Nowadays, you’re considered a rock ‘n roll Renaissance Man if you make a video and have a comment about the color scheme. In contrast, there was the musical genius of Jan Berry. He was already an established rock star as part of the duo of Jan & Dean before he decided to enroll in the California College of Medicine in 1963. He’d only finished two years of studies by 1966, but he was a little distracted while writing classic tunes and doing some really innovative work in recording studios. Berry produced all kinds of hits for all kinds of artists. Jan & Dean managed sixteen Top 40 hits in 1963 and 1964, including “Surf City” and “Little Old Lady from Pasadena.” Berry was fooling around with folk music and psychedelia when it all came to an abrupt end on April 12, 1966. That’s when Jan went for a spin in his Corvette and ended up cruising into a parked truck on Whittier Drive in Los Angeles. (As people are always required to note, the crash site was very close to a legendary “Dead Man’s Curve” that Jan & Dean had immortalized in a hit single.) The young genius suffered extensive brain damage, and was never quite the same again.
Berry took on his injuries like a typical overachiever. He had to learn how to write with his left hand, and surprised his doctors by walking again. He was back in the recording studio again within a year, although the resulting album–a psych-oriented release called Carnival of Sound–wouldn’t get released until 2010. Berry even managed to sing again, and there were proper Jan & Dean shows by 1976. Some people complained when Berry went off on tour with a fake Dean sometimes, but that wasn’t that big of a deal. Fans understood that the oldies spotlight was therapy for Berry–who was left with a stammer that he could often overcome on stage.
Dean Torrence deserves a mention amongst all this. He really rose to the occasion and kept the Jan & Dean name active during Berry’s recovery. Torrence also showed off his own amazing skills by going on to become one of the music industry’s most popular graphic designers. He put together a lot of album covers in the ’70s for some of the music industry’s biggest acts. Dean didn’t let that keep him from always being there for Berry, and Jan & Dean continued to do shows right up until Berry’s death in 2004.
To this day, the Beach Boys have to explain that “Surf City” is a Jan & Berry song. The two groups had a real bond, though, and here’s video of Brian Wilson discussing how muc Berry influenced a sound that most people think Wilson created. It’s important to remember that kind of thing. Jan & Dean don’t get much respect nowadays. They had a pretty punky attitude toward the music industry in their heyday, and pissed off a lot of powerful people–not because the duo were jerks, but because they just couldn’t take themselves too seriously. Hey, it wasn’t Jan Berry’s fault that he was a genius…