Dan Hicks, the wildly creative San Francisco singer-songwriter who, with his group Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, had hits in the 1970s such as “I Scare Myself” and “Canned Music,” died Saturday after a two-year battle with cancer, according to his website. He was 74.
The news was made public via a message on social media from his wife, CT Hicks:
Cited as an influence by Tom Waits and Elvis Costello, Hicks created his own unique sound that he described as “folk jazz,” but many critics found impossible — and improper — to label, as it managed to also incorporate elements of country, western swing, blue grass and several other genres. Hicks was also known for his witty lyrics, as evident in songs such as “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?”
“There is no one else who is as unique as he is. There’s no one else who sounds like Dan Hicks, who writes like him, who has that dry sense of humor, or has that manner onstage. He’s really one of a kind,” SF Weekly’s Lawrence Kay wrote in 2000.
Born in Little Rock, Ark. in 1941, his family would be relocated to Santa Rosa, Calif. when Hicks was five. Hicks began playing the drums as an adolescent and would later make a name for himself in San Francisco’s burgeoning folk scene in the 1960s. In 1965, Hicks would become the drummer for The Charlatans, who, along with groups such as the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, would help define the city’s psychedelic sound. Later, rock historians would cite the group’s extended residency at the Red Dog Saloon in Nevada in the summer of ’65 as being the precursor to San Francisco’s LSD-focused rock shows of the later ’60s because of the trippy rock posters used to advertise the residency, and the fact that the band would ingest psychedelic drugs while playing.
Hicks broke away from the Charlatans in 1968 to focus on his own group, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, which he started with violinist David LaFlamme, who would later go on to found another legendary San Francisco group, It’s A Beautiful Day. LaFlamme was replaced by “Symphony” Sid Page, whose heavily-jazz-influenced style would become a hallmark of Hicks’s sound, especially in tracks such as 1974’s “I Scare Myself.”
The original lineup, which was drummer-less, would break up in 1971 after recording two albums, the first one Original Recordings with producer Bob Johnston, who also worked with Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen, among others. But it wouldn’t be long before Hicks would start up the group again and record two more albums, the last being Last Trainto Hicksville, which was the first Hot Licks album with a drummer and garnered wide acclaim, even landeding Hicks on the cover of Rolling Stone.
In 1974, with his fame on the rise, Hicks would break up the Hot Licks. When asked why that same year, Hicks was quoted saying:
I didn’t want to be a bandleader anymore. It was a load and a load I didn’t want. I’m basically a loner… I like singing and stuff, but I didn’t necessarily want to be a bandleader
Over the next few decades, Hicks would continue to play out and record, playing by himself or with the Acoustic Warriors before reforming the Hot Licks in 2000. Before his death, Hicks would record 17 albums under his name.
Hicks was diagnosed with throat cancer in January of 2014, which lead to him canceling the majority of his shows while he underwent chemo therapy, but he still managed to play gigs that were important to him, such as the Fats Waller Birthday Celebration at SFJAZZ that same summer. One of the last shows he played, back in February of last year at Yoshi’s, sold out.
This story will be updated when more details are learned.