Dan Hicks

I suppose it will have been in late 1971 or early 1972. I was meeting my girlfriend, but had stopped on the way to pick up my monthly copy of Zigzag, an odd, rather amateurishly produced alternative magazine that featured articles and interviews about mainly American rock music. It wasn’t like Sounds or NME, which concentrated on the charts. The fact that it was named after a Capt. Beefheart song gives an indication of where it was coming from. It also had Pete Frame’s Rock Family Trees, where the various incarnations of groups would be presented in diagram form – ideal material for me, who liked to know everything about the bands I favoured. Anyway, when I arrived at my girlfriend’s house, I remember her saying “I see you’ve got your instructions, then,” referring to the copy of Zigzag in my hand. I argued feebly that I could make my own mind up about what to like, but she was right. I tended to follow the advice I found there, as a way of broadening my collection of records by loon-panted denizens of Laurel Canyon. And sometimes, this led to my acquiring albums that really weren’t worth persevering with, but I would try because Zigzag said they were good. Thus, I had a copy of Poco’s A Good Feeling to Know, which was not a good album to buy, try as I might to like it. There were a few other duds of this proto-Eagles country-rock type. But Zigzag also alerted me to people I would never otherwise have come across, and whose music I have been listening to in the intervening forty-odd years.

One such is Dan Hicks, whose death was announced yesterday. I took a chance on his album Striking it Rich, bought from Rare Records in Manchester. Along with his backing group the Hot Licks, Dan went on a streak of brilliant records in the early seventies, but for me, that album, with its giant matchbox design, was the pinnacle of his achievement. The sound has elements of Django Reinhardt, and of western swing. The songs are often wryly observational, and frequently funny, delivered by Dan in a laconic, throwaway style, and supported by the Andrews sisters-style harmonies of the Lickettes. I played that album over and over again – to my soon-to-be-departed girlfriend’s annoyance. I loved the interplay of the voices, the timbre of Sid Page’s violin, and the timeless quality of the sound: this didn’t seem to be music of the seventies, or any other decade. It still sounds, to me, brilliantly fresh now. Have a listen to “I Scare Myself” from Striking it Rich to see if you agree:

CC BY-SA 4.0 Dan Hicks by Dr Rob Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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