Saturday, February 06, 2016

R.I.P Dan Hicks (1941-2016)

Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks / 
"Walkin' One and Only"

Sad news indeed.

As a kid growing up in the Midwest, I never heard of Dan Hicks. At college in New England, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band did float onto my musical radar -- a retro kind of folk-swing-jazz-vaudeville hybrid that was just weird enough for pot-smoking hippies to embrace it.

But I had to move to England before I discovered the Hot Licks. (Who'd a thunk?) There, huddled on a lumpy couch in a half-heated student flat, my friend Craig, who'd gone to college in the Bay Area, spun Hot Licks LPs for me late at night. I was homesick and hungering for a taste of America; who knew that Dan Hicks would so perfectly fit the bill?

Dan Hicks -- an army brat born in Arkansas, who moved to San Francisco when he was five -- formed the Hot Licks in 1967, when Kweskin's outfit was practically at the end of their run, so I suppose Hicks can't be credited with inventing the genre. Still, his offbeat humor quickly took it to new heights.

And as San Francisco briefly became the apogee of the music universe during the Summer of Love, there were the Hot Licks, fiddling and harmonizing and harking back to a between-the-wars sound that may have only existed in Hicks' fertile mind. Sid Page fiddled like Stephane Grappelli while Maryann Price and Naomi Eisenberg sang like the Andrews Sisters, and in the middle of it all was the wry figure of Dan Hicks.

Dig that peppy tempo, the gossipy close harmonies. that little touch of Django Reinhardt in the bridge. This cool dude is out on the town, strutting his stuff, and all the ladies are paying attention. He's more about style than substance -- which, at first glance, was the Dan Hicks thing as well.

But don't be so quick to jump to conclusions. Dan Hicks could plug into existential angst as well.
And that retro thing? Well, what were San Francisco hippies about if not escaping middle-class Eisenhower-Nixon-era values? (And pointing the way for the rest of us.) Dan Hicks served it up with a healthy blast from what was then the past -- and it was just too appealing to resist.

These songs are now, for better or worse, hot-wired into my musical DNA.  I'm incredibly sad that Dan Hicks the man is no more. But Dan Hicks the musical escapist?  His fantasy world lives on and on and on. 

PS: Dan Hicks with the amazing guitarist Bill Kirchen, from Bill's delicious 2010 album Word to the Wise.  This song makes me laugh out loud every time I listen to it. Enjoy!