Gary James' Interview With Dean Torrence of
Jan and Dean
When you think of fun in the sun and California rock, you just have to think of Jan and Dean. Between 1958 and 1966, these two guys charted 13 Top 30 singles and sold over 10,000,000 records (considered a conservative estimate) worldwide. In 1966, Jan Berry was involved in a very serious automobile accident which left him with severe brain damage. In 1978, the duo resumed 'live' appearances at select dates around the country. Jan and Dean's greatest hits can be found in a CD package titled "Surf City" (E.M.I. Records). We spoke to Dean Torrence about the history of Jan and' Dean and what they're doing today.
Q - Dean, when you're not touring, what do you do with yourself?
A - That's a good question (laughs). I had my first child at 49. I have a two-year-old, so during the off season, that keeps me pretty busy. I do spend a lot of time with her. Up to 80 per cent of the 55 concerts we do a year are done from May through September. Maybe we have half of October. So we're really busy I'd say four to five months out of the year. During the off season, I'd say we probably average working every other weekend. So, we have most of our weekdays available to do anything else we care to do.
Q - What a great life.
A - It's pretty neat. I like it a lot, although during the off season, you always kind of wonder whether or not it's gonna happen again. You don't really have any sort of indication. I guess it probably feels that way for anybody. You kind of wonder whether anybody's gonna be interested again. So, we just kind of cross our fingers every year. But, I've been quoted in saying that I've been doing that since 1961. I thought it was all over in '61. So, it's just the nature of it. All my band members write music, so I'm involved with their side careers. I dabble a bunch in real estate. I own four houses at the time and I'm kind of juggling those all around. I graduated from the School of Architecture at USC back in the 60's. I ended up getting a degree in advertising / design. I had a graphics business for 12 years. I'm kind of involved in lots of things. I'm interested in almost anything, which actually gets in my way a lot, because I can't totally focus on one thing (laughs).
Q - What kind of venues are Jan and Dean performing in?
A - Our perfect venue is the Fair circuit. For the most part it's a free stage. It's a family stage. We draw families. We don't draw just the over 40's. We draw kind of a wide demographic spread. If you take out any one of the demographic pieces, it doesn't work. We just don't seem to do well when we go to a place that is geared to all over 40's. We're more kind of a rock 'n roll dance band. The over 40s kind of want to see a Vegas act. Our presentation doesn't lend itself to theatres particularly or clubs.
Q - Your success, and this is not to take away from your talent, was based in part on being in the right place at the right time with the right stuff. Had you been in Syracuse, maybe your career wouldn't have happened. Do you ever think how fortunate you are?
A - Very fortunate. On the other hand, we kind of helped to create that. We were probably one of the first artists in California to make it. When we first started,, we probably looked at it just the opposite. We wished we were in Syracuse. We didn't know where Syracuse was, but we knew it was on the east coast and Dick Clark was back there. All the hits were coming out of the east coast. Most all of the teen idols were back there in the late 50's, Murray the K, all of those radio and TV personalities, were all on the east coast. All of the record companies were on the east coast. We had a bunch of independent labels out here or middle of the road labels that were pumping out Dean Martin records or Pat Boone records. There weren't any progressive rock 'n roll labels. So, when we first started, we thought we were in the wrong place.
Q - How many records have you sold? Do you know?
A - (Laughs) I have no idea.
Q - Would it be 10 million?
A - I would say that 10 was conservative. If you're talking worldwide and bootleg, it would have to be 3 to 4 times that amount. I run into stuff almost every time we go out on the road, another package that I wasn't aware of. That only tells me that somebody's interested enough to keep re-packaging the stuff. Obviously it must be selling.
Q - It doesn't hurt when your records are being played on the radio all the time.
A - That sure helps. That's almost like having another hit record. I could almost turn on the radio, if I cared to, and hear one of our songs a couple of times a day. And that's almost like a hit.
Q - Is it true that prior to Jan's accident you two were thinking of breaking up the act?
A - No. For working partners that had been together for six, seven years, we got along very well. Jan wanted to start our own record label, and I didn't think it was a very good idea. So, I was probably about to have a problem with him, or at least a disagreement. Whether we would have worked it out like we did every other problem, I don't know. But, he crashed and we didn't ever have to work on that issue.
Q - How is Jan's health these days?* (October, 1983)
A - Well, he seems to do well enough to do 55 dates a year, and get asked back a lot. He just got married for the
very first time. He's been married for about six months now. I don't know if we'd put that in and say he's well. (laughs). Some people would say that means he's sick. He seems to be doing OK, given the problems he does have, in terms of brain damage. He does pretty well. But he started with an IQ of 185, and a real ego, and a lot of hutspa that has helped him get by. For anybody else, I think with as much brain damage as he really does have, wouldn't have been able to do as well.
Q - Had Jan not been involved in that accident, what do you think would've happened to Jan and Dean?
A - That's an interesting question. We had just finished a television pilot for ABC-TV. We had just sold that. It was gonna go on. Record-wise, the records were changing, but Jan was pretty creative. I think he probably would have been able to keep up. But, what was more important is, we would've had the television show. A television show would've overcome almost anything that was happening musically as proved by the Monkees.
Q - Just how accurate was the TV movie made about the life of Jan and Dean?
A - That was pretty accurate. I even put in the part about the record label, where Jan wanted to pay me a salary for working with him, not make me a partner. That was something we were talking about. We never really had a fight over that issue. But, in the movie, it kind of looks like we were about to. I tried to make that accurate. Had the accident not happened, we probably would have had a problem over that, 'cause I wasn't going to accept that, of course. Now, in the movie, it does look like I confronted him with it. I was a month away from doing it. Whether it would've changed anything, we probably would've worked it out.
Q - What do you think made and makes Jan and Dean so special?
A - Certainly the timing. There's probably so many elements, it's hard to name them all. But I think the fact that our music was pretty well defined in terms of what it is we were saying, And, it wasn't all that hard to grasp. We were just talking about having a good time. Plus, there's always been a universal fascination with what goes on in California. I know that sounds kind of snotty, but that's been the reality. It always looks good on TV and in the movies. We were kind of exporting the California kind of thing. At first we didn't do it consciously. It was the only thing we had to think about (laughs).