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When asked about his song writing craft for an interview disc to promote his 2002 record For Every Solution There's a Problem (a collection of previously unreleased material), the late, great producer, arranger, independent record label entrepreneur, DJ, raconteur, occasional actor, singer and self proclaimed 'Ol' Grey-Haired Sonofabitch' Lee Hazlewood opined; "I think the songs, and I'll probably never confess this again, the other writings, like the book coming out now (his semi fictitious autobiography The Pope's Daughter) and all those sort of things, I think they're all written like 1932 or 1933 pulp. That was the cheap five-cent things you bought with all the mysteries in them or love stories in or anything like that. I think all the songs are all that way to me... I don't know why you can't write something serious for the verse and funny for the chorus, or the other way around."
Hazlewood's songs are utterly distinctive - poetic country/semi-psychedelic loungecore compositions, laced with lashings of dark wit, wrong-side-of-the-tracks heartbreak, sentimentality and potent esoteric imagery, all delivered in Hazlewood's inimitable sonorous baritone. Numbers by Hazlewood have long captivated performers of such pre-eminence as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley and Waylon Jennings.
Since the eerie 12 inch single cover of Hazlewood's duet with his most famous singing partner Nancy Sinatra, the dream-like 'Some Velvet Morning', by the late innovative guitarist Rowland S.Howard of The Birthday Party and Lydia Lunch in 1982, the singer/songwriter's influence has progressively grown among 'alternative' rock musicians. Einsturzende Neubauten, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Sonic Youth (whose drummer Steve Shelley reissued five vintage Hazlewood albums on his Smells Like label in 1999, including Lee's 1971 'relationship breakup' masterwork, Requiem for an Almost Lady), The Fall, Mick Harvey and Primal Scream have all since recorded Hazlewood compositions. This trend culminated in an uncommon Lee Hazlewood performance in June 1999, to a sold out crowd at the Royal Festival Hall in London, as part of Nick Cave's Meltdown, and in 2002 with the first full-blown Lee Hazlewood tribute album, Total Lee!, featuring The Tindersticks, Lambchop and Jarvis Cocker with Richard Hawley, was issued by City Slang.
When Mark Pickerel, featured on the Total Lee! album, had previously tried compiling a Hazlewood tribute album for Sub Pop Records during the early 1990's, featuring Beck and Nirvana, the ever-contrary songwriter had threatened to sue him. "I wasn't ready," Hazlewood later admitted. "I didn't know what grunge was. I didn't know anything; I wasn't even listening to radio then. I was living in Florida with my Mark, my son and my grandson, and my grandson was a teenager and we were having a lot of fun together and that's all I cared about then."
Three years after Hazlewood's death from renal cancer on August 4 2007 (a couple of weeks after his 78th birthday), Ace Records have honoured him with a magnificent compilation CD in their celebrated Songwriters series, Califia: The Songs of Lee Hazlewood. Compiled by Mick Patrick, who also provides the extensive booklet notes, the CD covers Lee Hazlewood's work from the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, complimenting Ace's previous Hazlewood releases These Boots Are Made for Walkin'; The Complete MGM Recordings (compiled by Rob Finnis and Jim Grant) and the incredibly rare late 1970's album (only a hundred copies where pressed on vinyl) Movin' On.
Califia: The Songs of Lee Hazlewood spans the period from Hazlewood's first big hit with rockabilly singer Sanford Clarke and the gifted guitarist Al Casey (the most important musical ally in Hazlewood's illustrious 50-year-long career), the brooding classic 'The Fool' (a blend of Howlin' Wolf's 'Smokestack Lightning' and "a cowboy song", later covered by Elvis Presley on Elvis Country in 1972) to "Little" Peggy 'I Will Follow Him' March's 1970 German cover of Hazlewood's 'And I Loved You Then', 'Das Ist Zauberei'.
Hazlewood's career history is an immense and complicated subject and only a mere thumbnail sketch of some of the highlights follows. Born on July 9 1929 in Oklahoma, Lee and family travelled all across the South West of America, as his father Gabriel was working on the oil fields before the star of World War Two. Hazlewood's studies at Southern Methodist University where interrupted when he was drafted into the US army, in which he saw active service during the Korean war. "War doesn't please me," Hazlewood would recollect. "And it was a war, although they called it a police action. But it was a war, and I'd never been in a war before, and I didn't enjoy that one."
After the war, he and his wife Naomi set up home in Pasadena California, where Hazlewood studied vocal technique at the Don Martin School of Broadcasting. With the course completed, Hazlewood moved to Coolidge, Arizona, where he became friends with Al Casey and Donnie Owens, who helped secure him a job with the country music radio station KCKY. At KCKY Hazlewood met a good-looking young guitarist whom he and Casey would mould within a few years into an international superstar, Duane Eddy. Having recorded local country acts, Al Casey and Sanford Clarke, Hazlewood turned his attentions to Eddy. In November 1957, in Phoenix, Hazlewood recorded the instrumental 'Moovin' n' Groovin'' with Duane Eddy and the Rebels. The track was shaped by Eddy playing around with the wang bar on his guitar, producing a twanging sound that would soon launch Hazlewood's and Eddy's careers. "I loved Eddy Duchin - the piano player who played the melody way down low on the piano," Hazwood would recall. "And I wanted to know why they didn't do that on guitar more because they didn't. So I asked Duane to do that, and he did that, and we made it, you know, that kind of guitar playing. And he was the best at playing that."
'Moovin' n' Groovin'' was a hit in March 1958 for the Jamie label, partly owned by Dick Clark, the host of the American TV show American Bandstand. The next Hazlewood/Eddy record for Jamie, 'Rebel Rouser', would be their breakout record. Hazlewood had a very specific sound in mind for the record, that he want to accentuate the twang. "Yeah, I used a grain tank for an echo," Hazlewood revealed. "We didn't have one. I went out and bought a... The studio wouldn't go for it so I went out, a little studio in Phoenix, so I went out and yelled in grain tanks, or storage tanks for grain all day and finally got one. And I asked the man how much he wanted for it and he said, ' $200.' And I said ' I'll pay $200 for it but I want it delivered.' He said,' Well, I have to charge for delivery.' And I said, ' Then I don't want your damned tank.' So he said ' Okay, I'll deliver it.' So he delivered it and we put it outside and it was really a complicated thing hooking it up. Put a little cheap microphone at one end and a little cheap speaker at the other end and that's how we got our echo. But that echo was extended with reverbs and all this kind of stuff, too"
Hazlewood in Hollywood overdubbed saxophone and hollers and whoops on 'Rebel Rouser', provided by an r&b doo wop group called The Sharps, featured on Califia: The Songs of Lee Hazlewood performing 'Have Love, Will Travel.' Recorded a month after 'Rebel Rouser', 'Have Love, Will Travel' features Duane Eddy's now trademark twanging guitar. By 1962, The Sharps had changed their name to The Rivingtons and had recorded the infamous 'Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow'.
In late 1959, Hazlewood's business partner, Lester Sill, brought a teenage Phil Spector along to watch proceedings during the recording of Eddy's The Twang's The Thang album. Spector was astounded by the cavernous echoing sounds being created, but his unremitting questioning of Hazlewood about how exactly they were achieved irritated the producer no end. Eventually, Hazlewood asked Sill to get him out of the studio, but Spector had learned much that greatly influence his own eminent 'wall of sound' production work. Further big hits followed for Eddy and Hazlewood until they temporarily fell out in 1962.
The 60s saw the release of Hazlewood's his first concept solo LP on the Mercury label, Trouble is a Lonesome Town in 1963. The album, a series of semi autobiographical character studies of people he knew growing up in Oklahoma, was essentially a demo Hazlewood had made for "a really good singer" to perform. But Jack Tracey, Hazlewood's friend and the head of west coast Mercury Records, heard the tapes and instited that they were released just as they where recorded. In 1964 Hazlewood retired, due to the all-pervasive presence of The Beatles on America's airwaves. "I just didn't care too much for The Beatles, " Hazlewood later admitted. "They sound like four Everly Brothers to me, you know, trying to be Everly Brothers. That was about all it was. And so I thought why should I make records that compete against all these English groups coming in, cause everything in the charts was English or it was MotownÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ I was just very happy to, I dunno, just sit in my back yard and watch the boats, swim in the pool." Hazlewood had already publically voiced his creative dilemma with the 1964 single by The Wildcats, featuring Darlene Love and the Blossoms, 'What Are We Gonna Do In '64?', another Califia: The Songs of Lee Hazlewood track.
His friend and neighbour Jimmy Bowen, of Frank Sinatra's Reprise Records label, cajoled Hazlewood back to the fray. In October 1964, Reprise released Hazlewood's second LP, The NSVIPs (Not So Very Important People), a semi-sequel to Trouble is a Lonesome Town, featuring Al Casey on 12 strung guitar during Lee's spoken word introductions. Hazlewood's Friday's Child album, featuring numerous subsequent hits followed on May 1965, also a Reprise release. That year Bowen persuaded a highly reticent Hazlewood to work with a Reprise guitar boy band. The boys in question where Dino, Desi & Billy, Dean Martin's son, the progeny of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, and their school friend Billy Hinsche. Two of Dino, Desi & Billy's smash hits are included on Califia: The Songs of Lee Hazlewood; 'Not the Lovin' Kind' (later covered by Nancy Sinatra) and the biker garage rocker 'The Rebel Kind', which anticipates The Jesus & Mary Chain. "I made money but I was, oh boy, 12 and 13-year-old kids should not be in a recording studio with me," Hazlewood ruefully reflected. "They should be with somebody else, like a 16-year-old kid or something."
Hazlewood's next major Reprise assignment was even more daunting - the resurrection of Frank Sinatra's daughter's singing career. Her father's label where distraught that they could not seem to garner her any success, but having met Nancy at the Sinatra family home Hazlewood believed the mission was possible. "You can't sing like Nancy Nice Lady, you have to sing for the truckers," Hazlewood informed her. With voice lowered, a mean countenance projected and her miniskirts raised even higher, Nancy responded well to her partnership with the older singer songwriter. "Then my retirement went to hell cause I lucked out too fast," reflected Hazlewood. Their first single 'So Long Babe' reached the lower end of the US charts towards the close of 1965, but their second anthemic single, 'These Boots Are Made for Walkin'', reached number one in America in February 1966. This chart placing was soon repeated across the globe. "Certainly I love 'Boots'," the songwriter admitted in 2002. "'Boots' is a multi million dollar song, 'Boots' is headed fast, so fast to 10 million dollars it's scary. You can't help it, you know. 'Boots', I'm counting the movies it's in, it's in over 20 movies and we charge so much money to use it in movies. It's worth a lot of money, 'Boots' is."
By the end of '66 the Hazlewood/Sinatra partnership had produced four further hit singles ('How Does That Grab You, Darlin'?', 'Friday's Child', 'In Our Time' and 'Sugar Town') and an incredible four bestselling albums (Boots, How Does That Grab You?, Nancy in London and Sugar). Nancy Sinatra was finally an international star in her own right. The ever image conscious Hazlewood decided to adopt a look for the mid-1960s moment, growing a large moustache, styling a Caesar style haircut and wearing Cuban heal boots and fawn suede jackets - the look by which he is remembered today.
The b-side of 'Sugar Town', a frisky duet with Hazlewood 'Summer Wine', started to pick up airplay in 1967, igniting a demand for further Nancy and Lee duets. "Then you know you want to slit your wrists because they played 'Sugar Town' for three months, it sold about a million and a half," Hazlewood confessed. "Then they turned it over and it sold another half a million with that on the other side. So what I did is give them a $2 record for a dollar. That hurts your producer 's mind, and it hurts your publishing mind and it hurts your writer's mind and your performer 's mind. No, the performance worked out fine but all that other stuff you gave it awfully. You gave a two-sided hit. And I don't believe in two-sided hits. So that's how my wonderful singing career began."
Then the pair recorded 'Jackson', previously a hit for Johnny Cash and June Carter and 'Lady Bird', a 1967 Number 20 hit single, featured on the 1968 classic million selling LP, Nancy & Lee and now on Califia: The Songs of Lee Hazlewood. However, Nancy Sinatra's biggest hit of 1967 was the US Number One 'Somethin' Stupid', a duet with her father, which hit the top spot in February and remained there for a month. Though not written by Hazlewood, the song was produced by him and Jimmy Bowen and arranged and conducted by Lee's long-time collaborator, Billy Strange. Strange would also arrange and conduct Frank Sinatra's cover of Hazlewood's dramatic composition 'This Town' on the singer's 1967 LP, The World We Knew, which also included 'Somethin' Stupid'.
Hazlewood's success with Nancy meant that Lee could launch his own LHI (Lee Hazlewood Industries) label in 1966 and that his 1968 Love and Other Crimes Reprise album (which many view as one of the greatest recordings of his life) could be recorded in Paris with the fÃƒÂªted James Burton playing guitar. By 1970, Hazlewood was living in Scandinavia, recording the Swedish Cowboy in Sweden TV show and soundtrack album, before returning to Hollywood in 1972 to record with Nancy Sinatra the timeless Nancy and Lee Again, which contained their final worldwide hit, 'Did You Ever'. "Cowboy in Sweden was one of the best selling things they had," noted Hazlewood of the picturesque Swedish show directed by Torbjorn Axelman, who would in 1973 film the documentary Nancy & Lee in Las Vegas. "That was the first big one I did. That was the biggest budget TV show in Sweden to that date. We took six or seven weeks in the summer to do it. Really was pressed for time with about maybe a 10-man crew. Everybody just did everything... Yeah, we did, they just let us do about what we wanted to."
By the end of the 70s, Hazlewood had ceased to record and perform, but a 1995 reunion tour of the USA (the highlight of which was an incredible concert at the Limelight in New York City), Canada and Scandinavia with Nancy Sinatra propelled him back into the spotlight. In 1999, as eccentric as ever, Hazlewood issued his first solo album in over 20 years- a collection of old standards, remarkably entitled Famisht, Flatulence, Origami, Arf!!! and Me. Nancy & Lee 3, featuring an appearance by Duane Eddy, followed in 2004, before Hazlewood recorded his last album, Cake or Death, in 2006.
As well an expected track with Nancy Sinatra, numbers with guitarist Duane Eddy (including Hazlewood's second 1960 single as a singer, the haunting 'The Girl on Death Row') Al Casey (the rocking 1958 '(Got the) Teen-Age Blues') and movie star Ann Margret (the psychedelic guitar enveloped 'You Turned My Head Around'), Califia: The Songs Of Lee Hazlewood also includes many rare Hazlewood productions. These consist of The Hondas 1962 ballad 'Twelve Feet High', The Darlenes girl group drama '(I'm Afraid) You'll Hurt Me', Suzi Jane Hokom's 1966 witchcraft incantation 'Need All the Help I Can Get' and a previously unreleased version of 'These Boots Are Made for Walkin'' by Rose & the Heavenly Tones.
Coupled with the 1958 piano driven rock 'n' roil assault of the astonishing 'Snake Eyed Mama' by Don Cole and Al Casey (with Casey at the piano), Dusty Springfield's 1968 title theme for the Tony Franciosa youth movie Sweet Ride and the 1969 'Calfia (Stone Rider)' by Hazlewood & Suzi Jane Hokom, the title of which refers to the Amazon warrior queen after which California is supposedly named, Califia: The Songs of Lee Hazlewood is a complication that definitely stands worthy of the man it salutes. If this all wasn't enough good news, the liner notes reveal that a further Ace compilation, featuring Lee Hazlewood's extensive back catalogue of instrumentals, is in the offing. Obviously The Twang is still The Thang.
Califa: The Songs of Lee Hazlewood is out now on Ace Records. All the quotes in this article come from LEE HAZLEWOOD For Every Question There's an Answer,a 2002 European 52-track question and answer promo City Slang interview CD.