Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dan Hicks -- Dead, Dead, Dead

"I Scare Myself" at the Warfield, San Francisco, December 9, 2001

Musicians from the Old Days have been dropping dead left and right lately, but this is a hard one for us. I would almost go so far as to say Dan was a friend, but that's going too far. He had lots of fan-friends who he wouldn't know from Adam or Eve, they were just folks who wandered into -- and out of -- his long and storied life.

When we lived in San Francisco in the mid-Seventies, Ms Ché and I would go out to the Sweetwater in Mill Valley practically every weekend when Dan Hicks and whatever assembly of Hot Licks, Lickettes and Acoustic Warriors he could get together were playing. The Sweetwater was a smallish bar with a stage at one end, and we'd stay for hours drinking and carousing, and Dan and the band would sometimes play quite long into the night beween their own bouts of drinking and carousing among the fans and patrons. One time I remember it was very late, probably closing time, and he invited the remaining bar patrons out to his house for a jam session with Sid and Mary Ann and Naomi, and so we went to where he said he lived, and sat on the glassed-in porch, waiting. But Dan never showed up. It may have been somebody else's house for all we knew, or just as likely he got way-laid along the way -- and forgot.

His persona was ever casual and laid-back, utterly imperturbable. A friend to everyone, a master of none. He was Just Dan, Plain Ol' Dan, an easy-going country boy, or so it seemed, yet he burst on to the counterculture music scene in the '60s and never looked back.

He was never a huge star, no, for Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks was a novelty act by category. They were throwbacks to another era, but just what era was never quite clear, sometime in the '40s maybe, maybe not. They accessorized in a Victorian manner, in fact they were one of the first San Francisco bands that I remember which used the then-plentiful remains of Bay Area Victoriana in costumes, on stage visuals, and seemingly their lifestyles.

Their evocation of times past was part of their appeal.

We first saw them in San Francisco around 1969 as second billing to another group, probably British, at the Fillmore. I think. Well, one's memories of those times are always hazy at the best -- "if you remember the '60s you weren't really there" and all that. I remember being quite taken with them in person. I'd heard them on the radio and was familiar with some of their music, but seeing them live was a treat. I don't remember who the headliners were.

We still have most of their albums from that era, but don't ask me where they are, because I don't know. I know where a couple of the CDs are because we bought them at a performance maybe ten years ago in Sacramento -- "Last Train to Hicksville" and a couple of others -- and had them signed by the always-gracious Mr. Hicks (by this time he was old and courtly enough to be a Mister) and his then-current line up.

That was a funny show. There wasn't a large audience (maybe 150 or so) and some were calling out "Where's the Money! Do Where's the Money!" Or "I Scare Myself!" and he refused to play them, at least for the longest time. "Nope, nope. You've heard them before. Many, many times. We're doing our new music now."

Eventually they were persuaded to do "Where's the Money," but I don't think they ever did do "I Scare Myself" that time.

Dan Hicks and the various incarnations of the Hot Licks and Lickettes was one of the few Bay Area bands that wasn't so full of itself that they wouldn't come to the Central Valley to play a show now and again.  For so many artists in every field in California, the Valley is Terra Incognita, a country that is filled with monsters and otherwise bewilderingly foreign. Even as close as San Francisco was, the Valley was way too far away for comfort. But Dan didn't seem to have any qualms at all about venturing forth into the Darkness of Davis and Sacramento and even Roseville, omg.

So we saw them as often as we could, the last time in Sacramento at Harlow's, an intimate bar not unlike the Sweetwater. At least I think we might have seen them there. Memories fade. It was about a year before we moved to New Mexico.

Guess what? We get to New Mexico in the fall of 2012 -- we have not been back to California since -- and the next December (2013), who shows up in Albuquerque but Dan Hicks doing his Christmas Show at the South Broadway Cultural Center. Of course we had to go.

He said he'd never played Albuquerque before; he didn't know why. Or maybe he did play Albuquerque, forty years ago, and he didn't remember. He'd played Santa Fe plenty of times, but never Albuquerque -- that he remembered.  The house was full, and not everyone was a geezer, though there were plenty of geezers in attendance. Some of them remembered more than he did, more than I did too.

It was nice to know that not everyone who remembered him was pushing a walker around, though.

Not yet, anyway.

It was a memorable evening, Christmas or not, and yes, they did do "I Scare Myself" without hesitation, but this time they didn't do "Canned Music" despite the pleas from the crowd.

Afterwards, we chatted a bit, and I mentioned those weekends at the Sweetwater, and he chuckled at the memory, if he remembered. Turned out there were several others in attendance who had Sweetwater memories, and we got to wondering how we'd wound up in the Land of Enchantment rather than sticking around in California, particularly the Bay Area. Well, some of us thought California was becoming uninhabitable, but Dan still lived in Mill Valley, and he said he couldn't imagine living anywhere else. It was his home-place, and no matter the changes -- there have been so many -- he wouldn't want to up and leave for, say, Albuquerque or even Santa Fe for that matter.

Dan was looking thin. I wouldn't say he didn't look well, because for a man of his advanced age he looked pretty fine, and the show was solid and close to two hours. He came back a couple of more times, the last time just a year ago, February 6, 2015. He looked even thinner, and this time he didn't stay for meet and greet. It was the last time we saw him. According to what I read today about his death, he was already quite ill with throat and liver cancer, but you wouldn't know it from his performance. Not even a hint.

Sorry to see him go, but as Ms Ché said when she heard the news this morning, "That's life. I'm glad we got to see him before the end."

Here's a link to an interview in Local IQ that may expand a bit on what I've written:

Local IQ

Something from the Sacramento Press about the Harlow's performance in 2011 together with a whole lot of history, too.

Sacramento Press

One of the underappreciated songs from Striking it Rich:


  1. Some time before 1977, I attended a major concert event in the UCSD Gymnasium featuring Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks appearing together with the legendary Don Nix and his band. 1970s style of rock and roll flyers were printed up making a little play on words on their names rhyming.

    I was quite young. This was also back in the day when the crowd was free to smoke herb out in the open with no pat-down search at the door. I only remember two things. The sound check/entrance music featured songs from Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," in particular, "Time." More importantly, the last song of the night saw Don Nix's band return to the stage to join the headliners for a stompin' rendition of Don Nix's classic "Goin'Down" with something like twelve or fourteen musicians with two drummers and two grand pianos just tearing it up. Absolute rock and roll history.

    1. Wow. That is really something. Rock and roll history indeed. Thanks for posting that memory here. It's a wonderful compliment to our own -- somewhat hazy -- memories!