The title of Ace’s new entry in its Songwriter Series – Shazam! – doesn’t refer to Captain Marvel’s magic word or Gomer Pyle’s favorite expression. Rather, the new compilation CD is titled after Duane Eddy’s (naturally) twangy western gallop “Shazam!” penned by Eddy and maverick producer Lee Hazlewood and released in 1960. (Okay, Duane and Lee likely did take its name from C.C. Beck and Bill Parker’s popular comic book superhero!) Shazam! and Other Instrumentals Written by Lee Hazlewood is far from the first Ace release celebrating the Hazlewood oeuvre; the label has also offered These Boots are Made for Walkin’, an anthology of his MGM years; a reissue of his 1977 album Movin’ On; and Califia: The Songs of Lee Hazlewood, a collection of vocal hits and rarities. But Shazam! is the first to look exclusively as his work as composer and producer of songs without words. It emphasizes rarities over hits, which makes for a number of new discoveries.
Hazlewood’s signature country-lounge fusion is largely absent here; instead, Shazam! concentrates on the sonic auteur’s early days in which he produced Duane Eddy’s groundbreaking “twangy” guitar instrumentals and went on to write and record for a variety of artists in the rockabilly, surf, and rock-and-roll idioms. It was his collaboration with Eddy that skyrocketed Hazlewood to fame as an independent producer; in addition to the title track, Duane is also represented by the slinky, smoky “Stalkin'” (1958) and, much later, “This Town” (1967). The latter was introduced by Frank Sinatra in one of The Chairman’s grittiest performances. Eddy’s splendid, subtle rendition strips the song down to its dark core. Eddy’s influence is felt over a great many more of the tracks here, as well. Tony Castle and the Raiders’ jaunty “Salty” boasts Eddy-esque guitar, honking saxophone and barroom piano in its rollicking mix.
Many tracks feature Hazlewood’s famous friends and behind-the-scenes collaborators as headline artists. Lee’s longtime pal, guitarist Al Casey, is heard on two cuts: “The Stinger” and the punning “Surfs You Right,” the latter an impressively energetic showcase. Casey’s fellow Wrecking Crew vet Hal Blaine drives the fuzz guitar-laden “Challenger II” with his fast-and-furious drumming and settles into a more hypnotic groove on “The Phantom Driver.” (Both tracks are from Hal Blaine and the Cougars’ 1964 Deuces, Ts, Roadsters and Drums album.) A-list arranger Jack Nitzsche, himself the subject of a series of compilations from the Ace label, often wrote the orchestrations for Hazlewood’s widescreen productions. Lush strings and brass enliven his treatments of Hazlewood’s “Baja” and the altogether cinematic “Zapata,” both from 1963-1964.
Lee himself leads “The Woodchucks” (actually The Wrecking Crew, natch) on “Muchacho,” which like “Zapata” has a soundtrack-ready Mexican flavor. Billy Strange arranged Nancy Sinatra’s smash recording of “These Boots are Made for Walkin’.” Much as Lee did himself, Strange took a solo shot at the immortal tune. Chuck Berghofer, who played the famous descending double bass line on Nancy’s original, repeated his duties on Strange’s version. “Boots” isn’t the only familiar Hazlewood tune heard here in an instrumental interpretation. Lee and Marty Cooper co-wrote “A Stranger in Town” for The Shacklefords, a group in which they both featured alongside Jack Nitzsche’s wife Gracia. The Shacklefords earned a minor hit with their debut single “A Stranger in Town” in 1963. Cooper revisited it in 1966 as producer for The Vanguards, adding a Dixieland element to its country-rock character. Ace also presents the haunting “Some Velvet Morning,” first recorded by Nancy and Lee in 1967, in a languid version by The Afro-Blues Quintet recorded the next year. Though the Quintet de-emphasized the song’s psychedelic aura, the beauty of Hazlewood’s delicate melody shines through.
The vibrant sound of surf music is conjured on Shazam! by the legendary Dick Dale and His Del-Tones and numerous other famed surf bands including The Astronauts, The Lively Ones, The Ventures and The Challengers. Note that the latter group’s relaxed “Johnny October,” however, was actually performed by Blaine and his Wrecking Crew brethren. Hal valiantly plays behind another drummer – the young Desi Arnaz, Jr. – on Dino, Desi and Billy’s “Desi’s Drums,” from 1966. Messrs. Martin, Arnaz and Hinsche had some able support on their instrumental record written and produced by Hazlewood; James Burton dropped in on guitar, too! A more unusual Reprise assignment for Lee was The Whisk Kids, a male-female vocal group. They were named for “The Whisk,” a goofy, would-be dance craze which occupied the A-side of their 1965 single. But the B-side, “Bo-Dacious,” was a typically Hazlewood offering of bold brass and twangy country-style guitar. Of course, The Whisk Kids were nowhere to be found on the instrumental arranged by session pianist Mike Rubini!
Shazam! and Other Instrumentals Written by Lee Hazlewood, produced by Mick Patrick, includes a full-color 20-page booklet with a lengthy introductory essay focusing on Lee’s early years and pioneering records with Duane Eddy which inspired many of the tracks here. It then goes on to present track-by-track liner notes by Dave Burke and Alan Taylor of surf magazine Pipeline for each one of the 24 selections. Duncan Cowell has superbly remastered. This collection of The Other Side of Lee Hazlewood is available now from Ace at the links below!
- Shazam! – Duane Eddy (Jamie 1151, 1960)
- The Stinger – Al Casey (Highland 1004, 1959)
- Stalkin’ – Duane Eddy (Jamie 1104, 1958)
- Salty – Tony Castle and the Raiders (Gone 5009, 1961)
- Surfs You Right -Al Casey (Stacy LP STM 100, 1963)
- Movin’ – The Astronauts (RCA LP LSP 2760, 1963) (*)
- Challenger II – Hal Blaine and the Young Cougars (RCA 47-8282, 1963) (*)
- Baja – Jack Nitzsche (Reprise LP R9-6101, 1963) (*)
- Moovin’ ‘n’ Groovin’ – The Rhythm Rockers (Challenge LP 617, 1963)
- Rebel Rouser -The Ventures (Liberty LP LST 8053, 1967) (*)
- (Dance with The) Guitar Man – The Lively Ones (Del-Fi LP DFLP-1226, 1963)
- El Aguila (The Eagle) – The Astronauts (RCA LP LSP 2858, 1964) (*)
- The Phantom Driver – Hal Blaine and the Young Cougars (RCA LP LSP 2834, 1964) (*)
- The Hearse – The Astronauts (RCA LP LSP 2858, 1964)
- Angry Generation – Dick Dale and His Del-Tones (Capitol LP ST 2293, 1965) (*)
- Muchacho – Lee Hazlewood’s Woodchucks (MGM 13474, 1966)
- Johnny October – The Challengers (Triumph LP RDPS LP 1, 1964) (*)
- Desi’s Drums – Dino, Desi and Billy (Reprise LP RS 6194, 1966) (*)
- This Town – Duane Eddy (Reprise 0662, 1967)
- Zapata – Jack Nitzsche (Reprise 0285, 1964)
- A Stranger in Your Town – The Vanguards (Warner Bros. 5800, 1966)
- Bo-Dacious – The Whisk Kids (Reprise 0371, 1965)
- These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ – Billy Strange (GNP Crescendo 369, 1966) (*)
- Some Velvet Morning – The Afro-Blues Quintet (Mira LP MLPS 3016, 1968) (*)
Mono except (*) denotes stereo