CULT CLASSIC: LEE HAZLEWOOD-COWBOY IN SWEDEN.
Cult Classic: Lee Hazlewood-Cowboy In Sweden.
By 1969, Lee Hazlewood’s career was no longer going to plan. The man who had been around since the birth of rock ‘n’ roll was suddenly regarded as yesterday’s man. Suddenly, he was no longer in demand as a producer. Especially by a new generation of up-and-coming musicians. A few that had worked with Lee Hazlewood, including Gram Parsons, but weren’t willing to repeat the experience. This made matters worse for Lee Hazlewood’s ailing record company LHI Records.
Five years had passed since LHI Records last enjoyed a hit single. Since then, commercial success eluded LHI Records, which couldn’t buy a hit single. To make matters worse, Lee Hazlewood had alienated the president of Bell Records, who used to distribute LHR Records’ releases. Lee Hazlewood was fast running out of friends in the music industry.
To make matters worse, Lee Hazlewood’s successful partnership with Nancy Sinatra ended in 1968. Lee Hazlewood tried to replicate his formula with Anne-Margaret. However, Lee but to no avail. This left Lee Hazlewood looking to forge new musical partnerships.
Some musical partners had only a short and unhappy experience with Lee Hazlewood. This included Gram Parsons, when he was a member of The International Submarine Band. Other up-and-coming musicians were put off working with Lee Hazlewood because of his jealousy, temper and possessiveness. Especically when it came to his partner Suzi Jane Hokom.
In 1968, Suzi Jane Hokom received an invitation to meet The Beatles while they were in New York. Lee Hazlewood was extremely possessive and controlling when it came to Suzi Jane Hokom. He decided to accompany her to the meeting with The Beatles, whose music he disliked. This didn’t stop Lee Hazlewood asking The Beatles to producing artists for their Apple label. When the answer was a firm no, Lee Hazlewood stormed out of the meeting.
A year later, music’s one-time golden boy was running out of friends in the American music industry. Lee Hazlewood’s record company was on its last legs. It seemed that Lee Hazlewood’s career had stalled in America. However, he still had a few friends overseas.
Although Lee Hazlewood’s star no longer shawn as bright in America, he was still a regarded as a celebrity elsewhere. This included in Russia, where Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ had proved popular. So much so, that later in 1969, a Russian official contacted Lee Hazlewood to tell him that they wanted to present him with a wood cabin in honour of These Boots Are Made for Walkin’. Lee Hazlewood decided to head behind the Iron Curtain to receive his honour.
Meanwhile, Swedish film director Torbjörn Axelman contacted Lee Hazlewood about a possible project. This meant that en route to Russia, he would have to take a detour via Sweden.
Lee Hazlewood had been invited to appear as a guest on In Town Tonight. It was filmed in the Swedish capital Stockholm. That was where Lee Hazlewood met Torbjörn Axelman. The two men were introduced by Gunilla Nilars, who worked with Torbjörn Axelman. When the two men began talking, it soon became apparent that they had much in common. This was the start of a long friendship and working relationship.
One of the projects that Lee Hazlewood and Torbjörn Axelman worked on, was Cowboy In Sweden. Lee Hazlewood would provide the soundtrack for Cowboy In Sweden, which marked the start of a new chapter in Lee Hazlewood. He decided to move to Sweden with Suzi Jane Hokom.
Moving to Sweden suited Lee Hazlewood for a number of reasons. His record company, LHI Records, was on its last legs, and would fold in 1970, after 305 releases. Lee Hazlewood also had unresolved tax problems. The other reason was his son who was a teenager, was almost old enough to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. For Lee Hazlewood this brought back memories. He had fought in the Korean War, and was keen that his son wouldn’t have to follow in his footsteps. Moving to Sweden ensured that his son avoided being drafted. This made the move to Sweden all the more appealing. So the Hazelwood family headed to Sweden.
Once his family had settled in Sweden, Lee Hazlewood began work on the film Cowboy In Sweden. He would costar with Swedish actress, Nina Lizell in what proved to a somewhat surreal film.
Just so the viewer doesn’t forget that he is the Cowboy In Sweden, Lee Hazlewood sports a black stetson and cowboy boots. He wanders through a series of dreamscape. They’re akin to a series of individual videos rather than part of a cohesive film. However, this adds to the surreal, lysergic nature of the film. So do the absurdist skits, and the sight of Lee Hazlewood sitting discussing both Swedish culture and weather between songs. Critics wondered if this was an ill-fated attempt at comedy? They also wondered why the music seemed to bear no relation to the scenes in Cowboy In Sweden?
Cowboy In Sweden.
There was a reason for this. Unlike most soundtracks, Lee Hazlewood didn’t record the music especially for Cowboy In Sweden. Instead, Lee Hazlewood chose ten tracks he had recorded the music over the past couple of years. During this period, Lee Hazlewood had travelled extensively and recorded songs in different European European and American cities.
Lee Hazlewood’s musical adventure began in Paris, France in 1968. This was one of the country’s where Lee Hazlewood’s star still shawn bright. It was also where he recorded the hurt-filled ballad Forget Marie, at CBS Studios. Later in 1968, Forget Marie made its debut on Lee Hazlewood’s 1968 album Love and Other Crimes. Alas, when the album was released on LHI Records, commercial success eluded the album.
Two years later, in 1970, Lee Hazlewood decided to include Forget Marie on the soundtrack to Cowboy In Sweden. It joined songs that he had recorded in London in 1969.
The following year, 1969, Lee Hazlewood travelled to London to work with American producer Mel Talmy. Both men shared the same lawyer and musically, had much in common. They both wrote and produced. Recently though, Mel Talmy was way ahead in the success stakes. He had produced hits for The Kinks and The Who. However, by 1969, was turning his attention to the new wave of British folk music.
Recently, Mel Talmy had been working with many of the British folk groups and artists, including Pentangle and Bert Jansch. However, despite concentrating on folk music, Mel Talmy was keen to produce an album with Lee Hazlewood.
The two men album began work on a new album for Lee Hazlewood’s LHI Records. Ten tracks were recorded, and became Forty, an album of pop, rock and balladry. It was released on LHI Records later in 1969, but failed commercially. Two of Forty’s highlights were the ballads, The Night Before and the string-drenched What’s More I Don’t Need Her. They would find their way onto Cowboy In Sweden. So would a number of songs recorded in Los Angeles.
Despite commercial success continuing to elude LHI Records’ releases, Lee Hazlewood was still in demand as a producer. He was hired to produce Waylon Jenning’s Singer Of Sad Songs and then Eddy Arnold’s Standing Alone. It was arranged by Clark Gassman, who would collaborate with Lee Hazlewood on his next round of recordings.
The songs that Lee Hazlewood recorded with Clark Gassman were Pray Them Bars Away, Cold Hard Times and Easy and Me. Although this trio of songs didn’t bring commercial success to Lee Hazlewood’s door, their inimitable wistful, orchestrated country sound would prove perfect for the soundtrack to Cowboy In Sweden.
So would two tracks Lee Hazlewood had recorded with two of the female singers he had worked with. This included Ann Margaret. Lee Hazlewood and Ann Margaret had recorded an album together, The Cowboy and The Lady. It was released on LHI Records in 1969, but failed to commercially. The other song Lee Hazlewood decided to include on Cowboy In Sweden, was by his partner Suzi Jane Hokom, For A Day Like Today. This proved to be the last song Lee Hazlewood and Suzi Jane Hokom recorded together. It was released as a single June 1970 and featured on Cowboy In Sweden. By then, Suzi Jane Hokom and Lee Hazlewood’s relationship was over.
She had agreed to star in Cowboy In Sweden. However, rather than travel to Sweden, it was decided that Suzi Jane Hokom should shoot her part in California. She dawned a long white dress as her part was filmed during a gloomy, smoggy day in San Bernardino. This was apt. Suzi Jane Hokom and Lee Hazlewood’s relationship was almost over. They had been through so much personally and professionally.
Whilst together, the pair had founded and run LHI Records. Suzi Jane Hokom and Lee Hazlewood both enjoyed solo careers and recorded together. Then in 1969, they both featured in Cowboy In Sweden. By the time it was released, their relationship was at an end. Before that, Lee Hazlewood had to complete the soundtrack to Cowboy In Sweden.
Having chosen much of the soundtrack for Cowboy In Sweden, Lee Hazlewood for Cowboy In Sweden still required three tracks. He wrote and recorded these songs during his stay n Stockholm.
The first of these songs was the anti war protest song, No Train To Stockholm. During the same session, Lee Hazlewood recorded Hey Cowboy, with his costar Nina Lizell. The final song, was the traditional song Vem Kan Segla (I Can Sail Without The Wind). Lee Hazlewood wrote English lyrics to the song that would close Cowboy In Sweden. For songwriter Joe Cannon this was a disappointment,
Joe Cannon had written Me and The Wine and The City Lights. Lee Hazlewood had covered the song during a session at T.T.G. Studios, L.A. on the 16th of April 1970. It’s another ballad, which is produced by Lee Hazlewood and Larry Marks. It has a much more contemporary cinematic sound that shows a very different side to Lee Hazlewood. Alas, the song missed the cut and for Lee Hazlewood it was an opportunity lost. Thankfully, Me and The Wine and The City Lights features on Light In The Attic’s reissue of Cowboy In Sweden. So do alternate versions of Easy and Me and Pray Them Bars Away. However, back in 1970 the film and soundtrack to Cowboy In Sweden were about to be released.
Upon the release of Cowboy In Sweden, the film flopped. It found a small audience in Sweden, thanks to the popularity of Lee Hazlewood. The few reviews of Cowboy In Sweden that were published weren’t exactly complimentary. Words like surreal and trippy were used. Critics accused Cowboy In Sweden of lacking cohesion and narrative. Lee Hazlewood’s latest venture into film hadn’t been a success. Nor was the soundtrack to Cowboy In Sweden.
When Cowboy In Sweden was released in 1970, it was through Lee Hazlewood’s ailing LHI Records. The company was dying a death, and would fold later in 1970. Lacking the budget to promote Cowboy In Sweden properly, the album never stood a chance. Just like the film, the soundtrack to Cowboy In Sweden flopped. However, that wasn’t the end of the story.
Much later, there was a resurgence in popularity in Lee Hazlewood’s music. This included the soundtrack to Cowboy In Sweden. The only problem was that the album was something of a rarity. Copies of the original album were extremely difficult to find. If they became available, the prices were usually prohibitive to most record buyers. That was a great shame.
Cowboy In Sweden, which is essentially a compilation of Lee Hazlewood’s solo material and collaboration showcases a talented singer, songwriter and producer. Especially on the ballads, where Lee Hazlewood comes into his own. His voice is perfect for singing country, especially the melancholy string-drenched What’s More I Don’t Need Her and the hurt-filled Forget Marie. They part of what’s a truly underrated, hidden gem of an album. Sadly, it failed to find the audience it deserved.
By then, Lee Hazlewood’s career had stalled, and he was viewed by many as yesterday’s man. Many thought that his best years were behind him. He certainly didn’t replicate the success of the early part of his career. Music was changing, and changing fast. The problem was, Lee Hazlewood had kept up with the changes.
Many of the new generation of musicians wanted to write and produce their own music. The ones that musicians who wanted to work with a producer, chose not to work with Lee Hazlewood. They had heard the stories, about how he wasn’t the easiest person to work with. Sometimes, his temper of jealousy got the better of him. Especially when working with the new generation of up-and-coming artists. That was a great shame, as Lee Hazlewood had so much musical experience, and could’ve mentored these artists.
Later, though, the next generation of artists found inspiration in Lee Hazlewood’s music. By then, there had been a resurgence in popularity of his music. Lee Hazlewood’s music was starting to find a new audience. They appreciated the music that he wrote, recorded and produced during a forty-eight year career. This includes the music on Cowboy In Sweden.
The music on Cowboy In Sweden was recorded in four countries on two continents during a two year period. They’re a reminder of, and introduction to, Lee Hazlewood a truly talented singer, songwriter and producer who for a year, was a Cowboy In Sweden.
Cult Classic: Lee Hazlewood-Cowboy In Sweden.