Thursday, 16 February 2017

1977 Mike McDowell Dean Torrence Interview

1977 Dean Torrence Interview – By Mike McDowell

The 1966 auto accident which temporarily sidelined Jan Berry, left his partner, Dean Ormsby Torrence a man with a new career. A 1965 graduate of the Architecture and Design School at USC, Dean decided to put his degree to good use, founding Kittyhawk Graphics, for which Dean has designed logos, album covers and promotional flyers for hundreds of recording artists, Canned Heat, Nilsson, the Beach Boys and Mike Nesmith among them.

Los Angeles (January 1977)

MM (Mike McDowell): I wanted to ask you a few things about your current association with Kittyhawk Graphics. How did Kittyhawk originate?

DT (Dean Torrence): Well Kittyhawk was something that came by design (ha). Graphics was something I’ve always enjoyed. I went through 7 years of college to get a degree which probably didn’t do me any good, but at least I went. I also started partly through necessity, because of Jan’s accident. All of a sudden, within a relatively short period of time, in fact one day, I had to look for a new career. I had been going to school, so I figured that was the time to put some of the things I’d learned into a practical use. I had made a decision at the time that it was probably better to strike out and do something different on my own, rather than try to develop something new in music. It may sound like a cop-out to you, and sometimes I wonder if it was.

MM: Were the things you did for J&D Records right after Jan’s accident something you did in search of commercial success, or more of a recording outlet?

DT: It was a little of both. I viewed it as taking advantage of some of the momentum we had going at the time. I gave myself a year, and if at that time I didn’t feel things were progressing, I’d take some time off and learn the graphics business. Also, the Save For a Rainy Day album was the first album cover I ever designed, so the whole thing was a two or three-fold experience. I learned more in that one year than I did in the whole seven years previous to it.

MM: Your sessions at J&D produced one incredible single, Summertime, Summertime. Was that totally just you on vocals?

DT: Yeah, just me. I redid the vocals many times. At one point, Brian Wilson, came in and helped me on vocals. He was on most of those songs.

MM: Didn’t Brian turn up on your Legendary Masked Surfers record?

DT: Yeah, Brian’s always around at the right time.

MM: What can you tell me about Melvin Schwartz?

DT: I don’t know anything about Melvin Schwartz! That sounds like a fake name.

MM: Some of your 45's on Dore list that name as writer’s credit. I thought it was a pseudonym for you and Jan.

DT: Now I remember! No, Melvin Schwartz was a real person. We ran into him once in New York by accident in a store. He introduced himself, and he seemed to look like a Melvin Schwartz to us and we remember the name. But you’re right, it does sound like something Jan and I would have made up.

MM: Had you ever seen Katherine Milner, the little old lady from Pasadena after you song about her came out?
DT: Not much. She died. All old ladies die sometime. She was just a legitimate commercial actress. Jan and I got her to pose for our LP cover because she fit the image of that song we wrote. She was a nice lady. She invited us to her golden wedding anniversary, but we never made it for some reason. Then she died a few years later. She was an older lady. I think even close to 80 at that time.

MM: That song and similar ones you did represent great satire, wouldn’t you agree?

DT: Not so much in production , but rather lyrical content. We tried to find subject matter totally irrelevant to sing about, yet not cut corners on production. Just because you sing of silly things, doesn’t mean you have to compromise on aesthetic quality.

MM: By that same token, how did an album like “Folk ‘N’ Roll” originate? Were songs like Universal Coward and Folk City deliberate satires, or satires against satires?

DT: Counter-satire. During most of that album, I was in another studio doing the “Beach Boy Party” LP. I really didn’t care for “Folk ‘N’ Roll.” Half of “Folk ‘N’ Roll” or better was just Jan. I did some of the standard cover songs on it, but I didn’t like the original material for the most part. I thought it was kind of stupid. When I listened to it, I couldn’t believe what a punk album it was!

MM: To be honest with you, I though “Folk ‘N’ Roll” produced one of your very best 45s. I Found a Girl.

DT: Well, I was just talking about the LP in general. The songs on it I didn’t like I mean I really didn’t like, but the stuff on it I did like I felt was better than average, like that 45.

MM: Like the cover versions?

DT: I thought we did a good job on Yesterday and Turn, Turn, Turn.

MM: How about Where Were You When I Needed You. I thought that was excellent!

DT: Was that on that LP? Have we been talking about the same LP? Maybe it was something else I was listening to. Oh yeah! I was thinking of the next LP, “Filet of Soul.” That was a terrible album! We weren’t at all responsible for it. Liberty released it after we were off the label. It was nothing at all like Jan and I planned it. The original album was great! Very highly conceptual. Liberty felt it was too ahead of its time, and held it up until we were off the label, then released it their way.

MM: Some of the live tracks on that LP ended up sounding like outtakes, as if you and Jan weren’t that enthused about them.

DT: They were outtakes. Liberty at the time just couldn’t understand that it was supposed to be a comedy album.

MM: Did you intent for Gonna Hustle You to be released at that time?

MM: Was it the version that Liberty originally censored in favor of The New Girl In School?

DT: Basically, I just re-did the vocals.

MM: Why did they object to Gonna Hustle You so much?

DT: It wasn’t so much Liberty, as the publishing company. It was a corporate thing. Musically they didn’t care. They don’t know music. To them, it’s business. As soon as one disc jerky (transcription note - typed as printed jerky) says he’d be afraid to play it, they retreat. They don’t want to go out on a limb, and they still don’t today. As spontaneous and creative as the music industry looks today, it’s still domineered by businessmen. They’re only looking to sell product. So if they have any question as to whether or not a song can get airplay, they hold back. Only a superstar can get away with it, like Rod Stewart with Tonight’s The Night. But he couldn’t have done that even 5 years ago, let alone in the mid-60s.

MM: Who was involved on the newer Legendary Masked Surfers version?

DT: I took the instrumental tracts to The New Girl In School and added all of the new vocals myself, multi-tracked. (Phone rings . . . conversation)

MM: Your wife?

DT: My fiancé. I haven’t been married yet.

MM: That reminds me. I hate to bring this up, but looking at the liner notes of the Anthology album. I notice a long list of girlfriends that you and Jan had, and it seems you even went with the same girl at once! How did this come about?
DT: If you want to know what “Filet of Soul” really was, I used half of it as side 4 on our Anthology album. We had a really gross version of that song, which I have on acetate, but the version on the album was much more tame.
DT: Oh God! (Laughs). I may have stretched the truth just a little but there were a couple of girls we both dated within a couple of weeks of each other. At times I would get Jan’s rejects. If she couldn’t get through to him, then she’d like me, and I’d have her for awhile, until he wanted her back, anyway. It was Jackie Miller, who was in the New Christy Minstrels. Jan found her first, and tried to date her for about a week. He didn’t know that I’d already been dating her.

MM: Being a record collector, I always research my data very carefully, I believe I’ve spotted an error on the Anthology Lp liner notes. On there, you were so disgusted with the 45 You Really Know How To Hurt A Guy that you were into another studio and recorded the Party LP with the Beach Boys, But that LP, released in the fall of ‘65 contains a Beatle tune, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away from the Beatles “Help” album, released in August 1965. How do you explain that?

DT: Oh that was just artistic freedom. I only mentioned that single because it was something I really hated! Actually, we may have just been recording something from “Folk ‘N’ Roll” at the time. If you really want to get technical. I think it was a song about somebody dying.

MM: A Beginning From An End?

DT: Oh God! That was terrible!

MM: You didn’t like that??

DT: I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever heard! I don’t know what Jan was going through at the time, but it must have been some pretty heavy stuff.

MM: I guess that’s the reason I admire the LP so much. It represents everything you didn’t do in 1965.

DT: Oh definitely! But I didn’t feel ready to cross over that line yet at that time. Jan and I had an understanding, that if one of us felt very strongly about a particular track, and the other didn’t feel very artistically inspired toward it, then the one who was more interested would do the track by himself. So when Jan cut that LP, I was with the Beach Boys, singing Barbara Ann.

MM: You were the lead vocalist on that 45, weren’t you?

DT: Yeah, but Jan and I were told not to be on that album because of contractual agreements. We tried to arrange it to be legally OK for us to appear on it.

MM: But if you listen closely on a mono copy of “Beach Boy’s Party,” you can hear someone say “thanks Dean” at the end of Barbara Ann.

DT: That was Carl Wilson. Jan and I were told by Liberty that we’d be sued if we appeared on the album. Originally, they said it was OK. We were going to be on the album cover. We thought it was a great idea to have a few people over and make a party album. To me that was dynamite! But when you presented this idea to the same people at Liberty, the businessmen with no imagination whatsoever, they said “OK, you can be on the Beach Boys’ LP, but we want, in writing, that they’ll be on one of your albums.” We said we weren’t ready to commit ourselves to that, because maybe they wouldn’t want to be on one of our albums, or vice versa. We didn’t want to force the Beach Boys into anything, so we said, how about some sort of oral agreement? Well that just opened up a whole new can of worms? The lawyers at Liberty didn’t buy it, and they threatened to sue us if we appeared anywhere on the album, pictures and all. I was there, but I had to stay out of all the pictures, and was given no credit on the cover. When I heard the album with “thanks Dean,” I just about died!
MM: By that same token, did the Beach Boys appear on any Jan & Dean records, other than the few cover versions you did of their songs on the Take Linda Surfin’ LP?

DT: Well, just Brian Wilson did. I hear more lead from Brian on Surf City than I do from Jan. Brian and I sing lead on Barbara Ann, but I stick out farther than him. I don’t even sing on the song Surf City, Brian also sang on Drag City and Dead Man’s Curve.

MM: Would you consider recording again with the Beach Boys?

DT: Yeah, We’ve considered it.

MM: I suppose I have to ask the inevitable. Do you see a Jan and Dean reunion in the near future?
DT: No. I’d like to keep that in my past, because I don’t feel a reunion between us would be that good. Artistically, musically, and visually I don’t think it would be as good as it used to.

MM: I saw Jan in concert last night at the Golden Bear, and he put on a fantastic show. To tell you the truth, I didn’t know what to expect from Jan, but I was very impressed. He did a tremendous show. He sends his best, by the way.

DT: Oh, we get along fine, don’t misunderstand me! It took many years for Jan to realize that it’s nothing personal. I’ll do anything I can to help him, which I have. It’s just that I don’t see any future in it because Jan wants to play clubs, like in Las Vegas. I don’t want to work for any audience over 20. I don’t like it. Maybe an average age of 20 is OK, but it’s really the younger people that come in droves, with enthusiasm. I don’t want to play for a bunch of older people that just politely clap between songs. That doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. Since I’ve been working with my new band, Papa Doo Run Run, it’s all been high schools. High school kids are so much more receptive. They don’t look at it as a “blast from the past,” since they’re not old enough to remember our records when they were new. They just get hysterical over the music for what it is.
MM: You say the kids here are receptive to you. Unfortunately, back in the Midwest, where I’m from, most kids worry more about peer group pressure, and trying to appear “hip” by following whatever’s trendy, like Kiss and Aerosmith. From what you tell me, Dean, I guess kids here aren’t like that.

DT: They were maybe two or three years ago. But California is pretty progressive. It’s too relaxed here to worry about things like that. The basic idea of Papa Doo Run Run sounded pretty gross to me at first. I didn’t think the younger kids would be receptive. But look how well Beach Boys repackages have sold. And you saw the audience at the Forum New Year’s Eve. You, Jan, myself and the Beach Boys were probably the oldest people there. The guys in Papa Doo Run Run are in their early to late twenties, but they could pass for teenagers, I think that’s extremely important.

MM: How did Pap Doo Run Run get started?
DT: Three of the guys were together for about six years. They were originally a quartet. The fourth guy left, because he didn’t like the band’s image, and they came to me. I sort of became their director. They added two new kids, and it’s worked out perfectly. We opened up for the Monkees about a year ago.

MM: Oh really? You mean Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart?

DT: Yeah. They were excellent. I was curious to see whether or not the Monkees had figured out their situation. My point of view was to keep it young and refreshing. The Monkees is still a good enough name, it’s not all that dated.

MM: Most early Monkees records go for phenomenal prices among record collectors.

DT: Sure! It’s good stuff. I was very interested to see what would happen between the Monkees and us on stage. But as far as their philosophy goes, they didn’t appear to have thought it out. They just seemed to have been hurriedly trying to do their best with their hits, instead of worrying about trying to attract a new audience. I looked at the Monkees and saw that they added in Boyce and Hart. I thought “so what!” To you or I, they are a well respected songwriting team. But the younger kids have never heard of them! They even look like they’re in their late thirties. Dolenz and Jones could just as easily have added to guys in their younger twenties that would be excited to death to be on stage with the Monkees. Keith Allison was OK when he tried, but everyone else just didn’t fit.

MM: The Monkees played Pine Knob near Detroit last summer to a crowd of mostly 18-19 year olds. The response was just like the Beatles in ’64, screaming, stage rushing and all. Incredible!

DT: Right! There is a market for it, and the Monkees should take advantage of it. Papa Doo Run Run can draw large crowds at Disneyland every day for a whole summer, and I think the Monkees could, too. There’s some magic in the kind of music both groups do that the younger people just don’t get tired of.

MM: Don’t misunderstand me, I mean this as a very high compliment, but it seems that groups like Pap Doo Run Run, the Monkees, Jan & Dean, the Beach Boys and the Rip Chords are the only universal outlet of the middle class white culture.

DT: That’s exactly what I’m shooting at all the time! That’s where the strength is. That’s what I like about Papa Doo Run Run. They were playing this music even three or four years ago, when nobody else did. Even when they were called the Goody Two Shoes, or the Zoo, or some other typical 60’s name they used to go by. They’d be up on stage playing Jimi Hendrix’s Watchtower, then all of a sudden break into FunFun Fun, and the crowd went wild! The thing I do like about the seventies is that the musical barriers are finally being broken.

MM: Do you remember when you and Jan got into a water fight with Paul Revere and the Raiders on Where the Action Is?

DT: No, but I remember having a giant cake fight with them. That’s the kind of on-stage outrageousness we wanted. We were very interest in sharing a good time.

MM: Would you say many of the classic groups of the sixties were major influences in the Jan and Dean recording career?
DT: We drew on people like the Mamas and Papas, the Lovin Spoonful and Paul Revere and the Raiders for aesthetic inspiration, but my personal favorites are R&B groups like the Dell Vikings and the Five Satins. I also really like Dion and the Belmonts. Brian Wilson stepped in and made us realize that we could do all those harmony parts, too.

MM: I met the Belmonts a couple of months ago. Their performance was impeccable!

DT: I have an album by them that’s probably one of my top five all time favorites. All acapella.

MM: Cigars, Accapella, Candy?

DT: That’s it! I love Street Corner Symphony and Rock and Roll Lullaby. I had Papa Doo Run Run over to my house to listen to the LP. They loved it, and we might even be doing some of those songs on stage. We do Teenager In Love, and the kids love it. I’d hate to get into a self parody think like Flash Cadillac.

MM: Still, Flash Cadillac represents the 50s visual image, but their music lately has taken on the ’66-’67 punk sound, like the Seeds or the Standells.

DT: I noticed, and I think that’s really good. I loved their last single. If I was managing that group, I’d get rid of those outfits. Psychologically, they’re making fun of the music dressing like that. Papa Doo Run Run just dresses like any kid in Malibu, and plays the music as honestly as it can. We’d like to release original material in that same vein. We’re not with RCA anymore. Now we’re looking for a smaller label that can give us more push.

MM: Whatever happened to your old partner, Arnie Ginsberg?

DT: Arnie and I went to USC together. About the time of Jan’s accident, he got a scholarship for industrial design to go to the University of Moscow. The last I heard, he was in Iceland. He was a very talented guy.

MM: Were you involved on any of the Arwin records?

DT: Just Jennie Lee, that was it.

MM: How did your expression “my landy” originate?

DT: There was an old washer commercial Jan really liked, where one guy used that expression. So it just stuck.

MM: Did you have self-parody in mind on the song like Scholck Rod?

DT: Well, I did most of the high part on that. Jan had a limited vocal range. He did most of the “bomps” on our early songs. When the bomps stopped, he had to fill in where he could. We alternated back and forth on Scholck Rod. We cut it at 3 in the morning, and we were all tired, and didn’t really care. Anything we did spontaneously was usually a parody. That LP was one of my favorites.

MM: On the same LP, “Drag City,” I notice a song called I Gotta Drive that is almost identical to a version on Colpix by the Matadors. Any connection?

DT: It’s the same track with a different intro. The Matadors backed us up on the “Drag City” album.

MM: What about your records released in the late 60’s on Warner Brothers?

DT: That was old tracks by both of us that never got released until then.

MM: Why did you release the Gotta Take That One Last Ride” LP in mono?

DT: I like mono. I wanted to return to that. When I re-mixed those tracks, I heard so much in there I’d forgotten about. I did the cover for that one, too.

MM: How many LP covers have you done for Kittyhawk Graphics?

DT: About 300, but I’d only admit to about 50 of them. I did Mike Nesmith’s first LP cover. He has a new LP coming out on his label, distributed by Island Records.

MM: Would you do concerts with any of the Monkees or Beach Boys again?

DT: Maybe as just a one-night stand. I really respect Mike as a brilliant musician. I thought Listen To The Band was a phenomenal recording. I think Mike Nesmith and Rick Nelson were the pioneers of country-rock. I did a logo for Rick Nelson. I’m also doing the cover of the new Beach Boys LP, which will be called “The Beach Boys Love You.” I’m on a couple of the tracks.

MM: You see all of the Beach Boys a lot, don’t you?

DT: We’re pretty good friends. I played basketball with Stan Love, Mike’s brother, and Brian Wilson last night. Brian is like a Mack truck without brakes. We always got along because we had the same subtle, dry sense of humor. Brian learned a lot of electronic wizardry from Jan, who recorded our entire Dore LP in his garage with a home tape recorded. And we all borrowed from each other’s sense of humor.

MM: What can you tell me about the Dean Torrence of today?

DT: My dad? Oh you mean me? Well, I’ll be at work until 5. Then at precisely 5:20 I’ll go visit my mom, then I have to leave to be at the YMCA to play volleyball. And that’s the Dean Torrence of today.

‘Nuff said.

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