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WON’T COME BACK FROM DEAD MAN’S CURVE

WON’T COME BACK FROM DEAD MAN’S CURVE

Contributing Writer : Beatle Bob [ BEATLE BOB SPEAKS!    TheRFW.com/Blog/BeatleBob ]

It was 44 years ago today, April 12, 1966, that Jan Berry, the creative genius behind the singing duo- Jan & Dean- suffered his near-deadly auto-accident.

It would eerily portentously take place just a short distance from Dead Man’s Curve in Los Angeles,California, two years after Jan & Dean released the hit single of the same title.

The 25-year-old Berry,on his way to a business meeting, turned on to Whittier southbound from Sunset Blvd. in Beverly Hills, pulled out to pass a slow moving vehicle and slammed his ’66 Silver Coupe Corvette Stingray 427 at 90 MPH into the back of a gardening truck that was parked at the curb. The Paramedics that arrived on the scene thought Berry was dead. Checking his vital signs, they found he was alive and cut him out of his car and rushed him to nearby UCLA Medical Center.

(To see how bad Jan Berry’s crash was and why the Paramedics originally thought he was dead hit the link below to view the crash scene.)

http://www.streamingoldies.com/content-images/pso3/0412Jan.jpg

At the hospital they found Jan’s brain had been severely damaged and even numerous major brain operations could not completely repair the damage. Not expected to live, Berry was in a coma for several months and awoke unable to walk, speak, and was paralyzed on the right side.

Jan had reason to be preoccupied on that day. Not only was he preparing for his medical exams, but he’d just learned that the U.S. Army, not wasting any time, planned to draft him upon his graduation. His long-time girl friend of seven years, singer-writer Jill Gibson, had also broken up with him recently. Whatever was going through his head when he had the accident, it was the last conscious thought he’d have for months.

THE LEGEND OF DEAD MAN’S CURVE

Many an American town has been home to a “dead man’s curve” – a winding stretch of road so treacherous that it has (in legend or in fact) been the scene of numerous accidents and claimed the lives of several unwary or foolhardy drivers who challenged the bends at too high a speed.

But the most famous “dead man’s curve” of all belongs in Los Angeles, as immortalized in the 1964 hit single by Jan & Dean. This deadly stretch of road is a tight corner of Sunset Boulevard near the Bel-Air Estates north of U.C.L.A.’s Drake Stadium. This turn is particularly tricky for persons driving eastbound on Sunset, as a long downhill stretch on which it’s all too easy to spurt well over the 35 MPH speed limit that leads up to the curve, where a driver suddenly finds he must bank sharply left or centrifugal force will send his car crashing through a wall of trees bordering the U.C.L.A. campus. Motorists unfamiliar with this part of Sunset Blvd. (or those who know about it but opt to tempt fate and test their driving abilities by approaching the turn without slowing down) can easily find themselves yanking the steering wheel too hard to the left and spinning off the road or onto oncoming traffic.

The most renowned victim of L.A.’s infamous curve was Mel Blanc, famous as the voice of Bugs Bunny and hundreds of other cartoon characters. In January, 1961, Blanc was driving his sports car eastbound on Sunset Blvd. one evening around 9:30 P.M. and at “dead man’s curve” he collided head-on with another car. Blanc was pried from the wreckage unconscious, having suffered head injuries, a broken pelvis, and two broken legs; he barely escaped death and spent weeks in a coma. Just a few days after Blanc’s accident, Los Angeles’ Board of Public Works approved making changes to the banking of that portion of Sunset Blvd. to lessen the danger posed by the downhill curve, a city engineer testifying that it had been the scene of 26 accidents – three of them fatal – within a two-year stretch.

The Song

After scoring a pair of surf & hot-rod hits in 1963 with the chart topper “Surf City” and the Top Ten hit “Drag City,” Jan & Dean looked to follow up with another single based on the familiar drag-racing theme. Jan Berry teamed up with Roger Christian, a DJ turned songwriter who had co-written with the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson car songs like “Little Deuce Coupe.” Brian Wilson would also contribute lyrics and would sing background vocals on “Dead Man’s Curve” as well. Glenn Campbell played guitar on the session along with legendary drummer Hal Blaine. For some reason, Dean did not appear on vocals for this recording.

Jan Berry and Roger Christian turned their real life experiences (they would meet almost every Saturday at Sunset and Vine to race – Roger had a Jaguar XKE and Jan had a Stingray- the same cars that would wind up in the song), and Berry had actually raced hundreds of times on Sunset. They wrote a song about a drag race and its tragic aftermath, and Jan & Dean had another Top Ten hit when “Dead Man’s Curve” reached #8 on the Billboard chart in April 1964. Here are the lyrics:

I was crusin’ in my Stingray late one night

when an XKE pulled up to the right

and rolled down the window of his shiny new Jag

and challenged me then and there to a drag.

I said, “You’re on, buddy, my mill’s runnin’ fine.

Let’s come off the line, now, at Sunset and Vine

But I’ll go you one better if you’ve got the nerve.

Let’s race all the way to

Dead Man’s Curve

Dead Man’s Curve, it’s no place to play.

Dead Man’s Curve, you must keep away.

Dead Man’s Curve, I can hear ‘em say:

“Won’t come back from Dead Man’s Curve.”

The street was deserted late Friday night;

We were buggin’ each other while we sat out the light.

We both popped the clutch when the light turned green;

you should have heard the whine from my screamin’ machine.

I flew past LaBrea, Schwab’s and Crescent Heights,

and all the Jag could see were my six taillights.

He passed me at Doheny and I started to swerve,

But I pulled her out and there we were at

Dead Man’s Curve.

(sounds of crashing cars)

(Spoken)

Well- the last thing I remember Doc, I started to swerve

And then I saw the Jag slide into the curve

I know I’ll never forget that horrible sight

I guess I found out for myself that everyone was right

Won’t come back from Dead Man’s Curve

Dead Man’s Curve, it’s no place to play.

Dead Man’s Curve, you must keep away.

Dead Man’s Curve, I can hear ‘em say:

“Won’t Come Back from Dead Man’s Curve.”

(sounds of cars crashing) Repeat chorus

Rather than setting their fictional drag race at the site of the real “dead man’s curve,” however, Jan Berry and Roger Christian placed it more to the east — from Hollywood and Beverly Hills and bordered by Doheny Bay the names of locations more familiar to audiences outside of southern California, such as the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine, home to the distinctive Capitol Records tower, and Schwab’s drug store, where Lana Turner was supposedly discovered while sitting at the soda fountain. ( A race running the route described in the song, from Hollywood and Vine to Sunset and Doheny, would have covered 4.5 miles; extended to the real “dead man’s curve” near U.C.L.A., it would have been a drag of 8.7 miles.)

The weirdest part of this story is that Roger Christian didn’t intend for “Dead Man’s Curve” to be a “disaster” song–he wanted the race to end in a tie. But Jan, who would wind up in a serious car accident in real life, insisted that the song end with a disastrous crash.

Just before the devastating car wreck, Jan & Dean had filmed a TV pilot for ABC: Jan & Dean On the Run, which was going to debut during the Fall of ’66. The series was shelved and Jan & Dean were also dropped from their record label following the accident.

Foreshadowing this tragedy, and a sign of bad times to come, happened just a few short months earlier. Jan & Dean’s feature film for Paramount Pictures, Easy Come, Easy Go, was cancelled when Berry, as well as the film’s director and other crew members, were seriously injured in a railroad accident while shooting the movie in Chatsworth,

California.

Taking a harshly objective tack, you could say Berry never came back from Dead Man’s Curve. But his unceasing efforts to restore a career were an inspiring triumph. Even after his doctors told him he would never walk again; he fought back to learn to speak, walk, and even write new songs and performed live on stage after years of immobilization. And the music of his golden era lives on, the soaring harmonies and orchestrations couching a joyous invitation to an internal, sun-kissed Surf City Party.

Beatle Bob

To hear the Jan & Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve” (plus relive some of your favorite racing-car kit memories) just hit the video link below.