Dan Hicks was the legendary leader of the Hot Licks, a swinging band with a cult following. In the late 1960s he first assembled an acoustic combo with two female backup singers and began performing as Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, perfecting a crowd-pleasing musical style that embraced Western swing, country and jazz, with a comedic flourish.
“My parents liked country music and I started liking jazz in junior high school and put the two together,” he explained before a Maui concert. “Rather than growing up on rock I liked the other stuff. And humor comes easy for me, I like to be entertaining.”
Before forming the Hot Licks, Hicks played drums with one of the West Coast’s neo-psychedelic pioneers, The Charlatans, based at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada.
“The band started playing in San Francisco and our first real job was in Virginia City, an old mining town,” he recalled. “It was the summer of ’65 and Ken Kesey’s bus came through. It was a real scene. The poster for the gig was the first one for underground, long-haired bands. When I quit The Charlatans, more than being in a rock band I was drawn to quieter, more folk orientated music. And I was inspired to write original tunes. I was a little different from most San Francisco acts.”
Hicks and The Hot Licks produced a series of critically-acclaimed albums like “Where’s The Money,?” “Striking It Rich,” and “Last Train To Hicksville.”
Decades later he began recording again with The Hot Licks, beginning in 2000 with “Beatin’ the Heat,” which featured a bunch of guest artists including Elvis Costello, Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Waits, and Bette Midler. Then came “Selected Shorts,” in 2004, with contributions by Jimmy Buffett, Willie Nelson and Van Dyke Parks.
“I got the Hot Licks going again with the girl singers, and I hadn’t really done anything with other people before,” he said. “I thought about people who might be compatible, and I think there was a mutual fan thing going on.”
One of his most recent albums, “Crazy for Christmas,” featured an irresistible collection of revamped favorites and fun originals propelled by exuberant, swing jazz band instrumentation.
Humorous lyrical gems included the opening toe-tapper, “Christmas Mornin’,” which finds Mr. Claus scrambling at the North Pole to get Rudolph to down his beer and the elves to quit their dice game so they can get, “trucking with the toys.”
“I like parodies and take offs and to keep it light, and have a little attitude going,” he noted.