Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Jan & Dean Dore DooWop - Michael Doc Rock Kelly 1996

Jan & Dean Dore Doo-Wop – Michael “Doc Rock” Kelly. Discoveries Magazine 1996.

Don Altfeld

Jan Berry, youthful rock ‘n’ roll addict, attended University High in L.A. in the late 50s. Don Altfeld, youthful music writer for a national teen magazine as well as for the Uni High school newspaper, also attended Uni. Puzzled by the way the “pick hit of the week” in his column seemed to change each week between the time he submitted his copy to the school paper and the time the paper hit the school corridors, Don went down to the school print shop one day to look into this matter. There he ran into a boy with printers’ ink all over his hands and face. It was Jan.

Young Jan Berry was so in to music that he had been resetting the news type to reflect his own choice of hit of the week. Don forgave Jan; “From that point forward, Jan and I used to hang out in the garage daily.”

The garage?

The Garage

Yes, young Jan Berry had converted his parent’s garage into a makeshift recording studio. Jan’s tape recorded was an Ampex reel-to-reel machine, used on the movie “The Outlaw,” and given to his father Bill Berry by his employer, movie producer Howard Hughes. Jan’s microphone was a specimen “borrowed” from the Uni High school auditorium.

Exactly what did Jan and Don record in the garage? Once they recorded/”produced” a girl group singing a song called “Apollo.” The group included Mary Sperling (who later became DeeDee in Dick and DeeDee of “The Mountain’s High” fame”) and three other girls from a school club called The Flairs.

Jan’s own school club was The Barons. In the garage, the Barons recorded DJ shows, little radio programs on tape for school parties, with Jan and Don and other club members as the DJs. Over time, Jan and Don became fast and life-long friends. Don even ultimately earned composer credit on at least 30 songs that Jan & Dean recorded (“Dead Man’s Curve” for one), as well as songs for other artists such as Johnny Craford and Shelley Fabares.

Don Altfeld recalls those days with vivid and extreme fondness. “The second time I met Jan after the print shop incident was when he forged the vice principal’s signature on a note saying to report to the principal’s office. There was Jan waiting for me. We cut school, ended up drunk for the first time in my life, went to a drive-in movie, then down to the beach. We found a black group there singing a song called “Stranded In The Jungle.’ This was a group that was later known as the Jayhawks.

“Jan also stole an M-1 rifle from the armory of the ROTC. Jan was walking trouble. He had the FBI and the whole world looking for him. He punched a cop down at Pacific Ocean Park, an amusement park that no longer exists. Jan was trouble.

“Late at night, Jan would throw stones at my window on Montana and then he would climb in the window and work on songs. It was a devastating blow to me what happened to him, and there is no telling what he would have done had he not had that crash. He was so advanced.

“Jan even printed up stationary for our garage, calling us KJAN Radio, ‘The Voice of Bel-Air.’ There were a bunch of Baron Club brothers on the letterhead, Jan was the owner, I was K. Donald Adler, the program director. We sent a letter to all of the record companies saying that we were a new radio station and we were breaking in records in Bel-Air, California and we would get tons of records. At one time we had about 8,000 45s.”

The Barons’ tapes featured largely R&B waxings, including obscure classics such as the Monotones’ “Book of Love,” Duane Eddy’s “Movin’ and Groovin’,” Wee Willie Wain’s “Travlin’ Mood,” the Teen Queens’ “I Miss You,” Bill Bodaford and the Rockets’ “Tear Drops,” the Avons’ “Bonnie” and “Baby,” the Clairemonts’ “Angel of Romance,” the Lovers “Let’s Elope,” the Junior Misses’ “Never Never,” Sugar Pie and Pee Wee’s “Let’s Get Togethre,” and the Moonglows’ “Soda Pop,” “Sincerely,” and “I Knew from the Start.”

Every couple of weeks The Barons would take the surplus 45s up to a hill overlooking the Bel-Air golf course and play frisbee, going for distance and height. Somewhere up there in a little canyon there are thousand of old 45s.

“In fact, it was music that straightened Jan out,” assures Don. “When I met him, he was stealing hub caps - not because he needed the money. Just for the thrill. He’d steal them, then throw them away. He legitimized himself by stealing songs! Safer, and more rewarding!

“Jennie Lee”

The Barons’ membership included Jan, Don, Arnie Ginsberg, Dean Torrence, Wally Hagi, drummer Sandy Nelson, and Jimmy Bruderlin (later known as James Brolin). The Barons sang songs like “In the Still of the Night,” “Get a Job” and “She Say.”

Arnie wrote an original song for the Barons called “Jennie Lee,” inspired by a local burlesque queen. The Barons sang it, Jan recorded it, and spliced the song into their DJ tapes. Finally, tired of splicing, Jan went to a real studio to have the “Jennie Lee” tape transferred to acetate disc. There, he was “discovered” by record vet Joe Lubin, who had Jan re-record “Jennie Lee,” without Dean (who was going into the Army reserves that week) and the rest of the Barons, except Arnie, who started the whole “Jennie Lee” affair. But Jan was the spark plug for the record.

Don explains Jan’s fire this way, “One day when we were in Wallich’s Music City, Ricky Nelson was there. I don’t believe that Jan had recorded up to that point. When he saw Rick Nelson, who was great looking, and Jan was also great looking, Jan saw Ricky and said, ‘If he can do it, so can I.’ And that was the beginning of Jan seeing himself as a star. That was the turning point in Jan’s life.”

Jan & Arnie

“Jennie Lee” was released on Arwin Records by Jan & Arnie. Don Altfeld helped Jan get the song on the charts.

“ ‘Jennie Lee’ came out in Los Angeles and Jan and I did about every kind of hype thing we could think of. We’d go into Wallich’s Music City music store, where Jan would steal some, smuggling them out under his Barons jacket. He would also hide copies around the store in other records’ slots. Sometimes he would actually pay other kids to go in to the store and buy ‘Jennie Lee.’ “

Jan and Don also organized 40 friends to meet after school every day and call in requests on Wink Martindale’s radio show. In one afternoon, “Jennie Lee” became the #1 requested and was soon a Top 10 hit nationwide.

Two disappointing follow-ups later, the kids quit buying Jan & Arnie records, Arwin Records quit releasing Jan & Arnie records and Arnie quit making Jan & Arnie records.

With Arnie gone, Jan needed a new partner. Don Altfeld, a logical choice, ruled himself out. “I couldn’t sing, and I was way too shy. So, instead, in the interim between Arwin and Dore, Jan and I produced a record with a group called the Matadors called ‘Jumpin’ the Line’ that Lou Adler placed on Liberty Records for us. It didn’t go anywhere, but it was nice, we made some money.”
With Arnie gone and Don incurably shy, Jan needed a new “&” man. (The act is invariably billed as “Jan & . . .” never “Jan and . . .”) Jan chose Dean Torrence, an ex-Baron who had sung “Jennie Lee” (the song, not the record) and had now returned from the reserves during Arnie’s reign. And, as Jan explains today, I chose Dean because I liked his harmony, and I really liked his falsetto.”

As Dean recalls, Jan used the subtle approach to recruit his services.

“Jan didn’t say, ‘Arnie is out, you are going to replace him,’ ” reflects Dean. “It was kind of innocent and noncommittal. We’d just played some football together, and Jan said, ‘Yeah, if you’re not doing’ anything, come by the house and I’ll play you some songs that I’ve been working on.’

“As I drove up to his house, I went through all the scenarios of what he could mean. I thought that maybe he was asking me to come and listen to something that Jan and Arnie had done and see what my opinion of it was. He did kind of talk in there about him and me doing a song together or something, but it was so loosey-goosey that I remember being totally confused about what it was he said. But the bottom line was, he said ‘Come on up and listen to some stuff.’

“So I thought, ‘What the hell? I don’t have anything better to do.’ So I went and did it.

“I can’t exactly recall if we sat at the piano right away, or just listened to some songs. Somewhere in there, I likely said ‘Well, where is Arnie? Why aren’t you doing this with him.’ Or, I probably wouldn’t have been quite that direct in those days. I probably said ‘Well, gee, where’s Arnie?’

“Jan said, ‘Arnie’s more interest in surfing than working on songs.’ Ironic, surfing, this Jewish guy, while the blonde guy who would later sing ‘Surf City’ wants to work on music. It still was not clear to me if Jan meant that Arnie was out from that moment on, if his absence was temporary, or what. Maybe Jan did not even know himself, and he was testing the waters without getting committed.”

Finally, the team was official. At first, Dean thought Jan & Dean would be on Arwin, and there would be no worry about finding a label. Then he learned that Arwin was no longer interested in Jan’s songs. “At that point, it was like starting from scratch. And if it weren’t for Jan’s remembering a couple of guys that he had met when he and Arnie had done a show with Sam Cooke, guys whom he was impressed with, who knows what would have happened.”

The two guys? Herb Alpert, later of the Tijuana Brass and the “A” in A&M records; and Lou Adler, later to marry Shelley Fabares and found Dunhill Records (Mamas and Papas, Barry McGuire, Grassroots, et al).

Dean still marvels at Jan’s awareness. “Somehow, Jan realized at age 17, that you needed a manager. I was scratching my head saying, ‘What do you need a manager for when you don’t have a career?’ But he realized that strong management could help you get that deal. We were used to making the demo tape ourselves and literally dropping in on record companies, knocking on their doors, sitting down in their offices, and getting them to play our material.

“So Jan called Lou and Herb after we had not made any headway with Arwin. I don’t remember even going to Arwin myself, Jan must have. I don’t even remember meeting the Arwin producer, Joe Lubin, who at the very least should have come up and checked us out to see what we had. It wouldn’t have taken him very long to find out. Maybe he was being squeezed out of Arwin and was more worried about paying the rent that month than trying to predict the future. For whatever reason, I never saw Joe Lubin.

“When Jan saw that he didn’t have Joe Lubin and didn’t have Arwin and didn’t have anything going particularly, we were still doing what Jan & Arnie had done, trying to come up with good songs, and we just weren’t finding any. We weren’t writing anything that was very exciting, and we were listening to other people’s demo records and listening to new releases that were on small labels and weren’t hits. But we just couldn’t find anything that was very exciting. We knew that was the regular process that we had to go through, so we just kept plodding along.

“Somewhere in there, Jan did make the call. Next thing I knew, these guys, Lou and Herb, were showing up at Jan’s place to meet me. They were about 24 or so. To us teenagers, they were men. Men. I mean, they wore suits. They were cool. They were real men. They were grown up. They didn’t live at home like we did. We considered them grown ups, they were mature men to us. These were guys who had been involved in a career of someone that we really respected, Sam Cooke.”

At Keen Records, Lou and Herb were the equivalent to junior executives. They were being brought along by the people in their 40s who held the power for themselves. And Lou and Herb wondered how long it would be before they had their chance. Did these older guys have to die first? Or did Lou and Herb need to more along. “When they came up and met us, and heard some of the tings what we had done, then they pretty quickly committed to our careers and gave Keen notice that they were moving on. So it was Lou and Herb who found ‘Baby Talk.’ They delivered the song to us, probably on a 45.”

Lou Adler

As Lou recalls, it wasn’t just Jan & Dean who lured Herb and him from Keen Records. “Herbie Alpert and I were writing partners writing partners working for Keen records, which had Sam Cooke on it. We decided to leave Keen and I took a job for a management company guy named Lenny Poncher who was managing a lot of Latin acts in and around LA. Kim Fowley, who was a University High student with Jan & Dean, and also was on the edge of the music business (as everyone in LA was at that time, since there was no real contemporary music business to speak of, it was just starting up, everything was in New York.”

“One day, Kim came to me and told me that Jan, who had had a hit with Jan & Arnie, had a new partner and that I might be interested in talking to them. Either Jan or both of them came to the office I had that was actually an auto parts store in front and the management company in the back of the storefront.

“The first thing that struck me about Jan, and later Dean, was how great these guys looked. They both looked great. Also how different they looked, compared to most people who were having hit records at the time. They established artists were all dark haired, sort of Italian/ethnic looking guys out of Philadelphia. I hadn’t recalled ever seeing a picture of Jan & Dean or a picture of Jan with Jan & Arnie, but here was this All-American surfer guy. He played me sone Jan & Arnie records, said that Arnie was no longer with im and it was going to be him and another friend from University High, and they were out of their record deal and for some reason they had heard about me.

“Herb and I had only worked with Sam Cooke and Keen artist at that time, but we hadn’t had any real success. But we hit it off with Jan & Dean really well, so we thought we’d take a chance.”

Even with Lou and Herb, the garage remained Hit Central of Jan & Company. “The story is absolutely true that ‘Baby Talk” was recorded in a garage. Jan had an old Ampex that he had hooked up in order to give him some echo. That is how he got all the ‘Jennie Lee’ echo. He had the tape going through the head twice. It sat up on tope the piano, the dogs ran through, the kids cried, it was wild.”

Dore Records

Dean credits Lou and Herb with finding Dore Records “(pronounced “Dorrie”) for Jan and Dean’s recordings. In fact, Jan & Dean were never actually signed with Dore records property. Jan & Dean were under contract to Herb and Lou; Herb and Lou signed with Dore. “Dore was on one of their A or B lists. They didn’t even consider Liberty where we had our Surf hits years later, which, like most of the majors, was still doing adult pop music, not rock and roll. Mostly they went to the smaller companies. Unfortunately, there were more of them on the East Coast than in LA, but we didn’t have the wherewithal to fly to the East Coast and shop our product. That would have been a smarter thing to do, because then we could have been on a real, big, player label.

“But Dore was only a mile from the recording studio, two miles from the garage, and had just had a number one record with the Teddybears ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him.’ They had credibility, they’d proven that they could handle a major national hit. It was as good as we could do at the time, and it worked out OK.”

Did Dore have studios?

“No. All they had was one little office on Vine. What they did have was a distribution system already in placed and a name and an old record guy who was running it. That was all you needed then.”

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