Dan Hicks, Hot Licks And 'Tangled Tales'

Host Liane Hansen talks with musician Dan Hicks about this latest release with his band, The Hot Licks. It's called Tangled Tales.

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks know how to have fun, and more than just a lick of fun. That's evident throughout their new album "Tangled Tales." This is the title track we're listening to, by the way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TANGLED TALES")

HANSEN: Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks first broke onto the music scene almost 40 years ago. And although they took a hiatus that lasted nearly three decades, they came back just as strong and just as much fun. This latest effort has Dan Hicks and his lickettes at it again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TANGLED TALES")

HANSEN: Dan Hicks joins us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Welcome to the program.

DAN HICKS: Yes, thank you. Yes, I do join you here.

HANSEN: You bet. And the lyrics to "Tangled Tales," I mean, they're so deep.

HICKS: The particular title tune there?

HANSEN: Yeah.

HICKS: Yeah. Well, you know, it was suggested to me by the owner of Surf Dog Records, who put out this album and my last few albums, that I do a tune that has all scatting. And I kind of, well, I met the challenge, you know, and I like the idea.

HANSEN: And, you know, I'm looking - you've also released this as not only a CD but a vinyl record. And on the sleeve you're good enough to put down the words for this. And you also caution the listener not to read into this material. I mean, I'm not sure what we can read into a ba-bay-bah-dee-dot-doo-dee. But...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HICKS: Well, you know, it's really in the eye of the beholder kind of thing. And if you want to, you know, the song can make you laugh, it could make you cry.

HANSEN: I want to take you back. I can't believe it's 40 years, but it is. San Francisco, mid-'60s, flower power, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and you. You were quite different from what the scene was at the time. How did you fit in? Where did you fit in?

HICKS: Well, I started sort of a folk guitar thing and singing, and I started working around a little bit, playing. I got good enough to play a few coffee houses and stuff. In the mid-'60s, I joined one of the bands, The Charlatans, that didn't quite achieve as much fame as the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, but we were pretty well-known and we were a hit locally here.

And then at one point I started sort of expanding my folk singing thing as a side project and adding members and players to that and decided to just do that instead of the Charlatans, which was more of an electric, louder rock thing. I liked the quieter, more cabaret, folk club kind of thing with a tinge of jazz. You know, because swing stuff was always really, more than rock, was my favorite.

HANSEN: But you're back. And I want to play another song from the CD. This is one called "Blues My Naughty Baby."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUES MY NAUGHTY BABY")

HICKS: (Singing) There are blues once you get them loneliness. There are blues that you get from pain. There are blues when you are lonely for your one and only, the blues you can never explain. There are blues that you get some sleepless nights, (unintelligible)but the meanest blues that be.

HANSEN: You know, it's a kind of tune that makes you, I mean, maybe it's just the drumsticks I'm hearing, like the tap dancer. It's almost kind of Vaudeville.

HICKS: Well, that's a kind of a ragtime, you know, that there's a sort of a - I've never tried to be retro exactly, but I appreciate certain sounds, you know, and that kind of two-beat thing...

(SOUNDBITE OF HUMMING)

HICKS: ...you know, where they're kind of a steady four. Also, just a sound that I like to make and that feel and that kind of a - in a big category, you could call it swing, swing music.

HANSEN: Yeah. All kinds of - I mean, the Texas swing, the whole thing that you love. I'm going to play another tune and this is one that you did not write. This is one that Bob Dylan wrote. And this is "Subterranean Homesick Blues."

HICKS: Well, he got a lot of ideas from me, you know.

HANSEN: He did?

HICKS: Yeah, he really did. You can ask him.

HANSEN: I will next time, if ever I get to talk to him.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HICKS: If you see him in the laundromat or something.

HANSEN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK BLUES")

HICKS: (Singing) Johnny's in the basement mixing up some medicine. I'm on the pavement thinking about the government. The man in the trench coat, badge out, laid off, says he's got a bad cough, wants to get it paid off. Look out, kid, it's something you did. God knows when, but you're doing it again. You better duck down the alley way, looking for a new friend. The man in the coon- skin cap in the big pen wants 11 dollar bills, you only got 10. You only got 10.

HANSEN: Well, one thing, you can actually hear the lyrics when you do it.

HICKS: I think I got the lyrics from listening to Bob Dylan's record. And I know there's songbooks and stuff, so I could've, you know, cross-checked it. But most of the words, I think, come from trying to figure out what he was saying there. And they go by a little faster on his original. You know, it just set in like that. It just seemed like that was a good tempo. You know, you can try different tempos of it all. It seems to be coming back to a certain place. That's probably how you should perform it or sing it, do it.

HANSEN: When you record with other musicians, I've read you pre-record multi- track demos to teach the musicians their parts.

HICKS: You know, trying to just get organized and to get ahead of the game and be - have everyone as prepared as possible when they show up to the studio. You know, you want to send something - I make little demos in my little living room studio and say, like, well, this is the way it's going to sound and here's where you're going to be. But this is the general idea, you know. If you choose to accept this assignment, email my people.

HANSEN: Is it true you don't have a computer?

HICKS: I'd like to say yet.

HANSEN: Yet.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HICKS: It's 2009, I mean, yet. And how long have these computers been out now, 30 years?

HANSEN: Yeah.

HICKS: Yet.

HANSEN: Yeah.

HICKS: I just haven't gotten to it. You know, there's some things I think I'm missing or something. I just haven't gotten to the business of learning to do a computer. And my life seems all right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SONG FOR MY FATHER")

HANSEN: This is Horace Silver's "Song for My Father."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SONG FOR MY FATHER")

HANSEN: This is a lovely arrangement of this tune.

HICKS: Oh, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SONG FOR MY FATHER")

HICKS: I think it's one of the best sounds on the album. If I was just going to pick a song at random and play for somebody, I'd probably play that one. It's got kind of a Latin feel. It's got some Spanish lyrics toward the end of the song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SONG FOR MY FATHER")

HICKS: (Singing foreign language)

The way that came about, you know, I was thinking about having Linda Ronstadt - I don't think she's going to mind me saying this - sing maybe as a guest shot. She could sing with me. You know, she's sort of, like, hard to get kind of person. You know, so you don't just, like, see her on the street and go, hey, you know, we're recording tomorrow. Why don't you come on in? Even though she lives somewhere around here cloaked in mystery, I've been told.

Like world famous people, by the time you're told where they live, they've already moved and they live across the world somewhere else. But I was told she doesn't like to do guest stuff, and I don't know. And, also, I was told she's also only singing in Spanish these days. So I don't know whether that was subterfuge or what. But...

HANSEN: But if you've got Spanish lyric on this tune, right?

HICKS: So, we did it. We had the whole song actually in Spanish. I said, okay, okay. You know, so I made up a Spanish vocal. I don't think we ever even heard anything after that. I don't know what the deal was.

HANSEN: Well, maybe she'll hear this, right?

HICKS: Yeah.

HANSEN: Yeah. Did you know that there's a Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks tribute band in Australia?

HICKS: That's funny...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HICKS: ...you should say that, because it's such a - to me it's the greatest. That is the greatest. I'm always flattered when somebody does a tune of mine. I certainly don't take it for granted. And it's the greatest when other people do my songs. Gerry Hale and the Innocent Bystanders, and I guess it's been out for at least a year. And actually, I'm going to be going to Australia with my wife - just the two of us - and I'm going to sing with these guys.

HANSEN: Cool.

HICKS: Yeah. It's going to be good.

HANSEN: It'll be fun.

HICKS: I'm looking forward to that being good.

HANSEN: Good.

HICKS: Yes, as opposed to, like, horrific.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HICKS: Yeah, I want to have the glass half full...

HANSEN: That's it.

HICKS: ...on this deal.

HANSEN: Dan Hicks...

HICKS: Yeah.

HANSEN: ...speaking to us from San Francisco. Thank you so much.

HICKS: Yeah, this was good. I liked it. Thank you.

HANSEN: "Tangled Tales" is the latest CD from Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks. And you can hear more songs from it at NPRMusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHO ARE YOU?")

HICKS: (Singing) I called you up to see if you wanted to go to watch the (unintelligible) in the rodeo. I took a drink, I says (unintelligible), before I knew it I was talking trash. She did not know I was a skydiver. I broke my leg, it didn't even hurt. (unintelligible) it's like the girl who grabbed me and she said, she says, who are you, where you going, what is your name and you don't try to get away from me. Say, I heard a little about you, it's a little out of line, but won't you lay a little on me?

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