Barton Lee Hazlewood was one of the leading figures of US pop music during the 1950s.
Hazlewood is mostly known as a
composer (he wrote such diverse pop masterpieces as These Boots Are
Made For Walking, for Nancy Sinatra, and Some Velvet
Morning, for psychedelic combo Vanilla Fudge), but he also built a
reputation as a solo artist, as a producer, promoter and label owner.
Born in Mannford (Oklahoma) in 1929 and raised in Texas and Arkansas.
Upon returning from the Korean war in 1950, Hazlewood spent two years at the
Spears Broadcasting School in Los Angeles, where he began writing songs
(For Bell Love Alarm, in november 1953, was his first copyrighted
He then worked as a country disc jockey in Arizona
and in 1955 found a job in a Phoenix studio
(producing records for the Pinal County Twisters, a duo that included
In august 1956, The Fool, interpreted by Al Casey & Sanford Clark,
entered the charts. It wasn't just another hit, it was a masterpiece
Hazlewood soon started his own recording label.
His job took him to Los Angeles, where he started a publishing
company and continued taking care of Duane Eddy's career.
His greatest invention was the "twang" (Hazlewood suggested that Eddy
focused on the lower strings, rather than the higher tones favored by country
Hazlewood debuted as a singer with Pretty Jane (Jamie, 1958), under
the moniker of Mark Robinson.
In july of the same year Rebel Rouser, a joint Eddy/Hazlewood
composition, was an international hit, while Hazlewood
started working with Phil Spector.
Hazlewood jumped on the bandwagons of surf music and folk-rock, writing minor hits for
minor Los Angeles bands.
In late 1963 came his first long playing,
Trouble Is A Lonesome Town (1963), virtually a concept album that
narrates the ordinary lives of the citizens of imaginary town Trouble
(actually, a fictional rendition of his hometown).
Each song is even introduced by a spoken interlude.
But instead of emphasizing the good qualities, Hazlewood sprays the town with
venom and sarcasm, thereby telling the allegorical story of the loss of
innocence by the American heartland
(Look At That Woman).
The N.S.V.I.P.'s (Reprise 1965), whose title stands for
"Not So Very Important People", was a similarly-structured album, and
went even farther in terms of bleak stories about misfits and losers.
His dark, creepy, solemn style stands as a bridge between Johnny Cash and
Leonard Cohen. This could be Hazlewood's masterpiece.
His breakthrough came in 1965 when he teamed up with Nancy Sinatra, in what
would become one of the most influential pop ventures.
These Boots Are Made For Walking (1966) was one of the era's
biggest hits, but it was also a nasty song about a dirty young girl. And
the following songs by the duo reinforced the message, offering themselves
as a not-so-angelic version of Sonny and Cher. Needless to say, eventually
this led to problems with the music industry and by the end of 1968
Hazlewood was abandoned by a lot of influential people.
The Very Special World Of Lee Hazlewood (1966 - Water, 2007) featured
a bleak meditation on death, My Autumn's Done Come, that sounds like
Scott Walker ante-litteram.
Lee Hazlewoodism - Its Cause and Cure (1967 - Water, 2007), full of
mostly spoken narratives,
and the lost album Something Special (1968 - Water, 2007)
While he was releasing music from such obscure bands as the
International Submarine Band (who made the first country-rock album ever),
Hazlewood started writing music for film
(Tony Rome, The Sweet
Ride, The Cool Ones).
After collaborating with Ann Margret on the album The Cowboy And The Lady,
Hazlewood followed her in Sweden.
Cowboy In Sweden (Bell, 1970) is a country album arranged like a
Burt Bacharach album
(What's More I Don't Need Her,
Pray Them Bars Away, Cold Hard Times).
Requiem For An Almost Lady (LHI, 1971) returned to the "concept" format
(and to the spoken interludes) of Trouble Is A Lonesome Town, but this
time the auteaur deals with (bad) women. The theme follows the usual
Hazlewood pattern: it creates an imaginary setting for a very autobiographical
story (the breakup with his old girlfriend Suzi Jane Hokom, the one who had
produced the International Submarine Band).
The songs (If It's Sunday Morning, L.A. Lady)
are impeccable and not as spoiled by the arrangements as on
Unfortunately, 13 marks another low point. Hazlewood wastes loud and
thick arrangements on very weak lounge material.
The nostalgic reunion album Nancy & Lee Again (1972) failed to reignite
interest in his work and Hazlewood spent the rest of the decade writing music
for Swedish television and in particular for director Torbjorn Axelman.
His singles (Dolly Parton's Guitar, 1979;
Wilie Jones, 1980) were generally ignored.
Rediscovered by Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley, who
re-released some of his rare albums, Hazlewood finally released an album of
Farmshit, Flatulence, Origami, Arf And Me (Smells Like, 1999),
a light lounge-pop collection
that could be a lost Frank Sinatra album remade by a ghostly baritone.
All in all, this album proves that Hazlewood went from being one of the most
under-rated artists to being one of the most over-rated artists of the 1960s.
For Every Solution There's A Problem (2002) reprises old material and
adds some new songs (Dirtnap Stories).
Cake Or Death (Ever, 2007) was announced as his farewell album.
Hazelwood died of cancer in august 2007.
The LHI Years (Light In The Attic, 2012) is an anthology culled
Cowboy and The Lady,
Cowboy In Sweden and
Requiem For An Almost Lady, plus rarities.
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