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What Happened to Jan & Dean?
Today’s younger generation may never have heard of Jan and Dean. Jan Berry and Dean Torrence were a popular rock and roll duo from the late 1950s through the mid 1960s. However, they may be familiar with another group whose music sounded similar to theirs…The Beach Boys.
Both wrote and played music about surfing, cars, girls, high school and life in Southern California. Jan and Dean were eventually overshadowed by The Beach Boys between their 1958 debut single, Jennie Lee and their thirteen Top Thirty singles. Some fans say it was only because the group was forced to disband after Berry narrowly survived a near fatal car crash in April, 1966.
They both attended Jefferson Junior High School and University High School in West Los Angeles and became friends while playing football during their senior year. The duo first found their voices harmonized well while taking showers after football practice. After football season, they both moved to Jan's home in Bel Air. It was the perfect solution since the home had a music room, piano and two tape recorders.
Jan and Dean’s start was with a group called the Barons. Unfortunately, the Baron's first and last appearance was at their high school's talent show. Afterwards all but Jan, Dean and Arnie Ginsberg went their separate ways.
While working on their first hit, Torrence was serving in the Army Reserve. Berry and Ginsberg took the finished tape to a recording studio in Hollywood. While there a producer for Arwin Records heard it and offered to add instrumentation and slap an Arwin label on it. Two months later Jennie Lee had shot to number one.
After Torrence finished his six month stint in the Army Reserve, Berry and Torrence teamed up to form Jan and Dean. But getting started had problems. Berry had a case of writer’s block and couldn’t think of any music to write. Berry called on a few friends, Herb Alpert of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass fame and Lou Adler, a prominent pop music entrepreneur. The four worked on a new arrangement that would become known as Baby Talk.
In October 1959, Baby Talk hit the Top Ten and appeared on the popular teen TV show American Bandstand. Over the next three years they followed with Heart and Soul, A Sunday Kind of Love, There's a Girl, We Go Together, and then signed on with Dore Records for an album they named Jan and Dean.
They then signed a two record deal with Gene Autry's Challenge Records. After they fulfilled their contract obligation with them, Liberty Records saw Jan and Dean as their new cash cow and signed a contract. However, it took five records before they had a hit with Linda. At that time a rumor got started the song was about Linda McCartney, Paul McCartney's wife. It wasn’t, the picture on the album cover was of a young girl named Linda Eastman. She later became Paul’s wife.
There was a reason some of Jan and Dean’s music sounded so much like The Beach Boys. Jan and Dean followed one of their acts with a few of their numbers. The two groups decided to do a few together. The crowd went wild and a lifelong friendship was sealed.
Jan and Dean decided surfing themes were a good sound for them so they included Linda in their next album, Jan and Dean Take Linda Surfing. Not knowing any other surfing songs, they talked to The Beach Boys and asked if they would play the instrumental parts to Surfin’ and Surfin' Surfari. During one session, Brian Wilson sang the opening line of a new song, which he offered to Jan and Dean. The duo added lyrics and recorded it as Surf City. It went to the top of the charts in 1963. The next year, they followed with Ride the Wild Surf and Sidewalk Surfin’.
Jan and Dean's hits from 1963 and 1964 also included The Little Old Lady from Pasadena, Drag City, Honolulu Lulu and Dead Man's Curve. Around this time they starred as hosts of the classic rock and roll film The T.A.M.I. Show, where they performed (Here They Come) From All over the World.
Although Jan and Dean had hit the big time, they were still both full-time college students, Dean at the University of Southern California and Jan at U.C.L.A.
It was also in 1964 Jan and Dean started recording under their own label, Majic Lamp Records. Dean founded J&D Records in 1966, but it failed after only two releases. Jan and Dean’s successful career almost came to an abrupt end with Jan’s auto accident. Like a scene out of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, Berry pulled out to pass a slow vehicle on Whittier Drive in Beverly Hills and hit a truck parked at the curb. It so eerily resembled the story theme in the lyrics of Dead Man's Curve. Was it merely coincidence the accident occurred only a few miles from the actual Dead Man’s Curve in Los Angeles? The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.
Paramedics arriving on the scene first thought Berry was dead. Checking his vital signs, they found he was alive. At UCLA Hospital they discovered he had suffered severe brain damage and was in a coma. Doctors didn’t see much hope for his survival. Berry remained in a coma for months and when he awoke, he was unable to walk or speak and was paralyzed on the right side.
Berry returned to the studio and began to sing again in the early 1970s although he still suffered effects from his accident. He was still partially paralyzed, had aphasia, walked with a limp and had only minimal use of his right arm. Jan Berry died March 26, 2004 after suffering a seizure at the age of 62.
Dean now occasionally tours with The Surf City All-stars and serves as a spokesman for the City of Huntington Beach California, nationally recognized as Surf City USA.