Monday, August 06, 2007

Legendobit: Lee Hazlewood

We'd hoped that it was just a Whigfield when we saw some postings online last night, but sadly, no: Lee Hazlewood has died.

Born in Oklahoma in 1929, Hazlewood had a fairly nomadic childhood, moving from town to town, state to state, eventually settling in Dallas to attend college: the Southern Methodist University, where he studied medicine (and, if legend is to believe, also flirted with dentistry).

He married his High School girlfriend, Naomi Shackleford, after returning from a spell of military service (as a drummer). Recalled to help the Korean War effort, Hazlewood found himself broadcasting on military radio. Having discovered a knack for the job, on discharge, he completed a brief period of training at a broadcasting college before landing his first commercial dj job, in a small town in Arizona.

His on-air style was a kind of one-man zoo-format, playing a range of characters (he'd pre-record parts on tape) and he quickly became the toast of KCKY.

The shift from playing records to making them was, oddly, down to the Safeway supermarket chain. A new manager was drafted in from New York to manage the Coolidge branch, bringing his family with him. His son would hang around at KCKY, playing guitar and chatting to the presenters - history remains vague on whether Lee Hazlewood discovered the young Duane Eddy this way, or if Duane discovered Lee.

Eddy formed a band, The Pinal County Twisters, which Hazlewood gave airtime to and started to function as a de facto manager for. The contacts he was making were as useful for him as for Eddy, as Hazlewood had been developing some songs of his own - his first published work being 1953's Four Bell Love Alarm. When Duane Eddy Twisters went into the studio for the first time, Hazlwood was there - not just as songwriter, but now as producer as well.

It wasn't just producing and writing, though: Hazlewood also ran his own label (Viv) and publishers; eventually, something had to give, and he quit his DJ work in 1956. The following year, he signed a non-exclusive contract to produce for Dot Records, but found it a frustrating time:

"Dot never put out anything I wanted to for a year. When I played Duane for Randy Wood he said it sounded like someone trying to string wire across the Grand Canyon"

Oh, and there was singing as well - Hazlewood recorded some tracks during the 1950s, but his first album, Trouble Is A Lonesome Town, didn't arrive until 1963, on Mercury. A number of albums for different labels followed in fairly quick succession, including 98% American Mom & Apple Pie 1929 Crash Band, a confection that - while not especially left-field was deemed odd enough for Lee to have to arrange a release on his own label, and Cowboy In Sweden, an album which - as the name implies - he recorded in Sweden as part of a TV special.

Probably his best known work, of course, is the stuff he did with Nancy Sinatra in the 1960s and 70s, including These Boots Are Made For Walking; but Hazlewood was in the studio right through the decade. There was long gap, though, between a smattering of singles for MCA (including Dolly Parton's Guitar) and 1993's appearance on Gypsies and Indians, an album of duets with Anna Hanski.

As a comeback, it was an odd choice, but led to a lucrative tour the following year which reunited him with Nancy Sinatra. A smattering of new material followed - including the final solo album, Cake or Death, and a third Lee & Nancy album. The latter has so far only seen an Australian release, although we expect there will be a few record company meetings taking place in the next few weeks.

Lee Hazlewood died on Saturday after a two-year battle with renal cancer.