The word unique is badly misused, but when you listen to Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, you truly hear a one-of-a-kind sound.
Who else combines a droll wit with a still-unusual acoustic lineup of guitar, bass, violin and two female singers (known as the Lickettes), all fronted by Hicks?
The dry sense of humour (responsible for songs such as How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?) is presented in a musical style that is virtually impossible to describe.
That’s because Hicks, who will bring his Hot Licks to the Native Sons Hall in Courtenay on Nov. 12, brilliantly combines many musical genres into a sound that is all his own.
Hicks laughed when it was pointed out to him that his latest CD Live at Davies contains a variety of musical styles that number in double figures.
Recorded at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, Live at Davies employs R&B, ‘60s rock, Dixieland, country, bluegrass, jugband, jazz, folk, blues and gospel — for starters.
“I don’t know if I do it on purpose,” he said in an interview with the Record from his home in San Francisco. “I like jazz. I like a little country. I like a little Latin feel.”
His eclectic material, and the ability to blend different source material into his own sound, might have started developing when he was a very young musician.
“When I was a teenager, I played in different bands on weekends up in Santa Rosa where I’m from, a little town north of here. There were dance gigs, so you played different styles.
“You go from the mambo to play a waltz, samba, a swing tune or you do a ballad — all that sort of thing is happening at a regular dance gig, Lions Club, you know.”
Are there any genres Hicks hasn’t used in his sound?
“I don’t think I’ve ever tried to do a reggae song,” he replied in his down-home drawl. “I’d have to perfect the beat, get that sound down.”
That could be a problem because Hicks, a drummer in the ‘60s with San Francisco rock band the Charlatans, omitted drums from the Hot Licks.
“The Hot Licks was more or less an evolution of me being a singer-songwriter kind of guy,” he explained. “It was always for me a folk music band like the Jim Kweskin Jug Band or a bluegrass band like Flatt and Scruggs or somebody.”
The Lickettes have percussion duties that go beyond their core responsibilities of sounding and looking good.
“The two girls who sing with me play a lot of percussion, so we’re kind of covered with that sound – they’re good percussionists.”
The horns on Live at Davies are likely to surprise even veteran Dan Hicks fans, but he said he uses sax and trumpet in a side project he calls Bayside Jazz.
Live at Davies recorded a concert held to celebrate Hicks’ 70th birthday.
Guests included singers Maria Muldaur and Rickie Lee Jones, bluesmen John Hammond Jr. and Roy Rogers, mandolin maestro David Grisman, Asleep at the Wheel frontman Ray Benson, California jugband pioneer Jim Kweskin, singer-songwriter Van Dyke Parks and actor-comic Harry Shearer.
Hicks reunited the original Hot Licks lineup for the gig, the first time he had played with them all since his 60th birthday concert. With two sets of Hot Licks and all the guests, it was a full house backstage as well as in the seats.
Dan Hicks is not a household name, but the guest list illustrates the respect he has earned for his singular role in the roots music movement.
The original Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks recorded five ground-breaking albums and toured worldwide. Hicks appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine more than once.
After a hiatus, Hicks and His Hot Licks released Beatin’ the Heat in 2000, followed by Alive & Lickin,’ Tangled Tales and a Christmas album before Live at Davies.
He isn’t bringing a bassist to Courtenay, but the rest of the current Hot Licks (singers Roberta Donnay and Daria, Benito Cortez on violin and mandolin and guitarist Paul Robinson) will make the trip.
It’s their first trip to the Comox Valley since performing during MusicFest in 2010.
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For more about Hicks, visit www.danhicks.net.
For more information and to get tickets for the Vancouver Island MusicFest-sponsored event, visit www.islandmusicfest.com/tickets.