Here in Europe there’s music thats off the radar and there’s music that the radar will never track, especially when it is unique at origin. That music is generally something that falls between ‘the crack of styles’ and when it’s achieving that tag in its own country it has little chance of penetrating other continents. Dan Hicks, singer, guitarist, drummer, songwriter and eccentric has little chance of being on your radar if you live in Europe despite being one of the earliest characters in the psychedelic San Franciscan playground of the sixties.
Hicks had replaced Sam Linde, the original drummer in early San Franciscan soft Folk Psychedelic group The Charlatans but left before they made their first album. When the album was released it failed to set the world on fire as a heavier rock sound was coming to the fore – Led Zeppelin were already on their second album, when The Charlatans first album was released (1969) it was at least two years too late.
So in 1969, disillusioned and with only two original members, The Charlatans broke up and Dan Hicks who had moved from drums to rhythm guitar and vocals in his short tenure had already formed his own group, Dan Hicks And His Hot Licks. They were the intersection of Folk, Cowboy music, Country and Swing Jazz reinvented along side contemporary, Country Joe and a bag of acid. As if that wasn’t enough, Hicks had also committed the cardinal sin of being amusing, tongue in cheek, satirical, fun. He dressed funny, either in 19th century clothing or in duds that didn’t quite fit in anywhere (see the cover of his first album, Original Recordings 1969). That old cowboy look with Hicks’ unique musical take was far too weird for the conservative country audience. Resurrecting forgotten rhythms of the twenties and thirties fusing it with Jug and blues and the aforementioned styles, he created a mad cabaret of wit, dance moves, female backing vocalists (The Lickettes) and top notch skilful musicians at the top of their game. No one did what he did and his appeal outside of America was extremely small.
He made albums through the seventies: Where’s The Money? (1971) Striking It Rich (1972) Last Train to Hicksville (1973) and It Happened One Bite (1978) but he suddenly disappeared from recording not reappearing again for 16 years when in 1994 he released Shootin’ Straight. Two years later The Amazing Charlatans was released with a whole lot of unreleased and excellent material reminding the world what they had missed – including Hicks.
I Scare Myself from Hicks debut was an unlikely cover on Thomas Dolby’s second album The Flat Earth (1984). The song was the follow up single to Dolby’s No.17 UK hit Hyperactive reaching No.46 in the UK chart. It might take some American fans born in the forties to let us know how successful Hicks actually was in terms of numbers in his own country, it seems he had a strong following with smiles frozen on the audiences faces but no matter, how he did in Europe is of little consequence because in terms of personality, execution, attitude, originality and a sense of humour he was No.1 on his own planet. RIP Dan Hicks. Condolences to friends and family.