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Van Dyke Parks on Mighty Sparrow and The Esso Trinidad Steel Band

by Denise Sullivan - Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

The legendary arranger, songwriter and musician Van Dyke Parks  ...still stands by a statement he made of Esso, those years ago: “The greatest group I’ve ever had the privilege to produce.” Like his calypso brethren, Parks may’ve been bloodied, but his confidence in the art of calypso is unyielding. “All of the bravado of such poverty—poor people speaking plainly, representing the disenfranchised—is what calypso is all about,”   

When 80,000 barrels of oil spilled into the waters of the Santa Barbara Channel in January of 1969, the crude-splattered water, beaches, and birds along the California coast in its aftermath became the symbols of modern eco-disaster. While the ensuing public outcry helped hasten the formalization of the environmental movement as we now know it, for musician Van Dyke Parks, the spill and “the revelation of ecology,” as he calls it, was a very personal, life-altering occasion. “It changed my M.O. and changed my very reason for being,” he says. The Union Oil rig rupture in Santa Barbara made Parks go calypso.


The Esso Trinidad Steel Band - 1971

“When I saw the Esso Trinidad Steel band, I saw myself in a Trojan Horse,” he says. “We were going to expose the oil industry. That’s what my agenda was. I felt it was absolutely essential.” From 1970 to 1975, Parks waged awareness of environmental and race matters through the music and culture of the West Indies, though in the end, “You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. That’s what makes Van Gogh go,” he says, “That’s what great art does.” Though Parks is referring directly to Esso Trinidad’s happy/sad steel drum sounds, he could just as easily be talking about his own experience during what we’ll dub the Calypso Years.

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Trinidad have never honored the Esso Trinidad Steel band for playing at the Universities in United States. This band combed state to state in America. Starting, New York, North Virginia, South Virginia, North and South Carolina, Arizona, the whole length of California etc. Then they played at Navel bases in California, New York, New Mexico. There music was ranged from concerts to dance music. This discussed me it was never mention at home as a great band which many home bands were honored. It also had Command performance before royalty. The band delayed the yacht Britannia for its performance.

The point is Courtney, Pan will never reach where Esso Trinidad(Tripoli) reached. & Expo '67 in Montreal too. I understand your disgust but dais how it is in T&T.

hey Van Dyke! remember me? "jozef and his many colored coat" from The Bakery recording days! Brian Wilson featuring Robert Greenidge! those were the days! little did i know i would be following in your foot steps somehow but on my own path,,"Pan Man" in Maya Land! hope you're doing well,,miss your humor! wow what a rich legacy you've led and Ms. Sullivan has captured it eloquently! thank you TRINIDAD!

Hey Leiba. Nobody in T&T knew when and where TRIPOLI Iwas playing . I grew up liming on Finland street with untin,Frank,Charchy,Fat Keiith and others. They never kept in touch with anybody.Only when they started playing with Liberace we started to get a glimpse of what they had accomplished. Not even Boboy Borde really relayed to the Trini public the strides that Tripoli had made.Even when some of them returned home they ended up like recluses. Charchy is the only one who played pan when he returned home. He played with Pandemonium. None of them spoke about their experiences in North America.I played with Tripoli in 1965. I am from Cawnpore street I St James' I know all those guys. I staged a benefit concert and Bar-B-Q for Untin. He nor Frank never shared anything with any of us who used to 

I'm sure u noticed my previous reply was unfinished. Computer glitch. Yeah tne Tripolians who returned home stopped communicating with everybody. Charchy lived and  died like a  vagrant in P O S. I talked 2 him several times, tried 2 get his story. As meh Grandmother would say " he uttered nary a word". Only recently on WST I saw 4 d first time d documentary with Tripoli players on d bus traipsing thru the US. Only then I got a glimpse of what u guys achieved during those years. No marketing and promotion was done . Don'tblame us 4 not appreciating what we don't know.I rest my case. 

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