Alive and Lickin' | Music Feature | Indy Week
Pin It

Alive and Lickin' 

Legendary '60s West Coast guitarist Dan Hicks resurrects his string band, the Hot Licks

At age 60, Dan Hicks may be the most under-appreciated singer-songwriter to come out of San Francisco's summer of love, but it's not for talent or want of trying. The guitarist can swing like Django and scat like Ella, but his arch sense of humor informs a cast of hipster characters worthy of Tom Waits.

An Air Force brat from Little Rock, Ark., Hicks grew up listening to Country & Western music and started out playing drums in a jazz combo. He picked up the guitar to front the Hot Licks, which--beginning in 1969--released four albums that remain unparalleled for their masterful string band arrangements, exquisite melodies and note-perfect three-part harmonies. Not to mention their sense of humor, epitomized in tunes like "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?"

Their popularity took them to Johnny Carson's Tonight Show and twice landed Hicks on the cover of Rolling Stone. But following the band's breakup following 1973's Last Train to Hicksville, Hicks never seemed to get his due.

In 1975, he wrote the soundtrack for Ralph Bakshi's animated feature, It Happened One Bite, but the film never got released, leaving Hicks' soundtrack to languish in vinyl cutout bins, where diligent searchers might still find it today. While the equally droll musical comedian Martin Mull graduated to acting gigs in films and on TV shows like Roseanne, Hicks, a consummate musician, couldn't surpass his original success.

But he continued to play, assembling The Acoustic Warriors, a band with an even tighter and wide-ranging hold on Hicks' mix of gypsy swing, folk and jazz than the Hot Licks. And his sense of humor remained evident, whether in his tortured lyrics ("My mother died from asbestos/ My father's name was Estus") or his longing to be abducted by aliens ("Hell, I'd Go!").

Following a 1996 reissue of music from Hicks' acid-soaked '60s band, The Amazing Charlatans, their cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Codeine Blues" made its way onto the Boys Don't Cry soundtrack. Beatin' the Heat, released in 2000 and billed as Hick's first new recording with the Hot Licks, actually featured only one of the original members (violinist Sid Page) but made up the difference with a series of all-star duets with Elvis Costello, Rickie Lee Jones, Brian Setzer, Bette Midler and Tom Waits himself.

Alive & Lickin', his new release, does serviceable remakes of original Hot Licks material in a live setting featuring none of the original band--but it's notable for featuring straight-out versions of jazz standards like "Caravan," and "Four Brothers," along with the hidy-ho call and response of "Four or Five Times."

The Triangle's Bill and Libby Hicks (no relation) are fans, too: Their South of Nowhere CD features covers of two Hicks tunes. And Hicks' deadpan patter at live shows is worth the price of admission: During an extended tuning break on 1994's Shootin' Straight, he admitted, "We're not the Grateful Dead ... they can play for seven hours in a row and not tune once." EndBlock

More by David Potorti

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Music Feature



Twitter Activity

Most Recent Comments

I am a Cohn Bros. fan whatever the subject and I thought the movie was great. I agree with Stewart …

by where's the beef? on Fifteen Years Later, Bluegrass Is Still Reeling from O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Music Feature)

I appreciate the need for a focus word, but surely most of the music in "Oh, Brother" is from the …

by Stewart Sandison on Fifteen Years Later, Bluegrass Is Still Reeling from O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Music Feature)

This is a great article. And thanks for the links. I've just raided the entire Kossoy Sisters catalog

by Eryk Pruitt on Fifteen Years Later, Bluegrass Is Still Reeling from O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Music Feature)

You need to add Cardboard Fox to this group. This young group of musicians from Bath England put the International …

by apexwiner on The Less Expected: IBMA Acts to Catch Off the Main Stage (Music Feature)

See her sing live! It's transcendent

by Andrew 1 on For Thirty Years, Cult Hero Syd Straw Has Stood Strong on the Cusp of Fame (Music Feature)

Comments

I am a Cohn Bros. fan whatever the subject and I thought the movie was great. I agree with Stewart …

by where's the beef? on Fifteen Years Later, Bluegrass Is Still Reeling from O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Music Feature)

I appreciate the need for a focus word, but surely most of the music in "Oh, Brother" is from the …

by Stewart Sandison on Fifteen Years Later, Bluegrass Is Still Reeling from O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Music Feature)

© 2016 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation