Friday, August 10, 2007

Lee Hazelwood's Death - I Missed The Passing Of A Legend


I had just heard of his death here in Las Vegas. Shows how uninformed one can be, I was probably celibrating my birthday when he died. The following is from his MySpace page. One velvet morning, I hope he is finally at peace.

For over half a century, LEE HAZLEWOOD proved himself to be one of the most ingenious, inspired and impressively stubborn sons-of-a-bitch the music industry ever saw. His career – a word that HAZLEWOOD himself scorned – saw him take on almost every aspect of the music industry – a word that HAZLEWOOD himself almost choked on – and come out on top every time.

Most famous for his work with Nancy Sinatra – he wrote and produced many of her biggest hits, including These Boots Were Made For Walking, Sugartown and the unforgettable Some Velvet Morning – HAZLEWOOD in fact started his musical career as a DJ in Coolidge, Arizona. It was here he first met Duane Eddy, with whom he began to flesh out and record some of his songs. In 1955 he set up Viv Records and in 1956 hit paydirt with Sanford Clark’s legendary The Fool, and the following year he gave up DJing to focus on production and writing. In the early 1960s he established the LHI label (which is best known for having released the debut album by Gram Parson’s first group, The International Submarine Band) and began releasing his own solo albums, including the extraordinary Trouble Is A Lonesome Town.

In the mid sixties, in the face of The British Invasion (led by the likes of The Beatles), HAZLEWOOD retired to the shadows (where he was always most comfortable) only to be reluctantly dragged out to work with Nancy Sinatra. Their work together – including the iconic Boots – was an overnight success and saw her become a star in her own right worldwide, but she also insisted that HAZLEWOOD step out in front of the microphone himself, leading to the release of three Nancy & Lee albums.

In the early 1970s HAZLEWOOD moved to Sweden to ensure his son was not drafted by the US military. He recorded a series of solo albums there as well as collaborating with film director Torbjörn Axelman, but then ‘retired’ again, working only occasionally over the next two decades. Instead he began to follow an itinerant lifestyle which he pursued until very recently, living in Ireland, Germany, Spain and of course America However it was the rediscovery of this work two decades later by a new generation of musicians – including the likes of Sonic Youth, whose drummer Steve Shelley tracked HAZLEWOOD down and reissued a number of his solo albums on his Smells Like Records imprint, alongside Beck, Pulp, Sonic Youth and Nick Cave – that led to a resurgence of interest in his work as a performer. In the late 90s he returned to the studio to record the typically cryptically titled standards album Farmisht, Flatulence, Origami, ARF!!! and Me, and in 1999 he returned to the stage at the invitation of Nick Cave who was curating that year’s Meltdown Festival in London. Following a sold out show at the Royal Festival Hall he toured Europe and sanctioned the release of two albums of unreleased material, most notably For Every Solution There’s A Problem.

CAKE OR DEATH – a reference to HAZLEWOOD’s comic hero Eddie Izzard - was the title of what HAZLEWOOD declared to be his swan song in 2006, one last album to bequeath to the world before he succumbed to the cancer with which he had by then been diagnosed. Like all of his albums, CAKE OR DEATH refused to compromise HAZLEWOOD’s own musical choices for any reason, and the result was an exceptional record that drew together various strands of his life in a magical, unforgettable way. Rather than pull together a self indulgent list of admirers with whom to collaborate, HAZLEWOOD assembled a cast of musicians with whom he had previously worked, promised to work, or wanted to work. Full of HAZLEWOOD’s trademark drama, sentiment, lyrical trickery, subtle politics (check the incredible Baghdad Knights and the wry Anthem), ribald roguery, dry wit and unforgettable melodies it was a fabulous curtain call that, with its final song T.O.M. (The Old Man), provided a moving and unforgettable farewell.

CAKE OR DEATH saw HAZLEWOOD record the original, far spookier version (as much as he remembered, he joked) of These Boots Were Made For Walking with Duane Eddy and Richard Bennett (Neil Diamond’s guitarist); he co-wrote two songs with Al Casey, an old pal who recorded with The Beach Boys, The Carpenters, Frank & Nancy Sinatra, Dean Martin, Duane Eddy and HAZLEWOOD himself (to name but a few); he was joined by Scandinavia’s number one jazz singer Ann Kristin Hedmark – “I like him and he’s funny”, she joked in her defence; lifelong friend Tommy Parsons was given the spotlight on his own She’s Gonna Break Some Heart – “he literally saved my life some time ago,” Lee explained, “so this is a promise given and a promise kept”; and Some Velvet Morning was reprised memorably by none other than HAZLEWOOD’s grand daughter Phaedra Dawn Stewart – “Who says nepotism is dead?”, Lee insisted. And there was more. A trip to Berlin led to two further collaborations: Bela B, renowned actor and member of Germany’s legendary Die Ärtzte, fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition with his contribution Lee Hazlewood & The Last Song Of The Day. Bela in turn introduced Lee to the more secretive Lula, whose charming vocals were perfect for Nothing.

Naturally, though, at the heart of the entire album stood LEE HAZLEWOOD, displaying all of the charm and talent that made him one of the most namechecked and influential artists in rock and roll history. It was one hell of a swansong. The man never did things by halves.

LEE HAZLEWOOD died peacefully at his home outside Las Vegas, USA, after a three year struggle with cancer on August 4 2007. He celebrated his 78th birthday a few weeks earlier surrounded by family and friends from around the world. He is survived by his son Mark, his daughters Debbie and Samantha, and his devoted wife Jeane.

Duane Eddy talks about Lee Hazelwood

"Some Velvet Morning" Lee Hazelwood & Nancy Sinatra

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PS: "Straight" has nothing to do with sexuality, it is a sixties term meaning getting off drugs or booze.


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