August 4, 2007 – Barton Lee Hazlewood (These Boots Are Made for Walkin’) was born on July 9, 1929 in Mannford, Oklahoma. The son of an oil man, he spent most of his youth living between Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Louisiana. He grew up listening to pop and bluegrass music. He spent his teenage years in Port Neches, Texas, where he was exposed to a rich Gulf Coast music tradition. He studied for a medical degree at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
Following discharge from the military, which he spent partly as a DJ in the Korean War, Hazlewood worked as a disc jockey in Phoenix while honing his song writing skills. His first hit single as a producer and songwriter was “The Fool”, recorded by rockabilly artist Sanford Clark in 1956.
He then partnered with pioneering rock guitarist Duane Eddy in Phoenix, producing and co-writing a string of hit instrumental records, including “Peter Gunn”, “Boss Guitar”, “Forty Miles of Bad Road”, “Shazam!”, “Rebel-‘Rouser” and “(Dance With The) Guitar Man”.
He became perhaps best known for having written and produced the 1966 Nancy Sinatra U.S./UK No.1 hit, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin“, with “Summer Wine” on the flipside. He also wrote “How Does That Grab Ya, Darlin'”, “Friday’s Child”, “So Long, Babe, “Sugar Town” and many others for Sinatra.
Hazlewood had a distinctive baritone voice that added a resonance to his music. His collaborations with Nancy Sinatra as well as his solo output in the late 1960s and early 1970s have been praised as an essential contribution to a sound often described as “cowboy psychedelia” or “saccharine underground”.
He wrote “Houston”, a 1965 US hit recorded by Dean Martin. He also produced several singles for Martin’s daughter, Deana Martin, including her country hit, “Girl of the Month Club,” while Deana was still a teenager. Other tunes on that project were “When He Remembers Me,” “Baby I See You” and “The Bottom of My Mind,” all recorded during the 1960s.
Among his most well-known vocal performances is “Some Velvet Morning“, a 1967 duet with Nancy Sinatra. He performed that song along with “Jackson” on her 1967 television special Movin’ With Nancy. Early in 1967, Lee also produced the number 1 hit song for Frank & Nancy Sinatra “Somethin’ Stupid”. Jimmy Bowen was listed as co-producer but wasn’t there at the time. Hazelwood just gave him credit as per a previous agreement with Jimmy. Lee also wrote the theme song “The Last of the Secret Agents”, the theme song of the 1966 spy-spoof film of the same title. Nancy Sinatra, who had a role in the film, recorded the song for the soundtrack. For Frank Sinatra’s 1967 detective movie, Tony Roma, Hazlewood also wrote the theme song which was performed by Nancy.
Nancy Sinatra, who had released a number of saccharine singles before teaming up with Hazlewood in 1965, recalled: “He said to me: ‘You can’t sing like Nancy Nice Lady anymore. You have to sing for the truckers.’ “At about this time, I was getting a divorce. My husband decided he didn’t want to have children, and I did and he knew it. So we split.”
“Lee said to me: ‘You’ve been married and now you’re divorced, and people know that. So, let’s lose this virgin image. Let’s get rid of it.'” Hazlewood and Sinatra enjoyed a sexual chemistry on stage that proved highly popular, yet he eschewed any notion of becoming a superstar himself. What’s more, many in the music business began to regard him as too risque.
Hazlewood also wrote “This Town”, a song that was recorded by Frank Sinatra that appeared on his 1968 album Greatest Hits and was the basis for Paul Shaffer’s “Small Town News” segment theme on the Late Show with David Letterman.
In 1967, Lee formed LHI Records standing for Lee Hazlewood Industries.
Though it did not receive much attention at the time, he also worked with Gram Parsons and the International Submarine Band in the mid-1960s. Parsons’ departure from the band and decision to become part of The Byrds created legal problems with Hazlewood. The band’s album “Safe at Home” is today widely regarded as the first blooming of country rock, later made so popular by the Byrds, Crosby Stills Nash and the Eagles.
In the 1970s Hazlewood moved to Stockholm, Sweden, where he wrote and produced the one-hour television show Cowboy in Sweden together with friend and Director Torbjörn Axelman, which also later emerged as an album. Hazlewood enjoyed a peripatetic life, moving nearly every year, living among other places, in the UK, France and Sweden.
Lee was semi-retired from the music business from the late 1970s and all through the 1980s. His own output early on already had achieved a cult status in the underground rock scene, with songs covered by artists such as Vanilla Fudge, Rowland S. Howard, Kim Salmon and the Surrealists, Miles Kane, Spell, Lydia Lunch, Primal Scream, Entombed, Einstürzende Neubauten, Nick Cave, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Hooverphonic, Anita Lane, Megadeth, The Ukiah Drag, Beck, Baustelle, the Tubes, Thin White Rope, Yonatan Gat, Zeena Schreck/Radio Werewolf and Slowdive.
He returned to Phoenix to raise his daughter Samantha and, in the 1990s, did more tours with Nancy Sinatra. Billy Ray Cyrus had a hit with a cover version of Boots, which proved a lucrative earner.
When independent labels began reissuing some of Hazlewood’s ’70s albums some 20 years later, the artist began to gain a younger following.
Then in 2005, he was diagnosed with liver cancer and set about writing and recording his last album, Cake or Death, a phrase borrowed from a sketch by comedian Eddie Izzard. In it, he took a swipe at America’s war in Iraq, entitled Baghdad Knights. Even though Hazlewood wore many hats – singer, musician, songwriter, producer, disc jockey, talent spotter and producer, his work as a stylish, slightly quirky, songwriter will be his legacy. As he once quipped: “These are songs which enabled my children to attend some of the best schools in America. They’re called hits, God help us.”
In 2006, Hazlewood sang on Bela B.’s first solo album, Bingo, on the song “Lee Hazlewood und das erste Lied des Tages” (“Lee Hazlewood and the first song of the day”). He said that he loved producing and writing albums.
His last recording was for the vocals of Icelandic quartet Amiina’s single “Hilli (At The Top Of The World)”
Lee lost his life to renal cancer on August 4, 2007 at the age of 78.