Dan Hicks on Bette…

Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks W/Guests
To Dan Hicks, the current rebirth of big band swing and jazz is just another curl in the same wave he’s been riding since the late ’60s.

Seemingly fixed in time, Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks delighted audiences in the early 1970s with swinging flashbacks to the jazzy sounds of another era. Hicks’ dry humor on the likes of “Where’s the Money?” and “I Scare Myself” was especially winning, as was his low-key vocal interplay with his sexy backing singers, Naomi Eisenberg and Mary Ann Price.

Hicks retired the concept with the 1973 album “Last Train to Hicksville,” choosing to record, if at all, as a solo act, or to tour with his Acoustic Warriors. Now, however, the Hot Licks are alive and kicking, thanks to Dave Kaplan, president of Encinitas-based Surfdog Records.

Kaplan induced Hicks to revive the Hot Licks concept for his album, “Beatin’ the Heat,” enticing him with the promise of a number of prominent guest stars and a chance to introduce his music to a new audience.

Eisenberg and Price are long gone, so who, Hicks is asked, would be in the Hot Licks who appear on the album and will perform with him at the Belly Up Tavern?

Meet the Hot Licks

“Who would be? Oh, you know, Peggy Lee, if she was a little younger. And Eartha Kitt would be, if I could find her,” the ever-droll Hicks, 59, said from his Bay Area office.

Hicks settled for Susan Rabin and Annabelle Cruz, singer-percussionists from Marin County, along with bassist Allen Gleason, violinist Brian Godchaux and guitarist Tom Mitchell. Of course, “Beat the Heat” also features an all-star cast that includes Brian Setzer, who provides hot guitar licks on several songs, and duet partners Elvis Costello (“Meet Me on the Corner”) and Tom Waits (“I’ll Tell You Why That Is”); Hicks also sings Waits’ classic “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me).”

And for a revamp of “I Scare Myself,” fellow hipster Rickie Lee Jones got to be an honorary Lickette.

“Rickie Lee was coming in to do ‘Driftin,’ and they said, ‘Let’s put down a track,’ because it sounds a little different than the rest of the stuff. The guys down in L.A. and San Diego, they kind of devised this sound.

“So Rickie Lee and myself just sang over it, just to see if it would work, if it was good enough. And it turned out nice.”

Duet with Bette Midler

Hicks felt that Kaplan, who produced the album with Gary Hoey, “wanted to reach a bunch of people that haven’t heard of me, hadn’t heard me. And he thought, if that’s going to happen, let’s have ‘I Scare Myself’ on there.”

Perhaps even more remarkable is the duet with Bette Midler on “Strike It While It’s Hot,” a song that could have come out of the 1940s. Midler, a longtime Hicks fan who has recorded his “Up, Up, Up” and included “Hell, I’d Go” in her live shows, resisted any temptation to camp up the song, turning in a beautifully jazzy performance.

“I think she’s a very versatile singer. When I first played that for somebody, I think the day we did it, he said it didn’t sound like Bette Midler,” Hicks said. “That’s one of her voices. She was kind of viewing that tune as more straightforward. She even jazzed up a little bit more than I did, and I liked it.”

Intriguingly, the songs on “Beatin’ the Heat” not only sound vintage, they are. Three date from the ’60s, including “I’ve Got a Capo on My Brain,” and most of the rest were initiated in the ’70s and completed recently. Hicks, who declares, “I like a jazz feel, so I kind of like where I fit,” insisted that his style has changed so little that he saw no need to update the material.

“I might want to improve on them, maybe add stuff,” Hicks said. “It’s kind of like how I do it — did it then and how I do it now. I mean, can you name somebody whose style has changed?”

Bob Dylan, perhaps?

“Oh, that guy.”

Mikel Toombs, Union-Tribune

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