Dan Hicks was born December 9, 1941 in Little Rock, Arkansas, the son of a career military man. The family moved to California when Dan was about five, eventually settling in what was then the small city of Santa Rosa, some 50 miles north of San Francisco.
Musically, Dan started out as a drummer, beginning while still in grade school. He played the snare drum in his school marching band, and by the age of 14 was playing gigs with area dance bands.
In High School, Dan developed an interest in broadcasting, and had a rotating spot on a daily 15-minute local radio program called Time Out for Teens. He entered San Francisco State College in 1959, eventually earning a degree in Broadcasting. He took up the guitar around '59, and became part of the San Francisco folk music scene, playing and singing in local coffeehouses.
In the spring of 1965, Dan became the drummer for a nascent San Francisco folk-rock group called The Charlatans, who at that time were more of a concept than an actual working band. They did, however, find employment that summer as the house band at the newly-opened Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada. The popular hallucinogen-fueled dances held at the Red Dog were the direct inspiration for the legendary psychedelic San Francisco dancehall scene that blossomed shortly thereafter.
In addition to drumming, Dan also played guitar and sang with The Charlatans, performing some of his original songs. The Charlatans played for several years at all the noted San Francisco halls, but never achieved the commercial success enjoyed by other groups that came on the scene after them, such as Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service. As Dan explains it, The Charlatans were kind of dysfunctional anyway. There was no real management, and it was just kind of some loose guys.