Dan Hicks’ signature blend of music is a cross-section of American folk and jazz/blues, that also veers toward some witch’s brew of gypsy rock and swing guitar, a concoction that he himself dubs “folk-jazz.” A legend in his own right, Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks pioneered through the 1960s burgeoning folk music scene and shattered all preconceived notions of what American songwriting sounded like with his own special blend of acoustic melodies. Yet, there remains a small portion of the world where this very singular American singer/songwriter is still a relatively unknown phenomenon, and should you happen to belong to this small faction, prepare now to be converted.
Dan Hicks was born in 1941 in Little Rock, Ark., to a career military family that subsequently relocated to California when Dan was just 5 years old. They eventually settled into Santa Rosa, a beautiful cross-section of California’s wine country and sprawling farmland, just north of culture mecca San Francisco. Oddly enough, Hicks began his musical endeavors — which would eventually lead him to twice gracing the cover of Rolling Stone magazine along with musical collaborations with quasi-analogous singer/songwriters Tom Waits and Elvis Costello — as a drummer, first playing the drums for a folk-rock band called The Charlatans. Noted as a dysfunctional, conceptual group of guys, The Charlatans managed to land a brief stint as the house band in the summer of 1965 at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nev., where he would often sing and play guitar on some of his own original tunes, though the band never enjoyed any real commercial success.
These originals eventually lead to the creation of Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, an acoustic group with a unique sound unlike any ever heard at the time, featuring two female backup singers he called “Lickettes.” He and his Hot Licks started out modestly enough, performing as opening act for The Charlatans but soon after, Hicks quit The Charlatans to pursue making music solely with the Hot Licks. This move immediately proved to be more fruitful than his previous endeavors as the band soon signed a record deal with Epic Records and put out a debut record in 1969 called Original Recordings.
Soon thereafter, with album sales for their debut soft and waning, Dan and the Hot Licks underwent some internal changes and re-emerged a stronger, more successful group that went on to produce three more commercially successful records for which he is better known for today, including the 1973 highly anticipated release of Last Train To Hicksville, which garnered the band most of its critical acclaim and landed him on the cover of Rolling Stone and a mention in Time Magazine. His lyrics run the gamut from the introspective and thoughtful to the remarkably funny and absurd as demonstrated in the song title “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away” though he’s probably best known for the songs “I Scare Myself” and “Canned Music.” In 1984, Thomas Dolby covered “I Scare Myself” on his album “Flat Earth.”
To everyone’s surprise, at the peak of their success, Hicks suddenly withdrew from the limelight and announced the disbandment of the Hot Licks in 1974 with internal issues noted as the widely speculated cause of the break up.
Hicks then fell a bit into obscurity while pursuing an understated solo career that included composing music for television and movies, and later forming The Acoustic Warriors (who in 1996 released a CD called Shootin’ Straight) until 2000, when he released his first studio album since 1978 titled “Beatin’ the Heat,” on Surfdog Records. “Beatin’ the Heat” marked the revival of the Hot Licks moniker as well as the traditional Licks format complete with his female backups. The album was met with rave reviews and considered an extremely successful comeback album that pulled out all the stops with featured guest performances by Elvis Costello, Bette Midler, Brian Setzer and Tom Waits among others. Elvis Costello has said of Hicks, “Dan is an American treasure. ‘I Scare Myself’ and “It’s Not My Time to Go’ … I think they’re two of the best songs ever written.”
And now, the music world waits in anticipation as the highly colorful and humorous songwriter prepares the release of his latest album “Tangled Tales,” set to hit stores March 24. Tangled Tales embodies the singer’s outlaw attitude, counter-culture mystique, subtle melancholy and dry wit that have surrounded him throughout his career and of which he’s built an empire on.
Now, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks will be performing a once in a lifetime show at the Belly Up in Solana Beach on March 25, just a day after “Tangled Tales” is released. Tom Waits once hailed Dan Hicks as “fly, sly, wily and dry!” and Bette Midler called him “lightening in a bottle!” Don’t miss your chance to catch this counter-culture American songwriter play in one of the most intimate venues in all of North County. Tickets for this personal show are on sale now at www.bellyup.com.
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