March 26, 2004 – Jan William Berry (Jan and Dean) was born April 3rd 1941 in Los Angeles California. His mother was born in Norway and his dad was the project engineer for Howard Hughes “Spruce Goose”, the largest flying boat ever built, with a wing span of one inch short of 320 feet. He flew on the plane’s only flight with Howard Hughes.
Berry and Dean Ormsby Torrence , both born in Los Angeles, California, met while students at Emerson Junior High School in Westwood, Los Angeles, and both were on the school’s football team. By 1957, they were students in the Vagabond Class of 1958 at the nearby University High School, where again they were on the school’s football team, the Warriors. Berry and Torrence had adjoining lockers, and after football practice, they began harmonizing together in the showers with several other football players, including future actor James Brolin.
They had a No.10 hit with “Baby Talk” in 1959.
After several musical experiments they met Brian Wilson in the early 1960’s, which led to an impressive sixteen Top 40 hits on the Billboard and Cash Box magazine charts in 1963 and 1964 alone, with a total of twenty-six chart hits over an eight-year period (1958–1966). Jan and Brian Wilson collaborated on roughly a dozen hits and album cuts for Jan and Dean, including the number one national hit “Surf City”, written by Brian Wilson, in 1963 making them the early performers of the vocal “surf music” craze that was later massively popularized by The Beach Boys.
“Surf City”, topped US record charts in 1963, the first surf song to do so. Their other charting singles were “Drag City” (1963), “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena” (1964), and “Dead Man’s Curve” (1964), the last of which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.
At the time Jan and Dean hosted and performed at The T.A.M.I. Show, a historic concert film directed by Steve Binder. The film also featured such acts as The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Gerry & the Pacemakers, James Brown, Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Lesley Gore, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, and The Beach Boys.
As was custom in the early rock and roll days, Jan and Dean turned Hollywood and filmed two unreleased television pilots: Surf Scene in 1963 and On the Run in 1966. Their feature film for Paramount Pictures Easy Come, Easy Go was canceled when Berry, as well as the film’s director and other crew members, were seriously injured in a railroad accident while shooting the film in Chatsworth, California, in August 1965.
After the surfing craze, Jan and Dean scored two Top-30 hits in 1965: “You Really Know How to Hurt a Guy” and “I Found a Girl”—the latter from the album Folk ‘n Roll. During this period, they also began to experiment with cutting-edge comedy concepts such as the original (unreleased) Filet of Soul and Jan & Dean Meet Batman. The former’s album cover shows Berry with his leg in a cast as a result of the accident while filming Easy Come, Easy Go.
On April 12, 1966, Berry received severe head injuries in an automobile accident on Whittier Drive, just a short distance from Dead Man’s Curve in Beverly Hills, California, two years after the song had become a hit. He was on his way to a business meeting when he crashed his Corvette into a parked truck on Whittier Drive, near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard, in Beverly Hills. He also had separated from his girlfriend of seven years, singer-artist Jill Gibson, later a member of the Mamas & the Papas for a short time, who also had co-written several songs with him. Berry was in a coma for nearly two months; he awoke on the morning of June 16, 1966.
Berry traveled a long and difficult road toward recovery from brain damage and partial paralysis. He had minimal use of his right arm, and had to learn to write with his left hand. Doctors said he would never walk again, but he refused to give up, and ultimately succeeded. Torrence stood by his partner, maintaining their presence in the music industry, and keeping open the possibility that they would perform together again.
My favorite Jan & Dean song in those early days, growing up in the hillsides of the southern Netherlands was “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” conjuring up sunny days at the beach and purveying the Utopian lifestyle of Southern California, instead of 300 days a year of rain.
Jan Berry died of a seizure on March 26, 2004 at the age of 62.