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Lee Hazlewood's "Manager" Wyndham Wallace on the "Surreal and Offbeat" Songwriter

Lee Hazlewood and Torbjörn Axelman
Lee Hazlewood and Torbjörn Axelman
Courtesy Torbjörn_Axelman

See also: Improbable Lee: Lee Hazlewood Re-Issues Chart an Unexpected Trajectory See also: John Dixon Discusses the Lee Hazlewood-produced "The Fool," by Sanford Clark, 1956 See also: 100 Songs That Defined Arizona

In this week's issue, we cover the psychedelic trajectory that brought songwriter/producer/vocalist Lee Hazlewood from Arizona to Sweden. We ended up with more material than we could fit, so please enjoy another installment of Outtakes, where we sweep up all sorts of good stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor.

Wyndam Wallace doesn't quite feel comfortable calling himself Lee Hazlewood's "manager."

But for lack a better term, Wallace, a congenial English gentleman in the most generous sense, "managing" the legendary songwriter/producer/vocalist is exactly what Wallace did from 1999-2007, when Hazlewood passed away from renal cancer.

Under Wallace's watchful eye, Hazlewood emerged in the late '90s and early 2000s as a cult icon, drawing praise from Beck, Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, The Tubes, Slowdive, and many more. Wallace assisted Hazlewood in crafting his final record, Cake or Death (2006), and has penned the liner notes included in Seattle-based record company Light in the Attic's expansive re-issues of Hazlewood material this year: the sublime compilation The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes & Backsides (1968-71) and his kaleidoscopic original soundtrack recording A House Safe For Tigers (Må Vårt Hus Förskonas Från Tigrar).

"...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." -- Wyndham Wallace

"It was only sort of toward the end of his life that he ever officially I could call myself 'manager,'" Wallace says. "From time to time he would refer to me to other people as his manager, after I'd been doing publicity but started doing other stuff, but yeah, it was only sort of when Cake or Death, his last record, was in preparation that I remember him calling me up and saying, 'Oh, and by the way, um, I've got a little gift for you. If you want to start putting manager on your letterhead, you can do that.' But I want 'Europe' in brackets afterward, because no one runs my shit in America,' or something like that. [Laughs] I guess I was sort of more an enabler than I was anything else. I just became very close friends with him the last few years of his life."

Light in the Attic's recent re-issues chart Hazlewood's journey from Phoenix and Los Angeles to Sweden, where he worked with director Torbjörn Axelman during his "Cowboy in Sweden" phase. It's some of Hazlewood's best work: the swelling "Soul's Island," the crushing "The Nights," the cheeky "Hey Cowboy." But this work didn't resonate with an American audience, and to some degree, Hazlewood disregarded it until later in his life.

Lee Hazlewood
Lee Hazlewood

"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. And 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."

During his time with Hazlewood, Wallace played him a stack of CD-Rs ("Everything I could get my hands on," he says), and Hazlewood's reaction was a strong one.

"I think he really had paid so little attention to a lot of his music from the previous decades, that I don't think he realized just how good he really, really was," Wallace says. "So I mean, 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. 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. So I think that those records are things that really meant a lot to him, because he did what he wanted so much on them."

 

"Lee was kind of like the shit-kicking, tobacco-chewing cowboy with the biggest heart in Arizona, or whatever state he was in at the time. He had this very, very tough uncompromising side, but he was also very sentimental. That meant that has a master raconteur, and he was never better than when he was being nostalgic." -- Wyndham Wallace

Hazlewood's attitude toward music was quite catholic, and spinning the recent re-issues, one is struck by the delicate balance between country, pop, and psychedelic sounds. But Hazlewood never fancied himself a hippie -- he was always more of a keen observer, Wallace says.

"If he ever did drugs I think it wouldn't make the final paragraph on page 15 of a small local newspaper," Wallace says. "He was a drinker, and he knew people that took drugs, but I think 'Sugartown' [recorded with Nancy Sinatra] was really his observation, or his interpretation, of the stories he was hearing about kids putting LCD in sugar cubes. He was not an active participant in the psychedelic world, in terms of the movement or in terms of the activities that people were participating in at the time. You were far more likely to find him just sitting in a corner having a chat with Duane Eddy or whatever, over a glass of Chivas Regal and talking about the who the hot girls in the room were. That was his thing. I think his connection with the counterculture was purely coincidental. People found [elements of the sound in his work], but that's because he himself was a rebel."

Nonetheless, the stoned, aching sound resonated with "alternative" culture, and Hazlewood's "Cowboy Psychedelia" would have a tremendous influence on younger artists.

"Yeah, I would play him stuff," Wallace says. "Certainly when I first got to know him I remember picking him up from Gatwick Airport...I picked him up in my Volkswagen Polo and I played him records in the car. He wasn't remotely interested in it, to be honest. The stuff he would play for me would be some bar band of transsexuals playing cover versions of "These Boots Were Made for Walking." [Laughs] Those were the kinds of things that amused him."

But Hazlewood became aware of his fans, and he would indulge their works from time to time. Through his relationship with Wallace (working for the UK offices of German label City Slang at the time) he was exposed to Built to Spill ("He just loved them," Wallace says) and The Flaming Lips ("He cared for them less," Wallace laughs).

"He took a huge shining to Richard Hawley, for instance, who is a massive Hazlewood fan and all his solo work is stamped with Lee Hazlewood's influence," Wallace says. "He was a huge fan of the High Llamas, with whom he played live, or members of, in his band I helped him put together toward the end of his live. I think people like Beck and Sonic Youth -- people who had been very respectful to him and whose music he could understand, that was close enough to where he himself had emerged from -- yeah, I think he had quite a love for that kind of music."

Hazlewood undoubtedly recognized the same dogged determination in those artists as he himself had, a stubborn and forceful drive to be nothing less than completely unique.

"Lee was kind of like the shit-kicking, tobacco-chewing cowboy with the biggest heart in Arizona, or whatever state he was in at the time," says Wallace. "He had this very, very tough uncompromising side, but he was also very sentimental. That meant that has a master raconteur, and he was never better than when he was being nostalgic. "


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