Dan Hicks (1941–2016)

Daniel Ivan Hicks was a cross-genre singer/songwriter specializing in a type of music he referred to as “folk jazz.” He served as front man for his band, the Hot Licks, off and on since 1968.

Dan Hicks was born on December 9, 1941, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the only child of Ivan L. Hicks—a career military man—and Evelyn Kehl Hicks. The family moved to northern California when Hicks was five years old. The family settled in Santa Rosa, and Hicks resided in the area north of San Francisco for the rest of his life.

Hicks started playing drums in grade school and played snare drum in his high school marching band. At age fourteen, he was accompanying high school bands at area dances. Hicks enrolled at San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University) in 1959 to study broadcasting. It was at this point that he first took up the guitar. He joined the Bay Area folk scene, singing and playing in coffeehouses around San Francisco.

In the mid-1960s, Hicks became the drummer for a band known as the Charlatans. He also sang and played guitar for the band, which he described as “kind of dysfunctional…[with] no real management, and it was just kind of some loose guys.” In 1968, Hicks formed his own acoustic band to open shows for the Charlatans and called it Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks.

The first record from the new band, Original Recordings, was released the following year on Epic Records. It was a commercial failure, after which the band signed with Blue Thumb Records. Three albums followed in quick succession. Where’s the Money? (1971), Striking It Rich (1972), and Last Train to Hicksville (1973) were all commercially successful and popular with critics. It was therefore surprising to many when Hicks broke up the band in 1973 at the height of their popularity. Of this move, Hicks said, “I didn’t want to be a bandleader anymore. It was a load and a load I didn’t want. I’m basically a loner.”

For the next fifteen years, Hicks chose a lower profile, playing solo acoustic shows; writing commercial jingles for products such as Levi’s, Bic Lighters, and Ball Park Franks; and composing scores for films and television programs—most notably the score for the animated Ralph Bakshi film Hey Good Lookin’ (1982). Hicks’s songs were featured in the popular television shows The Sopranos and The Osbournes,and Hicks appeared in the Gene Hackman legal drama Class Action (1991), performing two songs in the film. During this period, Hicks was involved in only musical two projects that resulted in commercially released music; both were relatively obscure and remain somewhat rare.

In 1998, Hicks poised himself for a return to the mainstream when he signed a deal with Surfdog Records. This resulted in Beatin’ the Heat (2000), which became his first release with the newly re-formed Hot Licks since 1973. After that, he released a number of studio albums and collaborated with artists such as Jim Keltner, Gibby Haynes, Van Dyke Parks, Willie Nelson, and Jimmy Buffett. Hicks’s music is featured regularly on the Buffett-affiliated Sirius/XM satellite radio station Radio Margaritaville. In 2009, Hicks released Tangled Tales, his fifth album with Surfdog Records. Hicks and his band released a Christmas album in 2010.

Hicks maintained an active tour schedule and experimented with a number of musical genres including rock, jazz, country, bluegrass, western swing, and Americana. Hicks lived with his wife, Clare, in Mill Valley, California. Hicks died on February 6, 2016, from cancer.

For additional information:
Dan Hicks. http://www.danhicks.net/ (accessed February 5, 2024).

“Dan Hicks.” Allmusic.com. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/dan-hicks-p86519/biography (accessed February 5, 2024).

Hoskyns, Barney. Beneath the Diamond Sky: Haight-Ashbury, 1965–1970. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Keepnews, Peter. “Dan Hicks, 74, Leader of the Hot Licks, Who Countered the ’60s Sound, Dies.” New York Times, February 8, 2016, B6. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/08/arts/music/dan-hicks-bandleader-of-the-hot-licks-dies-at-74.html?emc=edit_th_20160208&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=60078269&_r=0 (accessed February 5, 2024).

McDonough, Jack. San Francisco Rock—The Illustrated History of San Francisco Rock Music. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1985.

Perry, Charles. “Enigmas on Thin Ice.” Rolling Stone (August 30, 1973): 70–73.

Sculatti, Gene, and Davin Seay. San Francisco Nights—The Psychedelic Music Trip, 1965–1968. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985.

Selvin, Joel. Summer of Love. New York: Dutton, 1994.

Keith Merckx


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