Dan Hicks’ Class Act
A little knowledge is good, a lot of knowledge, well, if you are a fan of “Old –Time” Rock and Roll as well as other closely related musical genres as the 200+ fans who packed Harlow’s recently can attest, “The Kollege of Musical Knowledge” as taught by Dan Hicks is an essential requirement for all who have ever turned on a radio, or applied needle to vinyl, or most recently, downloaded a song or two.
“The Kollege,”according to Hicks, was inspired by a 1930s to 40s radio program with the same title, a popular quiz show with music hosted by the swing-era bandleader Kay Kyser.
But instead of asking questions, "Professor Hicks” shares songs and offers tuneful history lessons reaching back into those same decades.
The curriculum, all performed by Hicks’ current troupe of “Hot Licks” and “Lickettes”, covers early blues, jug band music, swing, 1940s pop, cowboy songs and bebop. It continues up through the folk years with some of Hicks’ songwriting contemporaries: Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Tom Waits and concludes with a few of Hicks own hits as well.
Professor Hicks has the background, experience and talent to not just teach but also, “demonstrate” an advanced class of “Music Appreciation.”
Dan Hicks, born in 1947, started his musical apprenticeship as a young man growing up in Sonoma County. First influenced by his parent’s love of country music, by the time he started Jr. High he had also developed a taste for jazz, blues, and big band music. He played drums in mostly swing type bands in Jr. High and high school, were Hicks also established an interest in broadcasting and had a rotating spot on a daily 15-minute local radio program called "Time Out for Teens".
Hicks entered San Francisco State College in 1959, eventually earning a degree in Broadcasting. He took up the guitar around ’59, becoming part of the San Francisco folk music scene, playing and singing in local coffeehouses.
In the spring of 1965, Hicks became the drummer for an evolving San Francisco folk-rock group called “The Charlatans.” Thanks to the owner of the now famous “Red Dog Saloon” in Virginia City, Nevada, “The Charlatans” also spawned what would become known as the psychedelic rock era brought to San Francisco by club’s like the Avalon, the Fillmore and the Matrix owned by Gary L. Jackson and also made famous by other bands added to the bill such as Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brither and the Holding Co. and Jefferson Airplane.
Dan had other ideas about the kind of music he wanted to make, and began putting together an acoustic combo which included two female backup singers, who were christened "Lickettes". Billed as Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, the group began as an opening act for The Charlatans. However, Dan soon left the Charlatans and focused his energy on the Hot Licks.
In 1969, their efforts resulted in a recording contract with Epic Records.
After some personnel changes, and a deal with Blue Thumb Records, what had then become the "classic" Hot Licks ensemble went on to produce the critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums "Where’s The Money?", "Striking It Rich" and "Last Train To Hicksville". But, owing to pressures both internal and external, Dan broke up the Hot Licks in 1973, at the height of the band’s popularity.
Dan then began a low-key solo career of acoustic performances. He wrote music for commercials, television, and movies, including the music for a never-released Ralph Bakshi(Fritz the Cat and Mighty Mouse; The New Adventures) animated film. That music was eventually packaged and released in 1978 by Warner Bros. Records as "It Happened One Bite", with cover artwork by Dan.
In the 1980s, he formed The Acoustic Warriors, a male combo with whom he toured. In 1994, they recorded the superb (and now out-of-print) live CD "Shootin’ Straight", for the Private Music label.
Dan signed with Surfdog Records in 1998. "Beatin’ The Heat", Dan’s first studio opus since 1978, featured a return to the Hot Licks name and format – complete with new Lickettes – and was released in August of 2000. It garnered rave reviews, and was chosen by Time.Com as one of the Top Ten CDs of 2000. A live CD ("Alive & Lickin’") soon followed.
In September of 2003, Surfdog released a DVD/CD package featuring much of Dan’s 60th Birthday Bash concert, as well as interviews with musicians of note speaking about Dan’s influence.
2004 saw the release of "Selected Shorts", a dynamic and critically acclaimed studio CD, featuring contributions from such stars as Jimmy Buffett, Jim Keltner, Gibby Haynes, Van Dyke Parks and Willie Nelson.
Bruce Foreman, who performed on Dan Hicks’ 2009 release, “Tangled Tales,” that also includes guest appearances by the likes of David Grisman and Roy Rogers also fondly referred to Hicks as his “Musical Tour Guide.” “Working with him was a great experience; [I] have always admired Dan and his music. On the twelve string solo on ‘Blues,’ he was giving me playing instructions in my headphones; “Play low, now some jazzy stuff…now go crazy!” … was fun, like having an alter ego that could sing and swing.” Foreman explained during a recent interview.
For those who may have missed Hicks recent appearance in Sacramento or need more of his “Hot Licks,” there are two other performances scheduled nearby in the not too distant future. One is booked for October 22 in the town were essentially his long musical trip began, Virginia City, Nevada at the historic Piper Opera House, and in December Hicks will feature songs from his fabulous Christmas extravaganza album, “Crazy For Christmas” and bring the show "Holidaze In Hicksville" to the “Grass Valley, Center for the Arts.”