Text links at bottom. Dan Hicks
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A Conversation with Dan Hicks (continued)          

DH: Well, I've been doing this from the mid-80s through the late 90s. But I had different bands. I played with the Acoustic Warriors for the most part, without girl singers. It was the same kind of sound, acoustic guitar, bass, with violin and sometimes accordion, and the guys would sing, that kind of thing. We did a record in '94 on Private Music, a live disc done in McCabe's [a famous guitar shop in Santa Monica, CA]. Private Music folded sometime after that. They hadn't planned to do another record on me anyhow, it was a one off deal. So I was left labeless, and I had a friend who knew this Surfdog label. He's a video photographer, and he'd done some work for them. This guy Dave Kaplan, who's the main dude at Surfdog, was a big Dan Hicks fan from, I don't know, since he was a little kid. So my friend mentioned that I was looking to record...I mean, I was always looking to record, but how much I actually pursued it was another thing. The major labels weren't that interested in me, and the smaller labels didn't have any money to do anything. But this seemed like a good combination of stuff. Dave Kaplan at Surfdog seemed like a cool guy, so I got kind of interested. He wanted to bring back the name Hot Licks, it was more or less his idea, because I didn't really care whether we did it or not, though I'd considered it before. Everybody certainly associates my name with that as the big hurrah, the biggest thing I'd done through the years. The Acoustic Warriors certainly hadn't done anything that big, in terms of being in the public eye. I didn't necessarily want to start singing with girls again, and have to start carrying all that with me. Didn't feel like it, you know?

PM: Well, girls, you know...it's not very PC to say, but they can be a handful.

DH: Yeah. Yeah. So, we kinda made the record with the name Hot Licks, which was okay with me, and used some studio girls that they knew in L.A. We kinda got the voices going, some quick rehearsal stuff, went down and did a crash course on these songs. We went in the studio and cut it, did a lot of this layering stuff. They had cats come in and put steel guitar down, put this down, put that down. So it was kind of a production. And while all this was happening, I started experimenting myself again with lady singers up North. We had some gigs going on up here, and started arranging some tunes for lady singers, though we hadn't started using the Hot Licks name or anything. But we resumed when it came time to go out and support the album, which I've been doing steadily since August of last year. And we've been getting good reviews.

PM: The press on the record has been unbelievable.

DH: Yeah, on the record, and also on the live performances. And it really is a good feeling to get up there and make that sound. I'm not stuck in a time warp, because I can use as many of the old songs as I want to, just the favorites. And there's a feeling of confidence, too, that I don't have without making that sound. It's like, "Come on, you gotta like this..."

PM: Right, tell me you don't like this.

DH: Exactly. This is the archetype, the actual mold, pal. You know. So it's been really good.

PM: Those were very inspired choices for the cameo performances on the record. All the celebrity vocals were pretty incredible. Let's discuss them in the record sequence. First of all, that is one swingin' guitar break by Brian Setzer in "I Don't Want Love."

DH: Dave Kaplan has managed Brian Setzer for awhile, so it came about that way. I've since met him, but he basically tracked that when I wasn't even there. But that's okay.

PM: Well then, how did you like the parts that Brian cut?

DH: Well, it was very good idiomatically, you know? He really steps up to the plate.

PM: Oh yeah, when the red light goes on, he gets right on it. But you guys were not previously acquainted?

DH: No, I think I met him once in a nightclub, something like that. He came and sat in on a gig of ours in Santa Barbara, we brought him on stage. That's the way it was with everybody that pitched in, I didn't really know anybody very well. I think I'd talked to Bette Midler the most.

PM: Before we go a little bit into each performance, how did the idea of cameo appearances arise?

DH: Well, all those cuts had been made originally without the guest appearances. And then we had this idea about asking some people if they'd like to sing with me on a track. I made a short list of a few people who might have eyes to do it, and would sound good, maybe we were mutual fans in some cases. I contacted them mainly on my own, through phone calls or letters, to see if they'd be interested. It so happened that the album took some time to do, because we were commuting back and forth to L.A. and had to block out time whenever we could. So I sent out some tapes with notes like "my favorite song to do with you would be this one, but here's a couple of other ones, too." It was like that, man. Some people couldn't make it. Bonnie Raitt was too booked up at the time, but we were lucky with some other choices.

PM: Rickie Lee Jones, for instance.

DH: Yeah, she was great. She was actually a fan, and we met at a club gig somewhere. The idea was thrown out about her singing on the record, and we eventually got together on our schedules. She'd recorded a tune or two of mine, and I knew her from that.

PM: Famous songs?

DH: She did "Up, Up, Up." It was the B side of a single, never made the album. I haven't heard it yet.

PM: Having a B side cut used to mean something. [If the A side of a single or 45rpm in the old days was being played on the radio, the author of the B side would make money too, since it was the same "record."]

DH: Here it just meant it was the second song in the CD or the tape. I mean, there's nothing to turn over.

PM: That was a super re-do of "I Scare Myself," I think. I really liked how that sounded.

DH: On most of the stuff, I had a lot to do with the instrumentation and arrangement, and how it sounded. On that particular one the producers said, "Let us just try to lay down a rhythm track." I hoped that maybe Rickie Lee would be amenable to cutting a vocal on that one. She'd come in to cut "Driftin" with me, but we'd also presented the idea of her singing on "I Scare Myself" as well, so we just went right into that after the first one. But that rhythm track was the brainchild of the engineer and producers.

PM: Rickie Lee really nails that bohemian sex appeal angle. [Hicks laughs a little.] You know? It's different than the uptown sexy thing, she does it in a beautiful bohemian way.

DH: Oh yeah. And that was one that we sang live together, unlike most of the tracks. In the other instances, my vocal track was already on tape, and the vocalists sang along with it. Oh, and Tom Waits and I sang live together.

PM: That one certainly sounded live.

DH: That was probably the most fun, the one with Tom, I don't know why. We had a good time.

PM: Were you guys already friends, or acquaintances?

DH: I'd said hello to him, like 20 years ago. Know what I mean? That's about as much as I knew him. We did it up in Occidental [Northern CA, west of Santa Rosa on the coast] in a little studio near the town where he lives. So he just drove over and cut it.

PM: Was it the studio of one of the Primus guys? [Excellent grunge group.] Some of them live up that way, I think they're friends of Tom's.

DH: Don't know, I can't remember the name of it. But we had a good afternoon there.

PM: But the real surprise walk-on was Bette Midler, I thought. I've always had a hard time with her, because such a big part of her schtick is so loud, which I can't abide. But she was so cute and so on the money on that cut, I want to go out and buy a record now.

DH: You know, I played that track for somebody the next day, and they said, "That doesn't sound like Bette Midler." My impression is that she can sing any way she wants. She has several voices, and that was one of them, one of her styles. I thought she did really good too, man.

PM: You rarely see her in a supporting role.

DH: She was willing to work really hard that day. On most of those tunes, I laid out just where people were supposed to sing, you know? You sing this line, I sing that, we sing the next one together, and so forth. Unison here, harmony there. And everybody just went along with whatever I sketched out.

PM: But in Bette's case, she sang a much more complete part than anybody else.

DH: She even played around with the melody, which was very cool, in a way that I try to do now when I sing it. I try to sing it like she sang it.

PM: So, what was she like?

DH: She was very professional, and wanted to work really hard and long and do it really good. I liked that about her, and I liked the way she was coming up with stuff.

PM: Did she have a good time?

DH: I think she did, hope so. I'd like to try something else with her in the future.

PM: How about Elvis Costello? I sure am a big fan of his.

DH: We sent the tape to Elvis in England, and he cut his part in a studio there.

PM: Amazing.

DH: Yeah. I sent him a tape with a lyric sheet showing him where he should sing, and he followed that pretty close.

PM: I thought his vocal was great. Did you like it?

DH: Yeah! But we weren't together.

PM: Was it easy to enlist his help?

DH: He wanted to do it from the get go, and it was just a matter of when he could schedule it. When we finally saw that there was little chance of him cutting it live with me in the States, we arranged to have him overdub it in England.

PM: I dig that Elvis is really on to the hip American bands that a lot of the natives don't know about. He's also a big NRBQ guy.

DH: Well, the word is that he goes record shopping at Village Music in Mill Valley. That's the word.

PM: It was great to see Sid Page back on violin.

DH: Brian Godchaux is my regular violinist. He's on the live album that's coming out soon.

PM: And Brian is the brother of the late Keith Godchaux, former keyboardist of the Grateful Dead.

DH: That's right. When we ran into a little snag in the studio, I suggested we give Sid Page a call. He lives down in L.A., that's how that came about. He came and laid down some solos.

PM: Seeing Sid Page in the lineup made me wonder about John Girton and Maryann and Naomi, what are those folks up to?    continue

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