Sunday, March 10, 2013

Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks -- "Shorty Falls In Love" (1971)

As we sped around the world 
To see what we could see
But I saw you and you saw me mostly

That's "most-LY," by the way -- accent on the second syllable.

"Shorty Falls in Love" -- the last track on side one of Where's the Money, a live album that Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks recorded at the legendary Troubador club in West Hollywood -- is one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

The song begins with a non sequitur -- Dan Hicks announces to his audience that "This tune was written by Gower Champion."  Gower Champion was a famous dancer (he and his wife Marge starred in seven M-G-M musicals in the fifties, including Showboat) who became an even more famous Broadway choreographer and director.  

Champion directed Bye Bye Birdie, Carnival, Hello Dolly!, and 42nd Street, among others, and won a total of eight Tony Awards.  But I don't think he ever wrote a song -- much less this song.  I can only think that Hicks used his name because he thought it was funny.  

When the audience fails to react to his Gower Champion gag, Hicks gets a little defensive before suddenly shifting from his depressive gear to his manic one.  "You probably think it's easy being up here, singing and playing and everything, but it's not -- it's not easy," he says.  "Thank you!"

Poster for a 1972 Hot Licks performance
This is the first but not the last non sequitur on "Shorty Falls in Love," which begins with a fabulous jazz violin solo by Sid Page.

Then, out of nowhere, Maryann Price (who teamed with Naomi Ruth Eisenberg to form the "Lickettes") jumps in and spits out the words of the first verse at a pace that is almost too fast for the human ear to comprehend -- how she can articulate the lyrics at this speed is a mystery to me:

Whirlwinds of thoughts of you, I recreate the scene
The time we met, I can't forget, I mean
All the things we've done together
Since that golden day

Maryann then lists some of those things she and her lover have done together -- they've climbed a mountain just to see the moon, done the hulu dance on the white sands of the beach at Waikiki, and taken in a bullfight in Spain.

Maryann Price
The journey to Spain inspired this memorable non sequitur:

The trip to Spain was so insane
We could hardly watch the bull
Luckily the ring that day was full
Just as full as my heart was
The day you became mine

The song ends with the lines quoted at the beginning of this post.  

The songs on Where's the Money are uniformly weird and wonderful.  I'll just quote one of its other tracks, a catchy little ditty sung by a concerned husband that's titled "Is This My Happy Home?"

The little things you don't pick up
Like a ringing telephone
Have set my mind to wondering
Is this my happy home?

Things quickly go from bad to worse for this unhappy gentleman:

And dinner when there is one
Has been the TV kind
The dogs and cats play on the floor
And then they do some more

Hmmm . . . that's no happy home, Jack -- I'd pack my bags and hit the road if I were you.

Dan Hicks attended San Francisco State in the late fifties and got his musical start as the drummer for the Charlatans, perhaps the first "San Francisco Sound" bands of the sixties.  (Some people compare them to the Grateful Dead, but I think their mix of folk, blues, and psychedelic music was closer to Moby Grape.) 

When they signed with Kama Sutra Records in 1966, the Charlatans wanted their first single to be their cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Codine," which was inspired by her addiction to codeine.  (The spelling is deliberate -- the band pronounces the word "co-dyne," not "co-deen.")  Kama Sutra flatly refused to release the song, even though it didn't glorify drug use but was instead a cautionary tale of the dangers of drugs.

Hicks left the Charlatans in 1968 to form Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, which was notable for not having a drummer.  (Hicks shifted to guitar with the Hot Licks.)  The group's music is purely acoustic.  It's hard to classify, but I guess it's more swing than anything else -- it may remind you of Asleep at the Wheel (which is more Western swing than the Hot Licks) or Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airman (which was honky-tonkier)

Here's how Hicks described his music many years later:

My music is kind of a blending.  We have acoustic instruments.  It starts out with kind of a folk music sound, and we add a jazz beat and solos and singing.  We have the two girls that sing, and jazz violin, and all that, so it’s kind of light in nature, it’s not loud.  And, it’s sort of, in a way, kinda carefree.  Most of the songs are, I wouldn’t say funny, but kinda maybe a little humorous.  We all like jazz, so we like to play in a jazzy way, with a swing sound you know, so I call it “folk swing."  

Dan Hicks in 2009
Hicks broke up the Hot Licks after the group's third album was released in 1973.  They reunited for a 1992 Austin City Limits, but never recorded again.  Hicks eventually put together a new Hot Licks lineup and has recorded with a variety of other artists (including Bette Midler, Elvis Costello, and Tom Waits).  

Dan Hicks is a true musical eccentric.  He's now 71 years old and just as weird as he ever was.

Click this link to listen to "Shorty Falls in Love."  (The first of the three versions listed is the one from the Where's the Money album.)

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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