And I learned to ride before I learned to stand

I guess you could call that 1977 cross-country trip a learning experience and I’d best tread lightly when it comes to the two Bay Area sisters whose number I had scribbled down from a ride board in San Francisco.  Far better to mention the other traveler, a young Irishman working his way home to Dublin.

From him I learned that if you can manage to veer away from the interstate, a thick Irish brogue will always raise heads in a small town Irish bar.  Get there late enough and they’ll start buying drinks for you…and your friends.

Then there was the fellow’s fascination with this song, which he whistled and sang throughout the entire four days that I knew him.  Once back in Boston it didn’t take long for me to track down the source and lay my hands on a second-hand copy of “Striking It Rich” by Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.

Released in 1972, and with an album cover that made it look like a giant matchbook, it was an easy record to find.  Designed by Dan himself, the record sleeve included an invitation to enter the “Dan Hicks Lookalike Contest,” which is generally not something one would aspire to win.  Although I think trying to look like the man (circa 1972) would be far easier to accomplish than trying to define the man’s music.

Imagine a multi-access traffic circle, or roundabout, that serves as the intersection of jazz, folk, swing, country, pop, bluegrass, cowboy, and gypsy music. That musician you see in the center there, would be Dan Hicks.  Born in Arkansas in 1941 he began life as an army brat, moving to wherever his father was stationed and finally settling in Northern California. Learning to play the drums as a child, he began playing with local dance bands at the age of 14.

After attending San Francisco State College, where he picked up the guitar, Hicks became a Bay Area folk fixture for a time, but as the music evolved so did he.  By 1968 he had formed the illustrious, but ever changing, Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks (with whom he still tours) and would soon gain his well deserved reputation as one of contemporary music’s true eccentrics.

As for that Irishman, I’ll bet he’s a Dan Hicks fan to this day, but I wonder if he knows that the song we all came to know by heart (thanks to him) was actually written by Johnny Mercer for the 1936 film, “Rhythm on the Range”.  Or that the star of that film, Bing Crosby, had a huge hit with it when he recorded it with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra.  Or that “I’m an Old Cowhand” is the song that is credited with cementing Johnny Mercer’s status as an “A-list” songwriter…Yippie yi yo kayah, indeed.

 LISTEN TO THAT SONG – Wednesday 30 January

I’m an Old Cowhand

 I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande

But my legs ain’t bowed and my cheeks ain’t tanned

I’m the cowboy who never saw a cow

Never roped a steer ’cause I don’t know how

And I sure ain’t fixin’ to start in now

Yippie yi yo kayah! Yippie yi yo kayah!

I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande

And I learned to ride before I learned to stand

I’m a ridin’ fool who is up to date

I know every trail in the Lone Star State

‘Cause I ride the range in my Ford V-8

Yippie yi yo kayah! Yippie yi yo kayah!

 I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande

And I come to town just to hear the band

I know all the songs that the cowboys know

‘Bout the Big Corral where the dogies go

‘Cause I learned them all on the radio

Yippie yi yo kayah! Yippie yi yo kayah!

Yippie yi yo kayah! Yippie yi yo kayah!

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