In case you are looking for a straightforward biography of a pop music giant, you may not immediately like Lee, Myself and I. One reason may be the large room the „Myself“ and the „I“ take up on those pages; and they refer to biographer Wallace, not to Lee Hazlewood.
However, if one considers the tendency in writing on music and musicians as a form of re-re-reinventing new journalism, the book’s style is even rather modern.
The book’s topic, though, is nothing but amazing. One of the greatest voices and master arrangers of excellent American pop music, Lee Hazlewood (*1929) was never easy to categorize. Although he felt very much at home in country music (and referred to himself as “old cowboy”), he moved smoothly between pop, ballads and forms of talking blues. But no matter what he sang; with his characteristic deep and raspy voice, he could have taped himself reading the phone book. It would have sounded great just the same.
Lee Hazlewood was, in fact, a complicated person to handle, as we learn. He also was a very generous person, if he liked you. Generally not too keen on standing in the spotlight, he, nevertheless, influenced music writing, sound engineering and listening habits forever. He was musician, producer, songwriter, music promoter, label entrepreneur, arranger and most of all an individual possessing a very sensitive radar for sound, musical style, marketing and poetry. And, while putting out solo albums that were ahead of their time in the 1960s, also wrote classics such as Houston, The Girl on Death Row, These Boots are Made for Walking, How Does That Grab You Darlin’?, Summer Wine, Sand and many other pop gems.
He collaborated with dozens of show biz giants, including both Nancy and Frank Sinatra, Lester Sill, Duane Eddy, Gram Parsons, once had a young studio intern named Phil Spector, hosted several radio shows and produced experimental films.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he was considered lost and forgotten. Those years, he told Wallace, were spent traveling between the US and his new home in Sweden, where he was successful on a national level.
Wyndham Wallace was lucky enough to become the manager of Lee Hazlewood (Europe) and as time passed on, a close friend to Lee and his partner Jeane Kelley. She and Lee married in 2007. So the book in about the middle starts getting genuinely interesting when Hazlewood tells story after story about his time with so-and-so and his many experiences in showbiz. And what a grand storyteller he was! His tales and memories share the very same air that pervade many of his great lyrics, that are tales of love, hatred, disaster, passion, irony, sarcasm and altogether something called “lessons-for-life.” This was actually what I was looking for in the book.
As readers, we witness two developments, namely Hazlewood’s slow and terrible physical decline due to cancer and the author’s change into somebody who is beginning to see “the bigger picture” of pop music history. While the later development is a positive one, the decline of one of pop music’s greatest writers is a very saddening process that Wallace documents in detail and this part can make reading the book a painful experience; just as writing it must have been for Wallace. His own development then makes the story of Lee and himself come full circle and earlier doubts about the book with a loud “Myself” vanish altogether.
Finally, we learn a lot about Hazlewood’s history, his views on one thing or another and how it must feel when a pronounced musician is slowly forgotten by the majority of his audience and the record industry. This naturally made the hunt for his LPs quite a challenge, even in the 1980s.
Fans today owe it in big part to Wallace, that Hazlewood started touring again in 2002, after decades when his whereabouts were a mystery. And also that Lee’s old recordings were reissued, that he put out new songs and even started working on his last album Cake or Death (2006). The outstanding singer and songwriter died on August 4, 2007.
This is a somewhat unusual biography about one unusual musician. Nevertheless, I can fully recommend it, and I am grateful for all the information that otherwise easily may have got lost.
Wyndham Wallace has published pieces on music for The Quietus, Uncut, Classic Pop, and The Guardian. He has also worked in the music business as a music publicist. He lives in Berlin.
Review by Dr. A. Ebert © 2016
Wyndham Wallace. Lee, Myself & I: Inside The Very Special World Of Lee Hazlewood. Jawbone Press, 2015, 249 p, 16 p. photos.