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!


NickS said...

Sad news.

The first Dan Hicks song that I heard was a cover of "Walkin' One And Only" by Stacey Phillips and Paul Howard (sadly not available online) and I loved it. It's a darn-near perfect song. Eventually I tracked down the original but, by that point, I'd listed to the cover so much that I had a hard time getting into Dan Hicks himself -- I kept wanting to hear Stacey's dobro.

I appreciate you including, "I Scare Myself." It's great, I hadn't heard it before, and listening to it makes me understand the original version of "Walkin' One And Only" better. It finally clicks for me.

Also, there is something wonderful about just how freely it borrows from so many different styles of music. That's what makes it pop music; the playfulness and the sense that a song doesn't _have_ to do just one thing, it do five or six, and that's just as good.

Natsthename said...


Anonymous said...

Hi Holly,

Today, when I heard that George Martin had died, I thought I about you. I was sad that you might feel like you had no choice to sit down and commemorate the passing of another musical hero. Your past six blog entries have been celebrations of recently passed performers (5 for Bowie, 1 for Dan Hicks). Maurice White, Paul Kantner, Glenn Frey, Allen Toussaint. Each passing genuinely hurts.

I keep an MP3 library of my favorite music. In that digital form, it's kinda interesting for me to append historical notes to the tracks, such as --

Buddy Holly (2/3/59,22)
John Lennon (1980,40)
James Brown (2006,73)

Buddy gets a specific date because... you know.

But when Bowie died, I couldn't do it. I couldn't update my MP3s with the date of his passing. Too damn sudden, too damn sad. Too damn real.

So I've resolved to remove the obituary dates from all my MP3s, because I can see that if I keep it up, my entire music collection will begin to resemble a grave yard. And that's not right. That is totally opposed to what I love about all of this reckless, timeless, vibrant music. It sure as hell ain't dead.

Holly, I love how you love the music. And these are going to be tough years ahead as our icons and heroes continue to pass. I just want to encourage you to resist the urge to turn your blog into an ongoing memorial.

Write what you want, write what you must, follow your muse. But please: keep telling us about the SONG IN YOUR HEAD TODAY. 'Cause I know you have one...


Holly A Hughes said...

I hear you, Jim. I could never be an obit writer. All the more reason to celebrate these artists when they're still alive and producing...