During a career that spanned six decades, Lee Hazlewood was a singer, songwriter, musician and producer. He even founded his own record label LHI Records in 1967. By then, Lee Hazlewood had been involved with music since the the early fifties.

By then, Lee Hazlewood’s life was at a crossroads. He had just left the US Army, and had decided not to pursue his medical degree. Instead, Lee Hazelwood began work as a disc jockey. This was only temporary, he hoped.

What Lee Haeelwood really wanted to do with his life, was write songs. This must have seemed like a pipe dream to his friends and family. However, Lee Hazlewood had the last laugh. His songs were recorded by Duane Eddy, The Ventures, The Vanguards, Al Casey, The Astronauts, Jack Nitzsche, Rhythm Rockers and Hal Blaine and The Young Cougars. These artists all feature on Ace Records recently released compilation, Shazam! and Other Instrumentals Written By Lee Hazlewood. This twenty-four track compilation is a reminder of Lee Hazelwood’s skills as a songwriter. However, Lee Hazlewood was a latecomer to songwriting. His story began the year of Great Depression, 1929.

Lee Hazlewood was born in Mannford, Oklahoma on the 9th July 1929. During his early years, Lee and his family moved between Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Brought up on a diet of bluegrass and pop, Lee’s tastes broadened when his family moved to Texas. Music it seemed was in his blood. Despite that, Lee didn’t make a career out of music when he left high school.

No. On leaving high school, Lee headed to Dallas’ Southern Methodist University, where he decided to study medicine. After university, Lee joined the US Army during the Korean War. When he was discharged from the Army, Lee decided medicine wasn’t for him.

Instead, Lee took a job as a disc jockey. His reason for doing so, was it allowed him to work on his songwriting skills. Lee had decided to pursue a career in music. That didn’t mean spinning records. No. It meant writing them.

The first hit Lee wrote and produced was Sanford Clark’s 1956 rockabilly hit The Fool. That was just the start of Lee’s musical career. He went on to pen two more hits for Sanford Clark, 1956s Usta Be My Baby and 1957s The Man Who Made An Angel Cry. Lee then wrote Leroy Vandyke’s 1957s The Pocket Book Song and Pat Boone’s 1957 single Why Did I Choose You? However, Lee’s career really took off when he met innovative guitarist Duane Eddy.

Best known for his twangy guitar sound, Duane Eddy will always be remembered as a pioneering guitar player. With Lee Hazelwood writing and producing many of his singles, Duane Eddy went onto enjoy a successful career. Lee penned and produced 1958s The Walker, Rebel Rouser, Dixie Part 1 and Peter Gunn. Soon, Lee writing for other artists, including Sam Horn and His Orchestra, Mark Robinson and Das Hazy Osterwald Sextet. However, just like 1958, most of the hits he wrote were for Dune Eddy.

During 1959, Duane Eddy enjoyed a string of hit singles. Forty Miles of Bad Road, Only Child, The Quiet Three and Shazam. Duane Eddy was now one of the biggest names in music. Although Lee had to keep the hits coming for Duane, he penned singles for Hans Brandel and Sanford Clark. This was no bad thing, as the hits started drying up for Duane Eddy.

1960 saw Duane Eddy release just three singles, one of which Rebel Walk, had been released before. Luckily, Lee was writing for other artists including Paul Rich, Tony Castle and Greg Connors. Another artist who’d release a single during 1960 was Lee Hazlewood.

Lee’s debut single was Words Mean Nothing. which Lee recorded with Duane Eddy and His Orchestra. It wasn’t a commercial success, so Lee went back to songwriting and production. However, Lee had enjoyed a tantalising taste of life as a recording artist. His return to songwriting and production was only going to be temporary.

For the next three years, Lee Hazlewood was busy working as songwriter and producer. During 1961, Lee worked penned songs for Tom and Jerry, Donnie Owens, Tony Gunner and Bud Ashton and His Group. Then in 1962, Duane Eddy enjoyed a string of hit singles. With The Shadows and The Ventures recording songs written by Lee, Lee Hazelwood could’ve continued to enjoy a career as a successful songwriter. He didn’t.

Instead, Lee decided to relaunch his solo career. He signed to Mercury and began work in what was his 1963 debut album, Trouble Is A Lonesome Town. This was first album of Lee’s five decade recording career. However, despite release over twenty solo studio albums, still many people remember Le for the songs he’s written for other people. This includes the artists on Shazam! and Other Instrumentals Written By Lee Hazlewood.

Fittingly, Duane Eddy’s Shazam opens Shazam! and Other Instrumentals Written By Lee Hazlewood. It’s one of four tracks Lee penned and produced for Duane Eddy on the compilation.

The earliest song from Duane Eddy is the moody sounding Stalkin’ the B-Side of Rebel Rouser, which was released on Jamie in 1958. It reached number six in the US Billboard 100 and number nineteen in the UK. It’s a track from the 1958 album Have “Twangy” Guitar Will Travel. Then in late 1959, Duane Eddy released one of his best known songs, Shazam.

When Shazam was released on Jamie, it fared better in the UK than the US. While the single stalled at forty-five in the US Billboard 100 in Spring 1960, Shazam soared to number four in the UK. Since then, Shazam, with its nod to Captain Marvel, is regarded as an instrumental classic. By the time Duane Eddy released his next contribution Shazam! and Other Instrumentals Written By Lee Hazlewood times, and indeed music had changed.

Eight years later, in 1968, Duane Eddy was signed to Reprise. He hadn’t enjoyed a hit since 1964, when The Son of Rebel Rouser reached a lowly ninety-seven in the US Billboard 100. Still, thought, Lee Hazelwood continued to produce Duane Eddy, For his next single When There Is A Mountain was chosen, and released as a single on 31st January 1968, Again, the single never troubled on the charts. Hidden away on the B-Side was the moody, atmospheric and cinematic sounding This Town. It’s a hidden gem that again, shows another side to Duane Eddy.

Al Casey contributes a two tracks to Shazam! and Other Instrumentals Written By Lee Hazlewood. The first is The Stinger, which Al Casey and Lee cowrote. It was
released in 1958 on the Highland label, and later, on United Artists. The Stinger is the perfect showcase for Al Casey’s surf guitar. He was a hugely talented guitarist. So much so, that he quickly became Lee Hazelwood’s go-to guitarist for sessions. Five years later, and Al Casey returned with another slice of surf music, Surf’s You Right. Instead of being released as a single, Surf’s You Right found its way onto Al Casey’s debut album Surfin’ Hootenanny. Sadly, it was also the only album the prodigiously talented guitarist released.

Tony Castle was another of the session guitarists Lee had on speed dial. If Al Casey wasn’t available, Tony Castle got the call. However, in February 1961, Tony Castle and The Raiders released Salty as a single on the Gone label. It was written by Lee Hazlewood, who produced Salty with Lester Sill. Salty sees Tony Castle and The Raiders paying homage to Duane Eddy with whoops, hollers and a blistering saxophone solo.

The Astronauts were a surf group from Boulder, Colorado. They were formed in 1960, and initially, called The Stormtroopers. When RCA saw the success that the Beach Boys were enjoying, they signed The Astronauts. Soon, RCA’s latest signing were enjoying a degree of success.

In 1963, The Astronauts released K U K as a single. On the flip side was Movin’, which also featured on their debut album Surfin’ With The Astronauts. Movin’ was a hidden surf gem, that was too good for a B-Side. It featured a surf group that were a cut above the competition. It looked like the future was bright for The Astronauts.

Then in 1964, music changed, when the British Invasion arrived. By the time they released their third album Competition Coupe, in 1964, The Astronauts music began to fall out of favour. As a result Competition Coupe wasn’t a commercial success, and record buyers missed out on sparking slices of surf like  El Aguila (The Eagle) and The Hearse.

In 1963, drummer Hal Blaine, a future member of the legendary Wrecking Crew, was a session musician. Producers all over L.A. had his number in their contacts book. However, by 1963, the hot rod and surf songs instrumentals filled the charts. Hal Blaine decided he wanted a piece of the action, and formed  Hal Blaine and The Young Cougars, who would cash in on the hot rod sound.

Hal Blaine and The Young Cougars teamed up with Lee Hazlewood. He wrote and produced Challenger II, which was released as a single on RCA Victor in 1963. Challenger II also featured on the 1963 album Deuces, T’s, Roadsters and Drums. So does The Phantom Driver another track penned and produced by Lee Hazlewood. Just like Challenger II, The Phantom Driver epitomises everything that’s good about the hot road sound.

Jack Nitzsche was born in the Windy City of Chicago, but brought up in Michigan. Growing up, he learnt to play piano, clarinet and saxophone. When Jack Nitzsche was eighteen in 1955, he moved to Hollywood. By 1961, Jack Nitzsche found himself sharing an office with Lee Hazlewood. Two years later, Jack Nitzsche recorded Baja, a Lee Hazlewood composition.

Baja was one of twelve tracks Jack Nitzsche recorded his debut album The Lonely Surfer. It was released on Reprise Records in 1963, and saw Jack Nitzsche combine surf and lounge. Dramatic and cinematic describes Baja, which was produced by Jimmy Bowen. Then in 1964, Jack Nitzsche recorded another Lee Hazlewood composition.

Zapata was chosen as the flip side to Theme From The Long Ships. Again, it was produced by Jimmy Bowen, and released on Reprise Records in 1964. Just Baja, Zapata has a cinematic sound, and wouldn’t sound out of place on the soundtrack to a Spaghetti Western.

The Ventures recorded a cover of the Duane Eddy and Lee Hazlewood composition Rebel-‘Rouser in 1964. For some reason, it wasn’t released until 1967, when it featured on the compilation Golden Greats By The Ventures. By then, The Ventures weren’t enjoying the same popularity as they had earlier in the decade. However, their music was still as good as it had always been.

As the lyrics to King Of The Surf Guitar say, “Dick Dale is the King Of The Surf Guitar.” That’s apparent from Angry Generation a track Dick Dale and His Del-Tones recorded in 1965. Penned by Lee Hazlewood this version is taken from the 1965 album Rock Out With Dick Dale and His Del-Tones Live At Ciro’s. It’s a tantalising taste of what the King Of The Surf Guitar is capable of.

In 1966, Frenesi (Cancion Tropical) was released as a single on MGM Records. It was credited to Lee Hazlewood Woodchucks. What those that heard the single didn’t realise, is the group didn’t exist. Instead, Lee Hazlewood had drafted in members of the Wrecking Crew to recorded two treacks. This included the B-Side Muchacho, a Mexican sounding arrangement which has a dramatic, cinematic sound.

The Vanguards instrumental version of A Stranger In Your Town sounds as if it was recorded in New Orleans. It was written by Lee Hazelwood and Marty Cooper, who like Jack Nitzsche, was a member of The Shaklefords. Marty Cooper also produced what was a delicious fusion of Dixieland, Cajun, folk and country.

The Afro Blues Quintet’s Some Velvet Morning closes Shazam! and Other Instrumentals Written By Lee Hazlewood. It’s very different from the other tracks on the compilation. This is a track from The Afro Blues’ Next Album. It was released in 1968, on Mira Records. Producers George Steel and Randall Wood, this Lee Hazlewood composition a wistful, jazz-tinged sound. Literally, the arrangement sashays along, all the time heading in the direction of Latin jazz. Although very different to the rest of the songs on Shazam! and Other Instrumentals Written By Lee Hazlewood, Some Velvet Morning has one thing in common…it oozes quality. That’s thanks to Lee Hazlewood skills as a songwriter.

On Shazam! and Other Instrumentals Written By Lee Hazlewood, it’s not just Lee’s songwriting skills that are showcased, but his talents as a producer. Lee Hazlewood started out as a producer in the late fifties, when equipment was very basic. It was a far cry from what the equipment he used later in his career. Still, though, Lee Hazlewood was able to create groundbreaking music.

This was the case from his work with Duane Eddy, right through to the music he created during the surf and hot rod crazes. It seemed Lee Hazelwood knew how to make the most of the basic equipment found in studios. What he produced, left other producers scratching their head. They wondered how they could create similar results? Other songwriters were in a similar boat.

They watched as Lee Hazlewood penned hit after hit. Duane Eddy, The Astronauts and The Ventures were all beneficiaries of Lee’s songwriting skills. So were Nancy Sinatra and Dean Martin. Later, Lee wrote for Frank and Nancy Sinatra. Then later in his career, Lee Hazlewood’s music was discovered by a new breed of indie rockers.

Suddenly, Primal Scream, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Beck, Nick Cave and Einstürzende Neubauten all recorded Lee Hazelwood’s songs. Ironically, Lee Hazlewood had written and recorded his first songs before many of these artists were even born. It seemed that Lee Hazelwood’s music appealed to artists of all generations. That’s not surprising.

Much of the music Lee Hazlewood wrote and produced has a timeless quality. It sounds just as good as did, when it was first recorded in the fifties and sixties. That’s apparent when one listens to Shazam! and Other Instrumentals Written By Lee Hazlewood, which was recently released by Ace Records.

















Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: