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Dan Hicks likes folk and all that jazz

Veteran singer brings ‘Hot Licks’ to Grass Valley
By: Paul Cambra, Features Editor
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Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks
When: 8 p.m. Friday, April 12
Where: The Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main Street, Grass Valley
Tickets: $25 members, $28 non-member. Available at Center Box Office (530)274-8384 ext. 14, BriarPatch Co-op Community Market (530) 272-5333 and at www.thecenterforthearts.org

In 1959, Dan Hicks picked up a guitar and dove head first into the San Francisco folk scene. Straight out of college, he got a steady job playing drums with The Charlatans then formed his own band, the Hot Licks.
By 1973, he was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. The next step? Why, break up the band of course. But just as his music is so hard to categorize — Jazz? Folk? Country? All of the above? — Hicks has spent his career on his own terms, playing in various acoustic and jazz combos, all the while exuding his trademark “swing.”
We had the chance to talk with Hicks recently, and asked him about his life, his music and his show tonight in Grass Valley.

You plan to debut some new songs tonight. What are we in for?
“I wouldn’t call Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’ new, but it’s new to us and new to the audience. We’ll do a medley of old standards. ‘Baby, Baby’ is one that I’ve written, and ‘A Little Bit of Crazy for You.’ I don’t write avidly but I write periodically. I know I’ve got some kind of album project coming eventually.”

How close is the current incarnation of the Hot Licks to the original?
“There’s one original guy in it — me. It’s the same kind of formula, or amalgamation — a couple of lady singers, a violin player, string bass. I’m trying to find a backdrop, a Polynesian scene we used in the original years. Cost us 800 bucks, out of some theatrical place in Los Angeles. I still got that. That’s a remaining member who’s showing up.”

You disbanded the original Hot Licks because you didn’t want to be a bandleader anymore. How do you feel about that now?
“I think I’m pretty good with it. I’ve matured some. I think I have more workable, cooperative type people in the group. I like making the group sound. I had a trio, then a quartet, but at the end of the last century I added the girls again. I like being on stage with others, doing arrangements and having them come to fruition. The bandleader aspect I think I’m good with it. It was more of a battle back in the drug addled 70s. It’s a little more realistic now.”

How do you like the road?
“I always say I can stand the travel. I don’t look forward to it. I don’t like it. I don’t think ‘goody goody, let me get in my car and go to the airport … goody goody, let’s get there real late, go to 7-11, oh fun.’ So no, I don’t like the traveling. If I could figure out a way not to do it, maybe have them come to us.”

You grew up listening to country and western on your parent’s radio and your music has been labeled as cowboy folk, jazz, country, swing, bluegrass, pop, even gypsy music. How would you sum it up?
“I’d say folk swing. I liked the folk craze and I was always into jazz. I kind of combined the two. My dad had at least one Bob Wills 78. We went to a few live country shows at the Dream Bowl in Vallejo. Went back there in 1968 with my violin player and saw Bob Wills.”
Who were some of the acts that influenced you?
“Jazz, big band stuff.  Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, can’t really single any one out, that whole roster of good performers. I liked to play jazz drums. I’ve always been sort of a jazzer. I still listen to that stuff on Sirius XM, got it tuned to the 40s station.”

What made you want to do a Christmas album?
“I was just about the only guy who hadn’t done one. Kind of avoiding it I guess. I always did Christmas songs with the different bands so I had a pretty good little repertoire. Surf Dog (his record company) said ‘that’s one of our fortes, so you gotta make one for us.’ I finally did it.”

You earned a degree in broadcasting from San Francisco State. Ever put it to use?
“I guess so, in the whole context of showbiz. I don’t know how much I learned. When I got out of San Francisco State I got right into a steady gig on drums. I’ve done some ads on radio and TV, the Levi jeans ads, some guest DJ spots.”

Any place you’ve never played in your career that you would like to?
“Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London. I’ve never been to Catalina, I’d like to play there. And at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.”

Where do you live these days?
“In Mill Valley, with my wife Clare. She’s my manager. We’ve been married since 1997. I’d been a bachelor to that point.”

Still have a copy of that Rolling Stone magazine?
“Yes I got a couple of them, at least one’s I good shape. I tend to keep a lot of stuff. If something is collectible, I’ll put it away.”