Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Lee Hazlewood: radioman

I was listening to NPR late Sunday night on a drive across New Jersey. I heard for the first time that Lee Hazlewood died. Then I heard the voice of Felix Contreras remind me of a tiny fact that perked my interest. "Hazlewood got his start in radio in the 1950s, with a job at a small station in Coolidge, Arizona."

Lee was born in Mannford, Oklahoma in 1929. His family moved back and forth across the Texas-Arkansas border. He decided he liked the Texian side of the border better and went to college at SMU in Dallas. He was drafted and sent to Korea right out of college. There he found himself broadcasting on military radio. Radio was his first calling.

After he returned home he attended a broadcasting college and immediately scored a job at 1150 KCKY-AM in Coolidge, AZ. There he pioneered a morning zoo-ish format. He did the voices for multiple characters and pre-recorded their parts on quarter inch tape. (I'd love to hear an air check of this program) KCKY is still on air today but only as a simulcasts with of KASA in Phoenix broadcasting broadcasts Spanish-religious programing.
It was at KCKY that the plot picks up. Duane Eddy was a malingerer at the Coolidge station. He visted often trying to mooch free records. He and Lee became friends. Eddy eventually started getting a little time behind the mic at KCKY performing live. In 1955 he moved on to DJ at 1360 KRUX in Phoenix, only one day after being fired at 1150. (KRUX persists today as KPXQ-AM)
Something in Phoenix lit a fire under Hazlewood. It was then he began producing tracks for his buddy Duane. the collaboration produced a string of singles. His innovative use of reverb was immediately ripped off by thousands. By the end of 1955 Lee was putting out records on his own Viv label. More here.

In 1956 Lee moved on to 1310 KTYL-AM in Mesa, working morning shift again. Viv records was in the tank by then. He'd licesed Duanes singles to Jaime records and he'd not seen much cash out of it. He sold a 1/3 interest in Viv to Loy Clingmanwho worked at KTYL. The $3,000 Mr. Clingman spent to do that kept Lee rolling long enough for him to start licensing recording to Dot records. Th efirst big deal of hsi career and the one that allowed him to ease out of broadcasting into a full-time gig as a writer and producer. KTYL still exists to day as the talker KXAM-AM. Spectacular related post at No Rock n' Roll Fun, and a nice peice at WFMU of course.