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April 5, 2008

Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks

Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks were the unofficial successors to Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band. They were smart, weird, catchy, fun, and highly musical. And they sounded entirely unlike the Kweskin band, or anyone else for that matter. In an era dominated by snot-encrusted, bellybutton-gazing, semi-literate, mirror-fixated, testosterone-deprived, over-medicated, self-appointed prophets of a particularly lifeless strain of homogenized, lyrically depraved, self-indulgent faux-poetic songcraft (John Denver, Leonard Cohen, James Taylor, and that ilk), Dan Hicks stood out from the crowd. And remember, we are not even mentioning the ocean of mediocrity that was 70s rock (a few exceptions notwithstanding). If the '70s singer-songwriter scene had a single saving grace, musically, it was Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks (Tom Waits running a close second).

Hicks was supported in his eccentric folk-jazz efforts by a stellar group of musicians including John L. Girton (lead guitar), Sid Page (electric violin), and the Lickettes, who offered off-kilter backup vocals and percussive asides. While, with the exception of the fiddler, virtuosity is never a focal point, the group has a fully-developed sound that is totally integrated and unified.

But it was really his songwriting that made the band. His lyrics were some of the sharpest-tongued, dryest-witted, and subtly hilarious bits of irreverence ever committed to rhyme. And he set these lyric gems to quirky, quiet, quagmiric tunes that traded on a bagful of jazz chords and an irresistibly propulsive rhythm. This music gets under your skin, and the lyrics are set loose upon your unsuspecting brain. It's one hell of a good time. In his delightfully demented music, Glenn Miller-style vocal harmonies mesh with cowboy songs, Hot Club swing meets the laid-back groove of an opium-drenched Hawaiian harem. Add a cast of bizarre characters to populate his narrative songs, a East-European classical bolero flair, and ironic choreographed dance steps, and you have the makings of a beloved freak show, fully deserving of the cult following they garnered. And, of course, like Kweskin, Hicks broke up the band at the height of its popularity because he "just got tired of being a bandleader."

There was no one who sounded at all like Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, and remarkably, 35 years later, there still isn't. We are again in an age of introspective sensitive singer-songwriters. Our current age prides itself on its eclecticity, with the new wave of freak-folk becoming dubiously popular. But the king of hipster-sheik will always be Dan Hicks (though Tom Waits, Leon Redbone, and Captain Beefheart hold their own beside him).

Luckily for us, he has emerged from the cloudy waters of obscurity, re-assembled the Hot Licks, and is recording and touring again. Show us the way, Dan.

Recorded live at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, "Where's The Money?" was originally released on Blue Thumb Records. It is now available on CD from MCA Records. The innovative LP cover has a fold-over flap at the top, and the album cover opens to reveal the song lyrics.

"Where's The Money?" introduced us to the best-known Hot Licks lineup, including Lickettes Maryann Price and Naomi Ruth Eisenberg. The album also features some classic Dan stage-patter ("You probably think it's easy being up here. Singing and everything, and playing. It's not. It's not easy. Thank you.").

Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks - Where's The Money?
Year: 1971
Label: Blue Thumb (reissue by MCA)
where is it?
mp3 160kbps | w/ cover | 45mb

& here's a radio ad for Where's the Money, as performed by Hicks&Co

This studio album was originally released on Blue Thumb Records, and is now available on CD from MCA Records. The original LP cover is designed to resemble a matchbook, and indeed, "Striking It Rich" matchbooks were distributed by Blue Thumb as promotional goodies. The album sleeve showcases Dan's talents in prose and graphic art, including an entry coupon for the "Dan Hix Lookalike Contest".

One of Dan's most-covered tunes, "Walkin' One And Only", appears on this album. The most familiar versions of "I Scare Myself" and "Canned Music", arguably Dan's best-known songs, are also here.

Maryann and Naomi each take a solo turn, with (respectively) "I'm An Old Cowhand" and "Presently In The Past". John Girton wrote the instrumentals "Flight Of The Fly", "Philly Rag", and "Fujiyama". Jaime Leopold's "Skippy's Farewell" features a memorable "Meet The Band" rap.

Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks - Striking it Rich
Year: 1972
Label: Blue Thumb (reissued by MCA)
strike it.
mp3 192kbps | w/ cover | 58mb
this zip has two versions of track 1: one cd rip with a minute missing from it, and one vinyl rip of the whole song. sorry. if you want the whole album in a better bitrate (but vinyl), get it at Pecks Spet Rips or buy the damn thing.

oh, and if you like him, you'd better go check out his incredibly hip website and get some of his new albums. I posted these because I have a funny feeling MCA isn't giving him squat for royalties, and the exposure should serve him well. But really, his new recordings are just as good, and his singing is better.

from that website you can also see a video clip of Jukie's Ball and read a fantastic article from Oxford American Magazine


Anonymous said...

So Happy To Hear That Mr. Hicks Is Still "Kicking"!!! After All These Years I Still Listen To His Lp's Every Time I Want To Cheer A Bit My Spirits And Look At Everyday's Pressures With A More Optimistic Eye! I'm Not Surprised Finding Mr.Hick's Music In Your Blog!!! You Really Got Taste!!! Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!! Lefteris From Crete-Greece.

Exposing Dana Houle said...

thank you so much for the Dan Hicks post!!!!

I love Strike it Rich! that is such a great album. Can't wait to put it on again!

Thank you! your music taste is superb!

David Federman said...

To build up Dan Hicks at Leonard Cohen's expense is needless and silly. Both of them would say this. I love your blog, but I will not take sides in pointless culture wars. By all means, laud those who deserve it, but please leave proven "snot-encrusted" masters whom you do not like or appreciate alone.

The Irate Pirate said...

if i did not go off on pointless, rampaging diatribes against certain unjustly popular icons, i would not be fit to wear the 'Irate' honorific title. Cohen has built a career on monosylabic rhymes delivered in a monotonous voice with an unceasingly maudlin and morose demeaner. I do actually like some of his songs when they're performed by other musicians, for example Jeff Buckley's version of Hallelujah is outstanding. But that's because of Buckley; Cohen's version is two-dimensional.

like Zhao said on Different Waters:
"hate to invoke the somewhat cliche adage of the first world making depressive, whiny pop music, and the third world expressing nothing but unadulterated and unstoppable JOY through their celebratory grooves... but it's often true isn't it."

Anonymous said...

shit, man, you are killing me! this is my favorite hicks album. our taste seems to run up similar vines.

thanks much

also for the vassar/tut jam album - hartford's aereo-plain is a fave and anything else with these guys is worth pursuing -

glauberovsky said...

what money?? well, i don't know where the money is, but the album is awesome! thanx...

GLAUBER [brazil]

Eternal Leathers said...

" ...semi-literate, ...over-medicated, self-appointed prophets of a particularly lifeless strain of homogenized, lyrically depraved, self-indulgent faux-poetic songcraft"

If you think these epithets describe anything at all about Leonard Cohen, you are either unfamiliar with his work, or you are a tremendous fool.

Judging by your apparent good taste, I'm leaning towards the former, in which case you're hardly qualified to slander him. Which in of itself puts you squarely back into the latter category.

"Cohen has built a career on monosylabic rhymes delivered in a monotonous voice with an unceasingly maudlin and morose demeaner (sic). I do actually like some of his songs when they're performed by other musicians, for example..."

hmmm, on second thought, maybe you're just an idiot.

The Irate Pirate said...

Let the flames rage!
Well, just to see if I was missing something I gave a fresh listen to old Leonard. And, sadly, I still find not much to like. His singing is subdued, to the point of sounding just lazy. His voice has about a six-note range. His sense of timing leaves everything to be expected. His guitar playing is pleasant background music, but nothing to brag about. His melodies are fairly easy and endlessly repetetive. Occasionally, he uses interesting instrumentation, but the jews harps and scratched strings don't do much but keep time. His lyrics may be his only saving grace, since other artists have covered his songs to good effect. On occasion, they conjure memorable images. But for the most part, they rely on overused poetic metaphor. And they are mono- or duosylabic. It's not that he's noticeably bad, he's just, well, boring.
And his songs become good only when transformed/performed by people who are actually good singers and instrumentalists, such as Tori Amos, Jeff Buckley, Dave Van Ronk, et al.

But please, tell me exactly what you think. You have a right to be as pointlessly opinionated and self-righteous as I.

Eternal Leathers said...

Yes, I'm sure in the two hours that passed between my comment and your response you gave a good honest listen to his 20 or so albums. And maybe read a couple of his books, too, no?

You've obviously heard one or maybe 2 different albums. Have you even noticed any anything he's put out in the last 10 years? I doubt it. 'I'm Your Man' basically discredits everything you've said.

In decades of devoted listening to his so completely un-maudlin poetry I still catch something new. Yes, his voice is mono-syllabic. He's a poet who sings, it's not opera. Is Bob Dylan's work as worthless to you, too? He's no canary.
The same could be said for quite a few 'third-world' stars who's music comes from somewhere else than the vocal chords. And anyway, Zhao wasn't referring to anyone in the
same galaxy as Leonard Cohen.

You're certainly free to dislike his voice and chord selection and to expound on that, provided you actually listen to a good selection of his songs first. But if you're going to print words for thousands to see you should watch what you say. And if you want to be taken seriously as a critic/reviewer than you should learn to distinguish between your own misinformed opinions, and sweeping judgements of the worth of an artist's career, especially one as respected as Leonard Cohen.

If you would just admit that you were thinking of John Denver or James Taylor, both of whom your rant accurately though harshly describe, and threw his name in there based on some quick prejudice, I'd forgive your slander.

Thanks for an otherwise great selection of music, anyway.

Slidewell said...

This is blog is the greatest! I come to the comments section to share the love for one of my all time favorite artists, Dan Hicks, and I get the added benefit of witnessing a world-class food fight over the merits of Leonard Cohen! Ha! Excellent and erudite discourse, gentlemen, but let's get back to the staggering, blinding, sheer genius of our man Dan. As a sixteen year old fan of Jethro Tull in 1972, I went to a party where this surfer dude in a Hawaiian shirt was playing guitar and singing songs back behind the garage. This guy was doing old timey, bluesy and swingin' kind of tunes, and I was totally captivated. I told him how much I was digging his playing and he told me I should go out and buy records by this guy Dan Hicks. I never saw the surfer guy again, but his recommendation started an obsession with Hicks that has not abated after all these years, leading, along the way, to learn Hawaiian guitar and start my own band. As you may know, Dan's not a guy who's out looking to make friends, and can be rather dismissive, but after seeing him play one time in the late '80's, I approached him after the show, and after telling him ooh, you're the greatest, etc. . . . which was meet with a wince and a nod, . . . I handed him a cassette of our band and told him that he had inspired us to go out and make up our own twisted versions of old pre-War music. I think he genuinely appreciated the fact that we had, in our own modest way, tried to express the influence he'd had us. He may have thrown our cassette out the window of the tour bus, but I did get a glimpse behind Dan's Smart-Ass facade for just a moment. Thanks, Dan. If there were any real justice in the musical universe, Dan Hicks would be as revered as Leonard Cohen, (that over-rated windbag).

Oops! Now I've done it.

brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

You'll excuse me if I sidestep the Leonard Cohen discussion, other than to say that his first three albums made me a strong believer that not all songwriters (and he's written some good ones) are singers/performers and that I recognize this is my opinion and only my opinion.

I'd very much like to see the posting of the Last Train To Hicksville and It Happened One Bite albums by Dan Hicks (and the Hot Licks).


Frank S. Hurrat