Spectropop remembers

JAN BERRY (1941 - 2004)

Surf music legend: Dean's other half

Jan Berry, half of the 1960s surf duo Jan and Dean, has died at 62. The pair recorded hits including their #1 'Surf City' and Berry's personal favourite, 'Dead Man's Curve'. He died Friday at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center after suffering a seizure at his home nearby, his wife, Gertrude Filip Berry, said yesterday. His health had been precarious since he suffered brain damage and partial paralysis in a 1966 automobile accident.

While in high school he formed the Barons with his friends Dean Torrence and Arnie Ginsburg. In 1958, while Torrence was serving in the Army Reserves, Jan & Arnie enjoyed a Top 10 hit with 'Jennie Lee', a track recorded in Jan's garage. On Dean's return, Arnie left for the Navy - Jan and Dean were born. They had many hits including 1959's 'Baby Talk' and five in 1963 and 1964 alone; 'Surf City', 'Honolulu Lulu', 'Drag City', 'Dead Man's Curve' and 'Little Old Lady From Pasadena'. Steeped in the surf, sun and sand culture of Southern California youth of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Berry delighted in spinning lyrics about a hot-rod-racing grandma in 'The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)' or driving a "woody" to 'Surf City' where he envisioned "two girls for every boy".

He joined Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys to co-write the lyrics for several Jan and Dean hits including 'Dead Man's Curve', 'Drag City', 'Surf City' and 'New Girl In School'. "Jan and Brian influenced each other so much they had one of the most important friendships in popular music, particularly in developing the West Coast Sound," said Mark Moore, who is writing a biography of Berry, his music and his overcoming physical handicap. He said Wilson learned about producing records from Mr. Berry, and Mr. Berry gained insight on harmony from Wilson. The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean even performed on each other's records, according to the New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia Of Rock & Roll", until their respective record companies objected.

Jan and Dean's meteoric career might have soared higher, but for the April 12, 1966, accident in which Berry's silver Corvette Sting Ray hit a parked truck at 90 mph in Beverly Hills after he came off Sunset Boulevard only a few blocks from the legendary "Dead Man's Curve" of their song. He was severely injured, and his three passengers were killed. Although the accident, which put him in a coma for 10 months, initially left him unable to talk and walk, through determination he regained the ability to walk and to speak slowly. Berry's right hand and arm remained paralyzed, reducing his instrumental repertoire from ukulele, guitar and most other instruments to one-handed piano. He had difficulty remembering lyrics he had written and would go over them repeatedly backstage while listening to a Walkman.

But he was able to resume performing with Torrence in the late 1970s after a 1978 television movie, 'Dead Man's Curve', renewed interest in Jan and Dean. The duo split briefly in 1981 when Berry developed a cocaine habit; another handicap he overcame and talked openly about. In 1998, he recorded a solo CD, 'Second Wave'.

Known for his remarkable intelligence (reportedly, his IQ was 180), Jan Berry handled his musical career while earning a degree in zoology at UCLA. The accident halted his plans to become a medical doctor.

In addition to his wife of 13 years, he is survived by his parents, William and Clara Berry of Camarillo, California, three brothers and three sisters.

Myrna Oliver - The Los Angeles Times

Jan Berry, singer-songwriter: born April 3, 1941 - died March 26, 2004