Van Dyke Parks
A true renaissance man, few people have seen or shaped more of modern American pop culture than he has. Tune in for a chat with Van the man!
Born 1943 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Van Dyke Parks is probably one of the most interesting figures in American popular culture. From working with The Beach Boys to helping a struggling calypso band, from playing beatnik folk bars to arranging “The Bare Necessities” for Disney’s The Jungle Book, he has seen and shaped more of it than most people know. After studying at Carnegie and in Pittsburgh, he learned to play guitar and relocated to California where he became a fixture on the local folk circuit, known for his musical abilities and his wide knowledge, as well as the willingness to share it. Signing his first artist contract with MGM in 1964, he moved on to Warner where he released a remarkably expansive album called Song Cycle that went on to become one of the lost classics of the era. Van Dyke Parks also produced the first records by Randy Newman and Ry Cooder, while keeping a steady sideline as a session musician and as a songwriter, which is how he came to work on the ill fated Smile project with Brian Wilson, whose tracks “Heroes And Villains” or “Surf’s Up” have certainly stood the test of time. While Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys fell apart over Smile Mr. Parks kept himself busy with producing, working with The Esso Trinidad Steelband, pioneering the audio/visual department at Warner Brothers and doing more work for film companies. There are few people who have perfected the art of making art happen like Van Dyke Parks, be it as a songwriter, lyricist or arranger. With current artists from Joanna Newsom to Danger Mouse still standing in line to work with him, he has kept his musical chops, wry humor and stern beliefs in fine shape.