For the better part of the past 40 years, Dan Hicks' backing band has been the Hot Licks. In 2000, Hicks released Beatin' the Heat, his first studio album since 1978.
So it's only appropriate that when John Thompson, president of the Mill Valley Volunteer Firefighters' Association, was looking for an act to anchor the first Fireman's Ball in more than 20 years, he turned to his old friend Hicks.
"He's a Mill Valley guy and we all love Dan," Thompson said.
Produced by In the Woods Productions, the benefit show is taking place at Masonic Hall on Saturday at 8 p.m., with Uphill Both Ways opening. All proceeds will benefit the association's efforts to establish a training and equipment fund.
Hicks said he was excited at Thompson's offer, both because of the benefit to volunteer firefighters and to flex his side project, Dan Hicks and his Bayside Jazz Band.
"I jumped at this," he said. "I really wanted to play with this band."
The group, a quartet with piano, bass, drums and guitar, is a departure from Hicks' larger Hot Licks ensemble and focuses largely on jazz standards. Hicks' Bayside Jazz Band had a weekend afternoon residency at the Sweetwater before the legendary venue closed in 2007, and he hasn't done as many gigs with the group of late.
Hicks promises a wide range of fun music, from Chuck Berry and Ray Charles to Louis Prima and Bobby Troup, mixed in with Hicks' staples like "I Scare Myself" and tracks from his 2009 album, Tangled Tales.
Hicks and the Hot Licks are still playing a handful of gigs a month, and just wrapped a Christmas album, something Hicks had been putting off for years. Crazy for Christmas will be released next month on Surfdog Records and will feature nine originals and three traditional Christmas songs.
Hicks said it was an easy move considering all of his years with the Christmas Jug Band. The songs will be Hicks-ified, with plenty of scatting and "that kind of oddness," he said. "Everybody's got a Christmas album out. Even Michele Obama probably has one out, so it was time for me to put one out."
Thompson said the idea of reviving the Fireman's Ball came from a need to establish a training and equipment fund for volunteer firefighters that is separate from the Mill Valley Fire Department's budget. Thompson estimated that it costs approximately $4,000 to train and equip a volunteer firefighter.
The department hopes to recruit four or five new volunteers to bolster its current force of eight by the end of the year, Thompson said. He credited Interim Fire Chief Greg Moore, who started his career in the fire service as a volunteer, with reconnecting the ties between the department and the volunteers.
The volunteer association has long been central to the social dynamic in Mill Valley, hosting its annual Pancake Breakfast that is a staple of Memorial Day weekend.
"But now we're really feeling like more of a plus to the department," he said. "We've always had that underlying aspect of community service but this is getting us back to the job of fighting fires."
Tickets to the Fireman's Ball are $25 and are available at The Woods' Web site or at the door.