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.
Dan began playing drums while still in grade school. He played snare drum in his school marching bands, 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 also began playing the guitar around '59, and started playing folk music in local coffeehouses.
In the spring of 1965, Dan became the drummer for a nascent San Francisco folk-rock group called The Charlatans, who had never had a paying gig. They did, however, find employment that summer as the house band at the newly-opened Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada. The wild hallucinogen-laced 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. 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".