It's not quite rock, it's not quite country, not quite lounge - it's unique. It's Lee Hazlewood, that's what it is. This 2-CD set contains all his solo recordings for MGM from 1965-67, including the rare "Something Special" LP, and comes with a fully illustrated 20-page biography.
In the 1980s and 90s, Lee Hazlewood attracted a whole new audience drawn from a predominantly younger generation, who had chanced upon his music long after it had been recorded. His followers (or 'addicts' as he archly refers to them) are probably born that way. There is no middle way: you either get it or you don't. At the age of 73, the enigmatic and quirky Hazlewood has become a one man musical cult.
A singer, songwriter, producer, occasional actor and seasoned raconteur, Hazlewood's voice is deeper and more expressive than Johnny Cash's. He pauses for effect in all the right places as an actor might, a legacy from his early training as a professional broadcaster. Characterised by their sombre and dramatic chord patterns, his songs frequently meander towards the depths, forming a bedrock for deceptively melodic toplines. There is weary resignation, laced with optimism, pathos and laconic humour, often all in the same song. He'll occasionally lapse into corn, probably because he grew up in the heyday of swing, burlesque and live radio entertainment and couldn't resist the temptation to throw a little of those influences into the mix. There is much of the cowboy in Hazlewood who hailed from the Oklahoma dustbowl, but he was never a redneck. In fact, he became something of an urbane Europhile who spent the 1970s and 80s living and performing in relative obscurity in Europe and Scandinavia.
Incredibly, none of this was ever planned. The twists and turns of his career were governed entirely by chance, circumstance and intuition. Hazlewood didn't find his true vocation until he stumbled into the record business almost by accident, at the age of 26, in the mid-1950s and he didn't get around to making his first serious recording as an artist until he was 34. He was the Svengali behind Duane Eddy, a young guitarist whose simple but atmospheric 'Twangy' guitar instrumentals were easily the most advanced sound productions of their time. In the days before Beatlemania, Eddy was a very big deal indeed. His records sold in their millions and Hazlewood co-wrote and produced most of them. A few years later, Hazlewood worked the same magic for Nancy Sinatra. On those two counts alone, he was one of the most successful record producers of his day.
At heart, Hazlewood was a frustrated performer with a recording persona, which had yet to be determined, if indeed it ever would be, its elusiveness being the key to his appeal. Short, physically unprepossessing and on the wrong side of 30 by a wide margin, Hazlewood was an awkward product to define. He was also a proud and stubborn man who was better suited to giving directions rather than taking them.
He made his first LP, TROUBLE IS A LONESOME TOWN, in 1963 and this was followed by an early LP on Reprise. Then, in 1965, a music publisher, Mickey Goldsen, and a prestigious entertainment agency, Ashley Famous, took up Hazlewood's cause, placing him with MGM, then one of the hottest labels in America with a roster that boasted the Animals, Herman's Hermits and the Righteous Brothers. They touted him as a multi-talent of indeterminate age with a quirky outlook on life-.-a fair appraisal but not one that was likely to find favour with kids being weaned on the Beatles and the Supremes, even in those eclectic times. It didn't help that Lee objected to being pushed around and rarely, if ever, gave interviews.
Hazlewood's first MGM sides owed more that a nod in the direction of the records he was making with Nancy Sinatra for Reprise. He used the same arranger (Billy Strange), the same studio (United), the same engineer (Eddie Brackett), the same session musicians and even some of the same songs. Hazlewood's girlfriend and prot?©g?©e Suzi Jane Hokum, would occasionally attend the sessions and duetted with Lee on Sand, Summer Wine, The Girls In Paris and the quasi-vaudevillian Suzi Jane Is Back In Town. These were put out as singles by MGM during 1966-67 but attracted little interest because the attention of the pop world was acutely focused on Lee's work with Nancy Sinatra over at Reprise. MGM also issued two albums, THE VERY SPECIAL WORLD OF LEE HAZLEWOOD (1966) and LEE HAZLEWOODISM, ITS CAUSE AND CURE (1967).
"Lee looked at his solo albums as demos," Suzi Jane Hokum told Barney Hoskyns. "A lot of things like Sand and Summer Wine we did together before Nancy Sinatra came on the scene. He was an amazing writer. He'd sit there with his scotch and these things would just come out of him. He's a very complex guy. There is a part of Lee that is just out there, but there's still the guy from Oklahoma, the wildcatter's son."
As Nancy's popularity grew, the careers of Hazlewood and Sinatra slowly became intertwined. By late '66, going into '67, Hazlewood was so busy in the studio-.-his feet barely touched the ground. In February and March of 1967, he recorded a third MGM LP titled SOMETHING SPECIAL. An unusual jazz / folk hybrid, Something Special was radically different from the previous MGM material. Apart from Shades, which featured a full band (having been recorded much earlier), the remaining nine titles featured an acoustic four-piece, close-miked to create an intimate setting for Lee's laconic vocals. There was nothing remotely close to a potential single on it and, judging by the number of cryptic references in songs like Stone Cold Blues, Hazlewood had a few friends (and enemies) in mind when he recorded it. Other songs such as Fort Worth and Mannford, Oklahoma were clearly autobiographical.
In the fevered musical climate of spring 1967, Something Special was the least commercial and most self-indulgent record he could have made - ironic in view of the fact that Lee was hotter than a pistol on the charts. At that very moment, Something Stupid by Frank and Nancy Sinatra (which he'd co-produced with Jimmy Bowen) was zooming its way to #1, while Nancy's solo effort, Love Eyes, was nestling in the Top 20. Then Lee cut a couple of duets with Nancy while still under contract to MGM. The public loved the contrast between their voices and Reprise found they had a whole new act on their hands. Their collaborative LP, NANCY & LEE went on to sell a million copies in 1968.
Meanwhile, MGM's Something Special LP was suddenly shelved to facilitate Hazlewood's triumphant return to Reprise Records. The discarded LP was eventually issued (on vinyl) in Germany some 20 years later. It makes its digital debut here, together with all of Lee's other recordings for MGM from this eventful period.
Beautifully packaged as a double CD selling for a fraction more than the price of a single CD, THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKIN' boasts some terrific memorabilia and a marvellous 7000 word annotation by Rob Finnis.
It's not quite rock, it's not quite country, not quite lounge - it's unique. It's Lee Hazlewood, that's what it is.
A. Willander in Rolling Stone 3 / 03: "Doppel-Album mit
Songs aus Hazlewoods bester Zeit."