Dean Torrence on his laid-back life of music and art

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Dean Torrence, one half of the California pop-surf rock duo Jan & Dean, is the true embodiment of the laid-back California lifestyle. This was apparent early on when he wouldn’t set a time to interview, he just gave me his number and told me to call, with the hope I would catch him as he would rather not stick to appointments. On the third attempt, I was talking to the semiretired rock star and graphic designer.

I started things off asking him if he recalled the time Jan & Dean played Windsor in the 80’s.

“I should remember it, we only played Canada a handful of times. If you could let me know the name of the venue, I may have a better recollection.”

I couldn’t recall so we moved on to talk a little about the career he has made a name for himself in (almost as much as music) graphic design. I asked him what graphics work he’d done that stood out to him throughout his career, aside from the iconic Beach Boys logo that they had used for 40 years.

“I’ve done The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band packages, I won some awards for those. All the Steve Martin packages and even did a bunch for Micheal Nesmith (The Monkees). Did some Chicago stuff. I have done a lot of stuff actually…I only design now for old clients or old friends.”

Next, we talked about what he is up to musically and if he is still active.

“Not really, I just got involved with the Jan & Dean repackage but it didn’t take any new recording. The structure of the business is completely different now, than even 15-20 years ago. I just wouldn’t know what the point was because I don’t see any business at all that makes any sense. I might think about it if someone came along with a solid business plan, but the whole template of the industry is much different.”

I switched the topic to The Beach Boys single “Barbara Ann” which Dean sang lead vocals on uncredited.

“Uncredited? I am looking at the Gold Record right on the wall here. It’s the only Gold record of mine I put on the wall: Beach Boys Party!” 

I was credited 40 or 50 years later. The newest re-release did come out a year and a half ago, finally giving me credit, which actually has all three takes on it. That’s all it took was three takes.”

I asked if him and the Beach Boys were surprised that the song became such a massive hit?

“Yeah, of course.”  

I then took the interview in the direction of Jan & Dean during the height of their career. The duo were on top in the music industry, with a #1 record under their belt. Until one fateful day in April of 1966, when Jan Barry got into a near fatal car wreck leaving him in a coma for 2 months with brain damage and partial paralysis, subsequently bringing Jan & Dean’s career to a screeching halt.   

Top pop bands were changing and evolving in 1966. This was the year The Beach Boys released the groundbreaking Pet Sounds, and The Beatles were working on the follow up to Revolver with SGT Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I asked Dean if Jan hadn’t been in that crash what would have come musically from Jan & Dean? Would they have followed in the footsteps of other leading bands and try a more experimental approach?

“That’s a good question. I don’t think we will ever really know. We had sold a TV pilot, and we were going to have had our own Television Show, which would have aired at the same time as The Monkees TV show.”

“The show was musical, kind of a sitcom musical. We were experimenting with doing satirical things. It was basically going to be an earlier version of Saturday Night Live. At the time we were headed in that direction.”

Dean and I talked for over an hour, just about life in general. We hit it off, became fast friends, and I was extended on open invitation to call him anytime.

As long as I can catch him.

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