What: DAN HICKS & THE HOT LICKS Perform “TANGLED TALES” & post show CD signing
When: 1/19, 8:00PM
Where: Scottsdale, The Compound Grill
Tickets: $30 + tax

The “Fly, Sly, Wily, and Dry!” Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks Land in Phoenix
An Exclusive In Depth Interview with Dan Hicks

By Mariah Fleming

Dan Hicks relaxed

Tom Waits calls Dan Hicks “fly, sly, wily, and dry!” Anyone familiar with the music of Dan Hicks knows why. Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks touch down in Phoenix this Thursday January 19th for a show at the Compound Grill. Hurry up, grab your tickets and put on your dancing shoes.

We talked to Dan Hicks a few days ago, and it seems unbelievable that this legendary great American songwriter has just turned 70. He’s happy, alive and kicking. And fortunately for us, he’s back on the road in support of his most recent five-star masterpiece, “Tangled Tales.” It delivers eight great new original tunes that feel like instant Dan Hicks classics along with some choice cover tunes. Featuring a world-class collection of musical talent including instrumental virtuosos David Grisman, Charlie Musselwhite and slide-guitarist Roy Rogers, it’s produced by Grammy-winning roots music producer Chris Goldsmith.

The album is a collection of compelling and witty tunes that illustrate why the San Francisco Chronicle gave Tangled Tales five stars, saying: “Dan Hicks is in top form on Tangled Tales, a dozen cool cuts.” The LA Weekly crowed; “Tangled Tales is one of his best, blending that western swing/Django/jazz/blues/roots/hippie eclecticism with all the expected sardonic (or just plain grouchy) lyrics, all drawled in style.”

Phoenix has missed Dan Hick and the Hot Licks. A lot. His Valley shows, most notably at the original Fifth Estate in Scottsdale, are the kinds of shows people who have been here since the 1960’s or 70’s still talk about. Hicks will bring some great memories along on his Arizona premiere of Tangled Tales. When Hicks triumphantly told me that he turned 70 in December, I told him if he’s what 70 is all about we have nothing to worry about. It seems more like he’s 70 going on 40. He didn’t seem grouchy to me. His conversation was punctuated with deep chuckles.

Talking to Hicks was a long, sweet ride down memory lane with a guy who seems genuinely touched to know how beloved he is by his fans and musical peers. Hick’s friendly, generous, albeit laid back affect, belies his strong sense of gratitude and connection with the people in his life, past and present. His musical friends and collaborators are all legendary artists. He is revered by and has worked with some of the most iconic names in music, among them Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Bette Midler, Brian Setzer, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, and Rickie Lee Jones. Dan Hicks deserves his title as a Great American Songwriter.

Asked if he had been in touch with the original Hot Licks gals, Naomi Eisenberg and Mary Ann Price, his characteristic drawl brightened. “There’s a big reunion show in San Francisco on Friday April 6th at Louise Davies Symphony Hall… it’s in conjunction with my 70th birthday!” he said. “Doing this reunion show, it’s really flattering, it’s a great honor!” When asked who would be there he explained, “We’re not sure who all can come yet, but it’s gonna be a cool deal! I’ve invited people like Harry Shearer and Howard Hesseman, you know, people who are part of my history. We’ve been working on it most every day; there’s a lot to do.”

Tangled Tales

When asked if he could tell us some of the musicians he has invited, he seemed hesitant to spill the beans. “Well, I’m not saying they’re going to come, we don’t know yet.” There was some paper shuffling, then he announced: “OK! I’ve got a big maybe here going for you, but so far we’ve got letters of invitation sent to Chris Isaac, Don Novello (Fr. Guido Sarducci of SNL fame), Tuck and Patti, Harry Shearer, Huey Lewis (he’s definitely coming) Maria Muldaur, John Hammond Jr., Jim Kweskin, Jack Elliot, Ray Benson...” he went on, clearly delighted. “These are all people I have some connection with, gigged with, who I’ve done records with and stuff. They’re part of my history. I’ve invited Steve Martin and David Steinberg too. I did a TV show with Steinberg. And Jon Hendrix; we do a few Jon Hendrix songs.” And then, sounding as if he didn’t want to jinx it, he said, “Now, these are all hypothetical, you understand. I hope they will all be able to come!”

Dan Hicks has always had a special counter-culture appeal. Like his sound, it’s totally unique. Rooted in his songwriting, it has twice landed him on the cover of Rolling Stone. He serves it up with attitude, and swagger. All of that and more are embodied in his eccentricity. Revered by his peers and fans alike, there is no shortage of quotes from musicians like Elvis Costello and Willie Nelson. His lyrics are touted as some of the sharpest-tongued, driest-witted, and subtly hilarious bits of irreverence ever committed to rhyme. He sets his lyrical gems to quirky tunes that trade on a bagful of jazz chords and an irresistible rhythm.

Be sure to get out to the Compound Grill on Thursday in support of this quirky, iconic muse. His head’s full of music and cherished history; his music is raw genius, with a knowing groan and a chuckle. We talked about his upbringing, his influences, his roots and much more. If you’ve always wanted to know the answer to that musical question “What Is Hip?” read on.

MAMAZ: First I’ve got to tell you I’ve been listening to you and playing your music, badly, since I was a kid, and I just think you’re tremendous. HICKS: “Well, thank you.” (he chuckles)

MAMAZ: Before we get started on the music, let’s talk about your work as an artist. You’ve done all the work on your album covers. HICKS: “Well, I’m a doodler, I’m doodling right now. So I do my version of it, a mock up, I do a lot of cut and paste and someone cleans it up. I can’t take credit for doing all the stuff all the time but I am the guy with the ideas about ‘what’s this going to look like.’ ”

MAMAZ: Among your albums, do you have a favorite? HICKS: “I kind of always go back to “Where’s the Money”, the second one. It doesn’t have some of the stuff the other ones do, no lead guitar; but just remembering the times and the tunes, the atmosphere, I could listen to that right now. I’m not one of these guys who listens to his own stuff; by the time it gets to be a record, I’ve heard it plenty.”

MAMAZ: When was the last time you were with some of the original group? HICKS: “I was with Mary Ann Price and Naomi Eisenberg at a reunion in 2001. I’ve had different ladies singing all along since the Hot Licks broke up in ‘74 or whatever it was. We did a movie with Gene Hackman, Class Action, in 1991. We did parts of two songs in there with the Acoustic Warriors plus Mary Ann and Naomi.”

MAMAZ: You're originally from Arkansas, right? HICKS: “Dad was in the army, stationed in Arkansas, I didn’t spend more than a month there then we started moving around, and ended up in California when I was about five. My parents were from the Midwest, they weren’t gong to stay in Arkansas.”

Dan Hicks

MAMAZ: How did swing music, Bob Wills and those guys, influence you when you were young? HICKS: “I evolved in my appreciation for music. When I was 9, 8 10, my folks were kind of country western fans. I went to a couple of country shows with them, it wasn’t their big thing or anything.”

MAMAZ: Who in the folk move were main influences? HICKS: “Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band. You mentioned Mimi and Dick Farina, I knew them; they were great. Theirs was a different style, though. Of influences, well, there’s quite a few. People like Jack Elliot, Spider John Kerner, Dave Ray and Tony Glover from Minneapolis, the urban blues guys. I’m also a big jazz guy. I really like Jon Hendrix.”

MAMAZ: So swing, jazz and of course folk and blues music were huge influences too? HICKS: “Oh, yeah, I went to Newport Folk Fest in ‘64, I’m a big fan of Jessie Fuller, Elizabeth Cotton, even the Kingston Trio. There are quite a few people I could name; I did a little ‘folk years’ concept show a few years ago. I did some concert history, narrated it, talked about people representing folk like The Carter Family, and tunes. I like Dylan too, you can write him down for influences, for me liking someone.”

MAMAZ: When did you first start playing? HICKS: “In Junior High, we did swing stuff; Benny Goodman. I was in a Dixieland band in Jr. High and played drums at age 10. We named ourselves The Dixieland Dudes, and we were in a talent show. There’s a picture of us in the yearbook, Santa Rosa. I played in the big band in high school, we had a combo, we had jam sessions at noon time. My folks had a Bob Wills 78 or two. At that time I was just drumming. Till I got to be about 19, then I started folk guitar. A friend of mine came from college for Christmas vacation playing guitar and I said ‘I want to do that!’ I’m self-taught. I added folk stuff that I really dug, Kingston Trio, all sorts of stuff, I never played any lead really, just rhythm.”

MAMAZ: You appeared on lot of TV shows during the 60’s and 70’s, which ones do you particularly remember? HICKS: “Well, let me see, yeah: Dick Cavett, Carson, Flip Wilson. David Steinberg.”

MAMAZ: You and David LaFlamme worked together. HICKS: “David LaFlamme…yeah, we never worked on a permanent basis though. I knew he was working on getting It’s A Beautiful Day together, and he wanted to be a band leader and singer. He was replaced by Sid Page. Sid is who people remember, and other people from the original group, Jamie Leopold, bassist, John Girton on guitar; the original personnel in the band. Those are the ones our fans remember.”

MAMAZ: The word genius is overused but in your case there’s something to that, your music has endured for decades. What’s your opinion of the music being made today? HICKS: “I don’t pay that much attention to it. I go back to the folk days and I am a jazzer. Pop stuff is sort of happening without me.”

MAMAZ: What is your writing process? HICKS: “I was pretty prolific when I started out, pen and pencil, reel tape machine. I use a little eight track recorder, a cassette machine. I’ve got it down pretty good so that’s kinda my songwriting thing. I don’t own a computer.”

Fun with the Hot Licks

MAMAZ: How do you typically start a new song? HICKS: “My process is an idea, a lyric idea maybe, but I’ll start strumming the guitar, maybe I want to do something up tempo or slow. I get a good rhythm going that interests me and start humming a little melody.”

MAMAZ: So, it just depends? HICKS: “Well, it could be just writing down a couple of words or singing nonsense sounds or words, just to get the feel and I go from there. I never do something all at once. I come back to it. I get tired of it. I write when I think there’s a reason to. If we need a new tune or just to see if I can still write, if I’ve still got it.”

MAMAZ: Any new records on the horizon? HICKS: “The guy that runs Surfdog Records, I’ve been there over ten years, and he was talking about doing a new record and I told him ‘I am tired of rhyming, you rhyme for awhile!’ (he chuckles) “The initial incubation of songwriting is cool, then the rest of it can be work to finish…like I’ve got another verse to do, or is it long enough…”

MAMAZ: Are there more constraints on songwriting now? HICKS: “Nah, the censorship that I might get is that they don’t want me to do the song at all. Like I put forth a lot of sweat and the guy says, ‘that doesn’t do it for me’ and I can’t go like ‘Oh yeah, well too bad, we’ve gotta record this.’ It’s a weeding out process. The first audience is THAT guy.”

MAMAZ: Who’s in the band for this gig? HICKS: “There’s Dearia, she just uses one name, and Roberta Donnay, those two ladies are the singers, Benito Cortez on violin, and Paul Smith on bass. That’s our band for now.”

MAMAZ: Tell me about your album, Tangled Tales. The graphics on the promo video for the song are a riot. They’re very entertaining! HICKS: “Yeah, it’s fun. Thanks. But like I said, I can’t take credit, I have the ideas and doodle and others clean it up. Tangled Tales was done at The Record Plant, Sausalito, I had done some stuff at the record plant 30 years ago.”

MAMAZ: Tangled Tales features David Grisman, Charlie Musselwhite, and slide-guitarist Roy Rogers. It would be hard to get all those people together at the same time to record. Do you miss recording live? HICKS: “Yeah it is hard. We put down the rhythm instruments and a bit of violin and guitar and then the soloists came in on their own. It took about three weeks. The original Hot Licks did everything at once, live. We did each take that way. We liked it that way; we were rehearsed enough we could do that. We did a lot of that.”

MAMAZ: You don’t have a box set yet, do you? HICKS: “No, not yet.”

MAMAZ: Well I’m starting a clamor. HICKS: “Well, good, you start a clamor (he chuckles) and I’ll see what I can do. That’s real nice. I like doing these things with people who have the same references as me, I don’t know if it’s a certain age a person has to be really, but a common reference point, you know. It’s fun when you can mention someone and the other person knows who you’re talking about.”

MAMAZ: Well, thank you, Dan. Will your fans be able to buy your CD and meet you at the show?. HICKS: “Yeah! I think we’re going to sell some CDs afterwards and meet some people after the show.”

MAMAZ: You sound happy and so good. HICKS: (laughs) “Yeah it’s good, I feel good. I feel real good. It’ll be good to be back in Arizona.”

You can contact the author at editor@musicandmoreaz.com