on 28 August 2009
John Mendelsohn,writing in Rolling Stone on 3 July 1971 said,
'DAN HICKS is a person of no mean strangeness, a genuine original, and one of the greatest superheroes in all of 20th century popular music. Only an imbecile could be excused for not getting hep to Dan and his torrid accompanists, His Hot Licks, at his earliest convenience.'
I bought Striking it Rich in 1974 and also rate Dan Hicks as a true original in a world stacked full of mere product. 35 years later I find his blend of Western Swing, Hot Club de France and downhome country as wonderfully evocative of backporch America as it was back then and a refreshing antidote to a musical world still stacked full of mere product. Back then, being a player myself, my reaction was, 'boy these guys can really play' now I can see the true craftsmanship that has gone into albums such as Last Train to Hicksville. Striking it Rich has the slightest edge although Last Train has some of the most beautifully crafted, wittiest cameos in the history of popular song. Don't you just want to be nice to the waitress in the doughnut shop? She'll be a grandma by now but ooh that sexy voice- she could give me a rough time anytime she wanted! 'I asked my doctor' is one of the funniest (and weirdest) songs I've heard and 'sure beats me' the number that follows it is the sweetest of Hot Club hokum- what a juxtaposition! What can anyone say about 'The euphonious whale'? Obviously a live tour de force this song begins with down home country blues laced with slide Dobro and mandolin, played utterly convincingly only to change into... but then I shouldn't spoil it for you- when I heard it I laughed out loud.
If you have eclectic musical tastes and dig things from the Andrew Sisters to Frank Zappa, taking in Django Reinhardt, Captain Beefheart and Commander Cody in on the way (okay I was half joking about Zappa and Beefheart but it's just a mark of my admiration for Hicks' stuff)you'll love this record. As John Mendelsohn said in the Rolling Stone, a genuine original. Dan Hicks- one helluva hip guy!
The title of this, Hicks third official studio album with his band, turned out to be prophetic, as after this Hicks disbanded the group. This was the first time the Hot Licks included a drummer, which is alright with me, as I'm primarily a drummer. It's also quite intriguing, as Hicks had himself been a drummer for a while, playing drums with legendary early San Fran psychedelic scenesters The Charlatans. Having joined that group in 1965, he had moved up front from behind the kit, playing guitar and singing in order to do his own compositions, only to leave in 1968 to found his own group.
One of the reasons Hicks has cited for disbanding the group was that he was the leader, and wasn't enjoying that role, especially as the group grew more democratic. I can sympathise, having run my own bands! Here we can hear what this might have lead to, because there are two numbers by other members of the group: Vivando, and Succes, the former written by the groups guitarist and dobro player John Girton, and the latter by backing singer (or 'Lick-ette') and second violinist Naomi Eisenberg (and John Mullins), who also takes the lead vocal on her song. Striking it Rich had featured one Eisenberg song and some 'standards', but was mostly Hicks' songs.
Hicks' humour, and his generally oddball/loner personality, are, as usual, welcome ingredients in the musical gumbo, ranging from the gentle humour of Cheaters Don't Win or Payday Blues to the nutty I Asked My Doctor or Euphonius Whale. There are also the sly self-references: is he perhaps the Lonely Madman, or the hipster Viper? Like The Charlatans, who dressed up as dusty cowboys, and reflected in the music itself - e.g. my Old Timey Baby - Hicks is a bit 'old-timey': 'I long to go where the space is wider / To ride some horseback and to roll my own smokes / Longing to go back where people seem politer', he sings on Cowboys Blues No. 19.
The music itself is the usual gloriously genre-blending, mind-bending melange of country, western-swing, blues, jazz, and so on. Personally I still love the sound, as it feels fully Hicks-ian, in both it's best and worst possible ways, even with the added drums. Some favourites of mine include a number of non-Hicks tunes, such as Girton's perkily Latin-influenced Vivando (on which Rob Scott's drums are particularly nice), Maryan Price's vocal feature, a sweetly sentimental cover called 'Sweetheart (Waitress In A Donut Shop)', and Hicks' own final two numbers, the highly contrasting ''Long Come A Viper' and the beautifully melancholic 'It's Not My time To Go'. Country style vocal yodelling never wounded so plaintive! This last, which appears to be a fairly dark reflection on death, is nevertheless a gem, if a rather maudlin one, and a fitting finish to the official three album run of Hicks and his Hot Licks.
Hicks has been enjoying a well-deserved long and slight return to the limelight, having released Beatin' The Heat in 2000. He even has a new album due out some time this - his 71st!? - year, I believe. A peculiar, singular, and rather wonderful talent well worth checking out.
on 30 November 2013
This was a favourite of mine in the 1970s, and it's great to hear it again. The tunes are strong, the playing slick, the harmony vocals are great, and the songs are eccentric but catchy. It has stood the test of time, and is still very listenable. I wouldn't like to define its genre, but it has elements of jazz, country and western swing. At the end of the day, it's great music!