Jan Terri is the original DIY music queen. Although she started off as a drummer, Jan quickly began a prolific career in songwriting. Her tracks come in a variety of genres: rock, jazz, pop, country. Jan’s music also spans across a wide range of emotions, from the sentimental “Losing You,” to her funky Halloween number “Get Down Goblin,” to the angry rock ballad “Skyrockets.” Before the internet broke, Jan was filming video after video on VHS; by the time YouTube was created, Jan was already a legend.
The first time I corresponded with Jan Terri was several years ago, when I asked her if she wanted to play a show with my band Sharkmuffin while we were touring the west coast. She wasn’t playing out at the time, but we ended up having a long chat in which her famous sense of humor came out. I learned about a few of Jan’s favorite things, such as “the 3 c’s: corgis, cognac, and corndogs.” Jan jokes that she used to be 5’9” but that she lost her height in a slot machine (a joke I plan on stealing). Although she enjoys California, where she currently resides, she’s an east-coaster at heart and prefers the hotdogs, pizza, and cheesesteaks of the east to the tacos and burritos of the west. She is looking forward to seeing the new Mary Poppins movie this holiday season.
Jan’s dog Denny made some appearances in her music videos and I was sad to hear Denny passed away in the spring. However, I was happy to see Jan adopted a new furbaby named JoJo. Jan is currently working on a musical tribute to her late buddy, Denny, and plans on donating the proceeds to The Vanderpump Dog Foundation. A friend of Jan’s is also compiling a biography of Jan’s life. Hopefully, Jan will be doing a book tour through our parts in the near future!
AF: How did you get into music?
JT: Well, my grandfather was a musician and he used to play drums on Tin Pan Alley and he used to go around the neighborhood teaching the kids to play drums. And my dad played sax, so at 8 years old, I tried to play the sax. But I couldn’t play the sax very well, and I liked playing the drums, so that was my first instrument.
AF: When did you start writing your own music?
JT: Probably right around 10 years old. I wrote a song for the LA Thunderbirds. They were a roller-skating team. And I liked John Wayne, so I wrote a song for him called “Big Jack.”
AF: And what was your first song called?
JT: “Never Gonna Get Ya Off My Mind (Even If You Want A Divorce)”
AF: So, you said you write your own melodies and lyrics for your music, and then you have someone else write the guitar parts for you?
JT: I used to take it to the studio. I would have the music in my head and they would write it how I described it. It’s sort of like taking a letter to the secretary, and then the secretary takes what you wrote and types it up. So that’s how they’re done.
AF: I noticed in a lot of your music videos, you have some of the same people featured. Are those friends of yours or did you hire them as actors?
JT: I used to get my nails and hair done by them and they wanted to be in the videos, so I started letting them go in the videos. Then they were complaining, “There are too many videos, we don’t want to be in them anymore!” And then when I stopped having them in videos they were screaming, “We want to be in more videos!” I live in California now and they are back in Chicago though so I don’t even see them anymore.
AF: Does the same person film most of your music videos?
JT: My friend Mike did a lot of them. He’s an orthopedic pediatrician now so he doesn’t have time anymore. He just did it on the side.
AF: You grew up in Chicago. Did you have any pets growing up?
JT: Yeah, I had pets. I had doggies. And I used to ride a horse in Michigan. My family is from the east coast. My accent is South Philly, South Jersey, Brooklyn (not the Bronx), and a splash of Boston. And in Philadelphia, I prefer Pat’s steak sandwiches versus Gino’s. You know, those two across the street from each other.
AF: Denny (RIP) starred in some of your old music videos. When did you adopt Denny?
JT: Me and my mom were living in an apartment and just before we were going to move into a condo, somebody had seen Denny in a newspaper. So I called the lady and she brought Denny over and my mom loved Denny, so we got Denny. Then the lady was supposed to come the next week but that was around Hurricane Katrina, so we know his birthday was somewhere around that time, we just don’t know the exact date. My friend’s birthday is January 5th so he always said “that’s our birthday”—his and Denny’s. That’s when we would celebrate.
AF: Did Denny have a favorite song of yours that he would perk up to when you played?
JT: No, he liked all the music. He loved baseball. He loved The Cubs. When we came out to California, he loved The Dodgers. And he loved politics. You know that old commercial “When Jay Hutton Talks, Everybody Listens”?Well, when the President talked, he was right by the bed by the TV set.
AF: When did you adopt JoJo?
JT: I just got JoJo in March. Denny died on March 15th; the same day as my dad’s birthday, and I got JoJo that Saturday. So, it would have been around March 23rd. And then the next day he had to go to the vet to get snip-snipped so I could take him home that Monday.
AF: And you said JoJo is two years old?
JT: Yeah. I got him when he was two years old. And if you go on Amazon.com they have the doggy DNA test now. I swabbed his mouth, cut a little piece of his hair, put it in the envelope, and sent it in. Within two weeks, they sent it back in to tell me what he is. And he is Havanese, Shih Tzu, Schnauzer, Poodle, and Cocker-Spaniel.
AF: He’s very cute. What’s his personality like?
JT: Oh, he’s very nice. He’s trained as a service dog so he knows when my blood sugar is kinda high so I can check on it. And he got to see Santa.
AF: Do you have an organization that you could recommend that you adopt from?
JT: Well, I have to go back to the studio to finish “Denny’s Song” and that money will be going to Lisa Vanderpump for her rescue dogs through the The Vanderpump Dog Foundation. Because my dog Denny loved Lisa Vanderpump. He got to meet her at one of her rescue dog day events in LA and while he was there he had his shades on and they took pictures of him. Denny wound up with 5 minutes of fame in Vanderpump Rules.
AF: Well, he also found fame through your music videos. Denny’s death was mourned nationwide.
JT: Also in Chicago he was on Channel 50. It was on a green screen and it said “Denny from Chicago likes…” and being Havanese, he was Cuban, so he loved Judge Milian. He loved her. Especially when she spoke Spanish. He would sit there right at the TV like “yeah yeah yeah yeah!” Yes, I am going to try to run in 2024 for President.
AF: And are you going to have JoJo on your campaign team?
JT: Of course JoJo will be on the campaign. Yup.
AF: Does JoJo have the same political flare as Denny did?
JT: JoJo could care less about politics. JoJo could care less about baseball. JoJo could care less about TV. He’ll watch a little TV, but he’s not like Denny. Denny was your political dog. And he loved Beverly Hills. I don’t know why anyone loves Beverly Hills, but he did. His favorite store was Connor Mayes. It’s a jewelry store.
AF: What did he like to get there?
JT: I don’t know. He just liked walking around the store, looking at the bling-bling.
AF: He was fancy. I remember his outfit in the “Skyrockets” music video.
JT: Yeah, that was his birthday present. He got a Hollywood t-shirt. His was cool. It was black and pink. But his favorite color was blue. This guy JoJo’s got a suit, and I’m taking Denny’s tuxedo photo and making a picture collage with the 2 of them next to each other.
AF: Are there any upcoming songs, videos, or shows we should keep an eye out for?
JT: As soon as I can get back into the studio to do the lyrics and singing for Denny’s tribute song, then that will be out. My friend in Chicago is also working on my biography, so I am not sure when that will be released. But it’s coming along.
AF: Will you be swinging through the east coast on your book tour?
JT: Oh, heck yeah! I’m gonna get my steak sandwich and get my pizza and get my hot dog with mustard and French fries on top. California doesn’t make good pizza.
AF: Are your songs autobiographical or are they written for a persona or character?
JT: They’re a character. I am a character. Through the IRS, I’m listed as a character. And I’ve written the first song about the IRS. No one writes songs about the IRS.
AF: Any advice you can give artists trying to pursue a career in music?
JT: Just that when you go into the studio, you’re going to hear a lot of “no, no, no.” Just ignore that “no, no, no.” That’s what they did to me. Cause I was going in as a songwriter and brought them Baby Blues. There was some jazz, some country, some rock. Each song on the album was for a different market. They said I couldn’t do that. So, I said “well, I’m not with you guys.” I can do what I want. It’s not because we’re women. It’s because the record industry has different rules and mentality. Sometimes they try to say you’re too young. You know, when I first started out they said “you’re too young to go in the country direction” then later they said “you’re too old now.” Now they want people that they can make more into a Justin Bieber type or Ariana Grande. They pick a style and then they want cookie cutter artists. But not everyone likes that type of music. I write songs to make people feel good. Maybe one song will be sort of hip-hop. Maybe it will be a rock number. Maybe it will be a country number. I want a little of something for everyone. I try to write songs so that everybody can come to my shows and have a good time and forget about the bad stuff for a while. I try to see if we can keep the cost down for my shows. It’s ridiculous what some of these stars charge to see them perform. The whole idea is for people to like the music and have the chance to enjoy it. I’ve had a couple people tell me they get bullied in school and then they come home and listen to my music and it makes them feel better, which I thought was pretty nice. A lot of people say “you know, if you don’t win a Grammy or you don’t win an Oscar, you’re nothing.” It’s not true. There’s a lot of good musicians out there who don’t do political stuff. We were just watching Wendy Williams and Ice Cube never won one of those. If you’re being nice to people, who cares about it?