Charlatans and Dan Hicks

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(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

(Translated from my original Italian text by Ornella C. Grannis)

The founders of San Francisco acid-rock, the first band to break away from the conventions of the Merseybeat, and to ingest massive doses of LSD, were the Charlatans. The group was built around two folksingers, singer and drummer Dan Hicks and guitar player Mike Wilhelm, and one underground light show experimenter, George Hunter.

In the summer of 1965 in Virginia City, Nevada, the Charlatans and a small following of hippies took over the Red Dog Saloon and held concerts six days a week. The premises, where Hunter created the first light shows, and psychedelic guru Ken Kesey had become a fixture, were soon filled by young people from the neighboring towns. When the police chased them out of Virginia City, the hippie gathering moved to San Francisco. What happened afterwards in San Francisco was nothing but the continuation of what the Charlatans and their friends had started in Nevada.

But only after many years scanty and faded echoes of their sound reached vinyl. The album they recorded in 1967 with singer Lynne Hughes, that includes Codine and The Shadow Knows, was released after ten years with the title The Charlatans (Groucho, 1977).

After losing Hicks and Hunter, Mike Wilhelm and the remaining members recorded The Charlatans (Philips, 1969), a record that has nothing acid about it.

Mike Wilhelm went on to form the Loose Gravel, whose songs can be found on the live album Thanks For The Memories (Bucketful Of Brains, 1992); then he joined the Flamin' Groovies. He also recorded a solo album, Mean of Frisco (1985).

Dan Hicks formed the Hot Licks, a western swing band. Original Recordings (Epic, 1969), which includes the acoustic How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away, Canned Music and I Scared Myself originated a genre of folk-jazz ballad that has nothing in common with the acid-rock of the Charlatans. With a lineup that included Sid Page at the violin, John Girton at the guitar, Jaime Leonard at the bass, and two female vocalists, the band produced songs that were both intelligent and witty on Where' s The Money (Blue Thumb, 1971), Striking It Rich (Blue Thumb, 1972) and Last Train To Hicksville (Blue Thumb, 1973), all collected on Return To Hicksville (Hip-O).

Hicks came back with Beatin' The Heat (Surfdog, 2000), credited to the Hot Licks, although only Sid Page remains of the original lineup, an album worthy of the multi-form roots-rock that characterized his earlier works.

(Original text by Piero Scaruffi)

The jazzy acoustic Shootin' Straight (1994) includes the original versions of Who Are You and 13-D.

Tangled Tales (2009) proved that Hicks was a songwriter and arranger as good as any of the new generations. His Tangled Tales as well as the songs recycled from Shootin' Straight (Who Are You and 13-D in particular) would have been standout tracks on many of the hyped albums of that year. Guests include veterans such as David Grisman, Charlie Musselwhite and Richard Greene.

Dan Hicks died in 2016. Mike Wilhelm died in 2019.

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