Michael Wesley Dean is one of those men you see sittin’ ‘round the fire hydrant like a camp fire in front of Tully’s Coffee, but only in the evening.
He shows up around 5 p.m. and stays for a half hour or so. He is a nocturnal creature. Part writer, all musician. Christian man and cancer survivor.
If the last name Dean sounds familiar, it’s because Michael is the older brother of whom I introduced some time ago.
And if the entire name, Michael Wesley Dean, sounds familiar, it might be from his very long and adventurous music career.
I had no idea! I remember meeting Michael Wesley Dean for the first time in front of Alexander’s Gallery on Main Street. He had written and was performing a theme song for Gary Winter’s new SNGear website launch. I had no idea at the time what a successful and exciting career his musical passions ignited.
He started experimenting with the trombone and trumpet in the fourth grade, but found his calling when he picked up the sax.
“It was the new rock and roll era and I was hypnotized by the wailing saxophones,” Michael says.
In addition to the school band, he began studying with Stan Kenton Band saxophonist Clint Neagley. He credits him, Jim Horn, Big Jay McNeely, Chuck Higgins and Joe Houston for teaching him how to “make the horn sing.”
Michael formed his first rock and roll band during middle school with one friend on guitar and one on drums. They called themselves The Futuras and performed at school dances, on sports nights and for other school functions. Simultaneously, he was the lead alto sax for the school’s 18-piece concert jazz band, but his heart longed to play something more modern. As a result, he began hand selecting musicians from the music department to form his own big band, which played a variety of top-of-the-charts tunes like the Peter Gunn Theme and theme from The Man With The Golden Arm.
By his freshman year in high school, Michael had formed his second rock and roll band, The Del Prados. They enjoyed status as the backup band for Ritchie Ray, and in 1963, recorded The Twirl and Come Back To Me, written by Roy Orbison, which earned local air play.
After visiting rehearsals of another band, Michael was enticed to leave the Del Prados and join The Coachmen, where he played not only the saxophone, but piano/organ, flute, guitar and drums.
The Coachmen performed at L.A. hotspots like the Peppermint Stick, Cinnamon Cinder and Hollywood’s Red Velvet and at the L.A. International Airport to celebrate the arrival of Mexico President Adolfo Lopez Mateos — which turned into an event at the L.A. Press Club, with prestigious guests including President Lyndon Johnson, Jayne Mansfield and her husband, Mickey Hargitay.
The Coachmen eventually signed a contract with Capitol Records and their name was changed to Moorpark Intersection. Moorpark enjoyed a couple years-worth of concert tours and air play and can be found and enjoyed today, courtesy of the Internet.
Michael continued playing music in a variety of groups, including his namesake band, The Michael Wesley Group; The Krabz; The Coloring Book; and The City Limits. He performed with famed drummer Sandy Nelson, and recording artists Ral Donner and Richie Allen.
Sassy Class, a band he played with in the 1970s, performed at King’s Castle Casino, Golden Nugget Casino and Harrah’s and Harvey’s in Tahoe and Reno.
During this decade, Sassy Class shared the bill with Peggy Fleming, the Bellamy Brothers, Bill Cosby and Fats Domino, among others. In 1976, Sassy Class entertained at the Magic Mountain Theme Park's 3,000-seat amphitheatre. After an eight-year journey with Sassy Class, Michael decided to pursue a solo writing and recording career.
By the mid-1980s, Michael was performing under his own name and had created an elaborate MIDI (musical digital interface), which consisted of seven synthesizers linked to high-end computer software. This allowed him to perform as if with a band and to create music from his home studio in Pleasanton.
In 1986, he entered and won a song-writing competition that landed him a grand prize for his country composition, Halfpint of Heaven.
He appeared on the CBS television show People Are Talking to receive his award, which was presented by Grammy-winning songwriter Joe Reposo and his wife, TV personality, Pat Collins.
Shortly after, he won third place Male Vocalist in the Nashville Network, Nashville Talent Show, and second place the following year, and achieved a Top Ten Award in Nashville’s Music City Song Festival with his song, Tonight We’re Walking Home.
The '90s brought many personal and health-related challenges Michael’s way. He was diagnosed with tonsil cancer, and spent several months undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
Side-effects in the aftermath of his treatments brought on still more health challenges until he was battling not only cancer, but lung and heart disease. It certainly looked, for a time, like he would not sing again and would not be able to create music in the same way.
It was during this time that he turned to Valley Community Church for support, and a kind lady by the name of Betsy took him under her wing. Michael explained to me that while the doctors had assured him he was cancer-free, a sudden swollen face and painful upper jaw terrified him with the thought the cancer returned. Doctors were recommending a surgery that would remove a portion of his face. He admitted to himself and close friends and family that he wanted to opt out of the surgery and surrender to fate.
Betsy took him to the pastor and prayer group at Valley Community Church.
“They laid hands on me, and prayed and everything,” he tells me. Then he lowers his head a bit and says shyly, “I don’t know if I should tell you this, but … I had a miracle.”
“Oh, you can tell me anything you want about miracles,” I said. “I’m a believer.”
Michael explained that after they laid hands on him and prayed, he experienced a rare and random bloody nose, but when he returned to the hospital the following Friday, the doctor couldn’t find any reason he should be there. The swelling and the pain had disappeared.
Michael publicly thanked Jesus by providing his testimony during a service Valley Community Church held at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, and he was baptised four years ago. He continues to attend Valley Community Church and continues to make beautiful music.
Michael has authored a memoir about his musical career and personal battles along the way.
It is titled Triumph Over Trauma. He says he hopes to inspire, through his prose and humor and music, anyone who needs encouragement on their life journey. He is also available on commission basis as a lyricist/composer, musician and DJ. You can contact Michael around 5 p.m. in front of Tully’s or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.