DAN HICKS’ TALES
By Paul Freeman
The music of Dan Hicks has demonstrated a timeless appeal. “I’m a swing fan - the Benny Goodman era of jazz,” Hicks told the Daily News. “It doesn’t seem like it’s old to me. If it’s good today, it’s going to be good tomorrow. Good taste is good taste.”
The Mill Valley resident never tried to be trendy. “I don’t think I ever jumped on a current thing. Like, now we’re all going green, boy, I’d better get my green songs in. I just do my thang.”
The Hicks thang involves saucily swinging sounds and wonderfully witty lyrics. He began as drummer for legendary San Francisco band the Charlatans.
More at home in the acoustic world, he veered to guitar and vocals, becoming part of the Bay Area folk singer/songwriter scene.
He eventually added instrumentalists and female singers. Hicks’ influences ranged from big band swing to Sergio Mendes to such folk groups as Peter, Paul & Mary, the Kingston Trio and the Rooftop Singers.
“I don’t feel like I’m a retro thing. I’m just drawing from different periods that I have an appreciation for. Since I’m writing my own tunes, there’s also a kind of contemporary thing going with the lyrics.”
Hicks’ humorous patter added to audience enjoyment. “A lot of acts would have a repetitive kind of intros, saying the same thing every night. I have to entertain and surprise myself and the band, as well as the people.”
With tunes like “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?” and “Where’s The Money,” Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks drew a diverse crowd.
“In the beginning of the ‘70s, we had the free-form radio. I was able to play Winterland right along with the Kinks and all that stuff. I wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll, but somehow I got on rock’n’ roll bills and in rock ‘n’ roll categories in record stores.”
He continues to make his eclectic music. His latest release is a hard-to-resist new CD, “Tangled Tales.” The album features a number of great guest musicians, including David Grisman, Charlie Musselwhite and Roy Rogers. But the big attraction are Hicks’ engaging songs and his clever, deceptively intricate arrangements.
“I enjoy figuring out the breaks and fills, the ensemble stuff, when the girls are going to sing, all of that.”
Hicks, who’s been writing songs for over 40 years, says the process doesn’t get any easier. ““Actually, it might have been easier back at the beginning, when all the ideas I hadn’t done yet. All the subject matters and chord changes and grooves were fresh and new to me.
“I used to sit with the guitar and write every day, put in time and enthusiasm. I’m not as avid right now. I don’t have that urge that much. I will still do some creative stuff. But I almost feel like I’ve written enough songs... or I could feel that way, if I wanted to. I’ve got enough tunes here for one person. I’m not a full-time songwriter guy. It just isn’t me. I think more about the singing and performing.”
Having just returned from dates in Japan, he’s looking forward to the the Little Fox show. “Knock on wood, I still get to perform, like this date in Redwood City, and I can still get up my enthusiasm for it. I’m not on the stage watching the clock. But I’m usually happiest when it’s over and we’ve done a good job.”
Outside of his Hot Licks appearances, Hicks relishes gigging with Bayside Jazz, performing standards. “I still aspire to be a really good jazz singer. I used to want my own sitcom. ’I don’t have those kinds of goals anymore. I know better. I just want to keep going. That’s my goal.”
Hick recalls “Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing,” a documentary about Benny Goodman. “The narrator, David Strathairn, talks about the big band days - doing their laundry, up half the night, sleeping on the bus. He says, ‘What keeps them going? The music.’ I figure that’s it.
“No matter what you’ve got to go through, the music is what it’s all about. It’s possibly the most important thing in your life, as opposed to sports or politics or gardening. Music has always been my main interest. I don’t really have a lot of other interests. I just like getting up there and playing.”