Jan & Dean

  • Surf rock duo William Jan Berry and Dean Torrence, formed in 1958, from Los Angeles California.
  • Berry and Torrence met in junior high school, and became friends. They discovered that they had a talent for singing harmony together. They formed a doo-wop group with 4 other friends in high school, calling themselves The Barons – Berry sang bass and Torrence sang falsetto. They practiced for hours, recording on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. In 1958, their only public performance was at their high school talent contest. After the performance, the group split up, leaving only Berry and Torrence to try writing songs together.
  • Later that year, one of the other members of The Barons, Arnie Ginsburg, brought a song he wrote to the duo, titled Jennie Lee. Before they could record it, Torrence was drafted into the Army Reserve, so Ginsburg and Berry recorded it without him. They took the tape to a small recording studio to have it transferred to an acetate disc. A record label heard the demo, and offered to add instruments and release it. Recorded as Jan & Arnie, Jennie Lee became a surprise hit – it reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned them an appearance on The Dick Clark Show. Two more singles followed that year – the songs had the tight harmony with falsetto that would soon evolve into surf rock music. By late 1958, Torrence’s 6 months in the reserves were over, and Ginsburg grew tired of the music business. Jan & Arnie became Jan & Dean.
  • After signing with a new record company, they released their first single in 1959, Baby Talk. It reached #10 on the Hot 100, and it was included on their debut album, The Jan & Dean Sound, released in 1960. Several other albums and minor hits were released over the next couple of years. They performed with another Southern California band, The Beach Boys, which increased their interest in the surf sound. During this time, both Berry and Torrence studied in college as well as worked on their music careers (Berry was still going to medical school in 1966).
  • Berry started writing with Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys, and 12 songs written by them were recorded by Jan & Dean. By 1963, Jan & Dean were fully embracing the surf rock sound. They released 6 albums in 1963 and 1964, with titles like Jan & Dean Take Linda Surfin’, Dead Man’s Curve, and Ride The Wild Surf. They scored their biggest hits on these albums – Surf City was their only #1 song, and other top 20 songs were Honolulu Lulu, Drag City, Dead Man’s Curve, The Little Old Lady From Pasadena and Ride The Wild Surf. In 2008, Dead Man’s Curve was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
  • The surfing craze was losing its charm by 1965 (thanks to the British Invasion), and Jan & Dean evolved to a different style. They released an album titled Folk ‘N Roll, and then comedy albums Filet of Soul and Jan & Dean Meet Batman. They managed to land 2 songs in the top 30 – You Really Know How To Hurt A Guy and I Found A Girl.
  • In 1966, Berry was nearly killed in a car accident, coincidently only a short distance away from Dead Man’s Curve in Beverly Hills. He was in a coma for over 2 months, and eventually recovered from brain damage and paralysis, though he was unable to use his right arm again. This effectively ended their careers as a recording act, though some previous recorded music made its way into releases, even as recently as 2017. They performed a few concerts together in the 70s, and as 60s nostalgia began to take hold, they regularly toured in the 80s, 90s and 00s. Berry died in 2004, and this ended their career together.
  • Of the 50 or so surf rock artists during the 50s and 60s, Jan & Dean, along with The Beach Boys, stand at the top as the biggest acts. Listen to the sound on this clip of Little Old Lady From Pasadena.

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