A child of the 1950’s, Van Duren was born in Memphis, Tennessee—the cradle of the blues and rock and roll. Leading his first band at the age of 13 in 1966, he began his recording career in 1975, becoming one of the pioneers in a genre later dubbed “Power Pop”. Working at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Van recorded a number of song demos with Big Star drummer Jody Stephens including several produced by legendary producer Andrew Loog Oldham. While the demos were shopped to labels, Stephens and singer/bassist/pianist Duren joined forces with Big Star singer/guitarist Chris Bell and bassist/guitarist Mike Brignardello to form the Baker Street Regulars. The band played around Memphis in 1976, with a set list that included Big Star, Bell’s solo material, and songs written by Duren. Parting ways mid-year, Van continued with a trio called Walk ’n’ Wall featuring Brignardello and drummer/vocalist John Hampton.
In June, 1977, Duren bought a one-way ticket to New York City, landing as a guest in an efficiency apartment in the East Village, sleeping on the floor. Commuting by train that summer to a Connecticut studio, he recorded his first album, Are You Serious?, singing all of the vocals and playing most of the instruments. The record was released in March, 1978, on the small indie label, Big Sound Records. Receiving rave reviews in the music press, Are You Serious? got moderate to heavy airplay on over 100 FM stations around the US. The first version of the Van Duren Band toured the Northeast United States for months, playing to ecstatic crowds.
A followup to the 1st album was written and recorded through 1979 at the same studio, this time including great Connecticut musicians including drummer Mickey Curry, bassist Steve Buslowe, pianist Jeff Batter, and guitarist Tom MacGregor. The album, Idiot Optimism, was finished and mixed in early 1980. Big Sound, now morphed into a different struggling label manned by Scientologists, refused to release it. In 2000, Air Mail Recordings in Japan finally licensed and released the album, 20 years after it was completed. Many music fans today consider Idiot Optimism to be ahead of its time and a masterpiece of pop/alternative music.
Returning to Memphis in the early 1980’s, Van formed a new band called Good Question with some veteran players, soon becoming one of the most popular live bands in the region. They released their 1st album, Thin Disguise, in June, 1986, garnering local FM airplay and brisk sales. Good Question went on in various incarnations for 17 years, with Duren as the sole original member and songwriter, playing over 2000 shows. A second album, Chronicles, was recorded at Sun Studio (released in 1991), and a live album is in the vault as well.
Meanwhile, in 1990 Duren reconnected with the New England singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Tim Horrigan, now transplanted to Los Angeles. Co-writing and recording over the next few years in LA and Memphis, the friends produced 15 songs, which were finally released in 2012 on the LP, Her Name Comes Up. Their collaboration continues today.
At the end of the 20th century, Van joined with old friend and Memphis power pop legend, Tommy Hoehn, writing and recording songs together at Ardent Studios. The resulting albums, Hailstone Holiday (1999) and Blue Orange (2002) were brimming with sophisticated pop songs and brilliant playing. A third album was discussed, but it was not to be. Hoehn passed away in June, 2010, after a brutal battle with cancer.
Van produced two more solo albums, recording and playing most of the instruments in the manner of Are You Serious? although the material had a decidedly more adult content and challenging musical direction. The albums, Open Secret (2005) and Resonance Road (2010) contain some of the best Van Duren music created so far.
In 2012, Duren began a partnership with another longtime acquaintance, singer/songwriter Vicki Loveland. The duo wrote and recorded two albums, Bloody Cupid (2013) and Next (2016), and are currently touring with their band. Loveland Duren is an eclectic mix of both artists’ influences, from blue-eyed soul to alternative rock featuring the powerhouse voice of Ms Loveland. More recordings are ongoing, with an eye towards a new album and broadening the range of the band’s touring.
Suddenly, in 2016, two Australian gentlemen discovered the first two albums—and were floored. Wade Jackson and Greg Carey were so intrigued and moved by this music that they decided to make a film about Are You Serious? and Idiot Optimism and their journey to the US to find the source. Making their way to LA, NYC, Connecticut, Nashville, and finally Memphis, Jackson and Carey discovered a story far deeper than they expected, interviewing over 40 people who played on and where involved in those records as well as Van’s friends, family, and more recent collaborators. Along the way, the guys from Sydney started a new company named after one of the AYS? songs — Grow Yourself Up — while taking on Van’s long-neglected management. The film is in production with a projected 2018 release. Cartoons included.
The tale still unfolds. Van Duren continues writing, recording, and performing, never bowing to the flavors of the month or stylistic limitations. Through it all, he has followed his own muse, bringing songs and recordings to life that move and inspire the listener. Van Duren’s music is always moving forward. And it is timeless.