted to use Hal and Earl playing at the same time. Jan would write out two exact drum parts and put them next to each other - one of them counted off, and those guys were so good and so precise they could play every single lick simultaneously ; it was such a big sound!" (I must agree with Dean here : the quality of the drumming on this set is consistently high. Recommended to Earl Palmer fans.)

Next came the switch from surf to drag music. Jan and Dean were both car freaks, which brought personal passion to hits like "Drag City" (# 10) and "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena" (# 3 in mid-1964). After four drag-themed hits, Jan & Dean returned to the ocean for the next three singles, "Ride the Wild Surf", "Sidewalk Surfin'" (an adaptation of "Catch A Wave" from the third Beach Boys LP) and "From All Over the World". The ultimate Jan and Dean record is probably "The Anaheim, Azusa & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association". An extraordinary recording and not only because of the title. Inspired by none other than J.S. Bach, it took production values to a new level. And it was not even the A-side! For the story behind the song see "A Study in Bach" at http://www.jananddean-janberry.com/esq/jan-berry_esq_moore.html Then came a shift to "West Coast sunshine pop", due to the presence of Jan's girl friend, Jill Gibson, as co-writer. Dean hated these songs and their creative conflict came to a head during a Jan and Dean overdub session in Studio 3 at Western Recorders. Dean got fed up, went down to Studio 2 where the Beach Boys were recording "Barbara Ann" and sang along with them. Still, though they fought sometimes, Jan and Dean deeply cared for each other.

Altogether, they had 18 Top 100 hits on Liberty, 11 of which went Top 40. Jan's car accident of April 12, 1966, meant the abrupt ending of the duo's musical career. He slammed his Corvette into the rear of a parked truck and was barely alive. He suffered severe brain damage and had to learn to walk and talk all over again. But he brought the same fierce determination to his recovery that he had previously poured into his music. He recovered partially, released several solo singles and albums and performed with his lifelong friend and partner, Dean, until his death on March 26, 2004.

CD : Jan and Dean : The Complete Liberty Singles, Collector's Choice CCM-949 (August 2008). Very informative liner notes by Ed Osborne and David Beard. All previous Liberty anthologies were unsatisfactory. Collector's Choice has wisely chosen to use the original mono mixes ; the sound is very clear and crisp.

A good overview of the pre-Liberty period is : Jan & Dean, Teen Suite, 1958-1962 (Varese Sarabande VSD-5590). Released in 1995, probably out of print. 21 tracks by Jan and Arnie / Jan and Dean from the Arwin, Dore and Challenge labels.

More info:

Dik October 2008

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
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