Rebel Rouser

The recently rediscovered Lee Hazlewood finds his place among a new generation of fans

One of those ideas was using a $200 grain elevator as an echo chamber, a discovery that gave his recordings a cavernous sound and helped advance the development of rock 'n' roll recording beyond the rudimentary.

Between 1958 and 1963, Eddy scored 15 Top 40 hits, among them "Rebel Rouser," "Cannonball" and "Forty Miles of Bad Road." Merging Eddy's "twang thang" with backing hoots 'n' hollers and the honking sax solos of Steve Douglas, Hazlewood fashioned a handful of the most memorable instrumentals of all time.

The up-and-coming producer/songwriter would continue to work with several Phoenix acts, including the Tads and Ray Sharpe (who scored a minor hit with "Linda Lu"), before moving to Los Angeles, where he continued to produce Eddy and others, including folk combo The Shackelfords.

Cult icon Lee Hazlewood: Somewhere between 
obscure and infamous.
Cult icon Lee Hazlewood: Somewhere between obscure and infamous.
A young Hazlewood deep in thought.
A young Hazlewood deep in thought.

But it was Hazlewood's lasting influence as a music-biz mover and shaker that would leave an even greater mark. Initially partnering up with Lester Sill, and later with Dick Clark and Jamie Records, the self-made Hazlewood had become an industry player on a mix of guile and gruffness.

More important, his pioneering work with reverb and echo provided the inspiration for a young Phil Spector, who came to Phoenix to study his technique. Hazlewood's eye for talent was equally influential as he launched the career of arranger Jack Nitzsche -- who would become a behind-the-scenes force in rock for 40 years, aiding Spector, the Rolling Stones and Neil Young. Hazlewood's close-knit cadre of session players would go on to form the famed the Wrecking Crew, musicians who would become the bricks and mortar in Spector's Wall of Sound and later create the foundation for Brian Wilson's sun-kissed California odysseys.

But by 1964, Hazlewood had grown tired of the music business. Put off by the British Invasion and financially secure, the 31-year-old decided to retire.

It was Jimmy Bowen, then head of the singles department at Warner Bros., who badgered him back to work. "Jimmy would call me all the time with offers. I said, 'Don't ask me to do anything.' So for about six or eight months I didn't."

Hazlewood finally relented when Bowen bandied a deal for Hazlewood to produce Dino, Desi & Billy, a teen combo that included the celebrity offspring of Dean Martin and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. "[Bowen] said 'You have to do this and you can name your price.' So I got a terribly sweet deal out of it."

Writing and producing a quartet of chart hits for the group, Hazlewood worked for another year, but "went back out and sat by the pool" after his contract was up. Not long into his second retirement, Bowen and Mo Ostin -- the head of Frank Sinatra's Reprise label -- came calling again.

This time they wanted coax to Hazlewood back for an even bigger project -- one that would have him working with the "boss's daughter."


To say that Nancy Sinatra's recording career prior to 1965 was something less than stellar is a rather generous appraisal.

"The joke with Nancy's records was that they used to ship out a hundred and get two hundred sent back," chuckles Hazlewood.

Lobbied by Bowen and Ostin, and convinced after a meeting with Nancy and father Frank, Hazlewood signed on to help salvage the 24-year-old singer's fledgling career.

"The only thing I thought was that there was no personality on her records," remembers Hazlewood of her early sides. The first thing he did was drop her singing voice a key, getting her into a more natural and comfortable range. "From then on it was hoping to hell we grabbed on to something people liked," he adds.

The pair's first collaboration, the Hazlewood-penned and produced "So Long Babe," made a respectable impression on the charts, selling 150,000 copies. But it was the duo's second offering which caused a real sensation.

"I was sitting [in the studio] with the guitar player who's an old Texan too, and we're doing dirty old Texas songs. And [Nancy's] breaking up 'cause she's a New Jersey kid and hasn't heard anything like that. And I said, 'Oh, I got one. Give me the guitar.'"

Hazlewood began playing a hilarious but half-finished party number called "These Boots Are Made for Walking." Sinatra flipped for the song and insisted that she record it. However, Hazlewood was reticent to let the innocent Sinatra tackle the song's coarse colloquialisms, specifically language about "messin'" (an East Texas euphemism for screwing).

"But she didn't care. She said 'I'm gonna do it with you or without you.' She just knew it was gonna be a hit."

Hazlewood's now-famous direction for Sinatra to sing it like "a 16-year-old girl who goes out with 45-year-old truck drivers" worked, as the brassy vocal and over-the-top arrangement shot the song straight to No 1.

"Boots" and subsequent hits such as "How Does That Grab You Darlin'" (as well as a turn in director Roger Corman's The Wild Angels) transformed Sinatra's image from well-kept daddy's girl to miniskirted pop vixen. "She gets all the credit for that," says Hazlewood. "Every time I saw her she was changing more and more into that character that was on 'Boots.' She became [that] person."

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