This month we bring you a 1973 show recorded before an in person audience for an LA college radio station featuring Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks.
In general, rock and roll will always have its fair share of protagonists who will look at what the mainstream folks are doing, and think “not for me”. Whilst the mainstream goes right, they go left. They pursue their own path. Sometimes it pays off; artists such as Tom Waits have managed to stay outside the ‘business’ of ‘show business’; they’ve ploughed their own furrow, and there’s an audience that’s willing to go along for the ride.
One such artist was the late Dan Hicks, who passed away in February 2016, aged seventy-four, succumbing to liver cancer. Hicks had only the most remote of brushes with fame and fortune; his music was of such an idiosyncratic nature that it was unlikely to appeal to the masses. It encompassed Western Swing, Gypsy music, Country, Dixieland Jazz, and many other points of the musical compass. He referred to his music as ‘Folk Swing’, and, as those were his own words, that’ll do, but in reality, that barely begins to cover it.
Hicks formed the acoustic group Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks in 1968. After adding a pair of female backing vocalists, the “Lickettes", the group issued its debut LP in 1969 followed by a pair of records in 1971. They then issued Last Train To Hicksville in 1973 which proved to be their most successful album yet.
Hicks and the Hot Licks were engaging, entertaining and mercurial in a live setting, and highly likeable on record, but they were never an ‘easy sell’ to a record buying public in thrall to Hard Rock, the ‘California Sound’, as well as emergent Glam Rock. There was however a certain emotive heft to what Hicks & The Hot Licks could cook up. This is music that has the power to inveigle itself into your consciousness without the use of Volume Violence or excessive musical indulgence. It has that most underestimated of musical values – you know it when you hear it – charm.
Hicks disbanded the Hot Licks in 1974 in favour of solo projects and working with other acts, including the Acoustic Warriors. One of The Lickettes, Maryann Price joined The Kinks shortly thereafter and then Asleep at the Wheel in 1980 before relocating to Austin for good in the late Eighties, where she lives and records.
Hicks wasn't the only Bay Area musician delving into country & western music in the late Sixties. A Texpatriate named Doug Sahm was also in San Francisco shifting the sound of the Sir Douglas Quintet from rock to country. Subsequently, both men were marginalised into cult followings by their dedication to and pure love for a non-commercial sound
Through a whole host of different line-ups and names (Dan Hicks and His Acoustic Warriors was a more recent incarnation), the core appeal is the same; great music, excellently played and stylishly put together. It’s safe to say there is no other Dan Hicks anywhere near the horizon – he was a unique character that today’s music scene just somehow cannot produce.
The circumstances that produced Dan no longer exist but the music is here to be enjoyed, and Dan would have wanted you to do that.With thanks to Alan Robinson