Monday, December 16, 2013

Carry Me Back: Memories of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks and a Christmas Show Last Night

Dan Hicks says he has always had a thing for Christmas as far back as he can remember, and when you get up in years like we are, that's no easy task. Remembering, that is.

We haven't seen Dan for quite a long time, maybe ten or fifteen years or so. The last time I remember seeing him was at an outdoor gig in a park somewhere in or near Sacramento, but I can't remember exactly where or when, though I can recall taking pictures and even possibly a few short videos at the event. But I don't remember where they are. Memory gets complicated.

I remember him performing Kollege of Musical Knowledge at Harlow's in Sacramento, but I'm almost certain I didn't attend. Did see Asleep at the Wheel there, and remember Dan was either going to be there or had recently been, but I can't remember actually being there for his performance.

Then there was the all too brief bookstore appearance (was it a bookstore?) somewhere out in the Sacramento suburbs, before or after the park performance, where we got a bunch of CDs signed. But where or when it was exactly, I can't recall.

Back in the 70's, when we were living in San Francisco, we'd routinely go over the Golden Gate Bridge to Mill Valley and see Dan and the band at Sweetwater and/or the Old Mill Tavern. I'm pretty sure we saw them at both venues. They'd also play in San Francisco at a small venue off of Pine or Polk Street, but I don't remember the name of it. It was within walking distance of our place, though, so that was cool. We also saw them on occasion at a tiny venue on Haight St, the name of which escapes me. We saw them at Winterland and the Fillmore in San Francisco, and at the Palms in Davis as well.

I have a vague memory that after one of their performances in Mill Valley, Dan asked everyone (who was still standing) over to his house after the show. Now what I can just barely recall is that we went to his place, which wasn't far from the venue, and most of the band was there, but Dan never showed up before we left to go back home to SF. On the other hand, it may never have happened... memories are like that.

Although Dan said he has had a thing for Christmas for as long as he can remember, which is probably much longer that I can remember as he just turned 72 on December 9, last night at the South Broadway Cultural Center in Albuquerque we saw his Christmas show for the first time. How we missed it in the past is anyone's guess... you just never know when serendipity will strike and the stars will align, I guess.

What a nice little Christmas show in a nice little theater. The place was said to hold about 300, and it was almost full.

All the gray-hairs were there, and most of them seemed to know one another, so it was a highly social gathering, with much schmoozing and hail fellows well met. I occasionally overheard "when did you first see Dan Hicks?" conversations, and a number of them seemed to have been in the '80's sometime, but I don't recall seeing Dan at all during that decade. For a time, I didn't think there would be anyone under 60 in the crowd, but eventually it looked like some people in their 40's and even 30's showed up, probably musician types of course, and bless their hearts for being there.

Dan Hicks is, well, an elder now, a viejito in the local jargon, and according to the AMP host who introduced him, Dan and company hadn't performed in Albuquerque for... decades. Thirty years or more. Which may be why there were locals who saw him for the first time in the '80's. Why yes, that would make sense, wouldn't it? I wonder why they'd stayed away from Albuquerque.... but then, being as that they are headquartered in Mill Valley, what's to wonder?

Dan mentioned that once they finished this show, they'd be headed back home -- "to San Francisco" he said. "Where the sky was always sunny and the temperature was always in the 70's." Of course this gave rise to gales of laughter. Well, a chuckle or two, at least, from those who know otherwise. Mill Valley (16 page pdf) isn't exactly San Francisco, though. In fact it's quite distinct therefrom.  But it's close enough to be part of the San Francisco Bay Area. Like Oakland and Richmond and Fremont are.

But Mill Valley is not the same at all. It seems remote and rural and... special.

Looking Across San Francisco Bay toward Alcatraz and Angel Island, Tiburon, Sausalito, and somewhere in the distance, off to the left, Mill Valley

There are areas something like that around Albuquerque, especially in the East Mountains along the Turquoise Trail, but I doubt Dan and company know about them, or if they do, I doubt they recognize the similarities. Of course, the differences are stark as well.

It's a different mindset. You might say.

The show was sweet, like a Christmas ribbon candy cake, and funny too and not too loud or too bright, which was nice because there were so many coots and geezers in the audience. Dan himself could have been one of them, though I have to say for a man of his... ahem... age, he's surprisingly well preserved. Pickled, you might say. He used to drink a little, they tell me, but at one of the shows we saw him at years ago, he said he'd sworn off the booze (and I think he said "other substances" too, but it's hard to remember) and was celebrating so-many-years' sobriety. But I don't recall how many.

The show evoked memories, but it wasn't locked in the past, far from it. The closest thing to a flashback I can remember was during the part one finale, "I Scare Myself." It was a clean and lean version of the tune, unlike the versions I can recall from the Old Days, versions that went on for ten-twelve minutes or more and circled around again and again, something like this version at the Warfield a few years back:

That one was... quite a show, what with Maryann, Naomi Ruth, John, Sid and all the other Hot Licks and Lickettes who were still alive and findable together on one stage.

I don't remember whether I was there for that one or not. I think I might have been...

The only song I missed hearing last night was "The Walking One and Only" -- with or without Maria Muldaur. With would be good, though... I smile...

Merry Christmas!

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