Lee Hazlewood’s recordings may be unfamiliar, but his songs are not. Known best for producing and writing for Duane Eddy and Nancy Sinatra, Hazlewood’s own genreless music has largely been overlooked. He always considered his own solo records to be demos crafted to land production work. Most were pressed in limited quantities, causing them to exchange hands at sky-high prices for the past decade. Now these rarities are once again becoming available.
Born July 9, 1929, in Mannford, Oklahoma, and raised in Port Arthur, Texas, Hazlewood was living in Phoenix in the late 1950s when he co-wrote “Rebel Rouser” with Eddy. That success led to Hazlewood producing a young Nancy Sinatra in the mid-1960s, for whom he wrote “These Boots Are Made For Walking”, and with whom he ultimately recorded two albums of duets.
His first solo effort, 1963′s Trouble Is A Lonesome Town, is a concept album about the lives and times in a small town aptly named Trouble. Each song is introduced by light, humorous narrations that set up the stripped down, acoustic guitar-driven songs. Hazlewood’s melodies and his voice became his signature. Listen to the story of an ugly man named Emery Zickafuce Brown, and a darkly humorous song called “Six Feet Of Chain” about prison life in Trouble. “Look At That Woman” portrays a cold-hearted girl who “blossomed so much that you’d a thought winter wasn’t never gonna come again.”
Disgusted with the American music scene in the late 1960s, Hazlewood fled to Europe, settling in Sweden. He recorded a few records on various labels there during the early 1970s, beginning with Cowboy In Sweden. Lyrically a dark and eerie album, Cowboy homogenized all of Hazlewood’s musical styles: rockabilly, country, and contemporary pop, complete with strings and light horn arrangements.
The first sound you hear, a single cello pounding out a country-bluesy riff, tells listeners they are in for a bumpy ride. Standouts include a prison song called “Pray Them Bars Away”, an ode to freedom titled “No Train To Stockholm”, and a campy duet with Nina Lizell called “Hey Cowboy”. Cowboy In Sweden also features the voice of Suzi Jane Hokom, who produced the International Submarine Band’s Safe At Home for Hazlewood’s LHI label in the mid-’60s.
Released in 1971, Requiem For An Almost Lady returns to the minimal production of Hazlewood’s first album, including narrations. The recording features acoustic guitar, bass and occasional acoustic lap steel and sitar strums, but no drums. Lyrically, it blends Hazlewood’s subtle humor with sadness and displays his poetic prowess. These are songs about lost love and breakups tied together by Hazlewood’s unmistakable pining baritone. Requiem is full of brilliant, cynical lines such as “I’d rather be your enemy/Than hear you call me friend,” and “Two drops of happy/One pinch of pain/Little miss sunshine/Little miss rain.”
13, originally released in 1972, proved to be the most unusual of Hazlewood’s solo albums; it could have been named Funk According To Lee. This soulful record boasts an up-front horn section accompanying some of Hazlewood’s wackiest tunes. In the original liner notes, he explains that the album is about “pimps…whores…pushers…dopers…gangsters…and bottom of the human chain shit-heels.”
Along with these reissues arrives an album of new recordings of Tin Pan Alley standards, sadly free of any originals, titled Farmisht, Flatulence, Origami, ARF!!! And Me… Here, with his baritone still intact, he had help from longtime collaborator and guitarist Al Casey, and a busload of Chivas Regal.
The next Hazlewood records to be reissued include The N.S.V.I.P. album (it stands for “Not So Very Important Persons”), The Cowboy And The Lady With Ann Margaret, and a collection of early singles.