Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks return with a new album of Selected Shorts.

From out in the south part of Northern California, that sweatered land of cool sunshine and moony evenings where he moved from Arkansas at the age of 5, American musical icon Dan Hicks took pause from the melodious melee running round his brain to contemplate the essence of Florida. "I'm seeing hot. Hot weather. Way too hot," he said by phone, the sweat flying off his words. "I'm getting to the age where I'm real sensitive to hot. No man, whoa. Heat. Hot. Too hot."

Most folks say they move to Florida because they can't take the cold. But Dan Hicks isn't like most folks. Tom Waits describes the 64-year-old artist as "fly, sly, wily and dry." Bette Midler calls Hicks "lightning in a bottle." To Rickie Lee Jones, Hicks is an "authority of a groove that we don't get to hear unless he does it."

Music reviewers have gone berserk describing Hicks' music, constantly dressing Hoagy Carmichael in chaps and turning Bob Wills onto acid in desperate analogies to the otherworldly. Certainly, a gap would exist in American music today if Dan had picked up an archaeologist's shovel instead of drumsticks at the age of 14.

"The old flamingo-type bars, the front porches with people sitting all around, the old Yiddish hotels, the chicks," he's riffing on Florida again. "The chicks, yeah. That's what I'm seein'. Oh yeah. Hot. That's Florida."

Hicks doesn't have a clue. But he doesn't need to. In the latest album with his signature band the Hot Licks, he sings, "Wherever I go, that's where I am."

To that end, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks will be at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg Friday night and at Player's Theatre in Sarasota on Sunday night. Add a Saturday gig at the Bamboo Room in Lake Worth ("Where the hell is that? What coast is it on?"), and you have a short, but long overdue, Florida swing in support of Selected Shorts, Hicks' second studio album with the Hot Licks in over 20 years.

He says there will be ample yodeling, pin-point scat singing, old jazz standards (for which he always writes new words to end the song), furious musicianship (fiddler Richard Chom, bassist Paul Smith, guitarist Dave Bell), the wonderfully intricate call-and-response vocalizations of The Lickettes (divas Daria and Roberta Donnay) and tunes "from across the Hickstrum" — an incredible musical catalogue that began way back in 1965.

That's when a 24-year-old Dan Hicks graduated from San Francisco State University (with a broadcasting degree) and began drumming with the Charlatans, considered the first of the psychedelic-era rock bands. Dressing in full Edwardian attire, the quartet held court as the house band at the Red Dog Saloon in the remote, hippie-crazed ghost town of Virginia City, Nev. There, playing to Ken Kesey and the world's first LSD commune, the path to Marrakesh was paved for Charlatans' opening acts like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Quicksilver Messenger Service. Eventually, the Nevada state police chased the hippie squatters to the Pacific where they settled in San Francisco to change American pop culture forever.

Discounting the extreme volume, lengthy jams and dreamy dope-ola of the new music, Hicks preferred traditional sounds, merging the voices in his head with jazz, blues, folk, Western swing and country. Frank Zappa's head on Rosemary Clooney's body. Joe Venuti and Django Rinehardt pumping gas at the Texaco. Hicks quit the Charlatans and formed the Hot Licks in '69, picked up a guitar and moved out front, and for the next four years rode high, releasing five critically acclaimed albums and appearing regularly on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Then Hicks walked away.

Why? The question is asked so much it is a FAQ on his website ( "I didn't want to be a bandleader anymore. It was a load and a load I didn't want ... I cared less as the thing went on."

Over the next few decades, Hicks tinkered with various ensembles (Acoustic Warriors, Bayside Jazz), even appearing in low-rent bars as Lonesome Dan Hicks. The musical recluse stopped drinking and smoking, published a comic strip, wrote children's books and took acting jobs in creepy late-night flicks. That's where Dan Hicks (the man who wrote "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?") was.

In 1998, it all came back around. David Kaplan of Surfdog Records convinced Hicks to regroup the Hot Licks for the studio album Beatin' the Heat (2000), followed a year later by the concert disc Alive & Lickin'. The latest project, the intricate and lovely Selected Shorts, was released last year, featuring Bob Dylan's drummer (Jim Keltner) and bass player (Tony Garnier), a cameo by Butthole Surfer star Gibby Haynes, and duets with Willie Nelson and Jimmy Buffett.

"With Buffett and I, it has been a mutual admiration society," Hicks says. "He liked what I was doing with the Lickettes in the '70s and I always liked his thing. I sent him a couple tunes and he suggested 'Barstool Boogie.' We did it by remote, overdub. That was bullshit about the two of us on barstools in the studio, by the way."

Nelson recorded "One More Cowboy" in Austin, under the watchful eye of Ray Benson. "Willie? I don't believe I have ever met the guy in my life," Hicks says. "I am glad he was aware of me. I guess you could say it was a duet. It's legitimate, isn't it? Do you have to be in the same town? Should I call it a duet after the fact?"

The wild complexities of Hicksville music are not achieved by serendipity, says the artist, who pre-records numerous multi-track demos to teach musicians their parts. "With me everything you need to know about my song will fit on one music stand. Basically I just kind of build it. I find the basic chord, get the solid rhythm beat thing going and write out a few parts. I sing into a tape recorder," he says, claiming that do-do-DOH-dee-dee might end up a "hell of a hot fiddle fill or sax riff. I give people ideas. I don't just sit there and say 'Gee I don't know what it's supposed to sound like.' I do know and I let people know. Then I sit back and watch it take off from there."

At 64, Hicks has kicked his career back into high gear, and doesn't see the sense in chewing over his legacy. "It may be something I'll do later in life, lean back and contemplate on where the great Dan Hicks should rank in the annals of music, but it isn't that time yet," he says.

"How can I? Today the great Dan Hicks is going to have to crank up the car and do errands all over town. I got to Xerox some shit down at the library, pick up some groceries, go to the cleaners, drive for an hour-and-a-half in traffic and come home cussin' like anyone else."

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