“Dan Hicks is an American original…” — NPR’s All About Jazz
An early pioneer of the San Francisco psychedelic scene, singer-songwriter Dan Hicks blends elements of swing, jazz, folk and country music to give him the moniker of the reigning “King of Folk-Swing.”
Having recently celebrated his 70th birthday with a big, sold-out bash at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, Hicks is plunging full steam ahead championing an amalgam of styles pioneered by Jimmie Rodgers, Django Reinhardt, and Bob Wills.
Hicks’ birthday celebration stands out as one of his favourite memories throughout his career.
“A good memory of my career is the recent grand concert in San Francisco for my birthday with 20 famous guest performers and an audience of 3,000,” he said. “Another good memory is all the great shows I’ve had and feeling like a million bucks after they were done. If you want to borrow money ask me after one of these gigs!”
It’s all rolled into an entertaining string band format, complete with plenty of dry wit, and traveling a musical trail that has won a loyal following of “Hixsters” from around the world. As one of Dan’s songs puts it, “You got to believe!” Crazy for Christmas and Tangled Tales are his most recent recordings.
Growing up in Santa Rosa, California, Dan Hicks’ first instrument was drums. By his early teens, he was playing in jazz groups and looking to get into the radio announcer business. He took up guitar in 1959, just in time for the folk music boom of the early ‘60s, eventually joining a folk/rock band called the Charlatans.
The Charlatans, after a long residency at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, became an early participant in the San Francisco Sound of the mid-’60s. But Hicks had other ideas. He opted out of the electric rock sound to pursue a decidedly retro, acoustic approach. Incorporating acoustic guitars, violin, acoustic bass, and two female backup singers, Hicks pulled in the jazz influences of Le Jazz Hot’s Django Reinhardt, the twangy western swing of Bob Wills, and the sophisticated harmonies of Swing Era vocal groups.
The Hot Licks split up at a career highpoint in 1973, leaving behind several recorded classics, including Where’s The Money? and Strikin’ It Rich. Hicks pursued a solo career for the rest of the ‘70s. He resurfaced in the ‘80s with the Acoustic Warriors, a quartet based on his earlier style, but minus the backup vocalists. The popularity of the Acoustic Warriors eventually inspired Dan to form a revamped version of The Hot Licks in 2000, complete with a new set of Lickettes. Since then, the millennium version of Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks has been going strong with new songs (as well as the longtime favourites), new recordings, and international tours, playing to an ever-growing cadre of fans.
Hicks has seen a lot since he began playing music in the late ‘50s.
The music industry has changed and evolved in ways he never anticipated.
“What surprises me the most is that all these things happened,” he said about iPods, iTunes and the new music industry. “Things disappeared that I liked — album art work, CDs, cassettes, liner notes. It’s the devil’s work I tell you!”
Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks play The Royal on Thursday, June 14.