Lee Hazlewood — “Cold Hard Times”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — January 15, 2023


702) Lee Hazlewood — “Cold Hard Times”

I’ve never understood France’s love affair with Jerry Lewis. Sweden’s affair with Lee Hazlewood — that I understand. This is my third selection from my favorite album of Lee’s — his ‘70 soundtrack to his Swedish TV film Cowboy in Sweden (see #48, 269). Derek Anderson says that its “inimitable wistful, orchestrated country sound would prove perfect for the soundtrack to Cowboy In Sweden.” (https://dereksmusicblog.com/2020/04/18/cult-classic-lee-hazlewood-cowboy-in-sweden/) Ah, the movie:

Presented as a series of dreams, the movie alternates between absurdist skits and songs given totally incongruous visual settings. While much of Cowboy in Sweden is exactly what you’d picture—Hazlewood on horseback, cigarette dangling from his lips, alone with his doleful thoughts—there’s a whole lot in here you’d be unlikely to imagine on your own. . . . Punning on the song’s title, Hazlewood sings his lonesome prisoner ballad “Pray Them Bars Away” to a group of polar bears swimming in the blinding Scandinavian sun.


How did all this come about? Stephen Thomas Erlewine:

At the turn of the ’60s, Lee Hazlewood decided to leave America for Sweden. He had already spent time in the country, appearing as an actor in two television productions, so his decision wasn’t completely out of the blue — especially since he had become close with the Swedish artist/filmmaker Torbjörn Axelman. The year that he arrived in Sweden, he starred in Axelman’s television production Cowboy in Sweden and cut an album of the same name. . . . At its core, it’s a collection of country and cowboy tunes, much like the work he did with Nancy Sinatra, but the production is cinematic and psychedelic, creating a druggy, discombobulated sound like no other. This is mind-altering music — the combination of country song structures, Hazlewood’s deep baritone, the sweet voices of Nina Lizell and Suzi Jane Hokom, rolling acoustic guitars, ominous strings, harpsichords and flutes, eerie pianos, and endless echo is stranger than outright avant-garde music, since the familiar is undone by unexpected arrangements.


Derek Anderson adds:

By 1969, Lee Hazlewood’s career was no longer going to plan. The man who had been around since the birth of rock  ‘n’ roll was suddenly regarded as yesterday’s man. Suddenly, he was no longer in demand as a producer. Especially by a new generation of up-and-coming musicians. . . . Five years had passed since [his record company] LHI Records last enjoyed a hit single. . . . Hazlewood was fast running out of friends in the music industry. . . . [His] successful partnership with Nancy Sinatra ended in 1968. . . . However, he still had a few friends overseas. . . . He decided to move to Sweden with Suzi Jane Hokom. [H]is son who was a teenager, was almost old enough to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. . . . He had fought in the Korean War, and was keen that his son wouldn’t have to follow in his footsteps. . . .

Lee Hazlewood didn’t record the music especially for Cowboy In Sweden. Instead, [he] chose ten tracks he had recorded the music over the past couple of years. . . . Upon the release of Cowboy In Sweden, the film flopped. . . . Lacking the budget to promote Cowboy In Sweden properly, the album never stood a chance. . . . [and] the soundtrack . . . flopped. . . .


Here is Hazlewood live on the BBC in ’71:

Here is Joe Cannon:

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