Lee Hazlewood

TrackAlbum
Long Black TrainTrouble Is A Lonesome Town
HoustonFriday's Child
I Move AroundThe Very Special World Of Lee Hazlewood
ChicoThe Cowboy And The Lady
No Train To StockholmCowboy In Sweden
I'll Live YesterdaysRequiem For An Almost Lady
Nancy & MePoet, Fool Or Bum
Souls IslandA House Safe For Tigers
Dolly Parton's GuitarBack On The Street Again
It's Nothing To MeCake Or Death

Lee Hazlewood photo

 

 

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Lee Hazlewood playlist

 

Contributor: Peter Viney

What we have here is my Toppermost of Lee’s ten solo recordings (including duets with others). I’m ignoring his work as a producer with Sanford Clark, Al Casey, Duane Eddy, his fake ‘group’ The Shacklefords, and for five years with his own LHI label.

I’ve done the Toppermost on Nancy Sinatra, and nine of my ten there were produced by Lee, six were duets with Lee. Those six would all feature in an overall “Ten Best Lee” list. It must be slightly galling but I’ll add four more to make his ten best duets …and they’re all with Nancy Sinatra: Down From Dover, Paris Summer, Sundown Sundown, Gypsies And Indians. Lee tried hard to reproduce the formula with other female vocalists, but Nancy had special magic.

Normally I’m a vinyl collector, but since Lee Hazlewood died the LH Archive CD series from Light In The Attic supplant the original LHI LPs due to the number of added rarities, and the comprehensive liner notes. You need the latest CDs. The vinyl, for collectors, is ludicrously underrated in “Rare Record Guide”. Dealers agree that any Lee Hazlewood LP flies off the shelf. I saw Requiem For An Almost Lady at £70, double the “book” price. It sold without discount as soon as it was listed.

His first proper solo LP was Trouble Is A Lonesome Town in 1963. He had just arrived in LA for a break, leaving his Duane Eddy co-writing career behind for a while. A 2019 release 400 Miles From LA: 1955-56 has earlier versions of most of the songs, suggesting they date from that era.

Trouble Is A Lonesome Town is Garrison Keillor meets Johnny Cash. The town of Trouble is Lee’s own Lake Wobegon (or Our Town), and like Keillor, Lee Hazlewood was originally a DJ. Narrative introductions are his forte, and every song gets one linking the tales into a loose portrait, some over a minute long. Larry Jon Wilson uses the same laconic Americana style. Lee recycled Son Of A Gun and Run Boy Run, both originally cut with Sanford Clark. Hal Blaine on drums and Billy Strange on guitar, pillars of his work with Nancy were already on board. As with his later concept albums, it’s hard to pull out a track rather than just say, “listen to it all”. We All Make The Flowers Grow could and should have been a folk boom hit. Trouble Is A Lonesome Town has wailing harmonica and a loping pace. Long Black Train sounds like straight Johnny Cash, sitting on the same rhythm. It gets the choice.

Go for the CD … it contains the spoken voice The Lee Hazlewood Autobiography which was a Mercury promo EP. It’s in the same absurd almost Spike Milligan style as his 2002 book “The Pope’s Daughter: His Fantasy Life With Nancy And Other Sinatras”. The CD also contains Lee’s earlier solo 45 efforts as ‘Mark Robinson’ of which Pretty Jane is a highly listenable Eddie Cochran soundalike with just Duane Eddy on guitars.

Lee hooked up with Reprise in 1964 for The N.S.V.I.P.’s (Not So Very Important People) album, and it was in the same vein as Trouble Is A Lonesome Town with lengthy narrative intros. It’s less focussed, or rather more comedy – it starts off with a tale of Leroy a friendly panhandling alcoholic dragon.

Houston is the song that made the sun shine out of Lee’s bottom for Reprise Records when Dean Martin had a #2 Adult Contemporary chart hit with it in 1965. Lee also cut the song with Sanford Clark. It appeared on Lee’s second Reprise album Friday’s Child which contained two songs he later recorded with Nancy. I’m not going to argue that Lee did Houston best (I’ll go for Rickie Lee Jones recent cover), but just that it’s one of his significant songs and he did record it!

Lee signed with MGM, and Suzi Jane Hokum suggested that he thought of MGM as expensive demos for songs he later cut with Nancy Sinatra at Reprise. He used the same team and musicians as on the Reprise work: Billy Strange was arranger and Eddie Brackett was engineer. The MGM recordings are on a double CD now, These Boots Are Made For Walking: The Complete MGM Recordings, which is annoying because it mixes up the tracks from the albums.

His MGM career started with The Very Special World Of Lee Hazlewood in 1966, which contained six that he also did with Nancy: So Long Babe, These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, Sand, I Move Around, Not The Loving Kind and My Baby Cried. The trouble with selecting songs, is the feeling that he probably tried to sell all the duo ones to Nancy, and the ones she didn’t record might just be the rejects. So Long Babe was what Lee thought his strongest song when he met Nancy and it was her first single with him. He had great faith in it and did it well.

Sand is a template, with full orchestration for the Nancy Sinatra duet. Suzy Jane Hokum’s purer, folkier voice fits all the thee and thy bits very well, and may even work better than Nancy in the context … but Nancy has the magic on my fire is burning high …. The percussive click irritates.

I Move Around is a rarity in that I prefer his solo version to the one he cut with Nancy on the Boots LP. The repeated riff borrows from Jackie De Shannon – never a bad thing. He has a lot of fun with full on orchestra and his deep masculine voice fits the lyric better.

Lee’s version of These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ is certainly later and by no means a demo … he references Nancy (Here’s a little song about boots, and a darling named Nancy …), plus Billy Strange and Eddie Brackett’s reactions on the Nancy version in asides, and finishes Put on your boots and I’ll put on mine and we’ll sell a million records any old time … Yep! He also goes to town on an elaborate orchestral, trumpet led instrumental section which is stunning. It will never replace the Nancy version, but if you’re into Lee, you should hear it.

Bugles In The Afternoon is Lee channelling his inner Johnny Horton or Lefty Frizzell on a narrative Wild West ballad with his trademark cowboy film music orchestration (Trouble with the Indians … ride out and see …). The corporal hero does, deserting poor Polly, and kills 46 Indians before succumbing, then, well, the bugles played in the afternoon. It puts the American into Americana.

The big schmaltzy ballads … For One Moment, Your Sweet Love, My Autumn’s Done Come are not what I listen to Lee Hazlewood for. When A Fool Loves A Fool is great bright bouncy early 60s pop music.

Then he put out Lee Hazlewood Presents The 98% American Mom & Apple Pie 1929 Crash Band, on his own LHI label in 1967. Every song on there except Houston was also cut with Nancy. These are novelty instrumental versions and while I haven’t heard it all, I also haven’t heard a good word about it.

Lee Hazlewoodism – Its Cause And Cure in 1967, only had one song he did with Nancy, In Our Time, so can hardly be called demos, though there were two duets with Suzi Jane Hokum, Paris Girls (OK, Nancy might have gone for that) and the brassy burlesque Suzi Jane Is Back In Town which was hardy suitable, and has Suzi Jane attempting a Dick Van Dyke English accent. Both Jose and The Old Man & The Guitar have semi narrative sections. Dark In My Heart is comic in intent (Woke up Sunday morning and I thought that I could SING but I can’t). SING is off key.

Something Special was recorded in 1968, but shelved when Lee moved out of MGM. It appeared on vinyl in Germany twenty years later. Shades (recorded earlier) and This Town had been done with Nancy previously. The album is a jazzy intimate recording, as if in your local lounge bar, with just a four piece band, close mic’d, and it features scat grunting from Billy Strange who played guitar. Fort Worth and Mannford, Oklahoma are more of his life story songs. Fort Worth is among the 1955-56 demos released in 2019. Stone Cold Blues is a straight blues, with terrific Billy Strange guitar. It sounds authentic blues too. You’ve heard the tune and licks many times, but it is a fine performance.

Once he’d got out of the MGM contracts, he was back at Reprise for Love & Other Crimes, also in 1968, and the odd thing is none of the songs got done with Nancy. The backing is more restrained too, going for brushes and a bluesy style on several tracks. Love & Other Crimes has the one minute long title track at beginning and end. Morning Dew is a cover with Lee’s signature bass sound. She Comes Running was covered by Waylon Jennings.

All three Reprise albums are now available on Strung Out On Something New: The Reprise Recordings with several bonus tracks with Jack Nitzsche, Dino, Desi & Billy, Deana Martin, The Whisk Kids, Sanford Clark, Duane Eddy, The Wildcats.

The Cowboy & The Lady dates from 1969, and is a duet album with Ann-Margret. Her management asked Lee to do for her what he’d done for Nancy. The album shows Lee’s self-concept of a cowboy: front cover in cowboy dress with Ann Margret in red gown, then both of them in 19th century underwear, then both of them virtually naked. She has a strategic umbrella (and boots … yes, boots) and he has a gun belt with the holster protecting his modesty. The album is a retread of his Country My Way with Nancy. No Lee songs, and recorded in Nashville with unknown musicians, led by Charlie McCoy. Mainly ignore the LP, she’s not in Nancy’s class. I do like Bobby George’s bluesy Greyhound Bus Depot which was a single and mainly Lee with Ann-Margret on harmonies on the chorus. However, the CD has six fine bonus tracks (though only four are listed in the booklet), the 1968 and 1969 Ann Margret songs that Lee produced and wrote three of. It’s Lee goes psyche metal on It’s A Nice World To Visit. You Turned My Head Around has splendid drums and a Spector girl group sound, and if Lee had sung on it, it would be in. Easily the best song on the CD reissue. Sleep In The Grass is a duet, and one covered by Johnny Dowd in 2002. Chico is that mariachi sound on a cowboy song sung by someone within prison walls, and is arranged very much like Some Velvet Morning … he starts off the narrative then he hears her sing in the distance in his dreams (Chico! Come on home!), a trick he has used a lot. It was arranged by Jimmie Haskell in December 1968. Was it offered to Nancy? If so was it rejected as too similar? The two you get on the CD which are not noted on the sleeve are Sam and He Rode Away (backing track).

Forty (aka Will The Real Lee Hazlewood Please Stand Up) was recorded with Shel Talmy in London in 1969. Shel Talmy? The Who? The Kinks? Well, it sounds nothing like that, and after all, Talmy had also produced The Bachelors. The sessions include Nicky Hopkins on keyboards, Clem Cattini on drums, and Big Jim Sullivan on guitar, though mainly it’s a large orchestra. Every song is a cover. Much is deeply misguided, as if he had decided to be Frank Sinatra on the likes of A Very Good Year and September Song. Massive orchestration dwarfs his wavering voice. There are two Randy Newman songs, Wait Till Next Year and Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield, which are markedly different in arrangement. On the first, he copies Randy Newman’s quirky phrasing. He left the song selection to Shel Talmy, who said:

I could have done a better job in terms of choosing stuff he could do really well. None of the stuff is really country, which is where his roots are.

What was his motivation? According to the booklet in the CD, What’s More I Don’t Need Her and The Night Before are considered “stone cold Lee Hazlewood classics”. The former has elaborate cowboy movie orchestration, but I don’t like his voice or the stately melody. The Night Before is his style and works. If he’d written it, it would be in the ten. The Bed seems to continue the story with a ghostly female chorus, and the two songs roll together well. Bye Babe was co-written by Jon Mark and Shel Talmy and is worth checking. Not much else is. For Once In My Life is a bonus track with lounge bar organ playing. He hasn’t got the voice for it.

Cowboy In Sweden was a film, with a soundtrack released initially in Sweden. It was recorded variously in Hollywood, London, France, and Sweden. It included some earlier material with Suzi Jane Hokum, plus three tracks with Nina Lizell – Leather And Lace, Hey, Cowboy and a Swedish folk song Vem Kan Segla where Nina sings in Swedish and Lee translates into English semi-spoken line by line. It’s highly effective with gorgeous strings backing. She says he phoned her and told her to fly back to Sweden and record with him … she was 20 to his 40. Leather And Lace dates from just when Nancy Sinatra was complaining about Lee’s move to Sweden leaving her looking for material. Well, there was one there but it needed the duet.

The London tracks were from the Forty album: The Night Before and What’s More I Don’t Need Her. The song everyone appears to like most is No Train To Stockholm. It was recorded in Hollywood with the Wrecking Crew in 1970. Joe Osborn on bass, Don Randi on keys, Jerry Cole and Donnie Owens on guitars. Lee wanted this song done by the known musicians, because it was important to him. It’s an anti-war song (I’ll not kill for you, or on my own), reminding everyone that one reason for moving was to keep his fifteen year old son away from US conscription. It sits on bass and organ.

A couple of tracks were done with Suzi Jane Hokum before he left. For A Day Like Today is only Suzi Jane and had been a single (otherwise it would be in the ten, one of his best songs).

Requiem For An Almost Lady was 1971, and considered his masterpiece by hardcore fans. It’s stripped right back … mostly just guitars from Donnie Owens and Joe Cannon, and incredible bass playing from Jerry Cole. He’d lost the LHI Records label after five years without a hit, he’d lost his muse Suzie Jane Hokum, and had moved to Sweden. He flew back to LA to record it. He later said “the lady” is a combination, but then he had a copy sent to Suzie Jane Hokum, and in this case I guess you think this song is about you is true. As with Trouble Is A Lonesome Town it really is an album as a whole in mood and narrative. I’m Glad I Never is a song of gem like simplicity, though I suspect it’s elevated in my mind by Lambchop’s sublime 1 minute 24 second cover on the Total Lee tribute album. I’ve picked I’ll Live Yesterdays after considerable angst.

13 was released by Viking in Sweden in 1972 and Australia in 1974, but that was it, even though Nancy & Lee Again with the single Did You Ever was doing well.

Poet, Fool Or Bum in 1973 was major label Capitol in the USA and Stateside in the UK. For the rest of his life, Lee recalled the UK one-word review by Charles Shaar Murray, “Bum”. And steamed about it. The title track Poet, Fool Or Bum is very good indeed. Nancy & Me is enigmatic. It has nothing to do with Nancy Sinatra, but they (Nancy & Lee) were such a strong word collocation, that Lee was playing on audience perception for a fantasy. As he says in the CD liner notes (and as she has often said) they were never romantically involved. The Performer is based on people he knew, playing the bars and lounges in Las Vegas (Thanks for coming by, to watch me die …). He’d visited the theme before.

I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight was Swedish only, duetting on the title track with Ann-Kristin Hedmark. It was swiftly followed by Stockholm Kid (1974) and A House Safe For Tigers (1975) which were CBS … but CBS, Sweden only.

The album beloved of hardcore fans is A House Safe For Tigers. It was a soundtrack album for a Swedish TV film, one of seven he made with Torbjorn Axelman in Sweden, and virtually unobtainable for decades until a 2012 CD. Souls Island got the tribute covers. The original has classical orchestration behind strummed guitar and appears as a song and separately as a narration.

20th Century Lee was on RCA … Sweden and Germany only. Yet another major label for Movin’ On in 1977, Polydor. But Polydor, Sweden only. On to EMI the same year for Back On The Street Again … EMI Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand.

Back On The Street Again was recorded in England in 1977 with Jimmy Bowen producing … he was broke and needed the work, according to Lee. It’s popular country and often criticized as such. It contained the picaresque Dolly Parton’s Guitar as its claim to fame (You made me happier, than Dolly Parton’s guitar …) . Shari Garbo and Colleen Peterson were his latest singing partners. He reprised Dolly & Hawkeye, which he’d cut with Nancy. Your Thunder And Your Lightning was a Special Effects extravaganza, as if he’d only just discovered stereo. A Rider On A White Horse is a film music fanfare leading into strummed upfront guitar of Neil Diamond dimensions.

The next one was For Every Solution There’s A Problem in 2002. This consisted of unreleased songs from his archive though Dolly & Hawkeye, Your Thunder And Your Lightning and Dolly Parton’s Guitar are known.

Cake Or Death was the final album in 2006, recorded in Sweden, Nashville and Germany. He does an instrumental Boots with Duane Eddy on guitar and Lee singing quietly, and revisits Some Velvet Morning with his granddaughter Phaedra, credited to “Phaedra & grandpa”, for just 90 seconds (Lee narrates, and she asked to sing it, age ten). The CD has a booklet with Lee’s comments on the songs. There are new female singers … Lula, Ann-Kristin Hedmark, Bela B. It starts off with Nothing, and the arrangement, gentle and jazzy is outstanding. Baghdad Knights strives for a bit of topicality, but I’d leave it to contemporaries of the soldiers like Simone Felice. Tommy Parsons duets on She’s Gonna Break Some Heart Tonight with the Lee C&W meets mariachi sound. Fred Freud is elaborate orchestration, a comedy show tune with classical theme breaking it up. White People Thing is a narration to the Smokestack Lightning riff. The First Song Of The Day is Lee’s trademark spaghetti western sound, duetting with Bela B. It’s Nothing To Me gets closest to the “elderly person’s album” semi-narrative style favoured by Leonard Cohen, but Lee Hazlewood had been using that mode throughout his career. Tremendous guitar, loping bass, big orchestra with sweeping strings, great lyric and melody. It’s the choice. The album ends with T.O.M. (The Old Man). Cake Or Death is a high note to end on … not a dud track on there. Lee died a year later in 2007.

The last release in 2019 was 400 Miles From LA, 1955–1956 rounding up his early solo work.

There are Various Artist Tribute Albums, Total Lee! The Songs Of Lee Hazlewood delves deep into his catalogue with mainly Americana artists like Lambchop and Calexico, though for me the outstanding track is Saint Etienne with Nathan Bennet on Got It Together Again. The original was a throwaway final track on Nancy & Lee Again with just Lee on guitar, basically messing around with lots of chatter. Saint Etienne brought out the value of the song by doing it properly.

There are two volumes of cover versions in Ace’s Songwriter series. Califa: The Songs Of Lee Hazlewood and Son-Of-A-Gun and more from the Lee Hazlewood Songbook. The latter has a time range from Sanford Clark’s Son-of-a-Gun, and Loy Clingman’s The Man Who Made An Angel Cry, both from 1958 through to Frances Ruffelle & Rowan John covering Paris Summer in 2015. They take in Waylon Jennings on She Comes Running from 1970, Marc Almond on For One Moment from 1986, and his great fans, Jarvis Cocker & Richard Hawley, on A Cheat from 2002.

 

Lee Hazlewood (1929–2007)

 

Lee Hazlewood official website

Lee Hazlewood discography

Nancy Sinatra Toppermost #798

Lee Hazlewood biography (Apple Music)

Peter Viney has been an educational author and video scriptwriter since 1980. He has written articles on The Band, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. He also writes novels under the name Dart Travis and writes on popular music, theatre and film at his website.

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Johnny Cash, Sanford Clark, Leonard Cohen, Jackie DeShannon, Neil Diamond, Duane Eddy, Simone Felice, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Horton, Waylon Jennings, Lambchop, Randy Newman, Dolly Parton, Saint Etienne, Nancy Sinatra

TopperPost #856

2 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Apr 15, 2020

    Nancy sounded much more comfortable with Lee than with that duo with her father – Something Stupid. While it wasn’t quite to the level of cringe that Serge Gainsbourg managed, it still creeps me out a bit. Nancy though was a major talent, and Lee was, I think, more than just a Svengali figure – he was highly talented in his own right as a singer and songwriter. This topper fills some gaps.

  2. Andrew Shields
    Apr 16, 2020

    “I like those old songs that are corny but have an emotional core. I admire people like Shadow Morton or Lee Hazlewood, who subvert the genre from within. I fondly like to imagine that Lee Hazlewood can’t tell the difference between a work of genius like Some Velvet Morning and something appalling.” – Rowland S. Howard
    Interesting the way Lee is revered in ‘indie’ circles – from people like Rowland S. to Mark Lanegan to Jeffrey Lee Pierce. To try and figure out exactly why this is the case I need to explore his work further. This fine piece provides the perfect base from which to do so.

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