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The solo records also continued. 1971 brought the landmark, Requiem for an Almost Lady. A dark, harrowing concept piece about a failed relationship (actually based on several soured romances, insists Hazlewood) the album was not released in the U.S. at the time, but its reputation would grow legendary in the interceding years.
"I was always criticized by people who asked me 'Why don't you ever write something personal,'" says Hazlewood of the genesis of the album. "[Requiem] was really written with that in mind."
Cast against a sparse musical backdrop and chocked with piercing anti-love songs like "I'd Rather Be Your Enemy" and "I'm Glad I Never" (as in "had a gun"), Hazlewood painted an impossibly maudlin portrait of a man in pain. Adding further depth to the hurt were Hazlewood's spaced-out spoken intros, like this nugget from "L.A. Lady": "It's been said that all good things are made in heaven, but somehow I have the feeling the first time we said 'I love you' to each other the gods must have turned their backs and laughed out loud."
"To know that we did it in about six hours is amazing to me," recalls Hazlewood. "We cut it in two sessions. [The sound] of the record is very small and open; that guitar just winds in back of me. I'm a little proud of that album."
His output during the period -- in fact, for much of his career -- was well ahead of its time. Pieces like Requiem anticipated the doom and goth-country movements and heralded the bleak musings found in the catalogues of Nick Cave and the Tindersticks.
Hazlewood's work placed him in a unique position -- somewhere between Americana songsmiths like Johnny Cash and European chamber pop crooners like Serge Gainsbourg and Scott Walker -- occupying a space very much his own.
The early '70s also witnessed the release of the sublime Cowboy in Sweden (Hazlewood starred in a film of the same name). The album paired the craggy-voiced singer with another fair-haired beauty, Swedish chanteuse Nina Lizzell, on duets of "Hey Cowboy" and "Leather and Lace." The record also featured a subtle and moving anti-war anthem called "No Train To Stockholm" -- something of a surprise for those who assumed the self- proclaimed "redneck injun" would be a flag-waving right-winger. "Yeah," agrees Hazlewood, "Nobody quite expected that from a supposed good ole boy like me."
The swinging, horn-heavy 13 (featuring a tan and long-haired Hazlewood on the cover) followed in 1972, as did a number of subsequent albums which saw limited European release.
"That was really nothing but work over there for four years," he says of his Swedish sojourn, which ended in 1974. "But it was fun."
Aside from a brief stateside comeback with Nancy Sinatra, Hazlewood gradually receded from the spotlight. Although he continued to write songs, his recording and production work became increasingly sporadic as the years went on. "For a while I was approached a lot," he says "Then it became less and less, and then eventually nothing."
The end of the '70s saw the release of some new material for MCA Nashville, which went largely unheralded.
Aside from a thwarted collaboration with Al Casey on an album of standards, the 1980s were particularly quiet as Hazlewood devoted himself to raising his youngest child, daughter Samantha. (Hazlewood married and divorced twice.)
Content to spend the better part of the next decade in a state of roving retirement, the nomadic Hazlewood became something of a globetrotter. Relocating almost annually, he logged time in Helsinki, Paris and London before eventually returning to Phoenix for a spell in the mid '80s.
Regardless of where he hung his hat, Hazlewood was happy to settle back into the life of a retiree, spending the days sipping his beloved Chivas Regal and watching the royalty checks roll in. (A cover of "Boots" by country lunkhead Billy Ray Cyrus netted Hazlewood a cool million.)
By the outset of the 1990s, he'd completely disappeared from sight, if not from public consciousness. And it looked as if Hazlewood -- already into his 60s -- would spend the remainder of his days in blissful anonymity.
Little could he know it then, but the most unlikely twist of Lee Hazlewood's career was yet to come.
For a generation of kids weaned on their parents' vinyl copies of Nancy & Lee, Hazlewood was a vague memory from childhood, the dark, mysterious figure standing next to the pretty blonde. Most probably couldn't have imagined the amazing diversity of his career, or that a veritable trove of his solo material existed. One of those was Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel.
Like most, Pickerel's exposure to Hazlewood's oeuvre had initially come through his duets with Sinatra. It was Trees bandmate Steve Fisk who tipped the trapsman to Hazlewood's "other stuff."
"Soon enough I found copy of The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood, Love and Other Crimes several others," says Pickerel. "And I was hooked."
In 1990, Pickerel -- then an employee of Seattle label SubPop -- began circulating some homemade compilation tapes of his favorite Hazlewood tracks.