Sweet home Minot
On a recent Thursday, Darryl Hicks and the rest of the band Soulshine were taking a break in between sets at Minot’s Ebeneezer’s Irish Pub and Eatery, where they have a regular gig Thursday through Saturday nights. The break was cut short as the bar, including employees like general manager Hesston Whitty, erupted in chants of “We want Soulshine! We want Soulshine!”
Hicks popped his head in at the rear door to look around before he came in laughing and jokingly raising his arms to wave at the audience as they cheered him on.
It’s a good feeling, and it’s occurrences like that which has made Hicks call Minot and North Dakota home since he arrived here in a Lincoln car as the touring bassist for Chicago’s Bobby Moore Band in 1987 for a three-week stint at the Starlight Club.
He’d received the offer to join up with Moore in a park on a day off from working as a dean’s assistant in a tough Aurora, Ill., high school, which Hicks estimated had “three or four” gangs. His job was pretty much to keep those kids in line while he waited for a position for a special education teacher to open up in the school.
But what he really wanted to do was to play football.
“I played college football at Northern Illinois University for three years. The last year I didn’t play because I was on the injury list for so long, and that’s the year they won the conference,” Hicks said of his years with a full football scholarship. He later lost the scholarship because he was benched and the school needed the remainder of his time to get another player they wanted.
“And I just said, ‘Sure, sure, I’m not doing anything sitting here hurting,'” he said.
Not only did he lose out on a possible professional career as a fullback with the Dallas Cowboys who were scouting the school’s best players because both teams ran the Wishbone, a position with a fullback and two halfbacks in the rear of the formation but he has a steel rod in his back, has had both of his Achilles tendons severed, and has had five knee surgeries in his right knee and one in his left, and both are total replacements.
“That was the worst feeling in my life,” he said of losing that possible future as a professional player. “That was the feeling that it was over. And then to live in pain for so many years.”
But it’s the concussions that were the worst.
“On one of them I totally blacked out and didn’t know where I was,” he said. “And after that I really did feel my learning skills I felt really stupid, you know, like I lost something. But back then you didn’t say anything because you didn’t want them to put you in the hospital because you couldn’t play football.”
He even joined a fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, largely for tutoring, he said, from the “bunch of smart guys in there who helped me out big time.” But being eligible to be “Mr. Anchor Splash,” which he was crowned after winning a school-wide fraternity and sorority competition, was a good part of the deal, too.
Right before heading to Minot with Bobby Moore, though, the band took a detour to Memphis to visit Moore’s mother. While there Hicks remembers an encounter with the Ku Klux Klan right in front of them at a store where Hicks and another member of the band, a Caucasian, went to buy some duct tape.
“They didn’t say anything, but I saw on their jackets ‘KKK’ on the back and I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, what did I walk into?’ I was scared out of my wits and had no clue,” he said.
At the time he had knives in his boots out of habit from being involved in martial arts when he was younger, and throwing knives remained in his boots upon arriving in Minot because he “didn’t know what to expect, coming from a gang-infested” area like greater Chicago.
“As soon as I got out here, though, the throwing knives were put away and happiness started.”
He was approached by band member Jerry Scott to stay in Minot and play with the country band Firehouse once his stint with Moore at the Starlight was over. He quickly joined up rather than returning to work at the school in Aurora.
A real difference between North Dakota and Chicago was made evident to him during one of his first outings with the band.
They were playing an outdoor show in a small town, which he thinks was Minnewauken, when two small children came up to him after the first set and told him that they heard he was from Chicago and that they wanted to know if he had met Michael Jordan.
He said that he’d met him at a few appearances, nothing big, but that was enough for them.
“And then the little boy ran and said, ‘Dad, he met Michael Jordan!’ The dad came up and shook my hand and said ‘Nice meeting you! If you need a place to stay tonight you can stay with us and we’ll feed you.’ And I’m like, ‘Holy hell, where am I? This is where I want to stay. If this is what people are like here then the hell with Chicago,” Hicks said.
Getting waved at by pleasant, smiling strangers was new to him and it took some getting used to, but now he smiles and waves back because “that’s what people do here.”
First inspired to get into music by his sheriff father’s gospel group, Hicks played cello and upright bass in high school.
Since his mother, Georgia Pryor, was the head dean at the school and was always around, he wasn’t able to get into much trouble. He did have the opportunity to take his bass home and practice with his record collection, though, and he became first chair out of eight bass players in the school orchestra.
After Firehouse he had a funk group called Toast, and they would play all around Minot, including at a bar owned by Wayne Whitty, who now owns Ebeneezer’s. Hicks said that Whitty took him in and supplied him with his own bass and everything that was needed with it, even though Hicks was leaving town to play with The Fantastic Convertibles, a group that played music from the 1950s and ’60s out of Minneapolis.
The road was hard, though, traveling on his own from Minot to Minneapolis and back again.
“And then hopping on the bus and going places. We went to Vegas, we went to Atlantic City, we went to Mexico, we went to Canada. You know, we were all over the place,” Hicks said. “And that was the best part of my music career. It was fun because of the different people, a lot of traveling. The worst part was coming back home.”
When he got off the road with The Fantastic Convertibles, though, he went back to playing at Whitty’s bar, but more so jamming with other musicians than having full-fledged bands. It was hard to keep people around, since even then Minot’s population was shifting constantly.
“Most of my players were from the Air Force base, and then three months went by and there goes one, three more months go by and there goes another, a year goes by and then another. So, it was a mixture of a whole bunch of different people. A Native American guy from New Town, Troy Parshall, he just passed away about a year ago. He was a good jammer, a good singer.”
Eventually he formed Soulshine, and they still play today. Hicks sings and plays the bass, Mike Neff plays guitar, Bob Thomas plays the organ and keyboards, and Jake Korslien plays drums, but the original drummer was John Spitzer.
He remembers meeting Jake many years ago when Jake was just 10 years old. Jake’s father, Vern, had invited Hicks to hear his boys play after Hicks began to be known as a local musician.
“And I listened to those little kids play and I was just amazed. This was just the kids playing and Vern and I were sitting watching, having a beer and I said, ‘Oh, man, you’ve got a family band going,” Hicks said.
Likewise, Hicks’ children have followed in his footsteps.
His son, Tyler, 21, is studying to be a music producer in Minnesota. His daughter, Danielle, 19, works with her mother caring for Alzheimer’s patients, but also sings. His youngest daughter, Nia, 10, just recently won a talent contest at her school where she also sang.
Still, playing music doesn’t necessarily pay all the bills, as Hicks remembers making about $25 a night for his jamming sessions. Instead, he became a carpenter, but took an adventurous route to get to the profession.
“When I got my job at Menards I had never drove any heavy equipment. I walked up there and walked in the office and he threw me the keys to a payloader and said ‘Go make me a road out there.’ I took it and made him a road and they used it the whole time to bring heavy equipment in and out,” Hicks said of one of his first construction jobs, laughing. “I did a good job, I guess. That’s how I got most of my carpentry skills, just by learning from the various jobs I’ve had.”
But that carpentry hasn’t extended into his hobbies, though.
He doesn’t make tables and chairs around the house for fun, although he did fix up a special room in the house as a book-lined office for his fiancee of nine years, Mary Wheeler. Many may recognize her from the Minot Public Library, where she works.
“It’s kind of hard to find someone to take an old, beat-up person like me,” Hicks laughed about his longtime engagement.
Hicks agreed, though, that age and replaced knees aren’t what makes people old, it’s personality.
“Like this lady out here, she’s 97. She was wheeling out her garbage one day and I went up there and I had just got out of the hospital so I went up there to help her,” Hicks said, laughing once again. “I grabbed the thing and I’m limping and she’s like, ‘You look worse than I do, give me that!’ And she took it back and said ‘Get out of here, what are you doing?'”
And Hicks has plenty of personality.
“You kind of have to be a people person to be in a band. I’ve been to concerts where I’ve paid a lot of money to get in and it was the worst concert that I’ve ever seen because the guy never smiled, never looked at anybody. You’ve got to show the people that you’re having fun or else they won’t have fun. And somehow the music helps the fun come out of me.”