Gig Card Art by Dan Hicks
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A Conversation with Dan Hicks  (continued)

DH: Well, Naomi [Eisenberg] has a band going in some more remote part of Northern CA, after being in the city for such a long time. Sid's down in L.A., he's a string session guy. Maryann [Price] is in TX, she's a singer and a vocal teacher. Jaime Leopold, the bassist, is in Portland. He's got an ad agency going up there. And John Girton is up in the Nevada City/Grass Valley [CA] area. He plays locally, and is a computer guy.

PM: Right, he seems like he could be a good computer guy.

DH: Yeah, he's a really smart dude. He was a child actor, and plays a number of instruments. He was in some Tony the Tiger cereal ad as a kid. He grew up in L.A., and is multi-talented.

PM: Let's get a plug in here for the road band. Besides Brian Godchaux on violin, who all is playing?

DH: We're gonna be releasing a live album, Live and Lickin', which was just recorded a couple of weeks ago at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA. Tom Mitchell is on guitar. He sounds a lot more like Charlie Christian than Django or something. He's from the D.C. area.

PM: And what kind of axe is he playing?

DH: Oh man, it's an old jazz box with a little amp, I couldn't tell you make and model.

PM: Do you ever play hollow body electrics?

DH: No, I've tried, and there's some pictures of me playing hollow bodies, but I never last long. I always come back to the acoustic.

PM: Okay, so we got Tom Mitchell on guitar.

DH: I've had different bassists play with me. Most recently and most frequently, a guy named Steve Alcott, he's from NYC.

PM: Is there a drummer in the road band?

DH: No. The girls, Susan Rabin and Annabelle Cruz, play rhythm instruments. There's definitely a rhythm going on. It sounds like a light drummer, which I like.

PM: Yeah, if you got two people on percussion, that's plenty of rhythm.

DH: Yeah, it's good. It's good. And Annabelle plays violin, too, so we have some twin fiddle things going. They play a lot more percussion than the original girls did, seems to me. Now we have percussion on every song, which I like.

PM: You've obviously already heard this live CD from the Iron Horse. Was that a hot night, did it turn out well?

DH: I think so. We'd recorded several nights in the last two months, and I asked them to record us one more night. We had some new songs, and wanted one more crack at it. I think most or all of the record will come from that last night, at the Iron Horse.

PM: I look forward to that. I love a good live record.

DH: It's a lot cleaner than Beatin' the Heat, because it's just us on stage. Two guitars, bass, violin, and singers playing percussion.

PM: And jazz lovers like you and me, we like music played in real time.

DH: We do an instrumental of "Caravan" and "The Four Brothers of Woody Herman," it's a medley. That's jazzy, we do a lot of good stuff. So that oughta be a good album, I think.

PM: Will that be available on Surfdog Records, and when?

DH: Yesiree. If you ask them, they'll say June.

PM: That was an excellent cover of Tom Waits' "The Piano has been Drinking."

DH: I liked it too. About 7 years ago, somebody called me and said they were doing a Tom Waits tribute album. I don't think it was a real solid label, cause it actually never happened. But at the time, I asked them what tunes were still available, and that was my favorite. I like all the imagery.

PM: That's one unbelievable lyric.

DH: It is an unbelievable lyric, above and beyond the call of duty. So I just made it into my own melody to some degree, and added on the background parts.

PM: And it's the background vocals that totally make that arrangement.

DH: Yeah, I put in extra words, and all that. The guys singing on that, I'm not sure if the liner notes spell it out, are the cats from Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, the guy who started the Twist.

PM: Right, the guy who really cut the Twist. Before Chubby Checker jumped into his spotlight, courtesy of Dick Clark, so the story goes.

DH: Right, that's the story. Yeah, they're on 3 or 4 tunes. I'm not sure if they were the original Midnighters or not, they looked to be in their 40's to me, but coulda been.

PM: It flipped me out the other night when I was watching The Sopranos, and your song "Where's the Money" was playing while the credits ran. Did you see that?

DH: Yeah, yeah, I got a tape of that. We got to see it the night we taped that live record, in the hotel.

PM: What's the story, how did that happen?

DH: I don't really know how it happened. All I know is I got a call from this lawyer I have, and he said that somebody contacted him, and that they wanted to use "Where's the Money" for a Sopranos episode. That was about a month ago. I never knew until the Wednesday before that they were gonna actually do it. They were still editing, and still making the show. Then the word was suddenly go, and I still don't know how it all happened. You know, who the fan was, or who was aware of that song. It served their purposes, you know, for the story. That was definitely Jake, it was a Jake call. My kind of gig, you know? A song that I recorded and wrote 30 years ago, you know what I mean.

PM: It's beautiful.

DH: I get a nice check, and then another one when it goes to video.

PM: That's sweet.

DH: I'm hip.

PM: That's real mailbox money, there. So you're enjoying the episode in your hotel room while they're cutting you a check.

DH: I did. I got back to the hotel, the gig was over in time to catch the mailbox money show.

PM: Quiet, everybody. They're paying for my song.

DH: Yeah, could we have a little quiet in here, please?

PM: Dan, your voice sounds particularly good on this recording. What's your secret?

DH: The secret, let me see. About 3 years, no, it was like, it must have been like 10 years ago, I took some vocal lessons. [I start laughing outta control.] Why is that funny?

PM: About 10 years ago?

DH: Okay, well I'm just trying to tell you my secret. About 10 years ago, I took some vocal lessons. I'll bet that helped. I got a tape of exercises that the girl gave me, which I don't do anymore, but they were good. And I don't smoke, you know.

PM: And you never did?

DH: I stopped in '85, same time that I stopped drinking and your brother Billy became my sponsor.

PM: Wow.

DH: I quit drinking in April, and laid off smoking in December.

PM: And you're still dry?

DH: I'm dry as a piece of sawdust.

PM: In terms of goals, what's on the horizon?

DH: Right now, I'm thinking in terms of just having a good band, man. Having a good act for the stage. Being a good performer, you know? Connected to that is future recordings, and future tunes, that kind of stuff. I really don't think in terms like, "Oh man, would I love to make a movie." I just don't think in terms like that anymore. Maybe I used to, but I just take it a day at a time now. I do have an idea for a video, though. I'd like to do a video connected to this live album, and that kind of creative thing gets me going. Something I can get started on my own, get some ideas down. I say that because to get anything done, you need other people. But they're all gonna have input, and change your idea. That's the good thing about songwriting. It's all yours. You can decide: "Well, I'm gonna put that word there, and nobody can tell me I can't. I can go to that change right here."

PM: It's a minor nine, whether you like it or not.

DH: It's a minor nine, and that's just tough beans. So that's the stuff I think about, just to keep it going.

PM: Well, I'm really enjoying the record, Dan, and playing it a lot. It's great to talk with you, and fabulous that the Hot Licks are swingin' again, and that lots of people are back on board with Dan Hicks, it's a beautiful thing.

DH: Yeah, I like it too. The attendance at these gigs has been really good, and that wasn't happening a year ago. So I'm digging that.

PM: Momentum is a funny thing. Sounds like it's on your side at the moment. Well, okay, buddy.

DH: All right, man. Are you still doing...what song of ours were you and Billy playing?

PM: Oh, when we're in the same country and gigging, we like to do "News from Up the Street." I guess we owe you some royalties on that.

DH: Yeah, good, 'cause I'll have a guy call. There'll be a guy comin' around. There'll be a guy.

PM: [laughs] Well, thanks for your time, Dan. Hi to Clare.

DH: Okay, I will. Cool, Frank. Bye.

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