Rebel Rouser

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

Occasional solo appearances in Europe followed, including a sold-out show with Nick Cave at London's Meltdown Festival in 1999.

"The place was not only full of his older fans, but young kids," says Casey, who still performs with Hazlewood. "The young kids have latched on to those dark songs. I don't know what the reason is, but who am I to question it?" he laughs, adding "If it's working, it's working."

"Isn't that strange?" says Hazlewood of his rediscovery. "I'd have picked on somebody else myself. I certainly never thought any of my stuff would be appreciated 30 years down the line."

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.

Details

Scheduled to perform on Monday, July 9, with the Al Casey Combo and Tommy Parsons. Showtime is 8 p.m
Rhythm Room

However, to many it seemed inevitable that the surreal Zeitgeist of the '90s would bring with it a renewed fascination with Hazlewood's skewed songscapes. More artists -- from ambient electronic duo Air to country songsmith Johnny Dowd -- began to recognize Hazlewood's influence, namechecking him in interviews.

Joey Burns of Tucson's Giant Sand-Calexico contingent says his bands' desert-noir style owes a particularly large debt to Hazlewood. "For me his production was pivotal. It was really eye-opening. His work helped provide a lot of inspiration that went into making the past few Calexico albums especially."

Burns also points to the power of Hazlewood's music in conjuring up a broad panorama of images and emotions.

"The key is that he's got such a great sense of humor and imagination. I think for a lot of people -- despite the fact of him being slightly campy or whatever -- his stuff really does hold true and sink deeper," enthuses Burns. "He was able to tap into something that had never been done before."

Another aspect of Hazlewood that clearly appeals to the current generation of indie rockers is his reputation as a D.I.Y. pioneer -- the self-made maverick who went against the prevailing winds of the industry and emerged triumphant.

"I love his spirit -- of being someone very tough and strong-minded and strong-willed. He's like a Clint Eastwood of the rock world," says Burns. "And I think he personifies that perfectly. Not only did he do that with his music, but with his business dealings as well. His whole story of going to Hollywood and, when he faces rejection, he says, 'Well, fuck it. I'll just do it myself.' That spirit totally correlates and relates to what's going on today."

Wyndham Wallace, head of U.K.'s City Slang Records -- the label currently handling Hazlewood's recordings -- sees his appeal as a combination of visceral and aesthetic delights.

"First, there's the glory of his voice. One of those remarkable voices that just gets you and you can't say quite why. He constantly refers to the fact that he's got probably one of the worst voices that ever walked this earth. But it's not, it's really one of the most amazing things you'll ever hear. That's one of those things that draws people in straightaway.

"Plus there is beautiful melancholy that's at the heart of his songs," adds Wallace. "Which is normally so smothered that you don't realize there's this bittersweet thing going on. And there's his lyrics, which are funny, miserable, extraordinarily sexy and sometime perverse. I don't think many people have ever managed to make pop records be quite so intelligent as he did."

Wallace has been busy readying a new Hazlewood collection. The disc -- going under the working title of For Every Solution There Is a Problem -- features three new Hazlewood originals and collection of unreleased demos. "There's two dozen or so pieces of unreleased material from the last 25 years," says Wallace, "And there's some magnificent songs on there, as you might expect."

City Slang plans to pare down the collection to about 14 tracks and release it in January 2002. Also set to bow at the same time is a Hazlewood tribute album.

"I've gotten really, really exciting responses so far. I'm kind of loath to say exactly who is taking part at this point," says Wallace. "But there is going to be a diversity of established names, exciting up-and-coming artists and one or two of the old guard involved as well."

Rumored participants include Calexico, Nick Cave and Beck, as well as several others linked to the proposed 1991 SubPop salute.

"It is very gratifying that they'd even bother to do it," says Hazlewood. "The silliest word I can think of is that it tickles me. If you can be tickled at my age. But it really does."

Also pending it the release of a Hazlewood novel, The Pope's Daughter. Described by Hazlewood as "the Story of the Creation and Nancy," Wallace adds that the book is a "short, very funny semi-fictional account of his time working with Sinatra. There's absolutely no doubt that it captures the quintessential essence of Lee."

For Wallace -- who's grown close working with Hazlewood over the past few years -- spreading the word about his rich body of work is the real aim of the myriad projects.

"His music is recognized by 90 percent of people who've ever listened to a record in their life. They just don't know that it's him," Wallace says. "My prime objective is to try within the next year to see that Lee has gone from being someone people say, "Was that the guy who did that?' to "That was the guy who did that!"

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