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Dean Torrence Interview 1977

By Mike McDowell

The saga of Jan & Dean remains one of the most fascinating stories in the history of rock and roll. Along with their friend, Arnie Ginsberg, they began in 1958, singing at Los Angeles University high School to entertain fellow students, as did so many other groups of the time. Arnie soon left, and Jan and Dean went on to become the pioneers of comedy-rock, introducing the concepts of social satire and self-parody into the musical mainstream. They also pioneered many production techniques, such as the use of over-dubbing, echo and the wall-of-sound concept, borrowed heavily in later years by Phil Spector and Brian Wilson.

Jan and Dean were riding at the peak of their musical creativity in 1966 when Jan Berry suffered extensive brain damage in an auto accident in the spring of that year. Herein is the story of their careers since Jan’s recovery, along with some perspectives on their past and some insights into their future:

DT: Not much. She died. All old ladies die sometime. She was just a legitimate commercial actress. Jan and I got her to pose for our LP cover because she fit the image of that song we wrote. She was a nice lady. She invited us to her golden wedding anniversary, but we never made it for some reason. Then she died a few years later. She was an older lady. I think even close to 80 at that time.

MM: That song and similar ones you did represent great satire, wouldn’t you agree?

DT: Not so much in production , but rather lyrical content. We tried to find subject matter totally irrelevant to sing about, yet not cut corners on production. Just because you sing of silly things, doesn’t mean you have to compromise on aesthetic quality.

MM: By that same token, how did an album like “Folk ‘N’ Roll” originate? Were songs like Universal Coward and Folk City deliberate satires, or satires against satires?

DT: Counter-satire. During most of that album, I was in another studio doing the “Beach Boy Party” LP. I really didn’t care for “Folk ‘N’ Roll.” Half of “Folk ‘N’ Roll” or better was just Jan. I did some of the standard cover songs on it, but I didn’t like the original material for the most part. I thought it was kind of stupid. When I listened to it, I couldn’t believe what a punk album it was!

MM: To be honest with you, I though “Folk ‘N’ Roll” produced one of your very best 45s. I Found a Girl.

DT: Well, I was just talking about the LP in general. The songs on it I didn’t like I mean I really didn’t like, but the stuff on it I did like I felt was better than average, like that 45.

MM: Like the cover versions?

DT: I thought we did a good job on Yesterday and Turn, Turn, Turn.

MM: How about Where Were You When I Needed You. I thought that was excellent!

DT: Was that on that LP? Have we been talking about the same LP? Maybe it was something else I was listening to. Oh yeah! I was thinking of the next LP, “Filet of Soul.” That was a terrible album! We weren’t at all responsible for it. Liberty released it after we were off the label. It was nothing at all like Jan and I planned it. The original album was great! Very highly conceptual. Liberty felt it was too ahead of its time, and held it up until we were off the label, then released it their way.

MM: Some of the live tracks on that LP ended up sounding like outtakes, as if you and Jan weren’t that enthused about them.

DT: They were outtakes. Liberty at the time just couldn’t understand that it was supposed to be a comedy album.

MM: Did you intent for Gonna Hustle You to be released at that time?

DT: If you want to know what “Filet of Soul” really was, I used half of it as side 4 on our Anthology album. We had a really gross version of that song, which I have on acetate, but the version on the album was much more tame.

MM: Was it the version that Liberty originally censored in favor of The New Girl In School?

DT: Basically, I just re-did the vocals.

MM: Why did they object to Gonna Hustle You so much?

DT: It wasn’t so much Liberty, as the publishing company. It was a corporate thing. Musically they didn’t care. They don’t know music. To them, it’s business. As soon as one disc jerky (transcription note - typed as printed jerky) says he’d be afraid to play it, they retreat. They don’t want to go out on a limb, and they still don’t today. As spontaneous and creative as the music industry looks today, it’s still domineered by businessmen. They’re only looking to sell product. So if they have any question as to whether or not a song can get airplay, they hold back. Only a superstar can get away with it, like Rod Stewart with Tonight’s The Night. But he couldn’t have done that even 5 years ago, let alone in the mid-60s.

MM: Who was involved on the newer Legendary Masked Surfers version?

DT: I took the instrumental tracts to The New Girl In School and added all of the new vocals myself, multi-tracked. (Phone rings . . . conversation)

MM: Your wife?

DT: My fiancé. I haven’t been married yet.

MM: That reminds me. I hate to bring this up, but looking at the liner notes of the Anthology album. I notice a long list of girlfriends that you and Jan had, and it seems you even went with the same girl at once! How did this come about?

DT: Oh God! (Laughs). I may have stretched the truth just a little but there were a couple of girls we both dated within a couple of weeks of each other. At times I would get Jan’s rejects. If she couldn’t get through to him, then she’d like me, and I’d have her for awhile, until he wanted her back, anyway. It was Jackie Miller, who was in the New Christy Minstrels. Jan found her first, and tried to date her for about a week. He didn’t know that I’d already been dating her.

MM: Being a record collector, I always research my data very carefully, I believe I’ve spotted an error on the Anthology Lp liner notes. On there, you were so disgusted with the 45 You Really Know How To Hurt A Guy that you were into another studio and recorded the Party LP with the Beach Boys, But that LP, released in the fall of ‘65 contains a Beatle tune, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away from the Beatles “Help” album, released in August 1965. How do you explain that?

DT: Oh that was just artistic freedom. I only mentioned that single because it was something I really hated! Actually, we may have just been recording something from “Folk ‘N’ Roll” at the time. If you really want to get technical. I think it was a song about somebody dying.

MM: A Beginning From An End?

DT: Oh God! That was terrible!

MM: You didn’t like that??

DT: I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever heard! I don’t know what Jan was going through at the time, but it must have been some pretty heavy stuff.

MM: I guess that’s the reason I admire the LP so much. It represents everything you didn’t do in 1965.

DT: Oh definitely! But I didn’t feel ready to cross over that line yet at that time. Jan and I had an understanding, that if one of us felt very strongly about a particular track, and the other didn’t feel very artistically inspired toward it, then the one who was more interested would do the track by himself. So when Jan cut that LP, I was with the Beach Boys, singing Barbara Ann.

MM: You were the lead vocalist on that 45, weren’t you?

DT: Yeah, but Jan and I were told not to be on that album because of contractual agreements. We tried to arrange it to be legally OK for us to appear on it.

MM: But if you listen closely on a mono copy of “Beach Boy’s Party,” you can hear someone say “thanks Dean” at the end of Barbara Ann.

DT: That was Carl Wilson. Jan and I were told by Liberty that we’d be sued if we appeared on the album. Originally, they said it was OK. We were going to be on the album cover. We thought it was a great idea to have a few people over and make a party album. To me that was dynamite! But when you presented this idea to the same people at Liberty, the businessmen with no imagination whatsoever, they said “OK, you can be on the Beach Boys’ LP, but we want, in writing, that they’ll be on one of your albums.” We said we weren’t ready to commit ourselves to that, because maybe they wouldn’t want to be on one of our albums, or vice versa. We didn’t want to force the Beach Boys into anything, so we said, how about some sort of oral agreement? Well that just opened up a whole new can of worms? The lawyers at Liberty didn’t buy it, and they threatened to sue us if we appeared anywhere on the album, pictures and all. I was there, but I had to stay out of all the pictures, and was given no credit on the cover. When I heard the album with “thanks Dean,” I just about died!

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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