Search Results for: Shelved

Shelved: Dr. Dre’s Detox

Chelsea Lauren / Getty Images for BET

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | March, 2021 | 6 minutes (1,743 words)

 

Dr. Dre’s Detox might be the best-known album that no one’s ever heard in its entirety. The legendary hip-hop producer’s supposed third album persisted in the public’s mind for 13 years, kept alive by rumors, leaks, and revised release dates. After first announcing the record in 2002, Dre finally admitted in 2015 that Detox was shelved because he “didn’t like it.” It’s probably just as well, because no album made by actual, fallible people ­— no matter how talented — could live up to such breathless, protracted hype.

Detox didn’t begin as an empty promise. We do have a few singles from the project to listen to, including “I Need A Doctor,” featuring Eminem and Skylar Grey, released in 2011.

 

 

Dre has apologized for physically abusing female partners — something that goes beyond the misogyny common in early ’90s hip hop — but only in a career as accomplished as his could such an epic dashing of hope become a footnote. Responsible for dozens, if not hundreds, of millions of records sold, Dre is a rapper, producer, actor, and music industry entrepreneur — a musical architect who defined a generation of expression. He was a member of seminal rap group N.W.A. in the 1980s. He co-founded Death Row Records after that — almost single-handedly inventing the West Coast G-funk style in the process — produced Snoop Doggy Dogg, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar, and Eminem, to name a few, and founded Aftermath Entertainment and Beats Electronics. Responsible for game-changing albums The Chronic (1992) and 2001 (1999), Dre has nothing to prove by producing the rumored Detox.

The most interesting thing about Detox is not what it would have sounded like had it been released, but its relationship to its creator. What compelled Dre to keep working on it year after year? How, for a record that was probably never even completed, much less issued, did it become so monolithic in the minds of his fans?

Born Andre Romelle Young in Compton, California in 1965, Dre had his first local hit with the World Class Wreckin’ Cru at age 19.

L.A. is the place for you to be

To witness Dr. Dre in surgery

He has a PhD in mixology

To cut on the wheels so viciously

One year later, in 1987, Dre helped design gangsta rap with N.W.A.. Songs like “Fuck Tha Police” from 1988s Straight Outta Compton talked openly about police brutality. Ice Cube, MC Ren, and Eazy E did most of the rapping. DJ Yella and Dre designed the beats. The music was apolitical, explicit, angry, hedonistic, and unrepentant. It set up California as home to the most innovative hip-hop of the next decade.

Dre left N.W.A. in 1991 and formed Death Row Records with Suge Knight the following year. His debut album, The Chronic, made with the help of Snoop Dogg and The Lady of Rage (among others) went triple platinum. Dre won a Grammy for “Let Me Ride.” He also was Death Row’s in-house producer, responsible for Dogg’s massively successful Doggystyle as well as acting as the supervising producer for the Above the Rim soundtrack.

Parting ways with the notorious Knight, Dre formed Aftermath Entertainment, a boutique rap label, in 1996. After a shaky start, the label signed Detroit rapper Eminem. His The Slim Shady LP was certified quadruple platinum. Dre’s second solo album, 1999s 2001, sold at least six million copies.

Flush with capital to write, produce, and record anything he wanted, Dre announced the Detox project in 2002, referring to it as his “final album.” It was going to be the story of a hit man. Rumor had it that Denzel Washington would narrate.

“I had to come up with something different but still keep it hardcore, so what I decided to do was make my album one story about one person and just do the record through a character’s eyes,” Dre told MTV News in April 2002. “And everybody that appears on my album is going to be a character, so it’s basically going to be a hip-hop musical.”

“I’ve been blueprinting, getting ideas together for the past six months or so, just trying to figure out which direction I want to take and how I’m gonna present the project,” Dre continued. “Just gathering sounds and what have you. I want this one to be really over the top.” He predicted Detox would be released in 2003.

Less than a year later, Dre admitted to giving “the cream of the crop” of his Detox beats to 50 Cent for his album Get Rich or Die Tryin’. It has never actually been confirmed that the beat for what became 50 Cent’s single “In da Club” was intended for Detox, but that cream of the crop beat helped this song go to No. 1 for the rapper. 

 “Dre, he’ll play dope beats…they’re automatic,” 50 said of those sessions. “[He’ll say], ‘These are the hits, 50. So pick one of these and make a couple of singles or something.’”

Having abandoned its original concept, Detox’s release date was pushed back to late 2004. “I’d describe it as the most advanced rap album musically and lyrically we’ll probably ever have a chance to listen to,” co-producer Scott Storch told MTV News. “Dr. Dre always tries to top his last one. That’s why he spends so much time putting [albums] together and they don’t come out every five minutes. He puts a lot of time, energy and genius into the stuff.”

Dre told XXL that the album would have 12 or 13 singles. So I’m really taking my time with each one. No album fillers or nothing like that. No fast-forwarding.” But by May 2004 he’d changed his mind, telling the same publication that he wanted to concentrate on his Aftermath artists. (Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, released in 2000, sold in excess of 10 million copies.)

Years passed. Collaborators hinted at an unreleased masterpiece in other magazine interviews. “I’m thinking of making the album like a movie,” producer Imsomie “Mahogany” Leeper said, “like having 16-bar jazz pieces, live instruments.”

“I was really hoping to have it out this year, but it’s going to have to be pushed back a while because of some other things I’ve got to work on,” Dre told the L.A. Times in 2007. The following year, Snoop Dogg confirmed Detox was finished. “That record is real, it’s coming,” Dogg told Rolling Stone. “I was starting to doubt it myself and then I went up in there and he played so much music for me it knocked my head off.”

The first official release of anything from Detox came during a 2009 Dr. Pepper commercial. “For me,” Dre says, “slow always produces a hit.” He then shows a flailing young DJ how to slow a record down by putting a soda can on the turntable.

By then, Detox’s release date was scheduled for that year And indeed, singles purportedly part of the mix for Detox’s track listing dropped  — “Under Pressure,” “Kush,” and “I Need a Doctor.” The last single went double platinum. The album, however, did not come out.

More Detox songs were leaked in 2011 — “Mr. Prescription,” Chillin’,” and “Die Hard.” In a long-ranging interview with The Fader that year, Dre announced he was ready to take a break from music, mused at how successful his Beats by Dr. Dre line of headphones were, and said nothing about Detox. In 2015, he confirmed that the project was dead.

“Over the years Detox has become the most long-awaited album in hip-hop history, a project that has taken on mythical proportions, and with good reason,” Nathan Slavik wrote for DJBooth. “In addition to launching several of the biggest rappers of the last two decades — Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar — Dre’s first two headlining albums, The Chronic and 2001, were classics. It was completely reasonable to be excited about Detox until it was completely insane to think it would ever drop.”

In 2015, Dre released the soundtrack for Straight Outta Compton, a collection of tracks by N.W.A. and its former members. He also released Compton, his third solo effort, and first in 16 years.

But the story wasn’t actually over. When asked by reporter Chris Haynes in 2018 if Detox was permanently shelved, Dre replied, “I’m working on a couple songs right now. We’ll see.” As if on cue, more musical snippets from the project leaked in May of that year.

The best way I’ve found to think about Detox is that it was a catch-all name for, essentially, most everything Dr. Dre was working on for 15 years. Even noted perfectionists like Dre release material. Instead, as Detox became more mythic in the hip-hop community, it served, whether Dre intended to or not, as a useful publicity tease even as the hype proved impossible to live up to. Between 2009 and 2011, the best of the hundreds of song snippets he worked on were released. In such a rapidly changing musical universe, nothing recorded for Detox, no matter how inspired, was going to remain stylistically relevant over more than a dozen years.

It’s also possible that Dre buckled under the weight of expectation. “I worked on Detox,” DJ Quik told DJBooth. “Just, in theory, Detox is a super smart-ass piece of music, but it’s all music, you know what I mean? That’s what could be the stumbling block for the record. Because it’s all music, and you got so many people to please. If you’re off with one, it won’t be a classic record. So, I understand Dre’s concerns about putting it out. But, some of the tracks I heard, oh my God, get the fuck out of here… Sound-wise, it was gonna be better than Chronic and 2001, and idea-wise.”

“By all accounts — and believe me, I heard every account there was — it seemed like the album had become any creative person’s nightmare,” Slavik wrote.

Given an unlimited budget and no deadline, could you spend the rest of your life locked in a perfectionist’s jail, constantly terrified that the music you’ll make next will be better than the music you’ve made so far, each passing day only becoming further justification to take your time, the pressure of expectation becoming suffocating until one day you realize decades have gone by and you’re even farther away from the finish line than when you started? You seemingly could, and Dr. Dre was living proof. 

***

Tom Maxwell is a writer and musician. He likes how one informs the other.

Editor: Aaron Gilbreath; Fact-checker: Matt Giles

Shelved: Yoko Ono

(Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns — Getty Images)

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | January 2021 | 9 minutes (2,485 words)

Much is known about John Lennon’s self-described “Lost Weekend” — an 18-month separation from his wife Yoko Ono from the summer of 1973 to early 1975 — in which the former Beatle made records, produced records, drank, and took drugs to excess, and got kicked out of The Troubadour and various Los Angeles studios. Much less is known about how Ono spent her time back in New York.

In 1974, Ono recorded A Story at The Record Plant in New York. More than just another solo album, A Story was to be Ono’s first musical effort independent of her husband. Lennon produced or otherwise participated in all four of her previous recordings. Because of this, and the circumstances surrounding its creation, A Story is a statement of independence, a kind of personal manifesto. As a direct result of the couple’s reconciliation the following year, A Story was shelved at Ono’s direction. Most of its songs would resurface in later releases, sometimes in an entirely different emotional, as well as musical, context.

Read more…

Shelved: Pink Floyd’s Household Objects

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | September 2020 | 13 minutes (3,433 words)

 

Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon is one of the best-selling records of all time. Released in March 1973, the album didn’t leave the Billboard 200 chart for over 14 years. By 2006, EMI/Harvest claimed the album sold in excess of 40 million copies “and still,” according to a Billboard article from that year, “routinely moves 8,000-9,000 copies on a slow week.”

Listening to a renowned album as cohesive as The Dark Side of the Moon, you would never guess that the follow-up to that historic release was going to be made using everyday items. Household Objects, recorded during several desultory sessions over a two-year time frame, was constructed with rubber bands, wine glasses, spray cans, newspapers, brooms, and other such utilitarian gear. It was shelved.

Read more…

Shelved: The Misfits’ 12 Hits From Hell

Patti Ouderkirk / Getty

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | April 2020 | 10 minutes (2,607 words)

 

The Misfits have carved a niche in punk rock history. Their 1982 song “Skulls” has everything that defined them: the breakneck tempo, blocky rhythm chords, and the cartoon monster lyric. “Demon I am and face I peel,” songwriter and frontman Glenn Danzig sings.

See your skin turned inside out, ‘cause

Gotta have you on my wall

Gotta have you on my wall, ‘cause

I want your skulls

I need your skulls

As punk rock music with B-movie horror film lyrics, the Misfits are immediately understandable. The music suits a mosh pit as much as a Spotify Halloween playlist. The original incarnation of the band, which lasted from 1977 to 1983, helped establish the “horror punk” genre. “Skulls” appears on Walk Among Us, one of only two full-length albums released by the Misfits during those first five years, and the album is generally considered a classic. With 13 songs clocking in at a total of 25 minutes, it’s punk through-and-through: no time is wasted on bridges and guitar solos.

Read more…

Shelved: Jeff Buckley’s Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

Frans Schellekens / Getty

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | February 2019 | 14 minutes (3,966 words)

 

On the evening of May 29, 1997, singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley and his roadie Keith Foti picked their way down the steep, weedy bank to Wolf River Harbor in Memphis, Tennessee. Buckley, wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and heavy Doc Martens boots, waded into the water singing Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” After about 15 minutes, a boat passed. Concerned about their boom box getting wet, Foti moved it out of harm’s way. When he turned back around, Buckley was gone with the undertow. His body wouldn’t be found for days. He was 30 years old.

Jeff Buckley had mastered that most singular of instruments: his own voice. Possessing the same incredible range as opera icon Pavarotti, his phrasing could be anguished or exquisite; his breath control was phenomenal. Beyond that, he was the soul of eclecticism: Raised on prog rock, he dabbled in hair metal, gospel, country, and soul. Once, during a live performance, he improvised in the ecstatic style of Qawwali devotional singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan — someone Buckley once described as “my Elvis” — over the riff from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Read more…

Shelved: The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’s “Brain Opera”

Michael Putland / Getty, Photo Illustration by Homestead Studio

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | September 2019 | 18 minutes (3,497 words)

 

In 1993, interviewers from the psychedelic music magazine Ptolemaic Terrascope stood on Viv Stanshall’s stoop, wondering if he would answer the doorbell. Stanshall’s friend, who set up the meeting, was just beginning to apologize when she turned and gasped: A frail and obviously drunk Stanshall, according to the article, “staggering down the road clutching a carved stick and a white plastic carrier bag containing a freshly purchased bottle of Mr. Smirnoff’s elixir,” lurched toward the house.

“Vivian, you look awful!” the friend said. “Where’s your shoes?”

Read more…

Shelved: Van Morrison’s Contractual Obligation Album

Ian Dickson/Redferns/Getty Images

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | August 2019 | 12 minutes (2,134 words)

 

Sometime between the massive success of his first single “Brown-Eyed Girl” and the extraordinary musical statement of Astral Weeks, Van Morrison walked into a New York studio and recorded thirty-one of his worst songs.

To be fair, he was terrible on purpose. What became known as Morrison’s “revenge” or Contractual Obligation album is perhaps the most distinguished of many record label f-yous. Comprised of over thirty songs supposedly recorded in an afternoon, with titles such as “The Big Royalty Check” and “Blow In Your Nose,” the work was, understandably, shelved. Apparently that was the point: Morrison wanted to get out of his contract with Bang Records and make a new home with Warner Brothers, and the Contractual Obligation songs were supposedly central to that transition. Morrison’s Bang Records contract stipulated quantity, not quality. The truth, about all of it, is a lot more interesting.

Read more…

Shelved: Jimi Hendrix’s Black Gold Suite

Larry Hulst / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | March 2019 | 20 minutes (3,275 words)

 

On a blustery winter day in February 1970, Rolling Stone managing editor John Burks entered a New York apartment on East 37th street. “Inside his manager’s neo-turn-of-the-century apartment, on a sofa near the radiant fireplace, sat Jimi Hendrix, in a gentle, almost reticent frame of mind,” Burks wrote. “The light snow had begun to fall. You could see that through the narrow slits where the curtain allowed the merest sliver of daylight and streetscene to penetrate into the gloomy dark room.”

Burks was brought in to provide the centerpiece for a carefully orchestrated public relations campaign: a feature story about the reforming of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience. The group, consisting of Hendrix, bassist Noel Redding, and drummer Mitch Mitchell (both of whom were white) had disbanded the previous autumn. Since then, the rock ‘n’ roll guitar virtuoso had busied himself by befriending other African Americans: Trumpeter Miles Davis, jazz multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and (according to Burks) “living and jamming with an all-purpose crew of musicians — everything from older black gentlemen from the South who played blues guitar, to a band of avant garde jazz/space musicians under the general leadership of a flute player named Juma — and talking about coming up with something new.”

Read more…

Shelved: Lee Hazlewood’s Cruisin’ For Surf Bunnies

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | June 2019 | 20 minutes (2,599 words)

 

Discouraged by the British Invasion, producer and songwriter Lee Hazlewood was planning to retire in 1964. The 35-year-old had certainly earned enough money to do it. Then Hazlewood’s next-door neighbor asked if he wanted to produce Nancy Sinatra, daughter of Frank.

“I’m not interested in producing second-generation artists,” Hazlewood said flatly — he’d already done that with Dean Martin’s son’s band — but then he agreed to a meeting.

“Everybody knows I drink Chivas,” Hazlewood remembered about that night. “When I walked in their house to meet with Nancy (she was living with her mom then), all along the walls, cleverly displayed, were all these bottles of Chivas lined up. And a bunch of my friends were there. It was Bobby Darin, a bunch more, and I’m thinkin’, ‘Wait a minute, what is this? I haven’t seen these people in months.’ … Halfway through the evening her dad comes through the door and meets me. They go in the kitchen and they’re talking. He comes out, shakes my hand, and says ‘I’m glad you kids are going to be working together’ and then walks out the door. I had only said that I’d come over and meet her!”

Having accepted an offer he couldn’t really refuse, Hazlewood set about updating Nancy’s image. “You’ve been married and now you’re divorced, and people know that,” Nancy said he told her. “So, let’s lose this virgin image. Let’s get rid of it.He had Sinatra sing in a lower register. “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” his original song that she agreed to record, became a No. 1 hit. The lyrics caused a bit of a stir.

“The controversy was [the word] ‘mess,’” Hazlewood, who grew up in the South, said. “‘Mess,’ down here where I live, in those days, was ‘fuck.’ If somebody said, ‘What did you do last night?’ ‘I was out messin’.’ I thought it was that way all over the world. But it wasn’t that way in Chicago, New York, or L.A.”

And that is the story of Lee Hazlewood’s most famous song and collaboration. Not as well-known are Hazlewood’s many other songwriting credits, his groundbreaking production techniques, or his foundational work creating a voice for the electric lead guitar. Then there’s the previously unreleased surf music record that Hazlewood wrote and produced.

“What I was struck with right off the top,” Hazlewood friend and collaborator Marty Cooper said about Cruisin’ for Surf Bunnies, “it sounds to me, because it’s got 12 songs on it, and the albums in those days had 12 songs on them, this is an album in search of a band, in the sense that it doesn’t actually sound like a band, but it’s too complete to not have been submitted as … ‘find a band.’ Maybe even like the Monkees or find the successors to the Beach Boys over on Capitol. I got that impression. There are certain things about it — the fact that Lee did not write all of [the songs]. It’s very meticulous.”

No one knows exactly why Cruisin’ for Surf Bunnies by Lee Hazlewood’s Woodchucks (a catch all name for his studio band) was shelved. When it was issued in September 2018, 11 years after his death, it seemed an odd postscript to an already iconoclastic career. Instead of an outlier, it’s further proof that, as a sculptor of sound, Hazlewood’s life as a songwriter and producer ranged more widely than most of his successful peers.

Born in Oklahoma in 1929, Hazlewood and his family moved with his itinerant oilfield father’s jobs through Louisiana and Arkansas, and finally wound up in Texas. He studied medicine before leaving university to serve in the Korean War. “My mom liked pop music and my dad liked bluegrass,” Lee once said. “So she complained always about his liking bluegrass — which, by the way, was a ‘love’ complaint — I grew up kinda all mixed up. I mean with music. And then I fell in love with Stan Kenton and the blues ’cause blues comes from this part of the world. So everything’s all mixed up.”

Instead of an outlier, Cruisin’ for Surf Bunnies is further proof that, as a sculptor of sound, Hazlewood’s life as a songwriter and producer ranged more widely than most of his successful peers.

By 1955, Hazlewood found himself working as a radio DJ and the owner of his own small record label in Phoenix, Arizona. He was also writing new material. Borrowing a riff from Bluesman Howlin’ Wolf, he wrote and produced the song “The Fool” for rockabilly singer Sanford Clark in 1956 — Hazlewood’s third single — a hit later covered by Elvis. Hazlewood also developed a new sound for local session guitarist Al Casey, who played on “The Fool.”

“I had to have an echo,” Hazlewood explained years later. “We just went out driving around, ’cause there’s a lot of places around Phoenix with small grain elevators. So we just went out and yelled in ’em all day. I yelled and yelled and yelled ’til I found one. … So we set it up outside the studio and put a little microphone at one end and a little speaker at the other. It worked very nice. …The only problem that we ever had with it is that birds would sit and chirp on it. It wasn’t a problem on the heavy stuff, but on the ballads, the quiet things, the birds would like to sing along. So we had to have someone out there to shoo the birds away.”

The grain silo echo effect proved popular with Hazlewood’s other collaborator, twangy instrumental guitarist Duane Eddy. Eddy’s 1958 anthem “Rebel-‘Rouser” — another Hazlewood composition — began a streak of big sellers. Hazlewood helped create a new lead guitar sound in the process.

“When I was in high school, there was a piano player I admired with slicked-back oily hair from New York called Eddy Duchin,” Hazlewood said, “and he played the melody way down there. I always thought that it would be nice if a guitarist did the same thing. When I first met Duane, I told him that I wanted to make a record with those low notes and he said, ‘I can do that.’ … We sold 25 million records over four years, which wasn’t bad.”

Hazlewood released his first solo record in 1963, a concept album called Trouble Is a Lonesome Town.

You won’t find it on any map

But take a step in any direction and

You’re in Trouble

It’s at once wry, hokey, and perceptive. Hazlewood has the vocal authority of Johnny Cash, the melodic sense of Roger Miller, and the just-this-side-of-parody folksiness of Tom T. Hall. He introduces songs on Trouble Is a Lonesome Town with extended spoken-word character sketches and cowboy poems. The instrumentation is acoustic and spare, and the touch of reverb transforms the songs into a dreamscape. Musically and thematically, Trouble Is a Lonesome Town is entirely self-contained and uniquely Lee Hazlewood. “That was a demo,” Hazlewood revealed in 2000. “I didn’t know it was a concept album. I wrote a complete story of a make-believe town.”

It says a lot that Hazlewood could put so much effort into a project he would later dismiss as only a demo. His success gave him the luxury to tinker in the studio, regardless of expense, in the same year when the Beatles recorded their first album in less than ten hours.

With this understanding, it’s easy to see how Cruisin’ For Surf Bunnies came into being. Surf music, popular since 1962, was largely instrumental and featured a typically reverb-laden lead guitar. In other words, whether its practitioners knew it or not, surf owed much of its expression to Lee Hazlewood. Working with Duane Eddy and using his grain silo reverb, he’d helped develop the technique. He had the producer’s savvy to take advantage of America’s latest musical craze. Now living in Los Angeles, Hazlewood had the connections to assemble the best studio band available — one that would famously become known as the Wrecking Crew.

“I didn’t call em the Wrecking Crew,” Hazlewood recalled. “That wasn’t my name. I brought Al Casey with me from Phoenix. I used a rhythm guitarist that nobody else used, a guy named Donnie Owens. [Drummer] Hal Blaine worked for me before he worked for anybody. He was working for Patti Page, then he worked for me, then of course we all spread the word about Hal and all the rest of the guys. Over here they were called the Wrecking Team, but when they worked for Sinatra they were called the B Team. I just called them my rhythm section ’cause I started a lot of them. Not started, but I got a lot of them a lot of work. And sometimes I couldn’t get ’em, and that really broke my heart. A year earlier you could call Hal and get him anytime.”

The reason for this is that Blaine and the rest of the Crew had become the most in-demand session players in the business, backing Jan and Dean, Simon and Garfunkel, the Mamas and the Papas, the Monkees, Herb Alpert, and Sonny and Cher, among others. They became the Beach Boys’ house band at the time of Brian Wilson’s greatest musical achievements, and were often employed by “wall of sound” producer Phil Spector, who began his career working for Lee Hazlewood.

“Phil had just started to make records and he came over to Phoenix a few times,” Hazlewood once said plainly. “I liked Phil. He was more Lester Sills’s protégé than mine. Although Phil asked a lot of questions, and I answered as many as I could.”

In other words, whether its practitioners knew it or not, surf music owed much of its expression to Lee Hazlewood.

“I told him on a number of occasions that I reckoned Spector had stolen his ideas: You only have to listen to Lee’s early work and then compare it to Spector’s to suspect that they may well be connected,” Hazlewood biographer Wyndham Wallace once said. “But Lee would dismiss this suggestion with a wave of the hand.”

As would be expected, when the prolific Hazlewood died, he left a cache of reel-to-reel tapes of both finished and unfinished recordings in his studio vaults. Matt Sullivan, music lover and entrepreneur, gained access to Hazlewood’s vault, and Sullivan’s Light in the Attic record label began releasing material as part of their Hazlewood archive series. “Deep in the LHI tape archive,” the label wrote on their website, “hid a mysterious tape marked ‘Woodchucks.’” When you write and record as much as Hazlewood, you leave a trail of tapes in your wake that others get tasked with sifting through. Only a talent who could dismiss a fully realized record as a demo could so casually shelve a session as complete as Surf Bunnies. Unfortunately, Hazlewood didn’t leave many details about the writing or recording of the record.

Some version of the Wrecking Crew assembled to cut Cruisin’ For Surf Bunnies on October 26, 1964, in Studio E at United Records studios in Los Angeles. “I’m not sure everybody that played on it,” Hazlewood collaborator Marty Cooper said after hearing the tapes, “but I can tell you that I can’t imagine anybody but Al Casey being the guitarist on that. If you go back to [Casey’s] ‘Surfin’ Hootenanny,’ which was on that label out of Chicago that Lee got a bunch of money for … there again, he could depend on Al to give him these various sounds. That’s my first impression.”

Cooper was interviewed by Hunter Lea, who wrote the liner notes for the album when Light in the Attic Records issued Cruisin’ For Surf Bunnies in 2018. Cooper had his own surf music credentials, having written “The Lonely Surfer,” a hit for Jack Nitzsche in 1963.

“It’s got every gimmick on it that you can have,” Cooper continued. “The other thing that makes me feel like it was a project as opposed to demos: it’s so assiduously non–Duane Eddy. One of the tracks has a little bit of tremolo, but there’s no tremolo guitar, there’s no lonely surfer guitar, there’s no Duane Eddy Fender tremolo. It’s just not there. That’s what makes me think [Lee] must’ve had a grand plan for [the project] that didn’t work out.”

Only one single from the project, “Angry Generation,” was released at the time, after being “sweetened,” in Lea’s words, “with overdubs.” Later covered by surf music architect Dick Dale, it communicates an incandescent menace.

Dale wasn’t the only artist to help himself to this musical buffet. Other Surf Bunnies songs were covered by the Astronauts, Jack Nitzsche, the Ventures, and the Surfaris — as well as John Paul Jones, later to become Led Zeppelin’s bassist. The Duane Eddy low-note lead guitar is present and correct on Jones’s version of “Baja.”

The next year Hazlewood would consider retirement, then enjoy the career catapult of “These Boots Were Made for Walking.” Hazlewood and Sinatra would also duet with great success, most notably with 1967’s lush “Some Velvet Morning.”

“Some velvet morning when I’m straight,” Hazlewood sings without fear of censorship, “I’m gonna open up your gate.”

“I write songs with double and triple meanings,” Hazlewood told writer Spencer Leigh in 2004. “I know that my songs are a little different and I would say that I am the best writer of Lee Hazlewood songs.”

Another Hazlewood/Sinatra production, the Les Paul–inflected bonbon “Sugar Town” was actually about drugs.  

As would be expected, when the prolific Hazlewood died, he left a cache of reel-to-reel tapes of both finished and unfinished recordings in his studio vaults.

“In those days they were taking sugar cubes and putting acid on ’em,” he told rock ‘n’ roll archivist and collector Billy Miller. “And of course that would be ‘Sugar Town,’ wouldn’t it? You had to make the lyric dingy enough where the kids knew what you were talking about — and they did. Double entendre. But not much more if you wanted to get it played on the radio. We used to have lots of trouble with lyrics, but I think it’s fun to keep it hidden a little bit.”

Hazlewood continued releasing solo albums, as well as duetting with actress and singer Ann Margret. He founded a new record label, Lee Hazlewood Industries, which signed country rock pioneer Gram Parsons’s first group, the International Submarine Band. When Parsons later joined the Byrds, his vocals on Sweetheart of the Rodeo had to be erased because of a contractual dispute with LHI. (“We had some problems there,” Hazlewood remembered, “but we straightened them out. [Parsons] had to pay back all his royalties and everything. But he had to pay back through earnings, and I knew he never would.”)

After moving to Sweden in 1970, Hazlewood kept a low profile, releasing albums in a fitfull manner. In the late ’90s, Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley began reissuing Hazlewood records to a receptive crowd that included Beck and Jarvis Cocker. Lee’s final album, 2006’s Cake or Death, contains his epitaph, the string-laden “T.O.M. (The Old Man)”:

Have you seen the mountains? They still hug the snow

And have you seen the old man? He’s ready to go

And his tongue — his tongue tastes forever, and his mind wonders what forever will bring

In this place they call forever, will there be any songs to sing?

Hazlewood died of renal cancer the following year. “I’ve been around long enough now,” he told the New York Times shortly before his death. “I’ve lived a pretty interesting life — not too much sadness, a lot of happiness, lots of fun. And I didn’t do much of anything I didn’t want to do.”

“He was a master — there’s no question about it,” Marty Cooper noted. “He invented sounds that no one was doing.” When genres like surf music employed some of those sounds, Hazlewood played with those expressions too. Then he moved on.

***

Tom Maxwell is a writer and musician. He likes how one informs the other.

Editor: Aaron Gilbreath; Fact-checker: Sam Schuyler

Shelved: Tupac and MC Hammer’s Promising Collaboration

Illustration by Homestead

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | April 2019 | 14 minutes (2,898 words)

 

In 1990, rapper Stanley “MC Hammer” Burrell stood at the pinnacle of popular culture. His stage show featured 32 musicians and dancers, all of whom attended a rigorous boot camp. According to an Ebony magazine article from that year, the boot camp consisted of “four miles of jogging, weight training, and at least six hours of dancing daily.” “Hammer Time” cultural saturation included demonstrations of his athletic “Hammer Dance” on Oprah and appearances in commercials for British Knights athletic shoes and Pepsi. Hammer owned 2,000 pairs of baggy “Arabian pants,” which, along with gold lamé vests, made up his distinctive stage image.

Read more…