Dean Bailin and Jeanne Waller are native New Yorkers who have each plied their trade as full-time musicians since the ‘70s. They’ve seen a lot of trends and artists come and go in their collective 80 years in the business. Waller has travelled the country doing musical theater and singing in society bands and orchestras. Bailin has been an industrious session guitarist/multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and engineer as well as a recording and touring artist as part of Rupert Holmes’ early band. Remember Holmes’ #1 hit single “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”? Bailin played perhaps, one of the most famous guitar licks in pop music history, with the song’s signature flowing ascending and descending melodic interlude.
“What was amazing was coming home from a gig one night and I’m hearing myself on WABC radio in New York,” recalls Bailin. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re on Top 40 radio! ‘ And sure enough, the song shot up the charts. It was amazing to be a part of it, and a life changing event. It was a great thing for Rupert and led to touring and additional albums.”
“And I wanted to say that ‘Escape’ was #1 in two decades – from the end of 1979 to the beginning of 1980,” adds Waller.
As the years ensued, Bailin found himself in demand as a session guitarist in New York City. Some of his credits included work with Gilda Radner, Rodney Dangerfield, Kurtis Blow and many others. From 1985 to 2015 he built a production studio in Manhattan and wrote and produced songs for Petula Clark, Felix Cavaliere and a myriad of NYC solo artists and bands. “I worked with so many diverse people,” explains Bailin. “I had my own studio, could play all the instruments, and charged people by the hour. I saved artists a lot of money doing things that way. Working with so many different people makes you a chameleon, of sorts. It forced me to expand my horizons.”
Bailin and Waller were always friendly to each other over the years playing in various NYC bands and meeting for coffee to talk shop every so often. And then, about five years ago, their creative professional and personal partnership took a significant upward turn. “We set up a meeting to get together,” says Bailin. “I kind of looked at it as a date (laughs). But Jeanne came over and I played her some of the music I had been working on.”
“I knew he played on ‘Pina Colada’ and in some of the bands I worked in. But I had no idea he was such a good songwriter,” says Waller. “I knew people knew Dean as a great guitarist but didn’t know about the songs. And the first song I heard was ‘Enter This Night.’”
The mid-‘60s Motown-influenced “Enter This Night” was just one of a huge body of original tunes that Bailin had stockpiled in his studio since the early ‘80s. The clever and ingenious lyrical and musical pop elements in his songs really spoke to Waller and it offered a sense of creative direction for her in the process. “My background was in musical theater and singing in country clubs and places like The Waldorf in New York,” explains Waller. “But I always wanted to sing pop music. When I heard Dean’s music I said this is the music I waited so long to hear!”
“What got me about Jeanne is she has a remarkable musical vocabulary,” says Bailin. “She knows so many songs from the great songwriters going back to Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and so on. But she’s well versed in pop music from the ‘60s and ‘70s on as well.”
So, about 2015, Waller embarked on a mission to learn the lion’s share of Bailin’s original music library. And her extensive theatrical background provided the groundwork for the next chapter in this couple’s lives as video stars.
As Waller became more versed in Bailin’s material they put together a live act around Manhattan. They developed a nice following where they performed as a duo to backing tracks of many original songs. They were getting a strong reaction at various venues until the pandemic hit in March 2020. “We were devastated,” says Bailin. “We just tried to make use of all the time we were together.”
“Being that we were in Manhattan and the New York area, we were at the epicenter of what was to come,” says Waller.
“The first song that we ever did on video was called ‘Faith, Hope and Love’ and we did it in my living room on March 23rd, 2020, with a cell phone. We dedicated it to all the front line and hospital workers. It was just guitar and vocals. We put it up on Facebook and the response was really nice. I think we must’ve been one of the first ones to post something like this on Facebook. We did it just to say thank you to all these people. We didn’t know what was gonna happen. And when we recorded it I was scared. You can hear it in my voice. We just wanted to help.”
What’s that familiar phrase about life dishing out lemons? The couple loaded a bushel into the musical blender, pressed “chop,” and established a whole new career paradigm. “Dean had this song he had written called ‘Fantasy House.’” explains Waller. “We were pretty good at putting songs together in our head. His songs are very personality-oriented. I saw a movie star, a hippie, Olive Oyl – all the characters mentioned in the song. My theatrical background always had me working out a show in my head. Meanwhile, Dean had mastered this video software so we could do beautiful color and sound. I ordered all these costumes – dresses and wigs and things from Amazon. And because he was learning how to do everything it wasn’t very expensive.”
What led to their video excursions was Bailin and Waller going to see a friend performing at a Lower East Side Manhattan nightclub. Bailin’s high school buddy Jonny Tessler was there capturing the event with a very high-end video camera. Later Bailin took a look at some of the footage and the images were very crisp and clear. Soon after, Bailin approached Tessler about shooting video for a couple of their song projects. Additional accoutrements like green screens and whatnot were purchased, and the trio were shooting their first video forays in Waller’s living room. “The first video we did was ‘Fantasy House,’” recalls Bailin. “And we did it with our good friend and a brilliant keyboard player named Joel Diamond. We were all wearing the masks the whole time except when we were on camera. This was when the pandemic was in full bloom and everybody was afraid of everybody.”
In a matter of 12 hours they shot the video for “Fantasy House” and another original tune “3 Coins in a Wishing Well.” The whimsical and funky “Fantasy House” is a playful romp that employs kind of a ‘80s B52’s meets Tom Tom Club sensibility mixed with “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” whimsy. With the blend of the couple’s dulcet vocal harmonies and Bailin’s hip guitar breaks, the song and video offer a very cool alternate reality. “3 Coins in a Wishing Well” takes another turn to more of a mystical direction. In the video, Waller plays a number of different characters, including a gypsy and a witch. Again, it’s a well crafted and graphically compelling aural and visual experience.
“What I saw from Jeanne was her natural ability to take on different characters,” explains Bailin. “She really rose to the occasion and became those characters. And that’s how we came up with our name of ‘Dean and the Singing Blue Jeannes.’ I would regularly put three or four images of Jeanne in our videos and she could act out and sing all these different parts. It’s a takeoff on that ‘60s group ‘The Swinging Blue Jeans’—you know ‘Hippy Hippy Shake?’”
Arguably, the multiple “Jeannes” concept comes together most effectively on the afore-mentioned “Enter This Night.” It’s a brilliant song inspired by the Detroit Motown experience. As a Supremes-type vocal trio, Waller magically appears on Bailin’s television screen as all three vocalists. They are appearing on the “Ed Sullivan Show” in some sort of time travelling continuum that falls somewhere between fantasy and reality. Oh, and it’s a ton of fun too!
“We’ve started building quite a fan base on Facebook,” says Bailin. “Somehow our videos have been shared over and over. We’ve done a little on Spotify, but have mostly focused on Facebook. We’ve got direct contact with people there. We know immediately who our fans are and we’re up to 4,000 people now.”
“We’ve heard from hospital workers and many other people that our music has given them some joy and has helped them. It feels very rewarding that we’ve offered value to people’s lives,” says Waller.
“It’s been a great ride and this is another chapter,” says Bailin. “We’re having fun, and if cats have nine lives I’d like to think that we’re cats.”