Sharp Dressed Man 

40 years in, Dan Hicks is still sportin' hot licks and kicks

Odd timing paired with a quirky timeless quality has played a significant role in the life of folk-rocker Dan Hicks. For instance, there was the time Hicks appeared on a 1973 cover of Rolling Stone in a striking pose with a nude woman.

"I remember I was down in L.A., and I was trying to pick up this chick, impress her. And it was the day before Rolling Stone came out," says Hicks. "My timing was off; I couldn't use that as a cool tool."

Hicks' career has been peppered with periods of high success and inactivity. He has been everything from a psychedelic troubadour to an acoustic warrior since he surfaced nearly 40 years ago with mid-'60s folkies the Charlatans. His most lasting persona, though, is as frontman for his 35-year-old band of chick singers and fiddlin' hipsters, the Hot Licks.

By joining the Charlatans -- one of the earliest combos to emerge from San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury -- in 1965, Hicks found an outlet for his preferred version of folk rock. As timing would have it, the Charlatans have been credited as the first proto-psychedelic band -- preceding trippier contemporaries such as Moby Grape and Jefferson Airplane -- though Hicks never really saw it that way.

"We never thought, 'We're psychedelic,'" says Hicks. "For me, it was more sort of that dance hall thing. Quicksilver Messenger Service -- that kind of stuff is psychedelic. We kind of played old-timey folk rock, really."

2000's Beatin' the Heat was the first release from Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks since 1973, and for the last four years, Hicks and Co. have been going strong, playing to both those who first saw them in the early '70s and those who have found a spot on the current Americana bandwagon. The group's most recent CD/DVD release, Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks, documents a 2001 live performance involving almost everyone with whom Hicks ever played.

Hicks creates dusty stories that exist somewhere between the Old West and twisted romantic jazz landscapes. His creative arrangements find him giving all band members, including the piano-top worthy Lickettes, an equal role in the conveyance of his wagon-wheel muse and steel-on-steel strum.

"I lay out an outline," says Hicks. "Lately, I've come up with more instrumental ensemble stuff with guitar and violin -- the lines, the fills. I'll work with a tape recorder, do some vocals and lay all that out. Here's what the girls sing: Come in with 'do-whop-a-do' right there, then you sing these lyrics with me. I'll get it as arranged as I can."

A modern day Hot Licks show continues to embrace Hicks' edict, "If you look sharp, you are sharp." Dressing well has always imbued a level of musical class, and Hicks & the Hot Licks always wear clothes.

"I may have inherited that from being in the Charlatans," says Hicks. "They wanted to have some kind of continuity. I got under their influence as far as wearing stuff to the gig. I inherited that taste, or consciousness of it, when I got my own band. With the Hot Licks, I never dictated anything, just, 'Don't wear jeans and a T-shirt.'"

"I just feel better, personally. I feel like a performer. I like to look as good as I can. It's certainly not as important as getting the music down -- 'I hope you play a good solo' has precedence over 'I hope you got a good pair of two-tone shoes.'"

Taking a break from working on new Hot Licks and Christmas albums, Hicks & the Hot Licks are taking their charm, class and danceable swing jazz on the road. Although Hicks doesn't live the psychedelic lifestyle anymore, he still embraces the attitude.

"It's all still there and I'm kind of glad. It's what I am," says Hicks. "I didn't get out of the Haight-Ashbury and become a computer dork. I'm still the same guy, really, I think."

music@creativeloafing.com

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