Dan Hicks souvenir platter

I was 16 in the summer of love. One sunny morning I left home in Levittown, PA (where all the houses look the same) with a backpack and thirty dollars, to hitchhike to CA. Ended up in jail three times, saw a lot of the country and didn't come home all summer. When cops would call my mother and tell her, "We have your son," she'd just ask them how I was doing. "He's a runaway, right?" they'd assume. "Oh no, he's on vacation," she'd assure them. When they'd threaten to incarcerate me for three days for hitchhiking on the turnpike, she'd say okay, I'd probably consider that a part of the total experience (which I did).

Me and my drummer buddy Mike eventually got to San Francisco, where we stayed with his blind cousin for a couple of days. She was really cool, and cooked the strangest looking scrambled eggs you ever saw. Aside from those eggs, the thing I remember best about our stay in San Francisco was the night we went out somewhere to hear three bands. I can't remember who headlined, or who opened. But I was completely enchanted by the middle act, a group called Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. They were jazzy, funny, and used pretty girls singing backgrounds like Brasil '66, and violin and upright bass. I was a folksinger learning to play country blues while listening to the Beatles, the Stones, and Hendrix. But this music was something different entirely, and it was obviously really hip, and I decided I was gonna find out all about it.

Our gonzo family ran on music, and we wore all four of the Hot Licks records out. Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks (1969), Where's the Money (1971), Striking It Rich (1972), and Last Train to Hicksville (1973) are a consistent string of fabulous recordings, and astonishingly different from everything else that was happening in music at the time. It's no wonder Dan Hicks ended up on the cover of Rolling Stone twice, because there's never been anyone like him, even in the more than 25 years since those first records were made.

And now the ice cool daddy of swing is back, with his first studio record since 1976, and the critics are raving. Beatin' the Heat is loaded with celebrity cameo appearances, as our interview conversation reveals, but what makes Dan the man is unique songwriting. The driest, wriest, tongue-in-cheek songs, featuring a cast of ridiculous characters, especially himself. The grooves are so jumpin' on the one hand and so kicked back on the other, it's the perfect cocktail, and I can't sustain a nasty thought or a bad mood when the disc is spinning.

I don't know where it's from, but I keep laughing at this typical Hicks quote I saw at one of his fan sites. He's wearing the snarl of a man doomed to live in a world of square idiots, and the caption reads: "I'm the only hip person there is."        continue to interview