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.”