Roberta Donnay: A Conversation With Dan Hicks

I’ve been performing on the road with Dan Hicks now about eight years, as a “Lickette” and member of the band “Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks”. I wanted to ask Dan about some musical things I thought he might want to talk about and also, maybe talk about life in general. I’m quite pleased with the way this turned out and especially with Dan’s answers which are both insightful and entertaining! I hope you enjoy them as much as I did and still do.” – Roberta Donnay


RD: Of all the characters in all the songs you’ve written, which character do you most identify with ?

DH:  Honestly, I cannot find one particular character in the songs where I say, “That’s me!”. (Of course, there’s a bit of “me” in every song.) Most of the “identifying” happens in the writing process – where, in most songs,  I assume the first-person narrative as being myself. Also, in singing or delivering the song it helps to think: this story has happened or is happening to me. (Even if it didn’t or isn’t).

In writing, I might create someone who I wish were me. A fantasy trip.  Vicarious adventure. If I want to be flip in answering this question, I could say the guy “Crazy” in “Crazy, ‘cause he is” – “He’s a questionnaire with no question there !”

RD:  You have such a distinctive style of scat singing (and yodeling!) How did you develop this style and where do your ideas come from?

DH:  I guess I haven’t thought much that my scatting is “distinctive”.  When I scat I want to be right up there with the other scatters of the world.  I think of making a good, melodic, creative, listenable solo. The best “idea” people are the instrumentalists, so why not try to be as good as them?  I like to vary my sounds, my vowels, my syllables, my consonants, but mostly make it swing – maybe it be good jazz.  I think my style has developed just by doing it and doing it. Having confidence that it’s not schlock or corny helps, too.  I like to keep scatting at somewhat of a minimum because I’m not sure how much of it people want to hear or can take.  The yodeling is my stab at yodeling.  I must have heard it in scatting, somewhere. You have to keep a cool lid on that, too.  Yodeling does have a bad rap.  When soloing I do consciously think: “I think I’ll yodel now!” But otherwise, I’m just flowing with the changes.

RD:  Who are your favorite singers?

DH: It depends on the song, the particular recording, the moment. I’ve aspired to have the ability that many singers already possess.  I hear good (and enviable) stuff in many singers.  When asked this question I tend to go back to the original jazz singer people. Joe Williams, Anita O’Day, like that. I used to like Bing Crosby but now I think he’s a self-indulgent prune.

RD:  What inspires you ?

DH:  I think I’m inspired by my current position in life – being with the right partner, being sober, being musical, being funny, being creative, being a free American, being respected, having good friends.  There were times when I didn’t think I had any of these things – I wasn’t very inspired.  I get inspired by doing something well.

RD:  Are there any contemporary (or still alive) artists that you listen to?

DH: My listening, currently, is pretty much the luck of the draw. I don’t seem to “put on” records or discs or tapes of anybody.  My radio is on to hear the jazz channels. Like-wise TV Comcast.  Likewise Sirius radio in the car.  Who would I go see right now?  You tell me !  Maybe a revival band of The Benny Goodman Orchestra or Don Rickles in a coffeehouse, or Randy Newman in a seminar.

RD:  Who is the one person who most influenced you in your life or if you could have dinner with anyone (dead or alive) who would it be and what would you ask them?

DH:  I don’t have any one person that influenced me, I don’t think.  I am a product of my parents, so I think of them and their standards.  Mr. Alphonse Schmaltz, my high school band teacher, influenced a lot of us.  He was a jazz pianist and we’d have jam sessions at noon-time in the band room.  I remember still sailin’ when I went back to my regular classes.

I would like to have dinner (or maybe just coffee) with singer-songwriter Jon Hendricks and ask him about the beginning of Lambert-Hendricks-and Ross. And more specifically how he put lyrics to those jazz instrumental solos.

RD:  Any plans for future recordings?

DH:  I’ve got some more recording left in me.  Different projects, different songs, new ideas.  Somehow I must feel that getting product out isn’t that big a deal.  It’s a good thing everyone doesn’t feel that way !

RD: Is there anything that we don’t know about you that you’d like to share?

DH: In the sixth grade, I “pantomimed” a record, “Poor Little Josey” with this girl next door for a talent show.  The recording was by Rosemary Clooney and Jimmy Boyd.

In the sixth grade (in a different school), I wrote a play “Valentine’s Day In South America” performed by the class for the school.

About 20 different people have recorded my tunes from Bill Wyman to the Bleeker Street Reality Band to Bette Midler to Muzak.

I am lousy at sports, car mechanics, cooking gourmet meals, remembering new lyrics, never getting angry, and other stuff.

God allowed the Pearl Harbor attack to happen on December 7, 1941. Two days later He made up for it by having me born ! This is my story and I’m stickin’ to it ! I will always be humble to my dying day.  On my dying day I will explain to the world how lucky they have been to be alive the same time as me !


For more on Dan Hicks:


Here’s a flashback to Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks circa 1972:

From 2012 “Long Comma Viper”:


~ Roberta Donnay




Roberta Donnay is a Jazz Recording Artist and award-winning singer/songwriter, who’s been a member of the Hot Licks since 2005.  Donnay regularly tours with Dan, and recently signed with Motema Music (NYC) for her own jazz recordings. 

Outlaw Magazine. Country, Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk, Americana, Punk. As long as it is real, it is OUTLAW. Overproduced mediocrity need not apply.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.