Manage episode 302244613 series 1228576
Our guest on this episode of Songcraft is musician, songwriter, arranger, and producer Van Dyke Parks. Best known for his work with Brian Wilson on The Beach Boys’ legendarily ill-fated Smile album, Parks has released a number of solo albums, scored several films, arranged countless sessions, and worked with a long list of artists, including The Byrds, Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Little Feat, U2, Fiona Apple, Joana Newsom, and many others.
Scott and Paul chat about why they're approaching this episode a little differently than usual, the saga of The Beach Boys' Smile, and why Paul should stop checking stuff out from the library.
Our in-depth interview with the legendary Van Dyke Parks
ABOUT VAN DYKE PARKS
Van Dyke Parks is one of the more unique American musicians, songwriters, arrangers, and record producers to emerge in the 1960s. Born in Mississippi, he attended the American Boychoir boarding school in Princeton, New Jersey, in his formative years. His first career was as a child actor, appearing on over 100 episodes of various TV shows, including his role as “the kid from downstairs” on The Honeymooners. He did theater and appeared in films, including The Swan with Grace Kelly and Alec Guinness, before going on to study music at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, where he briefly studied with Aaron Copland. In the early 1960s Van Dyke began playing acoustic guitar, and moved to the West Coast where he and his brother Carson performed on the coffee house circuit as a duo known as The Steeltown Two. He landed his first arranging job with “The Bare Necessities” for Disney’s The Jungle Book in 1963 before a brief stint as an MGM recording artist in the middle of the decade.
He is perhaps best known, however, for his collaborations with Brian Wilson with whom he worked as a lyricist on The Beach Boys’ ill-fated Smile album. The pair revisited their work with the release of Brian Wilson Presents Smile in 2004. Though the Smile recordings weren’t released at the time, Van Dyke signed with Warner Bros. Records and, in 1967, released his album Song Cycle, an ambitious debut that incorporated a wide range of traditional American musical influences with experimental recording techniques.
He went on to produce the debut albums by Ry Cooder and Randy Newman, and took a job as an executive at Warner Bros. Records in the 1970s. He became enamored with calypso music in that era, releasing a couple of albums as an artist showcasing the genre, and producing The Esso Trinidad Steel Band. Toward the end of the decade he began composing film soundtracks before returning in the 1980s with two albums of original material, Jump!, which explored the Uncle Remus and Br’er Rabbit stories, and Tokyo Rose, which explored the intersection between Japanese and American culture in the context of a trade war. In the 1990s, he and Brian Wilson teamed up once again to release the album Orange Crate Art. His most recent full-length album as a solo artist is 2013’s Songs Cycled. The long list of musicians Van Dyke has worked with includes The Byrds, Tim Buckley, Harry Nilsson, Little Feat, Steve Young, Phil Ochs, Frank Zappa, Ringo Starr, U2, Fiona Apple, Joanna Newsom, Skrillex, and many others.