Jan and Dean – A Tale of True Friendship
Between syndicated columnist Bob Greene’s “When We Get to Surf City”, “The Lost Beach Boy” by David Marks, “Psychedelic Bubble Gum” by Bobby Hart, “The Walker Brothers – No Regrets”, and this autobiographical work by Dean Torrance, I have now quenched my thirst for first hand account of the southern California saga of the ‘endless summer’ of my boyhood, 1,200 miles west of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
Dean’s account of the Jan and Dean story is refreshing with many pages devoted to talking about the early high school days where both Jan and Dean attended University High School. Torrence begins is story relating his first encounter with the brash and cocky Jan Berry which occurred at high school early in the school year. Dean was gazing out of his classroom window when he saw a lanky male figure strolling by – outside the school grounds fence. This was something that indicated it could not have been a University High student – since classes were in session and outside the fence was definitely out-of-bounds for students.
Then Dean realized it was indeed Jan Berry – in full view of students and teaching staff – not only struting his stuff but smoking a big stogie cigar! (This was the late 1950’s remember).
There didn’t seem to be any possibility that the dare devil Jan and the more observant and careful Dean would ever connect, but of course history proved this wrong. From there the story delves into the duo coming together, first as members of a loosely knit harmony group, a group which included another future recording and production star, sometimes Beach Boy Bruce Johnston.
Jan was extremely driven to break into the music scene and was never content to let music establishment types dictate his direction. On one of his first efforts, a song named after a local stripper who the boys had gone to watch in her stage act, “Jennie Lee” was created with not only Jan and Arnie Ginsburg contributing, but Dean and others as well.
“Jennie Lee” hit the charts, Dean moved on from the group, but in time, Arnie would bow out, Dean would come back in and the rest is history. If Jan was the creative driving force behind J&D, Dean was the fun-loving and humorous spirit that guaranteed on-going success.
Fame came for Jan and Dean with many hit records as we all know, collaborations with their close friends, The Beach Boys, Jan working with other California composers, producing, creating, never standing still. Beyond the Beach Boys fame, not far behind for several golden years was the unmistakable sound of Jan and Dean.
Then everything came to a screeching halt on April 12th, 1966 with the devastating car wreck of Jan Berry. Although Berry returned to work about one year after his accident, the hits were a thing of the past. The duo would not firmly reunite for over a decade. During that time Dean would establish his “Kitty Hawk Graphics” designing company, turning out many long play album covers, many of which would receive grammy nominations.
Jan’s condition rendered his mental (and physical) abilities extremely challenged, and all of his efforts to regain his former creativity were met with frustration. Dean was reluctant to reunite with his life long pal, just not able to deal with all of the challenges that brought with it, including Berry’s battle with drug addiction.
But come together they did, forming a Jan and Dean tour which commenced in the 1980’s and lasted right up into the new century. It was not easy, especially as Jan’s condition continued to deteriorate.
The end came on March 26th, 2004, with Jan passing away a few days after a major seizure (he had experienced many prior).
More than for himself, Dean wanted Jan to experience induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before his passing. It just was not to be.
Dean Torrence: “We have the scoreboard if you just want to compare number of hits and musical projects done. We beat 75-percent of the people in there. So what else is it? I’ve got to think that we were pretty irreverent when it came to the music industry. They kind of always held that against us. That’s okay with me.”
While there has not yet been an induction into the Hall as of 2017, Berry & Torrence are definitely in my “Hall of Fame” – and I have to believe many others who grew up with the fun sounds and fun times provided by Jan and Dean would agree.
(How could anyone have survived? – Berry’s Corvette, 1966)