No Trivia

Archive for the ‘Lee Hazlewood’ Category

leave a comment

Lee Hazlewood (1929-2007)

I was writing this as Tom Breihan’s Hazlewood tribute popped-up on my rss feed thingy. Breihan’s entry is a much more historical and biographical piece with a focus on his production. Check it out if you haven’t…

I got into Lee Hazlewood’s music through the movie ‘Morvern Callar’. There’s a wonderful scene in which Samantha Morton listens to ‘Some Velvet Morning’ as she walks through the fluorescent-lit aisles of the supermarket she works in, all sound drown-out except for the epic intro to this track and Lee’s weirdo baritone voice that with his accent, comes off as more cracker than country but still really commanding. Nothing else really sounds like this:

‘Some Velvet Morning’ from ‘Nancy & Lee’
Sorry, but I only own this on LP so I can’t upload an MP3 of it but it’s really the place to start with Hazlewood. It’s on the ‘Nancy & Lee’ record and really is a great piece of production. Although he’s a white dude from Oklahoma, who started out as a folk singer and worked with people like Nancy Sinatra and other chanteuse-like singers, Hazlewood’s sound reminds me the most of the best early, gritty soul and it wouldn’t surprise me if it were some influence on someone like Thom Bell. If the RZA can sample the hell out of those distinctive Delfonics guitars and Al Green horns, one could easily chop the melodramatic weirdness of Hazlewood tracks like ‘Some Velvet Morning’ into something ill. The galloping strings that accompany Hazlewood’s defeatist “Some velvet morning when I’m straight” line would sit right at home on a vintage Raekwon track.

The song is also just flat-out bizarre. Hazlewood’s creepy singing is used in contrast to Nancy Sinatra’s prettier singing and exploited for maximum weirdness. He sings like a perverted Uncle or some creepy 60s guru about how someday, when he’s straight he’ll “open up your gate” and “maybe tell you about Phaedra”. The qualifications make it funnier and more real, as it seems to be, if he ever does get straight, he’ll you know, maybe get around to telling you about Phaedra. Sinatra, whose voice isn’t totally normal either, it has this disembodied, emotionless tenor, sings as Phaedra. Who knows what it all means but it works as being genuinely strange but also catchy. The end of the song is particularly striking as Hazlewood cuts-up the vocal tracks with increased vigor, as they bounce back and forth sort of interrupting one another and even does, what seems to me, to be some clever, early attempt at time-stretching…

‘Cold Hard Times’ from ‘Cowboy In Sweden’
There’s a palpable, stoned haze to all of ‘Cowboy In Sweden’. It’s subtle, like a vague film of weed smoke and wine that covers the track and Lee’s trying really hard to maintain a sense of optimism. The songs have this bouncy, near whimsical belief in the world tempered by an understanding of reality. The lilting strings, the playful guitar…He sings the chorus “It’s a cold, hard world love/And these are cold, hard times” as if he isn’t singing the saddest thing ever and the fact that he’s telling you it does kind of make you feel better. It’s like your father telling you something bad really will ultimately, be okay.

“I heard my brother died last week or was that just a rumor?/From an overdose of hate taken in his veins/”I heard the preacher said God must have a sense of humor/Cause when they put him in the grave, it didn’t even rain”

What can you say? Not a bad four lines there. I even like the vague pretentiousness of it (“overdose of hate”) because I think Hazlewood’s pseudo-poetry there is supposed to be sort of goofy.

‘We All Make the Flowers Grow’ from ‘Trouble Is a Lonesome Town’
I talked about this song in a previous post and here’s what I said:

“The song is darkly funny but deadly serious as well, it’s resigned in a way, accepted the fact that there’s no God or order to anything and in that resignation, finds humor and at least, the strength to articulate that resignation and not get lost in it. It’s “just” a folk/country song but through Hazelwood’s voice and really smart lyrics, you can tell that he isn’t trying to shock you with his “wormfood” assertions, it’s the kind of belief he’s earned.”

This comes from Hazlewood’s first album which works as a weird concept album about a crappy little town called ‘Trouble’. Hazelwood’s humor and sincerity are totally out-there on this, as each track is introduced by an entertaining but purposefully tedious spoken-word intro. By the end of the album though, the intros and the accompanying songs really do build-up to a moving portrait of the town.

‘Love & Other Crimes’ from ‘Love & Other Crimes’

Sorry, I only have this one on LP as well. I think this is Hazlewood’s best album and it’s frustratingly not available on CD. There is a compilation from 1997 on ‘LHI Records’ also called ‘Love and Other Crimes’ and while that is worth getting and does contain some tracks from ‘Love…’ it is not the album. Don’t be fooled!

Hazlewood has this way of being really sincere but always sort of joking around with you at the same time. There’s a certain level of melodrama that he is always working with and it makes it hard to totally decipher his sincerity. This song has this sort of jazzy bass, piano, and brushy drumming and mixed with his kinda over-the-top crooning, it sounds a little funny, but when it fucking kicks-in at the 35 second point, it sort of takes you away and then, within 15 seconds its done and the song’s pretty much over.

The whole issue of regret and guilt is something that asshole singers and rock stars never really deal with anymore; they are too cool for it and then indie musicians who aren’t too cool for it, have to present it in some artsy, twee way that entails becoming Anne Frank’s dickhole or something like that. Rappers are much more apt to simply, straight-forwardly address regret and guilt without falling into any “woe is me” type stuff. I’m sure it’s because I’m blasting the new UGK all day today but I keep finding these odd connections. I hear the same embrace of accent and actual voice in Bun B as I do when Hazelwood belts it out knowing it sounds kind of off or just plain old. When Hazelwood is singing this stuff he’s about the same age that Bun and Pimp C are now.

Hazlewood released an album about dying last year called ‘Cake or Death’ and it represents the kind of stoicism and no-bullshit view of life that is definitely a good look when death is coming and you know it. It’s what those ‘American Recordings’ Johnny Cash albums should be or could have been if they were less exploitative.

This interview is from last year and you can see, Hazlewood was just as amazing. He addresses some French-sounding douche guy about the time signature changing on ‘Some Velvet Morning’ so I guess it isn’t a production “time-stretching” trick. At the same time, Hazlewood is like every legend, a master bullshitter and it still sounds more like a production trick than some master playing, so who knows…either way, this video captures the feeling I’ve gotten from all of Hazlewood’s music, this modesty mixed with assertiveness and even like a mildly enlightened attitude about everything…and now he’s dead.

Written by Brandon

August 8th, 2007 at 4:51 am

Posted in Lee Hazlewood