Lee Hazlewood's "Manager" Wyndham Wallace on the "Surreal and Offbeat" Songwriter

Categories: Outtakes

Courtesy Torbjörn_Axelman
Lee Hazlewood and Torbjörn Axelman
See also: Improbable Lee: Lee Hazlewood Re-Issues Chart an Unexpected Trajectory
See also: John Dixon Discusses the Lee Hazlewood-produced "The Fool," by Sanford Clark, 1956
See also: 100 Songs That Defined Arizona

In this week's issue, we cover the psychedelic trajectory that brought songwriter/producer/vocalist Lee Hazlewood from Arizona to Sweden. We ended up with more material than we could fit, so please enjoy another installment of Outtakes, where we sweep up all sorts of good stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor.

Wyndam Wallace doesn't quite feel comfortable calling himself Lee Hazlewood's "manager."

But for lack a better term, Wallace, a congenial English gentleman in the most generous sense, "managing" the legendary songwriter/producer/vocalist is exactly what Wallace did from 1999-2007, when Hazlewood passed away from renal cancer.

Under Wallace's watchful eye, Hazlewood emerged in the late '90s and early 2000s as a cult icon, drawing praise from Beck, Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, The Tubes, Slowdive, and many more. Wallace assisted Hazlewood in crafting his final record, Cake or Death (2006), and has penned the liner notes included in Seattle-based record company Light in the Attic's expansive re-issues of Hazlewood material this year: the sublime compilation The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes & Backsides (1968-71) and his kaleidoscopic original soundtrack recording A House Safe For Tigers (Må Vårt Hus Förskonas Från Tigrar).

"...I think he had a very strong affinity with the stuff that he recorded in Sweden, because that was I think the first time he'd been able to record stuff after he had success with Nancy [Sinatra], without any particular interference from anyone." -- Wyndham Wallace

"It was only sort of toward the end of his life that he ever officially I could call myself 'manager,'" Wallace says. "From time to time he would refer to me to other people as his manager, after I'd been doing publicity but started doing other stuff, but yeah, it was only sort of when Cake or Death, his last record, was in preparation that I remember him calling me up and saying, 'Oh, and by the way, um, I've got a little gift for you. If you want to start putting manager on your letterhead, you can do that.' But I want 'Europe' in brackets afterward, because no one runs my shit in America,' or something like that. [Laughs] I guess I was sort of more an enabler than I was anything else. I just became very close friends with him the last few years of his life."

Light in the Attic's recent re-issues chart Hazlewood's journey from Phoenix and Los Angeles to Sweden, where he worked with director Torbjörn Axelman during his "Cowboy in Sweden" phase. It's some of Hazlewood's best work: the swelling "Soul's Island," the crushing "The Nights," the cheeky "Hey Cowboy." But this work didn't resonate with an American audience, and to some degree, Hazlewood disregarded it until later in his life.

Lee Hazlewood
"I think he had a very ambivalent relationship with most of his work, Wallace says. "I think, on one hand, that he was enormously proud of it, and he knew that he'd written a lot of songs that, as he would have put it, 'paid for his kids to go to the best schools in America,' and I think he staked a lot of pride in the fact that these songs had made a great deal of money for him. But I think he also had this sort of sense that his best work was the stuff that had been least successful. And he was enormously dismissive of this work, I think because it hadn't made him a lot of money, and that was how he was able to quantify success. So there was this weird thing that happened during the time I knew him, where he went from judging things by the royalty statements he would get, to seeing the profound affection and respect for this work that he had previously never considered to be terribly valuable."

During his time with Hazlewood, Wallace played him a stack of CD-Rs ("Everything I could get my hands on," he says), and Hazlewood's reaction was a strong one.

"I think he really had paid so little attention to a lot of his music from the previous decades, that I don't think he realized just how good he really, really was," Wallace says. "So I mean, I think he had a very strong affinity with the stuff that he recorded in Sweden, because that was I think the first time he'd been able to record stuff after he had success with Nancy [Sinatra], without any particular interference from anyone. He was able to sort of live in this small country, in which he would be a star, [though] he was uncomfortable being a star, on a small scale, because it's a small country. And he would indulge himself in his creative whims. So I think that those records are things that really meant a lot to him, because he did what he wanted so much on them."

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