Lee Hazlewood, 1929-2007
By ELIE ADELMAN
STATIC and FEEDBACK correspondent
Once, there was a time when pop writers had integrity. A time where you could lock a bunch of Jewish kids inside a building on 1619 Broadway St., and they would simply shoot out some of the finest pop tunes ever written. Or, have four British kids from Liverpool change the way that all popular music is listened to and appreciated. On the other side of the United States, there was another man who did something similar, and he changed the course of popular music forever.
Lee Hazlewood was born in 1929 in Mannford, Oklahoma. Wishing to become a doctor, these plans where put on hold when he enlisted in the army. In 1949, he first got married and was hoping to start a life, but was soon re-enlisted due to the outbreak of the Korean War.
In the mid 50's they relocated to Coolidge, Arizona where he started working as a radio station DJ. After playing much of the contemporary pop music on his shows, he decided that he could write a pop song better than most of what he was hearing on the radio. He soon started to occasionally travel to Los Angeles to try to sell his songs to publishers. Even though he was ultimately shut down, and was told that he would never make it a songwriter, he didn’t give up.
Back in Arizona (he had by then relocated to Phoenix) his radio show was gaining some local popularity, and then he met local guitarist Duane Eddy. The two soon started collaborating, Hazlewood would write and record while Eddy would co-write and play guitar. Hazlewood recommended Eddy start playing his guitar melodies on the lower strings and to record in an empty grain tank outside the studio with a microphone and speaker inside. And thus was born the "Twang." The two went on to record many hit singles, most memorable being “Rebel Rouser” that has become a guitar standard, and along with The Shadows and Link Wray, influenced a generation of instrumental guitarists.
In the mid 1960s, he started working with the then-commercial failure, Nancy Sinatra. Their collaborations went on to sell millions of records with hits like "These Boots Are Made for Walking,” “Summer Wine,” “Jackson,” “Some Velvet Morning,” etc.
His production techniques were revolutionary, based on the echo filled vocals and unique orchestration, which relied heavily on brass harmonies and very powerful string sections. On some arrangements, the strings were composed so intricately and out-there that they made his pop songs come very close to approaching the avant-garde (see “Lightning's Girl”).
In the 1990s he had a slight comeback in popularity due to his clear influence on many up-and-coming bands, including, Tindersticks, Beta Band, Calexico, while even Lydia Lunch and Nick Cave covered his songs.
He died on August 4, 2007, leaving behind a legacy of hundreds of songs and innovations that will be remembered for years to come.
THE PICK OF THE CROP
A rough guide to the top Lee Hazlewood tracks:
Duane Eddy: “Rebel Rouser” (D. Eddy-L. Hazlewood)
The song that kick-started started both of their careers, and brought their names to national attention. The echo-drenched guitar played on the lower strings that has simply been called "Twang" is most beautiful. Eddy plays a simple western melody that every so often is modulated to a higher tone, then up another tone. It starts very minimalist and with every verse, another instrument or voice is added. This is something that Hazlewood would continue to do throughout his career, and become one of his lasting trademarks.
Nancy Sinatra: “Lightning's Girl” (Hazlewood)
One of the most brilliant avant-pop songs of the sixties, which starts with a distorted riff and minimalist drumming that would put the White Stripes to shame any day. The sprawling noise parts and pure avant-popness can be mirrored by only a few mainstream successes of that era, most notably The Shangri-Las' “Leader of the Pack.” A simple, bombastic guitar riff during the verses, a catchy chorus, and a violin solo in the middle that is reminiscent of innovations the Velvet Underground were starting to create in the East Village around that time.
Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood: “Summer Wine” (Hazlewood)
Clocking in at around four minutes, this touching song was much longer than most songs that mainstream radio would allow at that time. This beautiful duet between Sinatra and Hazlewood might be their finest hour. Her feminine voice melds perfectly with his deep baritone. The production is another typical of Hazlewood, with very large string arrangements that seems to get more dramatic and explosive with each verse. At the end of the song he even adds a John Barryesque horn melody that seems to drag you down right before the strings pick you off and help you float away into the distance.
Rami Fortis: “Boker Shel Ktifa” [Some Velvet Morning translated into Hebrew] (Hazlewood)
Israeli singer Rami Fortis translated this song into Hebrew in 1988 and gave it a whole new life. Fortis, who was in the seminal Israeli post punk band Minimal Compact, made it big in Europe — especially after gaining the attention of Wire's Colin Newman, who produced one of their albums and married their bassist, Malcha Speigl (who was seeing Fortis at the time). His debut album featured this track brilliantly done with a whole new arrangement, and he really reinvented it as his own.
Lee Hazlewood: “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” (Hazlewood)
Hazlewood re-recorded Nancy Sinatra's hit in 1966, giving it his own humorous touch. First of all having a male, with one of the lowest voices in pop history, record the ultimate women's liberation pop track, is funny enough on its own (even funnier that he wrote it). While the original song is brilliant on it's own, having everything that the perfect pop single needs, from the unforgettable bass-line that starts each verse, to the quirky lyrics and made up words (you keep lying when you ought to be truthin', you keep samin' when you ought to be changin') there is something sppeacial about Hazlewood's take on it. This version features him on vocals, and a much larger musical production than on Sinatra's Version. The brass accompaniment is much more prominent, and each verse it gets louder as more instruments are added. There is also a quirky musical interlude that sounds like a mesh of Hazlewood, John Barry and Warner Brother's cartoon soundtrack composer Carl Stalling.
He also adds little spoken pieces at the beginning of each verse which comically describe the recording process of this phenomenal hit:
Verse 1: "Here is a little song about boots, and a darling named Nancy"
Verse 2: "This is the part of the song where Billy strange raised his hand and asked if he could leave the room"
Verse 3: "And this is the part of the record where everybody said, 'Why that can't be number one?'"
Beginning of outro: “You put on your boots, I'll put on mine, and we'll sell a million records anytime, Yah!”
End of outro: “And this is the part of the record when the engineer Eddie Brakett said, 'If we don’t fade this thing out we are all going to be arrested.'”