Dan Hicks - vocals, guitar; Paul Robinson - lead guitar; Jim Hurley- fiddle, mandolin; Nils Molin - string bass; Josh Riskin - percussion
Before bands like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service existed, the foundation of the 1960s San Francisco music scene was being set by The Charlatans, who had a concept that would influence nearly every San Francisco band to follow. Inspired by The British Invasion, The Beat Poets, the Old Wild West and LSD, The Charlatans would be the first San Francisco group to embrace style in everything they did, both on and off stage. Their repertoire was wide ranging and included traditional folk, blues, jug band, country and 'old timey' jazz, all performed on amplified instruments and their own eclectic originals. Dan Hicks, one of the principal songwriters, often wrote songs fueled with sarcasm and cynicism, which was distinctly different from the hippie vibe rapidly emerging all around them. Although The Charlatans would enter the studio several times between 1966 and 1968, the inability of record executives to understand their concept, combined with their own disregard for any logical businesslike thinking, would result in only one obscure novelty single being released during the group's heyday.
Dan Hicks & The Hot Licks began in 1968 when Hicks left The Charlatans to pursue his own path. In his new group, Hicks worked within a more acoustic framework and surrounded himself with accomplished musicians and singers. The repertoire featured an eccentric blend of folk, country and 'old timey' parlor music fused with Hick's absurd sense of humor. The group experienced modest commercial success and toured nationally throughout the early 1970s, leaving behind a discography that contains much of Hicks' most revered work, much of it influential to the present day. The Hot Licks disbanded by the mid-1970s and Hicks partly retired from entertainment. A decade later, Hicks resurfaced and formed a new group called Dan Hicks & the Acoustic Warriors. Surrounding himself with a changing roster of seasoned musicians, the Acoustic Warriors sound was focused on a style Hicks dubbed as "folk-swing music." Somewhere between Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys and Asleep at the Wheel, the Acoustic Warriors would become the main vehicle for Hicks' live shows from 1987 onward.
This live recording from the archive of Bill Graham Presents, taped at the annual Hog Farm PigNic event over the labor day weekend in 1996, captures Dan Hicks & the Acoustic Warriors performing before a highly receptive audience at the beautiful outdoor location of Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, CA. A natural music bowl beside a wooded riverside location with unlimited camping, this event inspires a memorable performance that features plenty of the "folk-swing" that made this group so compelling, in addition to a choice selection of vintage Hot Licks-era material. This lineup of the Acoustic Warriors boasted a superb front-line, featuring primary soloists Paul Robinson on lead and slide guitar and the phenomenal string virtuoso Jim Hurley on violin and mandolin. Along with Hicks himself, the acoustic rhythm section featured Nils Molin on string bass and Josh Riskin adding a myriad of tasteful percussion elements.
Performing without a soundcheck and with the mix being adjusted on the fly, this detracts little from the easy going groove established on the opening number "Peach Pickin' Time In Georgia." Serving as a warmup exercise, this sets a humorous 'old-timey' vibe and even features some of Hicks' accomplished yodeling near the end, which will continue to surface throughout the set. Sufficiently warmed up, the group take flight with an instrumental workout on "Sweet Georgia Brown." Robinson's bottleneck slide work is the first to impress here, followed by outstanding fiddle and string bass solos from Hurley and Molin respectively.
Venturing back into Hicks' catalogue, the group next celebrates the seductive nature of live music with a fine arrangement of the Hot Licks-era number "Canned Music." Again, Robinson and Hurley take flight here and perhaps because they are having so much fun, they continue with more classic Hicks' material. Next up is an irresistible blend of country, swing and sarcasm on Hicks classic "How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?" The "Cowboy's Dream #19" that follows is initially marred by technical difficulties with Hurley's mandolin, but once they get it straightened out, this is fine group effort with everyone contributing vocal backup and featuring a standout bass solo from Molin. The highlight of this portion of the set is the improvisations during Hick's best known song, "I Scare Myself," which had become an international hit in the hands of Thomas "She Blinded Me By Science" Dolby. " The Acoustic Warriors take an altogether different approach, with Robinson providing flamenco-style guitar flourishes and everyone getting a chance to solo, including Josh Riskin whose melodic percussion work on glockenspiel is as impressive as the exceptional guitar and fiddle work provided by Robinson and Hurley.
The 'old-timey' swing that the Acoustic Warriors excel at is perfectly represented with their take on "Give Me The Simple Life," which also features another round of impressive solos and allows Hicks to flex his vocal muscles with some scat singing. Approaching the end of their stage time, Hick's and the group wrap it up by tackling two more vintage Hot Licks-era numbers beginning with a high-velocity romp through "The Buzzard Was Their Friend" and closing with Robinson playing some more bottleneck slide on "Payday Blues." These numbers leave the audience clamoring for an encore. Hicks and The Acoustic Warriors oblige by dipping way back into the classic American music catalogue for an enticing performance of Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose," featuring a final dose of Hick's impressive scat singing before transitioning into a outro vamp where Hicks introduces the musicians. This serves as a fond farewell to the Hog Farm PigNic audience and wraps up this highly enjoyable performance. (Bershaw)