“Holidaze in Hicksville” with Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks at the MIM
Exclusive Interview with Dan Hicks

By Mariah Fleming

Holidaze in Hicksville

Love the holidays but suffer from Christmas fatigue? It’s no wonder! This year, Christmas, complete with its hefty dose of repetitive holiday music, started even before the last Halloween trick or treater left your door. A cure for the holiday ‘blahs’ hits Phoenix on December 21st when Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks fly in on their ‘day glo’ sleigh for the “Holidaze in Hicksville” show at the Musical Instrument Museum at 7pm (mim.org). Tickets are $37.50 to $42.50.

Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks are touring in support of their billboard charting CD, “Crazy for Christmas.” It’s another addition to the immense catalog created by this Great American Songwriter. The release boasts some new original Dan Hicks tunes, some classic tunes and some reworked holiday songs. It’s the hippest, happiest holiday music around, destined to become a holiday staple. Music critics have gone nuts about “Crazy for Christmas”. The San Francisco Chronicle said: “There's no one else who sounds like Dan Hicks, who writes like him, who has that dry sense of humor or has that manner. He's really one of a kind”

“Dan Hicks is imminently engaging, twisting his signature mishmash of damn near every musical style known to man into songs that feel supremely natural. Add to that Hicks’ penchant for writing lyrics filled with a dry wit reminiscent of Garrison Keillor and Frank Zappa, and you’ve got something very strange - very strange and very wonderful” trumpeted the Seattle Weekly.“Carol Of The Bells” [from Crazy For Christmas] is certainly the coolest, best version of this song ever recorded. This song is not only a highlight of this album, but will be a highlight of the entire Christmas season this year and, we can hope, years to come.” proclaimed Suite101.com.

Earlier this week we talked to Hicks by phone about his upcoming “Holidaze in Hicksville” show, his huge 70th Birthday Bash in San Francisco last April, and a host of other things. We’ve interviewed Hicks before and his interviews, just like his concerts, are generous, self-effacing affairs. They’re spiced with quick wit and delivered in an endearing drawl. Hicks spent about 30 minutes with us, and here’s what he had to say:

MAMAZ: What made you decide to make a Christmas album?
HICKS: The record company, Surfdog, had approached me periodically about doing a Christmas LP type thing, and I finally acquiesced. I had lots of Christmas material since the late 1970’s, ‘cause I’d been working for a long time in the Christmas Jug Band, a novelty band with a bunch of guys in Marin County. I haven’t been involved in it in the last few years, but I did five or six albums with them. So I had a lot of material to draw from already.

MAMAZ: How would you describe “Crazy for Christmas” and what’s your favorite cut?
HICKS: It’s got the Hot Licks sounds, you know, the swing, acoustic thing. I guess my favorite cut is “I Got Christmas by the Tail.” I really like the attitude in that one, it’s hip.

MAMAZ: How do your songs come together?
HICKS: They just come together, in a way. Like I’ll have an idea, or a title, or a groove. Some of the songs on this LP are already songs. Like “Christmas Morning” is sung to the melody of “Where’s the Money.’

MAMAZ: On your “Holidaze in Hicksville” tour, is it going to be mostly Christmas songs?
HICKS: (Laughs) “No, I wouldn’t do that to you! We’ll do a lot of signature songs. And we’ll do a Christmas song every third song or so. Some of the Christmas songs are standards, but done in swing arrangements and stuff. Others are originals.

MAMAZ: Your song “Carol of the Bells” has a video that reminds me a bit of Terry Gilliam’s work. You’re known for creating your own artwork and videos. I’ve read that your house is filled with your artwork ideas.
HICKS: I have to hold the record company responsible for that video, really. I came up with the ideas and I credit the people in San Diego who took my ideas, created it and put it together. I just come up with the original ideas and give them to people.

MAMAZ: What was the first song you ever wrote?
HICKS: (Laughs) That’s a good question. The first song I ever wrote was “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away.”

MAMAZ: That’s one of my favorite songs! What inspired you to write that song?
HICKS: That song title was suggested by some guy at junior college. He said to me: “Why don’t you write a song called ‘How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away’?” I hadn’t ever written a song before, and I sort of had this one girl in mind when I wrote it, she wouldn’t leave me alone. When I was hanging around a coffee house in Santa Rosa and I’d sing it.

MAMAZ: Do you have any special memories of Christmas as a kid? Did you celebrate Christmas?
: Yeah, we celebrated, I guess. I was an only child and growing up in Santa Rosa. Yeah, I got stuff for Christmas, but as for singing Christmas carols and stuff, not so much.

MAMAZ: Were you parents musical?
HICKS: They liked music, but no, not really. There’s some great uncle on my Dad’s side who collected violins or something but that’s about it.

MAMAZ: You’re known for the wit in your songs and in your talk between the songs at concerts. Where do you think you got your sense of humor?
HICKS: I got it from a book that I read called “How To Have Great Humor” (laughs) My folks had a good sense of humor. We’d sit at the dinner table, and I’d make them laugh. Being the only kid, you know, I’d like to make them laugh. I was not a class clown or anything. My audiences were small. I was really quiet in school.

MAMAZ: Did your parents get the chance to see your music career blossom?
HICKS: Yeah they did, kind of early, but they did. They went to at least one show. They liked music. They knew about my music. They came to a show once in awhile. My dad saw me perform, but he passed at 68. My mom died in 1974.

MAMAZ: Did they encourage you in music? Your dad was in the Air Force, right?
HICKS: My dad was in the Air Force. Yeah, my parents did encourage me. I started playing drums when I was 10. I played the ukulele, too, I think…yeah, I did. I played a little ukulele. But really, I just play rhythm guitar and drums.

Dan Hicks

MAMAZ: You have a great body of work, and critics have hailed you as “A Great American Songwriter”
HICKS: Well, thanks, that’s nice of you to say.

MAMAZ: This last April you celebrated your 70th birthday with a sold out show at the Louise Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. It was a tremendous show with many guests who came to honor your birthday.
HICKS: It was one of my crowning achievements (pauses thoughtfully) having all the musicians who came there be part of my birthday. It was a big undertaking. We had a lot of great guests. My high school band mates were the back up band.

MAMAZ: You had the original Hot Licks band including Sid Page, Jaime Leopold, Mary Ann Price, Naomi Eisenberg. And guests like John Hammond, Jim Kweskin, Geoff Muldaur, Maria Muldaur, Van Dyke Parks, Harry Shearer, Rickie Lee Jones, Tuck and Patti, David Grisman.
HICKS: Yeah, David didn’t think he was going to be able to make it with his schedule, but he came in the day before the show! It was great. But it was too late to get his name in the program.

MAMAZ: We were there, and my favorite part was the beginning of the show when you came dancing from the wings out on to the stage.
HICKS: (Laughs) Yeah, I thought it would be a good way to start. I’m glad it worked out okay.

MAMAZ: What was your favorite part of the night?
HICKS: My favorite part was playing with my own band, the one I have now. Because we already knew all the songs and it was so relaxed, it was fun. I get inspired with the girls in the band. I like that call and response.

MAMAZ: How many girls have been Lickettes, since the original Lickettes?
HICKS: Well, about ten girls. Fortunately, this time around, these girls, Roberta Donnay and Daria, have been with me for seven years or so. It’s a good thing we have, and it works well.

MAMAZ: I’ve often wondered why, just when you hit critical success, the big time, and got on the cover of Rolling Stone, you decided to break up the band. How come?
HICKS: Well, I think my first record was for Epic in 1969. By the time the Rolling Stone thing happened, I was tired of being a bandleader. And we were all getting kind of bitchy with each other. So it was time to stop.

MAMAZ: When did Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks start touring again?
HICKS: Around 1999 my record company asked me if I wanted to regroup. They said why don’t you try putting Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks together again. So I thought I’d reform and start using the name again.

MAMAZ: I’m learning your song Euphonyous Whale…it’s a great kid’s song. Have you ever thought about making a kids record?
HICKS: No. Well, Maria [Muldaur] makes one every now and then and I’ve sung on hers. As far as doing kids songs, I’ve done some stuff on HBO. You know the show A Little Curious? I wrote some songs for that, six songs. Not performing, but I wrote them. And I did a couple of things for Sesame Street. Four things, I think. It’s animated you know. I was doing the “D” and the “O” songs.

MAMAZ: I didn’t know that, it sounds like it was fun. Thank you for taking so much time to talk to us. It was nice talking to you.
HICKS: You’re welcome. It was nice talking to you, too.

You can contact the author at editor@musicandmoreaz.com