Written by Liz Buckley

Arts

7 Wonders: Lee Hazlewood

Liz Buckley‘s back in charge of the playlist and this time she’s talking the cool but arch and oh-so-cynical Hazlewood. SPOILERS: Contains more than seven wonders. Obvs.

Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra in 1968.

Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra in 1968.

Along with Serge Gainsbourg and The Rat Pack, Lee Hazlewood falls into that complicated bracket of music icons who seem effortlessly cool while also being incredibly arch.

The man referred to his fans as “addicts” and modern-day artists such as Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley and Nick Cave all lovingly admit to tracing Lee Hazlewood’s template with a stencil and pack of student Sharpies.

At once naturally talented yet knowingly, almost viciously cynical, Hazlewood – without ever having lived in a converted tinning factory in 90s Dalston – basically sported the precursor of what we would now recognise as the ‘Ironic Hoxton Moustache’.

His projects could range from the pioneeringly subversive and the achingly cute through to the spitefully kitsch, but were never without a touch of genius. The Wrecking Crew played with him and Phil Spector studied under him.

A true Texan cowboy but with a flair for the underground, Hazlewood’s personality was that exact heady cocktail of brilliant, brave, awful and (important) being one step ahead of your own judgement; the kind of man who, if he were around today, would have trundled towards you on a Penny Farthing and just as you scoffed under your breath at his stupid, squeaking fashion bicycle, you’d notice the number plate on the back said “Fuck You”.

When Hazlewood knew he was dying of cancer, much like David Bowie his gift to the world of artistry became the legacy of his final album. Very much unlike David Bowie, Lee’s cancer album was called Cake or Death.

A man always riddled with contradiction, he showed no snobbery at all in the genres of music he chose to work on: a singer, songwriter, record label owner and producer so versatile he was equally capable of writing, recording and sculpting pop, country, psychedelia, R&B, folk, easy listening, blues and rock’n’roll. And such eclecticism was championed by the releases on his (largely financially unsuccessful) LHI label.

And yet despite this openness and supportiveness, he was also somehow riddled with derision for certain artists, despising The Beatles to the extent he tried to prevent in-house LHI producer and singer Suzi Jane Hokom from even meeting them (Hazlewood had seethed, “They were hailed as innovators when they were doing things that were done four years earlier by the Everly Brothers,”) and also painstakingly removing Gram Parsons from existing records he’d worked on out of sheer spite, simply for joining the Byrds. Which is obviously quite funny.

“Jim Reid from the Jesus and Mary Chain explained Lee’s lyrics as well as I think anyone ever can: ‘With Lee, when you’re hearing a song for the first time, there’s always a surprise in there. You never know what the next line is going to be.'”

After building his reputation on seminal Duane Eddy and Al Casey tracks during the 50s, Hazlewood was summoned by Frank Sinatra to help revive his daughter Nancy’s career, and he did what any helpful, newly appointed svengali would do – he initially explained that he didn’t want to do it, and then relented to help her chart with a load of filth. His excellent advice? “Sing like a 14-year-old girl who fucks truck-drivers.”

The Nancy & Lee album went on to sell a million and both Nancy and her loving pop were so delighted by the results they went on to record the Hazlewood-produced Somethin’ Stupid, that classic story of a love song between a girl… and her Dad.

That’s not weird enough for Hazlewood though. His final duet was with his own granddaughter Phaedra on their version of Some Velvet Morning, one of the most darkly sexual songs of all time. About a girl named Phaedra.

The epitome of a funny bastard (i.e., both funny and a bastard), he showed a wicked sense of humour throughout his lyrics, interviews and sleevenotes, with his deep speaking and singing voice matching his dark sense of humour. His career was one that was driven by (as well as inspiring in others) both loyalty and revulsion. His sentiments on heartbreak were the stunningly honest I’d Rather Be Your Enemy and Suzi Jane Hokom, a long-term girlfriend as well as muse and collaborator, still seems to wrestle with what kind of a man he even truly was to this day, years after his death.

Cake or Death album coverIn an upcoming release I worked on for Ace Records, longtime Lee Hazlewood fan Jim Reid from the Jesus and Mary Chain explained Hazlewood’s lyrics as well as I think anyone ever can: “With Lee, when you’re hearing a song for the first time, there’s always a surprise in there. You never know what the next line is going to be.

“On a lot of pop records, you know if a line ends with ‘baby’, the next line is going to be ‘maybe’. You don’t really get that so much with Lee. It could be anything, really – the outcome is always surprising. In I’m Glad I Never, it’s that punch at the end where he says, ‘Be glad I never owned a gun’. You’re like, ‘Fuckin’ hell, did he just say that?!’”

I can’t think of a better legacy than “Fuckin’ hell did he just say that?!” from the Jesus and Mary Chain. Except perhaps, Cake Or Death.

Son-Of-A-Gun: More From The Lee Hazlewood Songbook, along with other Lee Hazlewood releases, can be ordered from the Ace Records website. It features covers by Jarvis Cocker & Richard Hawley, Mick Harvey, Nick Cave’s early band The Boys Next Door, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, Suzi Jane Hokom and many more.

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Written by Liz Buckley

Department manager at an independent record company. Liker of Frank Sinatra and Nick Cave. Very sudden laugh. Pasty but tasty. Quite tired.