An American rock duo comprised on Jan Berry and Dean Torrence, Jan & Dean were pioneers of the California sound of the early 1960s. With hits like “Dead Man’s Curve,” “Surf City” — the first surf song to top the Hot 100 chart — and “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena,” the group was at the pop forefront alongside their friends in the Beach Boys. A tragic car accident involving Jan Berry derailed Jan & Dean’s commercial peak, although the two were musically active through Berry’s passing in 2004.
What many people do not realize about the history of Jan & Dean is the success that both members experienced beyond those 1960s pop hits. In the case of Dean Torrence, he has been an in-demand graphic artist for nearly 50 years. He has designed logos and/or album covers for Steve Martin, Diana Ross, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Linda Ronstadt, and the Beach Boys. He serves as a spokesman for Huntington Beach, California, which is widely known as “Surf City.” He also still tours occasionally with the Surf City All-Stars.
On September 1 of this year, record label Omnivore Recordings released Filet of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings by Jan & Dean. Filet of Soul, a conceptual album with both music and comedy, sat on the shelf for over 50 years before Omnivore gave it the deluxe treatment; Torrence and Jan & Dean historian David Beard both contributed liner notes. On behalf of the Inquisitr, I had the pleasure of talking to Dean Torrence by phone about Filet of Soul, his career as a designer and branding specialist, and what else he is thinking of working on. Torrence can be followed on Facebook via his official page: www.facebook.com/OfficialDeanTorrence.
Omnivore Recordings has put out a lot of interesting re-issues, but how do they find out that Filet of Soul existed? Had you pitched it to them?
Dean Torrence: No, I don’t pitch anything anymore. Anytime I pitch something nobody listens, it usually takes them 10 years and then they listen. I don’t need to pitch, this won’t really changed my bottom line or anything. Normally, it is just our fanbase keeps track of all this stuff because maybe they don’t have anything to do. (laughs) And I say that lovingly… I think one of our super-fans was aware of… He was pretty much the one that chased it.
Interesting, I asked because some artists want to monetize off of anything possible, then other people just don’t even think about something after they have done it. Have you at all thought about or heard about those recordings in decades? Or did it just totally escape your mind?
Dean Torrence: I always appreciated it, I always regard it because I have it in my iTunes and maybe every couple of years I would listen to it… It was fun for me to hear Jan when he was in good health, and we were best of friends and it just cracked me up… I knew that the story was pretty interesting if somebody cared to listen to the story. I am not sure if it is all that entertaining, but once you know the story I think people would find it intriguing.
It is also interesting to me is that about seven years Rhino Records had put out another album of your unreleased Carnival of Sound sessions. Did you guys just record a lot more than was used? Or did you record a lot of standalone sessions that wound up getting rejected?
Dean Torrence: Good way of saying it, standalone. Carnival of Sound was more of Jan’s project. I participated in it because he was a friend, but I didn’t particularly care for Carnival of Sound, but Jan did, so it was okay with me. He wanted to do it, I designed all the art and packaging for it, so I was supporting it…
Speaking of design, I believe you did the artwork for Love You by the Beach Boys…
Dean Torrence: Oh god, I did, a bunch of Beach Boys covers, including 15 Big Ones. I think that was the one most people can remember.
Did you always think of yourself as an artist or designer rather than a singer? Or are they just two hobbies that you developed at the same time?
Dean Torrence: I actually thought they worked together. I had always kind of appreciated, I guess instinctively I knew that both the visual component was really important to the musical component, that the two went hand in hand… We were describing the Southern Californian beach culture, surfing culture. I understood that we were singing about things that maybe even normal young persons were less totally familiar with that was interested in, so it was asking for a visual along the music component. So I just kind of naturally understood that… Maybe their early [Beach Boys] releases not so much, but later they connected their visuals with their music all the time, and it was pretty damn obvious to me.
— Mark Smotroff (@Smotroff) September 5, 2017
Did you doing art ever take place outside of designing album covers? Were you ever commissioned to do work otherwise?
Dean Torrence: Well, I would do campaigns and things like that. Everything from, I just need to say branding. I kind of also understood branding so I did a lot of logos… That is what is what I have been doing for The Beach Boys ever since, and I didn’t mean to design their logo but I did in the late 70s with Fifteen Big Ones. That logo has been with them ever since. So they use their logo a lot to promote all of their other tour materials, and I love it.
An interesting thing to be me about your Beach Boys work is how you managed to stay on good terms with everybody within the organization. A lot of people think that there are different camps within the Beach Boys, but everyone seems to like you.
Dean Torrence: (laughs) Well, I minored in psychology at USC, it has probably come in handy. (laughs) I try my best to try to get along with all of the camps and I suppose I have done a relatively good job at that. I even keep in contact with Steve Love, who is really kind of an outcast and all the other Loves don’t typically get along with him, and we email back and forth at least once or twice a month. He is in Hawaii, you know. I can be mad at a guy who lives in Hawaii and goes surfing every day. (laughs)
A lot of people think of the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean as having been rivals in a way. Was that just narrative? It seems like you guys worked together more than any sort of feud.
Dean Torrence: Well, it was kind of fake news, but fake news probably have their own narrative and that is most artists are in competition with one another and don’t like each other. I don’t know, Jan and I met on a sports team, and we always thought of everything in terms of a sports team, and that it took a whole team to make things work. The more team members you have the better, the more that we’re specialized. You need the offense line, you need the defensive line, you need linebackers, you need quarterbacks. We were guys that were supposedly catching the ball, we needed the quarterback to throw it, you know? So we always thought in terms of team. I look at the charts and go, “There is a hundred spots or more on that chart, there is plenty of room for everybody.”
That is a wonderful attitude.
Dean Torrence: If somebody else is on the chart that I didn’t particularly understand or care about, I realize I’d almost give them credit for finding their niche… If they found a niche, God bless them.
Looking back at everything, are you happy with your musical legacy? Is there something you are still hoping to accomplish?
Dean Torrence: Oh no, my legacy is fine… Interesting you should say that though, my daughter is a lot more musical than I ever was. Actually, she just graduated from Belmont University which is pretty much a university that is still firm in the music industry.
Is that in Nashville?
Dean Torrence: It is in Nashville, so it is in Music City.
Is that where Mark Volman, Flo from the Turtles, is a professor?
Dean Torrence: She was in Flo from the Turtles’ class. She has always been interested in the music industry. “Uncle Mark” talked her into being a more a part of the business college part of the college and that is performing arts, but she could minor in the performing arts. He just adjusted — who the hell knows if she can have a career in this, at least at this time in the music industry — if you know the industry you can also be still involved and be in the middle of it by knowing about publishing your songs and branding and all of that stuff.
So she is now doing her second internship, she came back, she moved back here a couple of months ago… And I may yet record something with her someday, she’s got a great voice, she’s got good instincts but it is important for her just to be in the music industry…
As far as anything for me, that would be fun for me… I am pretty proud of what we did. We weren’t the greatest singers in the world, but I think we made really damn good records.
So your fame from Jan & Dean is what led to you becoming a city spokesperson like you are now?
Dean Torrence: I think that certainly helped, but my branding background also helped. I went to the city and pointed out that I was doing a lot of work for The Beach Boys and kind of preserving their branding and used public relations and all that. I pointed out… a rock and roll group uses public relations and promotional things. The city is also trying to get eyeballs on them, especially if you’re a beach city in Southern California there are so many big cities out for a person that wants to take a summer trip…We have to set ourselves apart from those other big cities and a good way is to come up with a nickname. You know like the Big Apple or the City by the Bay, most cities have some sort of branding tool that they use.
Exactly, my city is the City by the Sea, so what is your town’s branding?
Dean Torrence: Well, Surf City. Stan Love, who is Mike Love’s younger brother who played professional basketball in the NBA and had a son that he groomed, Kevin Love, who is now playing basketball in Cleveland… That is where he went to college, Huntington Beach. Two weeks ago, he had a class reunion for high school. He said everywhere he went in Huntington Beach he saw the logo for Surf City and he was totally impressed with what a good job they did in terms of branding the brand. I said well, it only took 15 years to get to this point, but we eventually did and it does work…
So when you’re not busy with all the music-related and branding-related projects, what do you like to do for fun?
Dean Torrence: I think this is fun, actually. Well, I have two old Hollywood houses that I bought back in, one in the 60s, one in the 70s. I like restoring them and then renting them. I enjoy the restoration, one was built in 1906 which is an old craftsman house. I was in architecture at USC and graduated from the School of Architecture… I have always enjoyed not only music, I enjoyed architecture… I find too much interesting actually.
It is better than being bored and boring.
Dean Torrence: Including I like making little gardens and actual big ones, succulents… My dad loved to plant so I guess I got that from him… I even took a course in Photoshop. I went to a local college here in town, Golden West College and learned even more how to do Photoshop. So I’ve been doing Photoshop for probably 10 years and I am actually pretty good at it.
It is great that you started off doing typical art by hand and then also computer assisted designs.
Dean Torrence: Yeah, it is good for you to point that out. I am pretty sure that people have a fine art background and can’t actually paint or draw, are probably much better at Photoshop… Whereas somebody that just started to learn Photoshop probably is more digital age and all the Photoshop stuff kind of looks like Photoshop… I can go back through all of my designs from the last 40 years and enhance them, fix them, and tweak and stuff, but they still have that original look… the Beach Boys logo, I still wonder how did I pull that off, because it is so much easier in Photoshop…
So Dean, any last words for the kids?
Dean Torrence: The kids, for somebody that has two daughters, there is much to say to… Oh, I guess the simple one is, you do have to find something that is your passion. If you don’t you’re going to be bored, so find that passion..Find something to be passionate about, and stick with it even though others told you it wouldn’t work… You’re going to get so many other people telling you different… Social media is a killer, personally. It is hard to focus when there is so much noise going on all around… I don’t know how to tell them to try and turn it off but you pretty much have to… Just enjoy what is actual, look at yourself and process yourself, not somebody else is telling you.
[Featured Image by Cary Baker]