Harmonic Backdrop To The Absurd

Lowell James Hicks

Lowell James Hicks in concertI was born in Texas, and moved before my first birthday to a rural area east of Rochester, New York, on Lake Ontario.

As a very young boy watching my uncle’s four-piece band play the tavern in Ellenburg Depot, New York, I was exposed to the dark and gritty atmosphere of the “working” musician. I was informed and impressed.  I got my first electric guitar at about age twelve. The Ventures appeared, followed soon by the Beach Boys, ‘Stones, Yardbirds, Animals, Zombies, and a surge in local groups playing to jam-packed venues in the mid sixties.  OK, yeah, this is fun…

After a year or so of playing lead guitar in “garage bands”, I learned of a  a regionally popular group needing a bassist. I  joined Under Milkwood. I was pretty lame as a new bassist, but the group had excellent other members, and we had a decent run doing originals and danceable covers by Airplane, Aretha, Richie Havens, Cream, Springfield,  Hendrix, Dead, Butterfield, Mayall, and The Mothers. All that formative stuff.

Then a couple of years in Nashville with spotty work as a bassist in the studios.  My singer/songwriter persona blossomed while playing for tips, beer, and sandwiches at the Red Dog Saloon. Great dive. Show up and play. David Alan Coe, Chris Gantry, Jimmy Hurt, Jimmy Day, Linda Hargrove, George and Star,  Jimmie Gray.

During that period I shared a rented house just outside of Nashville with Walter Hyatt and  Champ Hood. Knocked my buddy Bill Alsobrook  on his ass a couple of times. I disliked the commercial aspect of music, and couldn’t write for the radio. Guys like Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Willis Alan Ramsey were doing just fine weaving stories of real life; the honesty of blood and dirt intact. That was encouraging of a good direction.

I split Nashville for Santa Fe and beyond.  Began a fairly successful fifteen-year drinking career, interspersed with the occasional mediocre cover band. Sobered up in the late-eighties.

Random bands. Non Profit animal protection/environmental groups. Some writing and solo performance.  Construction daytime, music nights when possible. Then the same in Hawaii. Then Jerome, Arizona. Then Phoenix. Breckenridge. Then nearing now, two years in Austin, inspiring  a return to full-time music. And now the East Bay area around Berkeley, California.

 

Band Members

I perform in a variety of configurations… solo, duo with Lee White, or trio or quartet to include dobro and bass. The first chair players are:

Lee White

Fiddle, violin, guitar and vocals

Lee White playing fiddle with Lowell James HicksIt’s great working on my current project with the extraordinarily talented Lee White. Lee’s versatility and excellent delivery on fiddle, voice, and guitar have built for her a strong presence in the Bay Area music scene.
Currently, in addition to her work with me, she plays with the Irish band , “The Gallowglasses.”
Lee is a recent graduate of the music program at San Francisco State University.

Gary Mortensen

Dobro

Gary Mortensen playing the dobroI first saw Gary in Austin, when he was doing a gig with a Texas Swing band near my home in 78704. I was impressed with his understated style, his intuition, and great use of melody.  I was preparing to do a demo session at 5th Street Studios the next morning, so I introduced myself and asked him if he’d like to join in. That following morning, we ran quickly through eight of my tunes and then went directly to the studio. After a brief review of each tune before rolling, he nailed every one for form and tasty content.

A guitar player since the Folk Scare of the 60’s, Gary has concentrated on the lap style resophonic guitar, or Dobro, for the past fifteen years. A self-described generalist, Gary has immersed himself in various forms of roots music, including early acoustic blues, classic country of the 40’s and 50’s, western swing and bluegrass, as well as big band jazz and the Great American Songbook. If he specializes in anything, it would be backing up vocalists, regardless of genre.

Except for the time spent in the US Army Band in Europe, he has lived his life in the Central Time Zone – Minnesota, Texas and points between. He is currently based in Iowa City.

Stephanie Lee

Bass Guitar and Upright Bass

Stephanie Lee on the bass with Lowell James HicksStephanie Lee started playing classical violin at age 7, after begging her reluctant parents for lessons. In junior high, she began playing bass guitar.

At age 14, when her school band won an international competition and the prize of a European tour, she became the youngest bassist to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival. In 2009, Stephanie transitioned to the upright bass.

Stephanie’s discography is impressive, spanning the genres of rock, pop, alternative, country, and jazz.

Oscar Westesson

Upright and Electric Bass

Oscar Westesson plays upright and electric bass with Lowell James Hicks
Oscar Westesson is an upright and electric bassist living in the San Francisco bay area. He draws influence from bassists such as Charlie Haden, Larry Grenadier, and Stephan Crump.

Originally from Malmö, Sweden, he began playing bass as a teenager under the tutelage of Fred Stone in Rochester, New York. Moving to the bay area about 10 years ago, Oscar soon found himself widely connected in the region’s music scene.

Oscar currently plays with numerous groups around the bay area spanning several genres from straight-ahead jazz to folk to raucous New Orleans music. For more info visit: oscarbass.weebly.com

Reviews

The music of Lowell James Hicks is a throwback to days gone by… his timeless, thoughtful lyrics echo through his soft whiskey voice the feeling of long ago. He speaks to our hearts… our minds… our souls… through the long tradition of minstrels, poets, songwriters and performers. When LJH plays in your area, don’t miss him… he’s one of a kind.

Mick Kalber, Video Producer, Hilo, Hawaii

So here’s the thing. I am a writer, not a musician… and I am much more comfortable thinking/talking/writing about words than music. Indeed, the musicians I relate to most are the story-tellers: Guthrie, Seeger, Robeson, etc. So the main thing I have to say here is that I think Lowell James Hicks is an awfully good poet. I am very pleased to hear him offer his poems — with music, sure, but it is the words I come back for.

John Bear, who can't sing, but writes good, and has authored 37 books with major publishers

Lowell James Hicks is an unswervingly honest and insightful poet/songwriter. His deep understanding of the issues of our time and timeless issues of the heart is well-matched by his accomplished musicianship and splendidly wry sense of humor.

Lura Dolas, Actor/Acting Teacher

“The landing gear hydraulics failed, and everybody died,” Hicks begins one of his songs, wherein lethal corporate ripoffs occur “…while the fat cats line their pockets and the homeless walk the streets.” The gritty lyrics and gravelly voice spark a righteous, satisfying sense of populist outrage. In other moods they evoke more tender truths: “Who is this old man in the mirror looking back at me with seemingly more sadness than surprise?” he wonders, framing a poignant question that echoes in our innermost selves. His range is impressive. Throughout all of his work, whatever the specific intent, his writing artfully blends universal truths with hard-won personal wisdom.

DB, Novelist