YOU'RE MISSING: Lee Hazlewood
- Article by: Casey Stohrer
- Posted: 08/15/2012
There are some figures in history that history doesn't seem to recognize at all, yet their presence is enormous when you look close enough. These folks tend to chew their way through the woodwork rather than come out of it, and their paths become apparent after years of persistance. Lee Hazlewood is a prime example of this kind of person – you've probably heard a couple of his songs at some point sung by someone else, which is how these things usually go.
Lee Hazlewood was born in Mannford, Oklahoma in 1929. He was destined to become a doctor, studying medicine at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. He took a detour and served in the Korean War, where he was a drummer and a DJ for the military’s AFRS radio in Japan and Korea. This sparked his interest in popular music, and after his service, he took a job in Arizona as a DJ while he honed his songwriting skills. While at the radio station, a young guitarist by the name of Duane Eddy would stop by frequently to cop some records from Lee. They soon became good friends, and Lee even became an informal producer for Duane's first band. During this time, Lee also started a label and a publishing company called Viv Records and Debra Publishing, respectively.
Lee's first hit was “The Fool,” performed by rockabilly artist Sanford Clark in 1956. He also wrote a string of hits with Duane Eddy, including “Peter Gunn” and “Boss Guitar.” But it was in 1966 that Lee Hazlewood finally made his mark in popular music, when he teamed up with Nancy Sinatra and wrote “These Boots Are Made for Walkin.'” Lee produced, wrote and performed on nine Nancy Sinatra albums that made the charts between 1966 and 1969.
Lee Hazlewood was incredibly particular about his sound. Session guitarist Al Casey recalled a time when he wanted a specific echo effect, so they hunted down some grain tanks. Lee had to shout into each one to pinpoint the perfect echo. They installed it in his studio, and the tank was so sensitive that they had to stop recording if it rained that day or a bird landed on it.
Over the years he worked with legends early on in their careers, such as Waylon Jennings and Gram Parsons. Though his exposure to many different musical personalities gave him a wealth of wisdom, Lee was able to perfect and maintain his signature sound. You can hear it especially on his solo recordings and his songs with Nancy Sinatra – lighthearted, often orchestral pop arrangements balanced out his low, Johnny Cash-like voice while he sang about kinky sex, drugs and murder. You could call him the “psychedelic cowboy” -- obscurely an isolated outlaw, but navigating his way through otherworldly pop terrain. It was a defining ‘60s sound, but his brutal honesty and dedication to his tone -- both lyrically and musically -- have been time-tested again and again. His songs have been covered by (almost literally) everyone... Billy Ray Cyrus, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Dusty Springfield, Megadeth, and Nick Cave are just a few of Lee's admirers.
He worked all the way up to the end. His final recording was a spoken word piece recorded three weeks before his death with Sigur Rós collaborators amiina. His final album was called Cake or Death, which was recorded as he was finding out about his renal cancer. It was a critically acclaimed album and it showed the world that the classic, highly influential Lee Hazlewood was still standing, though not for much longer. He died in 2007 in Henderson, Nevada. He was 78 years old.
Lee Hazlewood is a snobby hipster's wet dream, sure, but maybe the reason he is name-checked all the time is because his work outlasts the usual one-hit wonder; he is a one-man machine of one-hit wonders. So the next time you're feeling a little off in an always-on world, get yourself a copy of Lee's solo album Love and Other Crimes and he'll set you straight.
Nancy Sinatra - "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'"