Beat of a different drummer (VIDEO)

With a well-worn drum stick in one hand, Jay Parks holds a percussion instrument that he crafted himself and calls a “flower.” Parks plays drums in his van for hours a day (and night) at Walmart and other local parking lots.

With a well-worn drum stick in one hand, Jay Parks holds a percussion instrument that he crafted himself and calls a “flower.” Parks plays drums in his van for hours a day (and night) at Walmart and other local parking lots.

It’s an eye — and ear — catching scene: a nearly 64-year-old man playing the drums out of his van in the Walmart parking lot on Stadium Boulevard, often for hours a day and late into the night.

For Jay Parks, music has been the one constant harmony in a life often filled with cacophony.

Parks views his musical ability as his “mission” to simply see smiling faces. After getting a complaint once — which was justified, he says — he’s toned down his drumming and soundproofed his van as best he could.

But he has no intentions of quitting.

“I have such a love relationship going with so many people who expect me to be here, even if they think I’m weird,” he said. “I just get too many thumbs up. I get too many beautiful smiles from children skipping.”

He’s also gets occasional donations, although he doesn’t seek them. One woman gave him $95 in the middle of the night.

He spoke to a reporter on a recent morning after parking his van in a

semi-shaded area in back of the Walmart lot. He wore a black T-shirt, black mesh basketball shorts and a black ball cap. It was 10:30 a.m., and beads of sweat were forming on his nose and face as he gravitated from his life story to various homemade percussion instruments that he plays along with his drums.

Parks himself is mostly smiles, and doesn’t dwell much on the rough life he’s sometimes led.

He describes himself as the son of a “wanna-be” opera singer. Parks learned to play the drums at age 5 and soon was playing other musical instruments. His family moved quite a bit when he was a kid, and he’s traveled around the country considerably in his adult years.

As a young man, he turned down a job with IBM. Always marching to the beat of a different drummer, Parks just couldn’t see himself wearing a collared shirt, working regular hours in a desk job.

Parks wanted to get a degree in electronic engineering. He wound up running an electronics shop. He also worked on sound systems in Branson for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Roy Clark and others.

He’s gone through divorces, and a house fire with no insurance. He’s survived pneumonia and a wreck when his car went over a cliff. About three years ago, Parks had a leg wound from walking into a trailer hitch that resulted in a $48,000 hospital bill and nearly cost him his life. The tornado that hit Joplin last year tore the roof off his trailer.

Since then, he settled in Russellville, but is now semi-homeless. He owns a cabin, but a lien was put on the property, which has been sold. He says he still has a few weeks to reverse that process, and he’s hopeful he can.

He’s been married several times and is separated from his current wife. He has two sons from his first marriage. His daughter died six years ago from an illness related to her brain stem. He keeps a photo of her in his van, and chokes up when talking about her.

Much of his work in music has been through churches. A Christian, Parks grew up singing and playing in churches. Now, he’s self employed, surviving on income from his Parks Organ Service, 573-418-7676, which he’s owned for 40 years. Much of that is church organ repair.

That’s just a part-time job, which leaves him with lots of time for drumming. He estimates he spends 40-50 hours a week playing his Peavey drums to music on his CD player. He configured his drums and cymbals to fit into his green ‘86 Ford Aerostar, and he’s played at Walmart and other local store parking lots for more than a year. If he gets calls to fix organs in Linn, Versailles or Eldon or other Mid-Missouri cities, he plays in parking lots there, too.

Parks fancies himself as a “gypsy minstrel” who plays for others’ enjoyment. “My main love of music is watching others be inspired, and sometimes (see) a smile and a skip in their step,” he said.

News Tribune Video

Beat of a different drummer


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