Remembering Jan Berry of Jan and Dean

(Gibson) On this day in 2004, Jan Berry of Jan & Dean died at the age of 62 after being in poor health from injuries sustained in a 1966 car crash. The duo's biggest hit was the 1963 #1 single "Surf City" (#26 in the U.K.), which was co-written by Beach Boy Brian Wilson. Gibson looks back:

Surf music pioneers Jan and Dean (Jan Berry and Dean Torrance) met at University High School in Los Angeles, where they both played football, and soon discovered that each had an interest in music. They and some other classmates eventually started getting together after football practice to sing and rehearse in Jan's parents' garage. After enough practice, they mustered the courage to perform at a high school dance under the name The Barons, and they did quite well. The Barons specialized in doo-wop songs popular at the time in the late '50s, tunes like "Get a Job," "Hushabye" and "Short Shorts."

Jan, in particular, had a strong passion for music, and he enjoyed writing and arranging music, including multi-part harmonies. Being an audiophile, his parents' garage quickly turned into a makeshift studio, complete with reel-to-reel tape machines and a piano, and over time his skills as both a producer and engineer grew mightily. He was way ahead of the curve in understanding and conceptualizing the possibilities presented with new and emerging technology. For instance, he learned how to utilize two machines to create an echo-delay effect, which in 1958 was no small feat. He was a student of multi-tracking and splicing pieces of numerous recordings together to create finished arrangements that were larger than the sum of their parts.

Jan's first commercial success came from the 1958 single, "Jennie Lee," which he recorded with fellow Baron, Arnie Ginsburg; the single climbed to #8 on the charts, resulting in Jan & Arnie appearing on American Bandstand. The fledgling duo recorded and released three more singles. Dean hadn't been available to record because he was serving in the army reserves. Upon Dean's return, he and Jan began making music together as a duo, eventually with a lot of the help from a couple of upstart producers a jazz trumpeter named Herb Alpert and his songwriting partner Lou Adler.

Jan and Dean eventually signed with the Dore label, and along with Adler and Alpert, they began sifting through demos, which led them to their first hit as a duo, "Baby Talk," which climbed to #10 in 1959. Like "Jennie Lee," "Baby Talk" was recorded in Jan's garage before a full band was added to fill out the song. The song was filled with the soon-to-be trademarks of surf music close harmonies, major and minor chords, and no small element of doo-wop and rock with plenty of falsetto thrown in on the high end. more on this story

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