ot long after their first meeting, Jan and Brian started writing songs together. They would sit at the piano, and Brian would share ideas with Jan -- not to mention turning him on to the latest Beach Boys compositions. "We were buddies," says Brian. "But we were also workers. We worked hard. Two leaders working together on a record. That's what Jan and I were."
A couple of weeks after making those first recordings with Brian at Conway, Jan Berry was at Western Recorders on Sunset Blvd., laying down tracks resulting from their first creative collaborations. The original concept for "Surf City" had been Brian's. And when he shared the song with Jan, who was eager to finish it, the tune blossomed into the ultimate California anthem. Jan and Brian clicked, each getting something significant from the other. Brian's melodies and harmonies were a perfect fit with Jan's own musical ideas and technical expertise in the studio.
The West Coast music scene was hopping. Jan's steady evolution had brought him to a point where he was ready to kick things into high gear. And Brian's influence was just the catalyst he needed. Having cut his teeth on arranging and conducting, Jan was well at ease with the tight-knit core of Hollywood studio musicians he was now hiring on a regular basis. These included Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, Carol Kaye, Leon Russell, Glen Campbell, Tommy Tedesco, Billy Strange, Ray Pohlman, and a great many others. Hal Blaine called them the Wrecking Crew; and while Carol Kaye doesn't remember any such designation, she agrees that it was an enjoyable "clique" of special people. All famous in their own right. All incredibly busy, playing more than a few sessions each day, and making great money in the process. These were veterans of many a hit record -- a tradition to be continued with Jan & Dean.
The instrumental tracks were always cut first. In communicating his ideas to the session players, Jan presented them with his own self-penned chord and rhythm charts (often tweaked in the car at the last minute -- perhaps with Don Altfeld driving -- on the way to the studio). To get the musicians started Jan would then either play the basics on piano, or "sing" the parts. He was in awe of the advanced abilities of these players, and he fed off of their own unique creativity on the way to achieving his own goals. "With Jan producing, he had some very good definite ideas," recalls Carol Kaye, who played both guitar and bass for Jan. "And we'd build off that. With Jan, he was a genius kid. We all knew that, and he had a knack for producing . . . growing more into his own talents with every date he did."
"There were always two drummers" in Jan's sessions, remembers Hal Blaine. "Earl Palmer and myself. And what we would do is make a drum part, and write them so that any fills that we did were played identically." This stemmed from Jan's experiments with doubling drums by having the drummer play over a previously recorded track -- much like doubling a vocal line. But this proved difficult, and he started recording with two drummers playing in unison. It was a fat sound. "Yeah, we did that on a few sessions," agrees Earl Palmer. "Jan was the talent." And "Jan always knew what he was doing, knew what he was going after," continues Hal, who usually contracted all the other musicians for Jan's studio dates. "Jan would always call me into the booth. If a song felt good (in those days we were going for a good feel), if it felt good we had the record. Jan was brilliant."
And so, without knowing what the finished song (with vocals added) would eventually sound like, the musicians took their direction from Jan. It was give and take, and they would try all sorts of different variations and combinations. "Jan wrote everything out for us," says guitarist Glen Campbell. "And he'd put my part down in front of me, with a chord chart . . . 'cause he wanted that type of sound, man," laughs Glen, demonstrating a palm-muted eighth-note groove on his guitar. "And then you would hear the finished product [later], and it was just awesome."
Jan loved building the instrumental tracks, and they were always complex and interesting. He would employ multiple guitar parts. On "Surf City" -- a song without a guitar solo -- Jan layered several guitars, playing lines with subtle differences. With the whole being based on a variation of the Chuck Berry-style (boogie-woogie) eighth-note groove, "Surf City" featured an additional guitarist playing staccato chord kicks in time with the snare drum part. Another interesting guitar feature on "Surf City" -- in the chorus -- involved bass or single-string picking, undoubtedly by the great Tommy Tedesco. In a common (or 4/4) eighth-note pattern, this lick featured sixteenth-notes thrown in -- most prominently on count three, between the snare kicks. A rocking pattern similar to something you might hear in a "surf guitar" instrumental. It was a tasty groove that would become a sort of signature riff on many Jan & Dean records, in several different variations.
The bass line on "Surf City" was also quite melodic. And of course, Jan was interested in much more than the core rhythm section (which included piano). He loved brass, and it would become a familiar embellishment on Jan's productions. He put some subtle brass accompaniment on "Surf City," but it was eventually cut for the final release. "He definitely crafted his own sound," asserts Beach Boys associate Alan Boyd. "He really had a very identifiable sound. I think he was the only one of the 'surf people' who was really using horns the way he was."
It was an involved process. Jan was a perfectionist, and everything had to be just so. He "had a goodly amount of innate talent," reveals Carol Kaye, "and was eager, respectful, and energetic. He was strong on the dates, very self-composed, knew what he wanted, and was absolutely up front with everything. Jan was wise enough to get the right guys for the job. He had very good ears. He knew what was great for a hit recording, and was respectful of the elite musicians he hired. Just those two things alone put him heads above the rest, who either didn't know much on how to cut a hit record, or weren't that respectful of studio musicians. Jan was, and we admired his intelligence." Jan had been working with studio musicians since day one. And it didn't take Brian Wilson long to step out from his own "rhythm section" and start recording Beach Boys tracks with these same elite players.
For the backing vocals on "Surf City," Jan brought in a trio consisting of Tony Minichiello, Manuel Sanchez, and Vic Diaz. Jan had worked with classmates Tony and Manny on the single for The Gents two years earlier. And with new partner Diaz on board, the new trio had evolved into "The Matadors." All three were capable lead vocalists in their own right, and they blended beautifully together on harmonies. In the absence of Dean Torrence (who did participate on backing vocals), the prominent falsetto parts on "Surf City" were handled by Tony Minichiello. The subtle falsetto in the line, "Surf City, here we come," was sung by Brian Wilson. Jan was in complete control at all times, which meant they recorded on Jan's schedule. And Jan's schedule was anything but ordinary. It wasn't uncommon for them to work well after midnight. Dean wasn't always around. And when listening to any of the "group" cuts involving Minichiello -- ranging from The Gents, to The Dories, to The Matadors -- the falsetto heard on "Surf City" is easily recognized.
Jan, who also sang on the backgrounds, brought in co-writer Brian Wilson to help fill out the lead vocals. "Jan asked me," remembers Brian. "He said, 'Will you sing with me on the lead part?' So I doubled with him, but he was louder than I was. Ya know, he didn't wanna make me louder than him on a Jan & Dean record! Can you imagine that?" laughs Brian. "Brian & Dean!" And Jan has further asserted that Tony participated on the leads as well, with each of them standing at different distances from the microphone.
With the sessions for "Surf City," Jan Berry cemented an important precedent that would underlie the process of recording Jan & Dean records for the next three years. "Jan & Dean," as a two-man vocal act, no longer existed. The songs would be released as "Jan & Dean." And the pair would continue to do live concerts and personal appearances together. But as far as arranging, producing, and recording were concerned, "Jan & Dean" became an elaborate studio act -- a duo in name only. It was Jan's act, and he would continue to take the evolving "Jan & Dean" sound to new levels of complexity.
In April 1963, publisher Nevins-Kirshner was acquired by East Coast corporate giant Screen Gems, Inc. It was a lucrative deal for Don Kirshner. Named as executive vice president, Kirshner assumed responsibility for all publishing and recording for Columbia Pictures and Screen Gems-Columbia Music. As early as April 1, Screen Gems signed a three-year manufacturing agreement with Liberty Records, licensing the company to press records created by "Jan & Dean" -- whose publishing for original titles, as co-written by Jan Berry, would now be logged with Screen Gems. Since Liberty was able to handle its own distribution, Screen Gems also inked a deal (on the same day) with Liberty Sales Corporation. On May 1, Lou Adler was named by Screen Gems-Columbia as the company's "chief executive officer on the West Coast." Lou's previous producer's agreement under Nevins-Kirshner carried over to the new arrangement, and he was tasked with signing new artists and writers for the company.
Later that month, Liberty released "Surf City," and with the new single slowly making its way up the charts, Don Kirshner finalized business arrangements with his hot new producer. On June 11, 1963, Jan Berry signed two separate contracts with Screen Gems. The first was a three-year songwriting agreement, and the second was a six-year producer's agreement -- both of which bound Jan's services exclusively to the company. The old Nevins-Kirshner recording artist's agreement signed by Berry and Torrence in 1961 was simply transferred over (for the time being). With these arrangements, Screen Gems now had complete oversight of the "Jan & Dean" machine -- governing aspects of recording, publishing, manufacturing, and distribution.
Jan's contracts stipulated that he would receive a one hundred-dollar advance against royalties each week, per each agreement. And the production deal allowed Jan to produce individually, or with a co-producer if desired. The royalty percentages were not terribly generous, but a specific provision stipulated that Jan would receive prominent label credit for his productions. Thus he was set to receive music-related income from three separate sources (not counting performance royalties from Broadcast Music). Jan was paid as a songwriter (publishing), as a producer, and as the artist "Jan & Dean." Only the "recording artist agreement" applied to Dean Torrence.
Things were looking up. Jan was now firmly in control of the music. And it was hoped -- especially by Jan -- that the far-reaching influence of a major corporation like Screen Gems would help put them over the top. Jan had a good head for business, and he monitored the intricacies of his various contracts with a keen eye. Within a year, he would be butting heads with executives at Liberty and Screen Gems.
But with legal matters settled for the present, Jan concentrated on producing new material for the next Jan & Dean album. "'Lank' did the 'Surf City' record," says Dayton "Bones" Howe of fellow engineer Harold "Lanky" Linstrot. "At least the basic track and the first round of vocals. I came in somewhere in the middle of that album and began working with Jan." The new relationship Jan forged with two of Hollywood's top recording engineers would be a strong one. It was with these two that Jan really began to explore his talents in the studio, and he would work with them constantly for the next three years. And each would cultivate a fondness for Jan, and grow to appreciate his intensity and work ethic. "Jan and Jill Gibson," muses Bones. "Jan was a young, hotshot Bel-Air kid who had all the advantages of growing up on the west side of L.A. He had a pretty girlfriend and a great car . . . he looked like he just stepped out of one of those movies. And he lived his life like he did."
Though Lou Adler was no longer producing, he was still Jan & Dean's manager, and he still held sway over Jan's recording activities. "Lou was there a lot in the beginning," says Bones. "Almost all the time, when they were recording. It was a sort of supervisory thing. He just dropped back a lot. Louie backed away and let Jan have his head. Jan was very strong. I mean, he was a very, very, headstrong guy. He was a major controller."
And Jan was "controlling" things outside the "Jan & Dean" fold, as well. He arranged and produced a single for his backing vocalists, The Matadors, that was released in July. As part of his new duties with Screen Gems, Lou Adler had scored Tony, Vic, and Manny a deal with Colpix Records, the recording arm of Columbia Pictures. The Matadors' version of "Perfidia" was a Latin rocker that featured mandolin, great vocal harmonies, and a combination of English and Spanish lyrics. Jan supplied the bass parts, vocally, with his old bomp style modified for a rapid-fire per-per-per delivery. It was an excellent side that eventually became a hit in the Philippines. The flip was a ballad called "Ace of Hearts," penned by Jan, Gary Zekley, and Vic Diaz. And thanks to his Screen Gems contract, Jan received full label credit for arranging and producing both sides. The Matadors were a hot combo in their own right, would often perform live around L.A. They sang beautifully together, and were excellent musicians on top of that.
In late July 1963, the wave finally broke for Jan & Dean. "Surf City" hit #1 on the Billboard charts -- and in the process became the first nationwide chart-topping blockbuster for the "surf" sound. The Berry-Wilson composition surpassed the latest offerings from The Beach Boys, who had just scored a Top 10 smash with "Surfin' U.S.A." and a Top-30 hit with "Shutdown." It was a pre-feminist, Utopian myth that even landlocked teenage boys could latch onto: "Two girls for every boy." And the reward for the young girls came in swooning over these two Adonis-like Californians. It was a powerful combination.
But when executives at Capitol Records learned of Brian's involvement with the "enemy," tempers flared and accusations flew. Just as Jan was legally bound to Screen Gems and Liberty, Brian was in a similar position with Capitol. The Capitol folks hinted at lawsuits, and Beach Boys producer Nick Venet advised Brian to keep it in the family. Also coming down from a trip to the ceiling was Brian's father and Beach Boys manager, Murry Wilson. As for Brian and Jan themselves, the two hot writer-arrangers gave them all the figurative finger.
Legalities aside, it was obvious that Brian Wilson's talents were still underestimated by those who were then guiding his career. And as far as Brian was concerned, business took a back seat to creativity. Brian and Jan were friends, and they made a powerful team, creatively. With Jan, Brian could write and discuss music (beyond lyrics) on a level approaching his own talents. They could swap substantive ideas, harmonically. And co-authoring hit singles with Jan Berry was a major validation of Brian's talents as a composer. And Brian didn't care if he was the only one in his own camp who felt that way.
"I thought Jan was a genius in the studio," marvels Brian, "and watching him cut records was a righteous trip. He knew exactly what he needed and how to get it done. His records were clean, like the Four Seasons' records, but what I admired most was the way he mapped out everything that needed to be done in his head before he started." Murry Wilson was a domineering father who loved his sons dearly, but didn't quite know how to relate to them. The whole rock-n-roll thing was a new one on Murry. And as a published (and frustrated) songwriter, Murry was greatly intimidated by Brian's formidable talents. Brian's fragile confidence was growing as a result of his recent successes, and the last thing he needed was someone trying to knock him down. "My brain naturally thought in six-part harmony," admits Brian, "a pattern so complex not even my dad could understand it."
Selling his oldest son short, Murry berated Brian for collaborating with Jan Berry. Murry was thinking "business," but in the process revealed feelings that perhaps Brian might not be good for more than a few hit records. Best to keep them for The Beach Boys. "My dad hated my admiration for Jan," says Brian. "He called [Jan & Dean] pirates and ordered me to stop hanging around with them."
"Jan Berry is just ripping off all your ideas," Murry would jab at Brian. It was just one more in a long string of hurtful encounters with his father, with whom Brian shared a stormy relationship. "There's nothing to worry about," he would fire back at Murry. But Pop saw it differently. "It was my first chart-topper," explains Brian, "and according to my dad the wrong guys were singing it. He wanted to wring my neck."
"You don't give away a number one song to the enemy!" railed Murry. "I don't believe you . . . . you even help them by singing backgrounds? Goddamnit, Brian, why don't you just give them your money, too?" It appeared that Brian's working relationship with Jan was going to be lucrative, financially. But Murry simply couldn't hide his own insecurity. "Relax, Dad," retorted Brian coolly, "there's plenty to go around." Plenty, indeed. Murry's disdain for Jan (not to mention Lou Adler) appealed to the mischievous side of the "hotshot Bel-Air kid." And Jan availed himself of every opportunity to taunt Murry. By all accounts, the "many moods of Murry Wilson" were fouled by one Jan Berry of West L.A. But this fact would not be enough to keep Jan and Brian from continuing their friendship and working relationship.
With its new Jan & Dean single perched atop the charts, Liberty released SURF CITY AND OTHER SWINGIN' CITIES in late July 1963. And in keeping with the title track, the album featured additional cuts with a "city" theme. The selections were highlighted by two more original compositions: "Honolulu Lulu," and "Philadelphia, PA." The latter was a cleverly-produced nod to Dick Clark's American Bandstand, with snippets from past hit songs woven seamlessly into the fabric of the larger tune -- all performed by Jan and company. Overall, this compilation had a rollicking, rocking atmosphere about it -- with exciting guitar work, plenty of horns, a lush string section led by Sid Sharp, and solid harmonies from The Matadors throughout. There were even a few lyrical tweaks, here and there, to fit the "surf" theme.
Jan no longer had to worry about budget problems in the studio. "There is a certain amount of deference," says Bones Howe, "that goes to an artist who creates a number one record. The philosophy [at that time] was . . . nobody thought about selling a million albums. Everything was singles oriented. If you had a hit single, and a follow-up single, you could sell 200,000 albums! And everybody really thought that was a big deal. And so most of the albums were filled with other people's songs."
In August -- the same month that "Surfer Girl"/"Little Deuce Coupe" by The Beach Boys hit the charts -- "Honolulu Lulu" was released as a single." The A-side marked Jan Berry's first official collaboration with popular KFWB disc jockey Roger Christian. Roger came into Jan's circle through Brian Wilson. Brian had also been collaborating with talented songwriter Gary Usher. But unlike the situation with Jan, Murry Wilson succeeded in pushing Gary away. As a car freak, Roger was becoming famous for his hotrod lyrics (evidenced by "Shutdown" and "Little Deuce Coupe"). But his first real collaboration with Jan was strictly "surf" oriented. The tune was crafted in the mold of "Surf City," with a tight Berry vocal, falsetto accents from Dean Torrence, and Tony, Vic, and Manny rounding out the harmonies. Worshipping the "Queen of the Surfer Girls," the tune had a definite "Hawaiian" tinge to it, with some nice guitar parts.
By the end of September 1963, the SURF CITY album had risen to a respectable #32 on the national charts. And by mid-October, "Honolulu Lulu" was another Top-10 smash. "Jan & Dean" were riding high. And in many ways, the best was yet to come. The creative team of Berry-Wilson-Christian was just getting started.
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).