Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks

Update – Dan Hicks died of cancer in February 2016 after I wrote this. He was 74. 

Not exactly sure what made me think of these guys, but this is a band that was popular largely in the early ’70’s. Their sound is best described – and I quote here from Wikipedia – as “cowboy folk, jazz, country, swing, bluegrass, pop and gypsy.”  (Allmusic calls it “hipster acoustic swing” while Hicks himself says his first loves were jazz and folk music.) If you’ve never heard them before, what could that possibly sound like you might wonder. Check this out:

How could this somewhat esoteric ’40’s-sounding music in any way be considered popular? Well you have to realize that that period of time was pretty fertile and anyone who had a good, unique sound was a candidate for a record label and not shunted off to some indie category to be heard by twelve people in some dingy little bar. Hicks was on the cover of Rolling Stone! I recall seeing him on Flip Wilson’s variety show!

And while at that time I confess to being somewhat of a hardcore rock and blues fan, this music was so refreshing and so different that it caught my ear much in the same way that The Band did for so many rockers. (Eric Clapton, who’d been playing very loud free-form blues, actually wanted to join The Band. But I digress).

Anyway, here’s a beautiful song that captures another side of the band. It’s been fairly well covered, most notably by Thomas Dolby. (I think a lot of people believe he wrote it but Hicks did after smoking pot and getting paranoid. But it’s not really about that).

It’s worth noting that the group at this time consisted of 5 people variously singing (Hicks and two women), lead and rhythm guitars, violin, mandolin, string bass, and “rhythm instruments.” (No drummer even though Hicks started out as one.). As part of my research for this, I found out from Hicks’ web site that he has been diagnosed with liver cancer. So, I wish him a speedy recovery.

And BTW, just because Hicks’ heyday was a while ago doesn’t mean he’s been doin’ nothin’. He still plays live (or at least until his diagnosis). And while he doesn’t put out a lot of albums, he did release one in 2000 with guest stars such as Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Ricky Lee Jones and Bette Midler. (Hicks called this a mutual admiration society). Here’s a song with Midler called “Strike it While It’s Hot.”

2 thoughts on “Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks

  1. Now you’re really getting to it. I am without a doubt one of the biggest lovers of this guys music. Whether it’s the ‘Hot Licks’ the ‘Acoustic Warriors’, solo or whatever. He brings a blend of styles that I can’t get enough of. The musicianship is top notch. Sid Page is something else. I could listen to him play all day. The example above is perfect. Dan was fantastic live. I was a little worried when he disbanded the ‘Hot Licks’ but he continued to make great music. ‘Shootin’ Straight’ with the Acoustic Warriors is a great live album. You get a feel of his live performances. He also had a wicked sense of humor and it comes through in this album. Thanks man. There’s a few of us still spreading the word. Dan was a beauty. (CB has a piece on ‘Last Train to Hicksville’ waiting to be released to the masses). Just looking a head at this month (Oct 2015) you have some pieces i’m looking forward to.

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  2. Yeah he was great. (For anybody who might stumble on this post, Hicks died after this post in Feb.. 2016.) It was very refreshing to these ears to hear his distillation and combination of sounds. Who sounds even remotely like him today? Pretty much nobody.

    Liked by 1 person

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