Born on July 9, 1929, in Mannford, OK; married Naomi Shackleford. Education: Attended Southern Methodist University and broadcasting school. Addresses: Record company--Smells Like Records, P.O. Box 6179, Hoboken, NJ 07030, website:

While Lee Hazlewood isn't a particularly well known name in music, he is an iconoclastic renaissance man, influential for generations of other musicians from Phil Spector to Sonic Youth. He is perhaps best known for discovering guitar phenom Duane Eddy and for his work with Nancy Sinatra--he produced the majority of her recordings and wrote what would be her biggest hit, "These Boots Are Made for Walking."

Hazlewood was born on July 9, 1929, in Mannford, Oklahoma. Hazlewood's family moved a great deal as his father was a wildcatter, an independent oilman. He lived in Arkansas and Texas, residing primarily in Port Neches, Texas, during his formative years. In school, he played percussion.

He briefly attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, before being conscripted for military service. He worked for Armed Services Radio in Japan and was also assigned to active duty in Korea. Around this time, Hazlewood married Naomi Shackleford, his high school sweetheart.

After his discharge from the military, Hazlewood attended broadcasting school in California. His first job as a disc jockey was at country and western station KCKY in Coolidge, Arizona, in 1953. He developed a cult following. Among those listening was local teenager Duane Eddy. The two became friends and began working on songs together, enlisting piano player James "Jimmy Dell" Delbridge as well. They began recording and frequently performed as a country trio in Phoenix.

Hazlewood moved to KRUX in Phoenix in 1955. He had the distinction of being the first DJ in that city to play Elvis Presley, and he started playing records in the new genre known as rock 'n' roll. It was while in radio that he began experimenting with recording techniques. He soon started a record label called Viv with Eddy and Sanford Clark, who gave Hazlewood his first hit with "The Fool." He also wrote "Run Boy Run" and "Son of a Gun" for Clark. Al Casey, Steve Douglas, Jim Horn, and Larry Knechtel were among the session musicians he recruited. They would later become members of "The Wrecking Crew," the Los Angeles area's most in-demand session musicians in the 1960s and 1970s. Hazlewood continued to work with Eddy. The two refined Eddy's sound, aiming to make it markedly different from that of country guitar wizard Chet Atkins.

Hazlewood decided to devote his full attentions to writing and producing in 1957. He became a staff producer for Dot Records. During this period, he met producer Lester Sill. Together with Dick Clark, the host of American Bandstand, Hazlewood and Sill founded Jamie Records. The result was numerous instrumental hit singles for Eddy such as "Rebel Rouser," "Cannonball," and "Shazam." Eddy was purportedly the first artist to provide production and performing credits on his long-playing album sleeves.

"Hazlewood was obsessive about achieving new sounds, and this pursuit led to the installation of a gigantic grain tank onto the side of the building which housed the studio," according to his biography at the Smells Like Records website. "The tank was outfitted with a mike and speaker setup, and became a truly monstrous echo chamber, heard to great effect on those early Eddy sides. Another of Lee's many innovations in this period was the 'stacking' of bass players: Fender bass for crispness on top of an upright bass for depth of tone underneath."

An Innovator and Experimenter

Indeed, these innovations and experiments in recording attracted the attention of a young untried producer in whom Lester Sill became interested: Phil Spector. In 1961 Spector produced the Paris Sisters for their Gregmark label. These were his first efforts as a producer.

After recording his own Trouble Is a Lonesome Town and a bust with a small label called Eden, Hazlewood decided to quit the music business. Among other things, he was concerned about how the wave of British pop musicians in the United States was influencing the industry. He was coaxed back to work at Reprise Records in 1965, where was asked to shepherd Dino, Desi & Billy--a bubblegum pop group including Dino Martin, son of Dean, and Desi Arnaz Jr., son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

MCA Records offered Hazlewood the opportunity to start his own label in 1967. With Lee Hazlewood Industries (LHI), Hazlewood became a triple threat as a writer, producer, and performer. He released The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood and Lee Hazlewood-ism: Its Cause and Cure on MGM in consecutive years. According to All Music Guide, these projects represent "the best work of his (solo) career, a collection of desert-dry ballads of the dust boasting a healthy dose of Western fatalism and wanderlust and given impeccable productions that ranged from cowboy minimalism to overblown brassy pop."

The Phoenix New Times called LHI "the only black mark on an otherwise sterling record. With little patience for the niceties required to do business, Hazlewood's interest in the company flagged and LHI never found its footing."

Today, the imprint is best remembered for releasing the International Submarine Band's Safe at Home, an album that captures country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons in the embryonic stages of his career. Hazlewood also had a pivotal role in the fate of what has come to be recognized as the seminal recording of the country-rock movement: The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It was a legal dust-up with LHI that supposedly resulted in Parsons's voice being stripped from the album. Actual accounts vary widely as to how precisely the legal issue affected the recording.

Sinatra's 'Boots' Walked Up the Charts

When his producing contract with Dino, Desi & Billy was up, Hazlewood again considered retiring from the music industry. Then Nancy Sinatra walked into his offices. Hazlewood had worked with Frank Sinatra in the past, and soon he began working with his daughter as well. Her release of "Summer Wine" hit number one in 1966. Sinatra would also have hits with "These Boots Are Made for Walking" and "How Does That Grab You Darlin'." Later, she and Hazlewood recorded a string of songs as a duo. She was not satisfied with any male singers who auditioned with her, "thus giving birth to one of the most famous--and certainly more unlikely--pairings in pop history," wrote the Phoenix New Times. "If the contrast had been in age and appearance alone, the teaming might only have been novel; Hazlewood's mustachioed Marlboro man appearance and decade of seniority over Sinatra certainly lent the act an unusual quality. But the more powerful juxtaposition lay in the disparate quality of their voices; the sound of Sinatra's honeyed purr as it nestled against Hazlewood's feral growl was simply impossible to ignore." Tunes they sung included Hazlewood's "Jackson," "Summer Wine," and "Some Velvet Morning."

"How can you judge a man who sounds like Johnny Cash might after gargling with razor blades? Who can't seem to decide whether to be a Nashville cornball or a brooding desert Leonard Cohen? Who experienced immense commercial success producing pop stars like Nancy Sinatra and Duane Eddy, but regularly churned out oddball solo albums that could only have appealed to the most narrow of audiences?" asked Richie Unterberger of Hazlewood in Unknown Legends of Rock 'n' Roll: Psychedelic Unknowns, Mad Geniuses, Punk Pioneers, Lo-Fi Mavericks & More.

"No one's sure if Hazlewood was trying to make deep statements or was constructing some kind of lengthy, inside cosmic joke. Perhaps Lee wasn't even sure himself. Hazlewood refuses to clear up the mystery, avoiding the media like a patient evading his next dental appointment."

Unterberger called the Hazlewood-Sinatra duet "Some Velvet Morning" "probably the pinnacle of Hazlewood's entire career ... a strong candidate for the strangest song ever to enter the Top 40." He added that "The Hazlewood-Sinatra collaborations of the late '60s are Lee's most accessible, and justly famous, work."

"It was 'Beauty and the Beast'--that was our joke about it," Hazlewood said of his pairing with Nancy Sinatra in an interview with the Phoenix New Times. "And the engineers joked about it. They'd say, 'God, Lee. You sound like the Devil coming out of there.' But it just all fell into place. It was a weird chemistry."

Found New Interest in His Music

Hazlewood's solo work in the latter half of the 1960s began as demos that he hoped other artists would record. He was also busy producing country artists, including Waylon Jennings, Eddy Arnold, and Chet Atkins. He wanted to write for television and film, but there were no takers. Discouraged, he moved to Sweden, where he said, as quoted in the Phoenix New Times, "I was able to do the TV and film work that they wouldn't let me do over here."

By 1971 Hazlewood was traveling a great deal. He kept residences in Stockholm, Paris, and London. The soundly panned solo album Poet, Fool or Bum was released in 1973, and Hazlewood slipped into obscurity. By the 1980s, Hazlewood had retired. He focused on raising his youngest daughter and spent his time "sipping his beloved Chivas Regal and watching the royalty checks roll in. (A cover of 'Boots' by country lunkhead Billy Ray Cyrus netted Hazlewood a cool million)," according to the Phoenix New Times.

Hazlewood's influence has extended wider than he could have ever anticipated. Among those artists reportedly inspired by him are Screaming Trees, Kurt Cobain, Beck, and others. Collectors were paying huge sums for his LPs, and bootlegged copies of some recordings began surfacing in Europe. To satisfy a new generation of fans, Steve Shelley, best known as the drummer for Sonic Youth, began re-releasing Hazlewood's back catalogue on his Smells Like Records label in 1999.

by Linda Dailey Paulson

Lee Hazlewood's Career

Conscripted and served in military in Japan and Korea; worked as KCKY disc jockey, in Coolidge, AZ, 1953; moved to radio station in Phoenix, AZ, 1955; started working with Duane Eddy and other local musicians; began writing and producing full time, 1957; started recording his own work; had a string of hits with various artists, including Dino, Desi & Billy, Dean Martin, and Nancy Sinatra; founded own label, 1967; left the United States, 1971; recorded and worked on soundtracks in Sweden; retired, late 1970s to 1990s; resurgence of interest caused Smells Like Records to begin re-releasing Hazlewood catalog, 1999.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 15 years ago

I too, was a deejay for the Armed Forces Radio Service on the island of Guam 1965-1967. Got out of the Navy in 1972 and went to work for a country radio station (FM) in Poteau, Oklahoma, my hometown. I have in my vast collection of 33 1/3 LP's an album of Lee Hazelwood and cannot locaate it right away.But it has a song on it that I have never heard before and I played it many times on the air myself. The song is titled "I Am A Part" What can you tellme about this song and I wonder if this is a rare album and worth anything or not. I love Lee Hazelwood's music and am proud to be a fellow "Okie". Thanks for your reply. "Diamond Don" Barnes Poteau (Poe-Toe), Oklahoma