Dead Man’s Curve: The Rock ’n’ Roll Life of Jan Berry

McFarland. Jul. 2021. 525p. ISBN 9781476672106. pap. $49.95. MUSIC
Moore (The Jan & Dean Record: A Chronology of Studio Sessions, Live Performances and Chart Positions), an avid Jan and Dean buff, has written the definitive biography of Jan Berry (1941–2004). Drawing from dozens of interviews and an exhaustive survey of existing materials, he details Berry’s childhood in the posh neighborhood of Bel Air near Hollywood, his infatuation with doo-wop groups, his garage studio, and his surprise 1958 hit, “Jennie Lee,” with teenage friend Arnie Ginsburg. Soon after, Berry and Dean Torrence, who met in high school, saw huge success as the rock duo Jan and Dean; kings of the California surf, they recorded records and were featured on television and in films (Surf City; Drag City). Moore also covers Berry’s friendship with the Beach Boys and his dual life as a medical student and a rock and roll singer, arranger, and producer—until 1966, when he crashed his Corvette Sting Ray, which left him with a brain injury. The author spends the last third of the book on Berry’s triumphant return to the music business as a producer and sporadic tour-mate of Torrence’s.
VERDICT A comprehensive, accurate, and balanced account of a rock icon who was talented, impulsive, and driven, though sometimes difficult and dismissive. Crammed with minutia and drawn-out stories, this work will appeal to rock fans.
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