This North Carolina fiddler comes from a generation of players that were more likely to be Ph.D. candidates than sharecroppers, yet his grandfather was a tobacco farmer who would unwind on his fiddle at the end of a hard day. Bill Hicks started out with violin in public school, then reached an epitome of squaresville by joining a Kingston Trio-style group, playing the dreaded party-killing bongos, no less. He attended college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the early '60s, when the American folk music revival was beginning to ignite. The flame was burning steadily in this area of North Carolina, a part of the country that is rich in folk and old-time music traditions. A scene of players getting together to learn this music and form bands revolved around the married couple Tommy and Bobbie Thompson, and several bands spun out of these music house parties. Hicks was a member of the big band string group the Fuzzy Mountain String Band, then went on to become an original member of the Red Clay Ramblers, one of the most successful bands to work from the traditional string band repertoire.
Hicks' introduction to all this excitement was his grandfather's fiddle, which he managed to find one day in a spot under a bed where it had been tucked away for decades. Tommy Thompson was a fellow graduate student and began inviting Hicks to the weekly sessions at his house. The first, and probably largest, influence on Hicks as a fiddler was North Carolina's legendary Tommy Jarrell, but he has also studied and perfected the repertoire of Burl Hammons and French Carpenter. Until leaving the Ramblers in 1981, he was caught up in the whirlwind of their performing and recording activities, which included annual European tours and sometimes two new records a year.
Since striking out on his own, he has been heard to the best advantage in a duo with his wife Libby Hicks. Their duo released the album South of Nowhere on Rounder in the summer of 2001 to rave reviews. Hicks has also performed with a Gloucester, NC, Cajun/zydeco band, Unknown Tongues, and with Chapel Hill singer/songwriters such as Jonathan Byrd and Eric Bachmann. He also shows his face on that town's highly active rock scene, performing guest spots and recording with both the Archers of Loaf and pianist and vocalist Ben Folds on the album Barry Black. He also usually seems to have a secondary business going on the side, besides performing. In the '70s, Hicks was employed as copy editor for Duke University Press. While following the decade-long stint with the Ramblers, he established a local stone-masonry enterprise. ~ Eugene Chadbourne