Golden Days of Forever Summer…..
(The following is gleaned from the three books illustrated above)
If Dean Torrance was the glue that held Jan & Dean together for nearly 45 years, Jan Berry was the heart and soul. The young duo hit the pop scene officially with the charting of “Baby Talk” in the summer of 1959. The song topped out at #10 nationally falling just short of the song “Jennie Lee” which Jan Berry recorded with his high school pal Arnie Ginsburg.
The two teenagers were first signed to Arwin Records in Hollywood due to the self-promotional and selling efforts of Jan. Arnie came along for the ride to soon be replaced by Dean Torrance. Jan, Arnie, Dean, along with future song composer Don Altfield, future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, and future actor Jimmy Bruderlin (would become James Brolin) all hung out together in a local “high school club” called “The Barons”.
Jan and Arnie’s May 1958 release of “Jennie Lee” soared all the way to number 8 in the nation. This would set the stage for Jan as a long time hit writer, producer and shaker in the California set of musicians who provided the teenage soundtrack for millions for years to come. Jan and Arnie would cut a handful of tracks on Arwin, then Dore and then finally on Dot Records, with only “Gas Money” denting the charts in August of 1958. Arnie’s heart wasn’t in the entertainment business and so Dean Torrance would step in – nicely complementing the talents of Jan Berry. They boys would chart often, with fun inspired songs ranging from “We Go Together” based in the sounds of the fading 1950’s rock roll years, hopping on board with surf, hot-rod and summer music over the next eight years when, in the spring of 1966, would come abruptly to an end with Jan Berry’s April 12th car crash. (Not on “Dead Man’s Curve” as often cited but not far away). Read a very thorough and interesting excerpt from “The Jan & Dean Record”.
Journalist Goes Surfin’
So much has been written about this duo, most recently with the publication of “Surf City – The Jan and Dean Story” by Dean Torrence, which hit the book shelves in September of this year, 2016. I have a copy on order. But the focus of this Post is a book by Chicago syndicated writer Bob Greene, a baby boomer who has maintained a steady column often paying tribute to the golden years of rock and roll. His 2008 tribute is “When We Get to Surf City… A Journey Through America in Pursuit of Rock and Roll, Friendship and Dreams”.
This basis of this narrative comes directly from Greene’s involvement with the Jan and Dean touring band which hit the road in the early 1980’s (long after Jan’s horrific car accident in 1966). Bob had published a diary from his notes composed as a teenager titled “Be True to Your School”. To his surprise he receives a letter in 1992 postmarked from a Californian by the name of Gary Griffin. Griffin had read “Surf City” during an airplane flight, flying as a keyboard player and member of the Jan and Dean touring band for over a decade.
Bob gives him a phone call and things go well, very well. Bob is invited to “come see a show”, and then through a quantum leap in the narrative, the next thing you know Greene is meeting up with band often, being first invited to step up to the microphone to join in the harmonies and next, to get his guitar and join the band whenever he is able.
And that is exactly what he does …… for the next decade! And those experiences are the focus of Bob’s “Surf City”.
Jan and Dean toured relentlessly beginning in 1980 hitting the county fairs, amusement parks, corporate events, all over the nation, each year ending the tour with the approach of fall. Greene was along for many of the special moments and chronicles them as only he can in “Surf City”.
There was lots of fun on these tours, but it was also serious business. As Greene points out, Jan, Dean and company all needed to work, to maintain an income. They didn’t have retirement plans from the Golden Years, probably didn’t have health insurance and most were married men with families, and so the summer tour was vital to their livelihoods. Dena Torrence was the front man – the business brains behind the operation. But more importantly, he was the life-long friend, nearly a “brother” to his high school pal and companion, Jan Berry.
Jan’s post accident condition was considerable both physically and mentally. As an example, Bob was riding with them on a flight to the next performance when he heard a Jan and Dean track being played. He glanced around and noticed Jan bent over his small cassette player, concentrating hard. Bob asked a band mate what Jan was doing, after all the song was one of Jan and Dean’s big hits. The band member replied that Jan’s memory for the lyrics was challenged and that he would have to “re-learn” the lyrics over and over again before each performance.
Jan’s state presence was another challenge, often off-balanced, and hindered by partial paralysis in his arm and leg, the band would cover for Jan constantly with inspiring comments to the audience, with on-stage theatrics and general good showmanship.
Following are a couple of extracts from “When We Get to Surf City” relating to the Jan and Dean long-time relationship:
“So there he was, a man in his fifties with a cafeteria tray in front of him, having breakfast by himself.
Dean saw him. He walked to the table and sat in the chair across from Jan. The two men talked together quietly. Then (Dean didn’t know I was observing this) something close to tender happened.
Dean reached across the table fro Jan’s tray. He picked up the miniature containers filled with jelly and butter and, with the plastic utensils, spread them on Jan’s pieces of toast. Then he cut the toast so it would be easier for Jan to eat. He slid the tray back to Jan. I saw Jan not toward Dean in gratitude.”
He didn’t want to make the call himself. I got the impression it would have made him feel crestfallen. Jan and Dean had not been selected for induction into the Hall.
“I probably can.” I said.
“I just think it would be nice for Jan,” Dean said. “He was so much more talented than so many people who are getting in.”
I’d never heard him say such a thing so directly.
“I don’t even care if I get in.” Dean said. “Oh, I’d love it, obviously. But if they just elected Jan for his songwriting and arranging and producing, I’d be so happy for him. Because the guy deserves it, and I don’t think he’s ever going to get in it.”
He said that, because of the accident, people in the music business tended to define Jan only by that: he was the guy who had had the “Dead Man Curve” collision.
“But they never saw him when rose records of ours were being recorded,” Dean said. “Jan was just brilliant. He could do anything in a studio. You know how he can be so difficult now? It’s not really all that different than how he was before the accident. He went into every situation thinking he was smarter than anyone else, which was sort of hard when you were the other person. But the thing is, he was right. I don’t know what the definition of genius is, bu tI think he probably was one. I wish all you guys could have known him back then.”
“I don’t know what I’ll do with it (the information) if you get it,” Dean said. “It would just be good to have the information. It would make the guy’s whole life, to be able to walk across that stage.”
In very early 2004 Jan Berry collapsed on stage from a brain seizure. The band closed ranks around him, finding ways to keep Jan and Dean together but always knowing that Jan’s condition was worsening.
Then on March 26th, 2004 Jan again collapsed in his home sub-coming to his 50 year struggle with the after effects of his tragic car crash. The Jan and Dean band disbanded with many members reforming for a time, performing a regular gig at Disney Land. This kept the bills paid. About a year after Jan’s passing, Dean was able to put the act back together and return to the road, performing once again and delivering the great songs from the Golden Days of Summer.