When Dan Hicks performs in San Luis Obispo tomorrow, it will be a homecoming of sorts.
When he was in the sixth grade, his family lived in Cambria — a few months, anyway.
“My dad was in the Air Force so we moved around quite a bit,” said Hicks, who will perform at Cal Poly with his band the Hot Licks. “I was in three different grade schools in that one year. But it had a lasting impression. We had no television. So it was a real rural, woodsy thing.”
That was a few years before he wound up in Haight-Ashbury, where his band the Charlatans was a pioneering group in the psychedelic rock movement. And it was a few more years before he formed Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, a jazz-flavored, swing-influenced folk outfit.
In the early 1970s, the Hot Licks had success with “I Scare Myself” and “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?” After breaking up the Hot Licks in the ’70s, he went 16 years without a record deal until Surfdog Records signed him in the 1990s.
After releasing “Tangled Tales” a year ago, Hicks—with a newly configured Hot Licks — is planning to release “Crazy for Christmas” next month.
Q: It seems like every year there’s some popular artist who comes out with a Christmas album — and a lot of them are really boring. What do you like?
A: Well, I’m hoping this thing has got enough Hot Licks sound — with the girls singing and the jazzy guitar and violin and cool lyrics — to be quite listenable. There’s a couple of stock Christmas tunes that we did, but we did them in our style. It’s definitely not going to be Barry Manilow singing “Little Drummer Boy.”
Q: You were on the cover of Rolling Stone a couple of times. Obviously the first time must have been the most interesting. Do you remember what your reaction was when you learned you were going to be on the cover?
A: When it happens it doesn’t really translate into more gigs. It sort of seems like when it counts is, like, 40 years later. Then somebody can talk about it. I can say, “Yeah, I was on the cover of ‘Rolling Stone.’ ” It sounds good, feels good. It’s a little accomplishment.
Q: That was the same year the Dr. Hook song came out, right? “The Cover of the Rolling Stone?”
The song probably made it even more a big deal.
A: I’m sure it made it something more, yeah.
Q: If you listen to that song, when you’re on the cover, you’ve made it.
A: Yeah, well, it kind of gives you your rock cred — even though I’m not a rock artist, per se. Still, if somebody goes, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of you,” I go, “Well … have you ever heard of Rolling Stone magazine?”
Q: You got tired of the Haight-Ashbury scene as it kind of progressed. What was that scene like for you?
A: I liked being there for the most part. Just the atmosphere and everything. I liked the shops and the people and everything. It did turn kind of raw at a certain point — I think 1968 or so, following the Summer of Love. A rough crowd came in with bikes and methedrine. So that’s kind of why I remember wanting to get out of there. There were cops coming with tear gas and stores were being boarded up and stores were closing. So I moved over to Sausalito and got on a houseboat, where it was nice and the water was peaceful. And I wound up in Marin County, across the Golden Gate here, and been here ever since.
Q: You lived on a houseboat for a while?
A: Yeah, I think I was down there about three years. I was moored to a dock. It wasn’t like I had to paddle out or anything.
Q: So you’d write songs on the boat?
A: Yeah, that was a good atmosphere for that. That was mid-’68. I’d sit on the top of my boat. I wrote a lot of my new stuff and rehearsed it up on top of the boat. We’d get up there and sing. It was a good atmosphere.
Q: That sort of recalls Otis Redding and Steve Cropper — “(Sitting on) The Dock of a Bay.”
A: Yeah, that’s exactly the area there that the song refers to.
Q: What kind of movie could you see “I Scare Myself” in?
A: I’d like to see it have some more success. It’s the one that has been recorded the most by other people. I don’t know—wherever it would fit. I could put it in a dozen movies and it works for me. Bruce Willis is a fan of mine, he says, so maybe he could have it in his movie.
Bruce Willis sang a little bit of a song of mine back in the “Moonlighting” days. He was walking in a hall or something, and he’s singing something a cappella to himself as he strolls around, and it happened to be one of my tunes. ( “The Buzzard Was Her Friend.”)
Q: I saw that Jack Nicholson is a fan, too. What’s it like when you’re performing and you see him in the crowd?
A: I have to cop to it — I’m self-conscious somehow when I know that there are name people out there.
I like him showing up, though. It’s cool. He showed up last time with (music producer) Lou Adler. He’s been a good supporter. You can’t help but dig it when somebody like that likes what you do.