Lee Hazlewood is a prolific songwriter and record producer whose life touched the careers of a number of pop singers. He is probably best known by the general public for his work with Nancy Sinatra, sometimes as a performer.
Barton Lee Hazlewood was born in Mannford, Oklahoma in 1929. His father was active in the oil business, but also was somewhat of a music promoter who enjoyed booking national acts. After high school in Port Neches, Texas Lee attended Southern Methodist University, and he was drafted during the Korean War. In 1953, Lee began to work as a disc jockey at KCKY in Coolidge, Arizona.
He began working with talented Phoenix-area guitarist Duane Eddy, in what would prove to be a long, successful business relationship for both. Eddy had spent a lot of time at KCKY Radio discussing music with Lee. The two became acquainted with a number of musicians, one of whom was session guitarist Al Casey. They worked together on a new sound, adding echo and trying some other things. Lee's breakthrough song was one that he wrote and produced titled The Fool. Recorded by Casey's childhood friend Sanford Clark with backing on guitar from Casey, it made the top ten in the summer of 1956 on the Dot label. Lee enjoyed experimenting with electronic schemes of various types in the recording studio.
Along with Lester Sill and Dick Clark, Lee founded Jamie Records in Phildelphia in 1957. This was an excellent outlet for Lee to write and produce his music. Records were promoted on Clark's television show -- over the next five years, Eddy would place a dozen instrumental hits on the Jamie label in the top forty, including Rebel-'Rouser, Because They're Young, and Peter Gunn.
Lee formed another record company with Lester Sill called Gregmark. Sill had worked with young whiz-kid record producer Phil Spector, who was hired to help produce records. Spector produced a trio of sisters from San Francisco named Priscilla, Albeth, and Sherrell Paris, and the Paris Sisters put up a top ten hit with I Love How You Love Me on Gregmark in 1961. Spector paid attention to Lee's penchant for production tricks and incorporated some of what he learned into his own career.
The British Invasion changed the pop music scene considerably as the mid-60's approached, and Lee gave some thought to abandoning the music business altogether. Music legend Frank Sinatra had recently formed his own record label called Reprise, and old friend Jimmy Bowen convinced Lee to work with some of the acts signed to that label. This resulted in a couple of hits in 1965 titled I'm A Fool and Not The Lovin' Kind, by the sons of some show business veterans who called themselves Dino, Desi and Billy.
Lee began to work with Sinatra's eldest daughter Nancy, who was on the verge of a very successful recording career. Over the next three years, Nancy would place ten records in the top forty, recorded either by herself or as a duo singing with her father, or with Lee Hazlewood. The first of these, produced and written by Lee, was These Boots Are Made For Walkin', and it reached number one early in 1966. It was followed in short order by How Does That Grab You Darlin' and Sugar Town. With Lee's songwriting and record production talents and Nancy's appeal as a singer, the public took to the songs coming out of Reprise quite readily. Somethin' Stupid, recorded in a duet with Frank Sinatra, was to be Nancy's second and last number one hit (although Lee stepped aside on that one). Then Nancy and Lee recorded a series of songs together, some of which became very popular, including Jackson and Lightning's Girl. Nancy Sinatra's last top forty hit, once again a song that was written and produced by Lee, was Some Velvet Morning in 1968. Nancy and Lee recorded several albums together on Reprise, sometimes with some very able musicians on the tracks such as James Burton.
Lee continued in the music business, although he was not selling reccords as readily as he had earlier in his career. He worked in the USA and Europe (particularly in Sweden) over the years, and moved his residence frequently. In the 1970's Hazlewood moved to Sweden, and subsequently would reside in Ireland, Germany, and Spain before returning to the United States. In the 90's he renewed his business relationship with Nancy Sinatra and the two toured together. Diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2005, he passed away on August 4, 2007 at age 78, peacefully at his home in Henderson, Nevada.
Lee Hazlewood had his hand in a great deal of the popular music that was generated in the 50's and 60's and the music world is better for what he has contributed.
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