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His second record, The N.S.V.I.P.s, followed the same song/narration format and didn't expand Hazlewood's audience much. But the debut and sophomore records showcase Hazlewood as a fully formed songwriter and hint at the cosmic Americana his catalog would eventually include.
"By '63, he was his own man," Dixon says. "He'd already burned his bridge with Duane. If Duane didn't want to do it, screw him — the Astronauts can do it, or Al Casey can do it. Because I'm Lee Hazlewood and these are the things, the songs I'm writing, and anybody can do them."
In the mid-'60s, Hazlewood began working with Frank Sinatra's blond bombshell of a daughter, Nancy, and their hits "These Boots Are Made for Walking," "Sugar Town," "How Does That Grab You Darlin'?," "Jackson," and "Some Velvet Morning" would define his legacy and make him a star.
But Hazlewood wasn't entirely comfortable with the life of a celebrity (though he didn't complain much about his "swimming pool and a nice little stockpile of Chivas Regal," according to his official biography).
In the early 1970s, he retreated to Sweden, where he recorded a chunk of the songs that appear on The LHI Years, and embarked on a series of early music films and albums with Axelman, including Cowboy in Sweden, Smoke, and A House Safe for Tigers. "In the U.S., you can sit next to an American for five minutes and know the person's whole life," Hazlewood is quoted by Wallace in the liner notes of the AHSFT re-issue. "You can sit next to a Swede for five hours and no one says a thing. That's why I like the Swedes."
"I think he had a very strong affinity with the stuff that he recorded in Sweden, because that was, I think, the first time he'd been able to record stuff after he had success with Nancy [Sinatra], without any particular interference from anyone," Wallace says. "He was able to sort of live in this small country, in which he would be a star, [though] he was uncomfortable being a star on a small scale, because it's a small country. And he would indulge himself in his creative whims."
The songs are some of the strongest and most musically powerful of his career, but they failed to make a commercial impact. It wasn't until decades later — when artists like Nick Cave, Pulp, Sonic Youth (drummer Steve Shelley would reissue many of his albums via his Smells Like Records imprint in the late '90s), Beck, and even Megadeth would tout his influence — that some attention was paid to his unheralded classics.
"I think he had a very ambivalent relationship with most of his work," Wallace says. "I think, on one hand, that he was enormously proud of it, and he knew that he'd written a lot of songs that, as he would have put it, paid for his 'kids to go to the best schools in America.' And I think he staked a lot of pride in the fact that these songs had made a great deal of money for him.
"But I think he also had this sort of sense that his best work was the stuff that had been least successful. He was enormously dismissive of this work, I think, because it hadn't made him a lot of money, and that was how he was able to quantify success. So there was this weird thing that happened during the time I knew him, where he went from judging things by the royalty statements he would get to seeing the profound affection and respect for this work that he had previously never considered to be terribly valuable."
Working with Wallace, Hazlewood secured a spot at the 1999 Meltdown Festival in London. "It's always curated by an artist who tries to put together sort of their dream lineup, and that year Nick Cave was doing it," Wallace says. "I knew that Nick was obviously a huge fan of Lee's, and had recorded — or certainly performed — Lee's songs in the past, certainly 'These Boots Are Made for Walking.' So I approached the guy who booked the [festival], and said 'Hey, you think Nick would want this?' and so we negotiated the deal, and Lee came over and played this triumphant show." Wallace and Hazlewood embarked on a "series of very Lee-style projects" in the years that followed, including his final record, Cake or Death, in 2007.
Devoted record hounds and music fans continue to discover Hazlewood's work. Both Wallace and Dixon agree it was the man's powerful dedication to his singular muse that make him an enduring figure.
"He had a very, very dark sense of humor." Wallace says. "At times, you couldn't help but feel like you were chatting with your granddad. Because, you know, he'd be cracking jokes, and they'd often be jokes that I'd heard before . . . He was a very funny guy. He loved to be provocative as well, which is something I always found entertaining."
"As a business, LHI was nothing but stiffs," Dixon says. "There wasn't one hit . . . but he was all Lee. He knew how to keep things going. It's about volume, volume, volume, and eventually something will happen, and eventually, it did. Lee Hazlewood Industries — what a great image: an industry. Listening to this body of work, it's amazing. There's a lot of songs in there."
"He was a very strong personality and also very stubborn about maintaining the truth of that personality," Wallace says. "He didn't compromise for anyone."