Dan Hicks has seen a few things in his time on this earth, from being a part of the San Francisco Sound of the 1960’s while playing with The Charlatans, to living in Haight Ashbury as a self-proclaimed hippie turned hipster, and most recently to beating fourth stage throat cancer at the age of 72. Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks have been hitting the road since he’s recovered, and they’ll be visiting us here in Atlanta at Eddie’s Attic this Saturday.
You started out playing music at a fairly young age with the drums, what drew you to that instrument at first?
I must have been 10 when I took up the drums in the 6th grade, and I guess I just kept going with the drums and was playing in kind of a Dixie Land band. I don’t know exactly what drew me to the drums. I know that I had considered a couple other instruments – the violin, but that hurt my wrists so I didn’t like that, and then I was thinking about the barimba because we had people that would come around and teach barimba. I don’t know exactly why I considered the drums, but I did, and I went from there.
What’s your favorite instrument to play now?
I still have a drumset, and I still play but I took up rhythm guitar when I was about 20, and started doing the kind of folk music teaching myself, so I kind of stuck with that. I was playing both instruments for quite a while, but probably when I formed the Hot Licks in 1968, I started just exclusively playing the guitar. That’s what I play on stage now.
What was it like being a part of the San Francisco music scene in the 60’s?
Well, I was in one of the early rock bands, The Charlatans. Before I joined them, I was going to San Francisco State College from about 1959 on so I was there for a few years and that’s when I started living in San Francisco. I was playing guitar as a single folk singer guy playing around some of the bars and clubs in San Francisco, but then I joined The Charlatans mainly as the drummer. That was a good thing too for me, that was when the Summer of Love and all that stuff started happening and we were playing with the Dead, and I played a lot of gigs with all those bands, being on the same bill as The Charlatans, so that was good. I lived in Haight Ashbury during a lot of that period, and I was definitely there. I was in my early to mid 20’s so it was a good period for me. It was definitely a good time to be that age and everything else, with all that happened. I was in a few marches, protests, I was a part of the whole thing I would say.
Would you consider yourself a hippie?
You know as far as I can think, general picture, I think I was. I definitely found, when I started associating with The Charlatans, and I had just graduated from college, I kind of gravitated towards that alternative lifestyle. I had found like minded people, so you could say that. Now I call myself more of a hipster, which is an other, a little bit more I dunno, likes jazz and that kind of stuff. But yeah, I was a hippie I guess, maybe I still am.
What bands or artists would you say influence the music you play the most?
It’s kind of eclectic. Being a drummer I liked jazz at an early age and through high school I liked all the jazz people and all the big band, swing stuff. I like all that music to listen to and to play the drums to. Then when I took up the guitar I started liking more country stuff and I liked all the folk singers, like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and all the people that were popular in the folk scene. I had a lot of influences. I kind of combined the jazzy stuff and the swing stuff with the folk singing to make my music. With the swing violin and the girls singing with me, I was influenced by some of the early vocal groups. It was nothing I tried to emulate or copy especially, they were just what I liked I guess.
What bands or artists do you currently admire?
I’m not motivated to listen to a lot of the current music going on, a lot of it’s rock and roll and kind of noisy, and I’m not really into the pop stuff. I don’t know, I still like listening to the same stuff I always have. I’m really just a jazz guy. I still like twang stuff too, that’s where my taste is, that’s what speaks to me.
You had a recent bout with fourth stage throat cancer. How did you feel when you were diagnosed?
It took me by surprise, I had a sore throat for a long time and I didn’t know what it was and that kind of thing. I started treatment in early February, and went for a couple months through radiation and chemotherapy and so I had to pretty much do that, and post-pone a bunch of gigs that we had planned to do, and we’ve been making those up, did those more recently. That was not real pleasant, it was a hard thing to do, but I had a lot of help from my wife.
I had a concert in the middle of May in San Francisco that was while I was doing the treatment, so I was always working on that. I had kind of a goal to be ready to do that concert. I was working on that at the same time I was being sick.
How do you feel now?
I had some recent X-rays and MRI test scans, and they pronounced me with a clean bill of health so they tell me it’s all out of there so that’s good. I still have stuff to deal with, my taste buds are still kind of rocky, still kind of lingering on, but I’m certainly way way better than I was during the treatment period. You kind of have to, I don’t want to say grin and bear it, but you gotta bear it. It’s something I’m glad is over, it was a hassle. My voice was not affected really, so that was good too.
You’re playing at Eddie’s Attic soon, what are you looking forward to?
The shows have been good, good listening audiences, audiences that get it, get the music, get the jokes. I like people to have dug it, so that’s my goal, to entertain and usually people are smiling and tapping their feet, so that’s what my objective is.
Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks will be at Eddie’s Attic this Saturday, Oct. 11. Tickets are $25 advance, $32 at the door. Doors open at 6pm.