Tommy LiPuma On Dan Hicks

Re: Dan Hicks

Dear Bob,

I can’t tell you how pleased I was to read your post on Dan Hicks. First, it helped bring me out of a deep funk I had been in since his wife Clare called me Saturday morning with the news that Dan had passed. Also, it was great to read about his talent and achievements in some form other than an obituary.

We were close…close to the point that my wife Gill and I had decided to name our second daughter after Dan. Her name is Danielle. Whenever Dan and I spoke to one another, he would always ask, “How’s what’s-her-name?” I feel fortunate to have spoken to him just the week before his demise, and though he sounded weak, we spoke very enthusiastically about our mutual admiration for the “swing” era, and I did get a chance to send him some Ellington, Johnny Hodges, and Ben Webster. Also some sister Rosetta Tharp. His wife Clare e-mailed me that he loved it. She also told me that he listened to music right up to the end.

I was also glad that you spoke so highly of “Striking It Rich.” I had just mentioned to a friend that out of the three albums we did together at Blue thumb, “Striking it Rich” was my favorite. Not to take away from the other two as they certainly had their moments, but we caught that magic that happens sometimes when you put six talented people in a room together.

They were such a delight to see in person. That’s why I suggested to Dan his first album for us should be with a live audience. In that case it was the Troubadour.

At the time we were planning the second release, which was going to be a studio album, I was working with a very talented and astute engineer by the name of Bruce Botnick, who worked at Sunset Sound. I asked him how could we keep the band within close proximity to one another for that live effect and still keep the microphone leakage to a minimum. So he set the room up with Dan, his rhythm guitar, and the Lickettes on one side, and the violin, standup bass and guitar opposite them, within eye contact, and about six feet separating them. Having the “live” side of the mics opposite each other cut the leakage to the point that we decided not to use any baffles, so what you’re hearing is a great performance in the middle of all that room ambiance. We may have fixed a few vocal phrases, but otherwise it was all live.

Elvis Costello was a big fan of Dan’s. As a matter of fact, he recorded something for one of Dan’s later albums. He brought up a good point to me when we communicated this weekend, If I may quote: “There is such a lot of soul in his songs and I wonder sometimes if the very stagecraft that made him so appealing to me when I picked up ‘Where’s The Money’ might have made less curious people think that this was just a novelty act and miss the depth of the songs.”

I also didn’t think that breaking the band up at the height of his notoriety helped his career, but I respected his decision. He wasn’t the type of guy who wanted to get up at five in the morning to do the Today Show, or have to deal with any of a number of things that come with the territory.

I think the trappings were just that to Dan, and he didn’t want any part of it. He certainly didn’t stop performing, My wife and I saw him about two years ago in Fairfield, Ct. playing to a rabid crowd of fans, clapping as they heard every gem of a tune being performed. Ahmet Ertegan walked up to Al Schmitt and me when I was doing the live album with Hicks at the Troubadour, and he said, “Are you recording this band of gypsies?” I told Dan afterwards, and he smiled and said “Yeh, I can see that.” Dan was short on bullshit, and long on talent, and I loved him like a brother.

Both my wife and I will miss him.

Tommy LiPuma

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