Before bands such as Asleep at the Wheel were rebirthing western swing and the Manhattan Transfer brought sophisticated jazz harmonies to ears raised on rock, guitarist/singer/songwriter Dan Hicks was blending these elements and others with a big dose of idiosyncrasy. The result was the Hot Licks, one of the most original groups pop has ever spawned. Originally the drummer for the seminal '60s San Francisco rock band the Charlatans, Hicks fashioned an acoustic lineup inspired by jazz guitar master Django Reinhardt's Hot Club Quintet. Prominent in the sound was violinist Sid Page and even more so were Hicks' vocal partners, Maryann Price and Naomi Ruth Eisenberg. Perky swing numbers and good-timey lyrics would give way to suave, haunting harmonies and Hicks's lyrical peculiarities, such as his best-known, much-covered "I Scare Myself." Sometimes the peculiarity headed straight to the melody. Very often, Hicks's oddball humor was in play.
Hicks has recorded since, but the prime cuts from the Hot Licks' catalog are found on their early '70s work for the Blue Thumb label. Just out is a CD/DVD "live" reunion package that features the classic lineup and dozens of guests. Years ago, thanks to some incredibly thoughtless booking, the Hot Licks opened here for Steppenwolf. Fans of the headliners pelted them with ice cubes. It's expected that Hicks will be more warmly received this time.