It’s been up and down and back and forth between musical styles and even different instruments for Dan Hicks over his four-decade career. He played drums with the Dixieland Dudes in junior high school, later switched to guitar and folk music in the duo Dick & Dan, played drums and electric guitar in the early psychedelic band the Charlatans, then switched to a combination folk-blues-jazz-old timey sound with Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.
There were other groups — the Acoustic Warriors and Bayside Jazz among them — but Hicks is now fronting the latest incarnation of the Hot Licks — Hicks on guitar and vocals, Roberta Donnay and Daria on vocals and percussion, Paul Smith on bass, and Benito Cortez on violin and mandolin.
Cortez is the newest member; the others all perform on the group’s most recent album, “Tangled Tales,” which features two new Hicks tunes, a few reworkings of older originals, and both lively and low-key covers.
Of the laidback, jazzy “Song for My Father,” written and originally performed as an instrumental by Horace Silver, and later vocalized by Leon Thomas, Hicks, talking from his home in northern California, said, “Hearing Leon’s version was where I got the idea to do a vocal of it.”
Oddly, the lyrics, mostly in English, suddenly change to Spanish.
“Well, there was a point when we were trying to get a few guests for the album,” explained Hicks. “I’ve always tried to get Linda Ronstadt to do something with me, so we contacted her people. But they said that Linda only sings in Spanish now.”
Hicks laughed at that memory, mentioned that his bass player, who speaks Spanish, translated the whole song, and then Ronstadt’s people were approached again.
“It was like, ‘OK, Linda, here’s a song we’d like you to be on, and now it’s in Spanish. What say you?’ Well, that didn’t work out, but now we do part of it in Spanish.”
Hicks gives major props to the long ago Boston-based Jim Kweskin Jug Band, and said that’s where he got the idea to record “The Blues My Naughty Baby Gave to Me.”
“The song goes back before them, of course, it’s kind of like a Dixieland tune. But I knew the Kweskin recording. It was sort of like the folk thing went ragtime, and got jazzier, and there was bluegrass and stuff, and then there was the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. They were a big influence.”
Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks first popped up on the San Francisco scene in the late-1960s, put out an album on Epic Records, changed management, changed some of the lineup, signed with Blue Thumb Records, and made a splash, but never had any hit singles.
Page 2 of 3 - Actually, there was one other change: a slight one involving the name of the band. Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks was modified to Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks.
“That was for the third album of the band that existed at the time,” recalled Hicks. “I think I got the original idea from Spike Jones and His City Slickers. But ‘the’ felt like it sounded better, and maybe they were becoming less mine.”
Asked if he believes he’s been treated well by the critics over the years, Hicks pondered the question for a few moments, then said, “I think so. You know, concerts are reviewed a lot less now. It used to be I would play a town, and the next day I would go right to the newspaper stand and see what had been written. Those days are over, but I think it’s been pretty good. Usually the people that write about me are in tune with it. They’ve gotta be sort of a jazz-oriented type. That’s the kind of music it is, so a guy that worships hip-hop and a whole bunch of loud stuff probably isn’t even going to want to write about it. But in my world, it’s been good. Of course, my world hasn’t extended out to pop singles and that kind of stuff, but in my world I get treated well.”
Hicks usually doesn’t hit the stage with a prepared song list, opting instead to play a variety of things. So while he’ll likely do a couple of tunes from “Tangled Tales” at TCAN, he could easily break into gems like the peppy “Shorty Falls in Love,” the sad-funny “Payday Blues,” or what comes closest to a signature song, the haunting “I Scare Myself.” There’s no doubt that he’ll also bring along something else he’s known for: a mix of gentle, sometimes goofy humor, and just the right amount of sarcasm.
“You know, I think I’m less angry now,” he said. “Back in the ’60s and ’70s I was more confrontational. I’m nicer now. I still try to be funny, and I still have an attitude going of some sort. But back then I was sort of profane, and now I’m not that.”
Neither is he vain. Even though he’s written dozens of fresh, wholly original songs, he’s hard pressed to explain what he’s added to American pop music.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’m a little island from all the loud stuff,” he said, laughing. “I hope I’ve given an introduction to jazz to people who wouldn’t have been introduced to it. That’s part of it. When I listen to Harry Connick Jr. or Brian Setzer, I might not like all they do. But they’re playing jazz to the pop people in the pop market. And that’s a good thing because I’m a jazz fan and, I hope, a jazz artist.”
Page 3 of 3 - MetroWest Daily News