Print


 

 

   

uring the first month of the new year, "Drag City" cracked the national Top 10, and the following month the DRAG CITY album peaked at #22 on the charts. And Jan was once again in the studio, cranking out new masters for Liberty. "The New Girl In School" was another confection originating from the wellspring of Brian Wilson. The tune had undergone a number of transformations dating back to the early part of 1963, when Brian had first shared the composition with Jan. Early incarnations of the song included "(When Summer Comes) Gonna Hustle You" and "Get A Chance With You" -- with Brian and Dean doubling the falsetto leads on the latter version. It had a catchy melody, with a papa doo run day run vocal hook. The "Hustle You" reference, however, had run afoul of executives at Liberty. Thus the tune had been shelved until its present reworking as "New Girl in School." Jan brought in Roger Christian to update the lyrics, bringing the number of composers to four: Jan, Brian, Roger, and Bob Norberg (Brian's roommate at the time the song was first conceived).

Both Jan and Dean shared the leads, which featured some of Dean Torrence's finest falsetto work to date. Jan beefed up the instrumental tracks, and added a full complement of backing vocals. Sitting in on harmonies were The Honeys -- a female vocal trio consisting of Marilyn Rovell (Brian Wilson's future wife), her sister Diane, and Ginger Blake. The girls became a familiar presence at "Jan & Dean" sessions. "We did sing on many of their records, and I certainly remember that one!" confirms Marilyn about "New Girl in School." Overall, "New Girl" came out in a slightly lower key than the original "Hustle You" version. The final cut had the classic Berry-Wilson touch, and became one of the best vocal outings for Jan & Dean.

Dead Man's CurveIn early February 1964, Liberty released "Dead Man's Curve," backed with "The New Girl In School." The DRAG CITY version of the A-side had been a rush job (obviously). But Jan felt strongly about the tune, and had intended to upgrade its presentation at the first opportunity. The resulting single version of "Dead Man's Curve" was indeed a masterpiece. The song's intensity increased steadily, from the horns-and-guitar opening to its powerful climax in the chorus. Beneath the lead vocal in the verse, the subtle horn parts built slowly. In the second half of the verse, the horns and backing vocals blended together (mixed at about the same level) for a beautiful, rolling accompaniment leading to a climactic warning: "Dead Man's Curve, It's no place to play / Dead Man's Curve, You'd best keep away / Dead Man's Curve, I can hear 'em say / Won't come back from Dead Man's Curve." The backing vocals were not as prominent as on recent Jan & Dean records. They were subtly mixed to accent the overall effect of the composition. And the result was amazing. After the first chorus, as the verse took the listener ever closer to the point of no return, the backing harmonies intoned: "Slippin' and a-slidin', driftin' and broadslidin'," in a repetitious pattern. "That's fuckin' great!" Brian Wilson would say, listening to the playback. Brian and Gary Usher had contributed to the backing harmonies on the original version of the song.

Jan's solemn, spoken recitation said it all: "Well, the last thing I remember Doc, I started to swerve / And then I saw the Jag slide into the curve / I know I'll never forget that horrible sight / I guess I found out for myself that everyone was right / Won't come back from Dead Man's Curve." The implication being that the driver of the Jag had been killed in the crash on Dead Man's Curve. Roger Christian's initial idea for the song had called for a drag race on Sunset between a Corvette Stingray and a Jaguar XKE. But it had been Jan's idea to have the song end with a horrific accident -- an effect intensified by the sounds of shrieking tires and shattering glass. It was a dark and powerful record -- with a stellar arrangement and a memorable melody.

And as luck would have it, the latest disc would be a two-sided hit. Liberty favored the happier "New Girl," but the dark half would not be denied. In March, the latest edition of The Jan & Dean News began with the headline: "New Girl Races Dead Man Up the Charts!!" (The JDN was a newsletter lovingly penned and edited by Don Altfeld's ailing father, Horace). Everyone in Jan's camp was stoked on "Dead Man's Curve," and Artie Kornfeld did his part to help ensure the success of the song he'd co-written. With "New Girl" getting more airplay initially, Artie flew into action: "I went to Joey Reynolds in Buffalo [N.Y.], and a couple of radio friends of mine, and got them to switch the side. I went out and started to promote . . . and 'Dead Man's Curve' started to take off!" By mid-April, the single had peaked in the Top 10 at #8, while "New Girl In School" pulled in at a solid #37 on Billboard. With mission accomplished, Artie promptly went to Donnie Kirshner and asked for an advance against royalties. In no time, an ecstatic Artie Kornfeld found himself behind the wheel of his first Stingray. "A '64 'Vette, with a convertible . . . thirty-eight hundred dollars out the door!" 
 
With "Dead Man's Curve" making a big crash on the charts, Liberty issued the latest Jan & Dean album. And with the single's double-sided success, the new release bore essentially two titles: DEAD MAN'S CURVE / THE NEW GIRL IN SCHOOL. Following this theme, the album featured a "Car Side" and a "School Side," as noted on the disc label. And once again, this collection featured some very impressive album cuts.

Jan was now a master in the studio, and he experimented at length with new ideas to enhance the quality of his records. Jan wasn't the gifted vocalist that Brian Wilson was (indeed, not many people are). "And he would try all kinds of things to make the tracks really strong," says engineer Bones Howe. "But in the end they were vocal records. And Jan had his problems singing in tune. But we did all kinds of things. Jan would sit at the piano, and pick out the notes on the piano while he was singing lead. And then we would slow the tape down, so that he would be singing in tune. I mean, we tried all kinds of different things." 
 
"And Jan was constantly thinking about these things," continues Bones. "He was thinking about, 'How do I do this?' How do I do that?' How do I make the records better?' I never had the sense he was above criticism. In a lot of cases I would say, 'Okay Jan, we've gotta do that line again.' You have that kind of relationship. It would be just the two of us." Jan was indeed a perfectionist. "It wasn't like, 'Let's just get the record done and get it out, because it's gonna be a hit and we're gonna make money.' That was not his attitude. He liked trying things. He liked experimenting." And it made for some long hours in the studio. "We would spend three hours on one track, easy," explains Bones. "Sometimes more. And often the track got worked on after the vocals were on. So it was a process, and Jan was constantly trying to revise the process and make it better. You cut a track, you put a lead vocal on, then put the background vocals on. Then you came back and did whatever percussion, or sometimes horns or strings. You did all of that after everything else was finished. And often, when we would mix, Jan would go back out in the studio and fix a vocal part. It was never done until it was done. He was not big on asking for suggestions, except about how to get it done from an engineering standpoint." And as mentioned previously, when Jan nailed a good, double-tracked lead vocal, the sound was rich and full.

Bones Howe and Lanky Linstrot essentially tag-teamed the sessions for Jan. In a hurried bustle of activity -- with each of them having other sessions to make with other artists -- Bones and Lanky would briefly compare notes about Jan's sessions in the hallways. And they would leave notes for each other on Jan's tape boxes, so one could pick up where the other left off. There was never a drop-off. By this time, they had both been working with Jan for so long that they knew what he wanted. They knew how he operated, and this made for smoother sailing around Jan's many demands in the studio.

The new DEAD MAN'S CURVE album featured ten original compositions. As officially credited, Jan Berry wrote or co-wrote four of the new songs. Jill Gibson contributed to two, Roger Christian to seven, and Don Altfeld to five. Having been absent from the DRAG CITY album, Don Altfeld was now back on the scene, creatively. After a rocky start, Don had recently been putting his nose to the grindstone in medical school (and doing quite well).

Every cut on this new album was strong, "Three Window Coupe," "Bucket T," "My Mighty G.T.O.," "It's As Easy As 1, 2, 3," and "Rockin' Little Roadster," in particular. "It's As Easy As 1, 2, 3" was simply stunning -- a duet sweetly sung by Jan and Jill together. Jill Gibson was credited as the song's co-author with Don Altfeld. And the tune was a prominent showcase for Jan's lush horn arrangements. "I can listen to that track for 'It's As Easy As 1, 2, 3' over and over and over again," marvels modern producer Alan Boyd. "I was writing my own little songs," says Jill, whose gifts to Jan's compositions came primarily in the way of melody. "And Jan would usually weave these into his own ideas." 
 
Time would soon reveal that Jan was indeed the driving musical force on virtually every one of the album's new compositions. One listen to "Bucket T," for example, reveals that there is no way that Roger Christian and Don Altfeld wrote this song on their own. Roger Christian was not a composer of music, and never wrote anything other than lyrics. Don Altfeld was likewise primarily a lyricist on Jan's songs. Don was in fact a musician, and had taken piano lessons for years as a kid. Don was accomplished, but (by his own admission) was never a "finisher" when it came to writing songs. The music for "Bucket T" was in fact written primarily by Jan (including, of course, all the vocal arrangements). The righteously pleasing instrumental "'B' Gas Rickshaw" was a solo effort by Jan (and the song is credited as such). But the instrumental titled "Barons, West L.A." (credited solely to Altfeld) was also written primarily by Jan Berry.
What's going on here? To put it succinctly, the business end of the Jan & Dean machine was becoming unsettled (for a variety of reasons). Lou Adler had recently run afoul of executives at Screen Gems. And three days before the release of the DEAD MAN'S CURVE album, Lou's position with the company was officially terminated. Adler's job was then promptly filled by Charles "Chuck" Kaye, who had been serving as Lou's assistant. A month or so earlier, Lou had formed Dunhill Productions with Pierre Cossette and Bobby Roberts. Jan & Dean were now managed out of the Dunhill office. And Dunhill had its own publishing company, in the form of Trousdale Music.

Lou's first signees for Trousdale had been Phil Sloan and Steve Barri -- a talented singing and songwriting team (previously of Screen Gems) that would be utilized frequently over the coming months by both Lou Adler and Jan Berry. In fact, Sloan and Barri had just provided prominent vocal support on several cuts for DEAD MAN'S CURVE. Phil's falsetto can be heard prominently on "Hey Little Freshman," and the pair's backing harmonies were fantastic. The Matadors, who had played such a prominent role with harmonies on the previous two albums, had gone off on their own. And thanks to Lou Adler, Phil Sloan and Steve Barri stepped seamlessly into the fold. Their presence would have a huge impact on the Jan & Dean sound. On top of all this, Jan Berry had his own headstrong vision for how things should proceed -- both business-wise and creatively -- when it came to "Jan & Dean." He closely monitored the terms of his contracts, and began questioning various facts and figures. With the recent disruption -- and Jan's loyalty to Lou Adler -- the whole business situation became ripe for conflict.

 

Source: "'A Righteous Trip': In the Studio with Jan Berry, 1963-1966." © 2001-2011 by Mark A. Moore. All rights reserved. (Dumb Angel #4, 2005).