One half of the duo who caught a wave, went to Surf City and met a little old lady from Pasadena is 75 today. Dean Torrence, formerly of the late 1950s and ’60s hitmakers Jan & Dean and a Grammy-award winning designer in later life, was born in Los Angeles on March 10, 1940.
Jan & Dean are often characterised only as stars of the surfing era, but they came to prominence years before it, and were still in the charts long afterwards. The duo notched no fewer than 26 Billboard singles chart entries, five of them top tenners, with another nine that made the top 40. Their track record also included ten US chart albums.
They hit the American top ten at the very first time of asking, with 1958’s ‘Jennie Lee,’ on the Arwin label, and then had another top ten hit on Dore the following year, with ‘Baby Talk.’ Further chart entries followed, including covers of the Moonglows’ ‘We Go Together’ and the Jo Stafford hit written by Louis Prima, ‘A Sunday Kind Of Love.’
But it was the 1963 smash ‘Surf City,’ co-written by Jan Berry and Brian Wilson (the latter featuring on backing vocals) that became the record of Jan & Dean’s career. Released on Liberty, it topped the US chart for two weeks that July, and was followed by ‘Honululu Lulu,’ ‘Drag City’ and ‘Dead Man’s Curve.’ With an autonomy in the pop genre commanded by few artists at the time, all of them were produced by Berry himself.
There was only one more top ten hit, 1964’s ‘The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena),’ but Berry and Torrence continued to make singles chart entries until the autumn of 1966. They even made a showing with their version of the ‘Batman’ theme, inspired by the hit TV series of the day.
But by then, Berry had had his near-fatal car accident of April 1966, which with huge irony took place on the notorious hairpin bend of Dead Man’s Curve that the group had sung about two years earlier. He was in a coma for two months, but after a long and gruelling recovery, ultimately returned to performing, as Torrence stood by him. The story would be made into a 1978 TV movie named after the infamous location. Berry died in 2004.
By the early 1970s, while still performing as one half of Jan & Dean, Torrence was reshaping his career as an in-demand album cover designer. In 1972, he won a Grammy Award for his innovative art, seen right, for the self-titled album by psychedelic rock band Pollution. Three further Grammy nominations followed for releases by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Interest in Torrence’s work both inside and outside of the duo had him re-recording some of their hits in later years, and playing live, both with the Surf City Allstars and the ‘Beach Party’ Jan & Dean Show. His band has latterly featured Matt Jardine, son of original Beach Boy Al Jardine. Dean has continued to play songs from his and Jan’s vast catalogue as a mark of respect to the former partner with whom he created such a memorable sound.