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The Long Road Back . . .

 

adly, just when the future of "Jan & Dean" looked brighter than it had in a long time -- when the horizon was full of promising new angles and opportunities, it all came to an end. A terrible, life-changing, premature end. On April 12, 1966, as American B-52s bombed North Vietnam for the first time; as Brian Wilson worked on tracks for his masterpiece, PET SOUNDS; Jan Berry's semi-charmed life changed forever. Following a high-speed collision with a parked gardener's truck in Beverly Hills, Jan lay battered and broken in a UCLA hospital. His demolished Stingray would soon be a silent hulk in the garage of his home on Park Lane Circle. A tracheostomy in his throat was allowing Jan to breathe. He had multiple lacerations. His head had been laid open, the result of "a crushing head injury," and the left temporal lobe of his brain was deeply bruised. Exploratory "burr holes" were drilled into his skull, as neurosurgeons probed for signs of hematoma. Jan was semi-conscious with, at best, an uncertain prognosis; and there would be irreversible damage. He was 25 years old.

Jan slipped into a light coma for a full month, and stayed in intensive care for many more weeks. When he finally awoke, Jan was enraged and bewildered by his predicament. It soon became apparent that, while his thought process was intact, the delivery mechanism for communicating his thoughts was impaired. He was hemiparetic -- partially paralyzed on the right side. Jan's family and friends were devastated; and his parents were told to prepare for the reality that he may never walk or talk again. 
 
Slowly, however, Jan began to fight his way back. He underwent extensive speech and physical therapy. It was a difficult battle, as Jan struggled to express himself through the frustrating and demoralizing confines of aphasia and apraxia. Jan's drive and determination were intact, but he had trouble making his body perform the simple mechanics of speech and movement. Here was a man who was gifted intellectually, who had thrived on achievement while managing a variety of complex situations simultaneously; a man who was now forced to learn how to speak, how to walk, and how to write again. The adjustment was excruciating for Jan, and he suffered severe depression -- a common, crippling problem for survivors of traumatic brain injury.

Working with pioneering speech pathologist Dr. Vivian Sheehan (and later Roy Whitlow), Jan's headstrong drive and stubbornness began to bring him back from the abyss. Life would never be the same. It would be a daily battle to try to live as normal a life as possible; but Jan was determined to move forward. And music would be the light at the end of Jan's dark tunnel.

As Jan struggled to recover, Dean Torrence forged ahead with efforts to keep the "Jan & Dean" name alive. In late 1966, he issued an album titled Save For A Rainy Day. It was a surprising package that reflected a bridge across the changing times -- a look ahead to the Summer of Love and Psychedelic experimentation. The songs "Yellow Balloon" and "Like A Summer Rain" were among the album's best cuts. But Jan Berry had always been the creative genius behind Jan & Dean; and he was struggling to come to terms with his predicament. Jan was despondent over not having participated in the making of an album that bore the duo's famous name; and Save For A Rainy Day would remain largely unheard for many years to come.

Meanwhile, Dean forged his degree in advertising design into a successful graphic arts business. His formidable talent was nothing new, as Dean's artwork had found its way onto various Jan & Dean related items over the years. But when he launched Kittyhawk Graphics from a small office on Sunset Boulevard, Dean Torrence soon found himself in demand as a designer of album covers. His reputation spread quickly; and for the next thirteen years, Dean's artwork would serve a diverse clientele in the entertainment industry -- ranging from the Beach Boys, to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, to Steve Martin. In 1972, Dean won a Grammy Award for best album cover -- for the album Pollution.

By the spring of 1967, Jan Berry was making his first tentative efforts to return to the studio. He could barely speak at this point, let alone sing. But Jan began to express his musical ideas by composing new material, and arranging and producing -- utilizing many of the same elite studio musicians who had played on Jan & Dean records before the accident. In support of his renewed focus on music, Warner Bros. Records signed a deal with Jan (and Dean) later that year; and "Only A Boy" (Jan's recording from early 1966) was released in December. By late 1968, Jan -- working with old friend Roger Christian and others -- had amassed enough material for an album. Most of the songs for the project -- to be called Carnival of Sound -- were original compositions, and most were recorded under the aegis of Warner Bros. With the Psychedelic era in full bloom, Jan strove for a contemporary sound. Throughout this period, Jan hired studio singers to provide vocals for his records; and he received occasional vocal assistance from a couple of high profile friends -- Davy Jones of the Monkees, and Glen Campbell. Campbell, a top session guitarist who had played on many past Jan & Dean recordings, was then on the verge of skyrocketing to fame as a solo artist. Carnival of Sound was never released, but his tenure with Warner Bros. marked the first major stepping stone toward Jan's musical renaissance. He was improving steadily, both physically and musically (with live-in help from Pam MacGregor, Suzanne Graeber and others), and brighter days lay ahead. 
 
By 1972, Jan was ready to attempt his own vocals; and mentor Lou Adler (owner of Ode Records) paved the way. "Mother Earth" marked a milestone for Jan Berry. In addition to co-writing, arranging, and producing the song, he also sang it. The task of splicing in Jan's various vocal takes proved laborious; but Jan was gaining momentum in the studio. During this period, Jan underwent pioneering orthopedic surgeries to improve his mobility; and his steady improvement in the 1970s was marked by a string of complex and pleasing singles -- original compositions produced and recorded for Ode, and later A&M Records. Jan Berry had once again conquered all facets of the studio; and the floodgates were about to open. It was a decade marked by renewed interest in Jan & Dean, and their first tentative steps toward a return to the stage.

 

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).