Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks made four records back in the late 60s and early 70s that I wore out. Dan was a jazz guy, he liked novelty songs and the sounds of the 30s, though he started out as the drummer in the somewhat psychedelic Charlatans, a forerunner of the SF bands of the second half of the 60s. One Charlatan ended up in the Flamin’ Groovies, even.
Hicks didn’t play drums in his band, he played guitar, and he played with terrific fiddle players and acoustic bass and, of course, the Lickettes. They always sound a little crazed, mad with joy or fear or whatever bit of gut and smile they’ve got going in one of Dan’s terrific songs. All of them sound like they’re going to spin out of control, but they never do, at least not unless it’s on purpose, and the reward is a collection of great songs that are made even greater because of Hicks’ thoroughly delightful commitment to them.
This first clip is a promotional film featuring the first Hot Licks band in 1969, lip synching to their recording of the the Jukies Ball.
Here’s a silly party song with the Lickette’s out front from the Flip Wilson show.
His greatest song has all the same elements, yet isn’t silly at all.
Back in those crazy early 70s I listened a lot to Dan Hicks and Commander Cody, another funny band playing old music not for nostalgia’s sake, but because the songs are catchy and great, especially when played straight, as if the sound of before was a perfect fit for today. There were plenty of other bands mining this same vein of ore, not rock, but for me the others felt false and lacked the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. They were playing old peoples music, while Dan and the Commander were delighting in their eternal youth.
Until this week.