Revisiting Lee Hazlewood’s “Cowboy in Sweden”: Cowboy Psychedelia, Swedish-style

By on July 9, 2015

Today’s the anniversary of Lee Hazlewood’s birth — he was born Barton Lee Hazlewood on July 9, 1929, in Mannford, Oklahoma, and died on August 4, 2007 — and so we thought we’d highlight his 1970 nearly one-hour Swedish TV documentary-style long-form video, Cowboy in Sweden, which came about as a result of Hazlewood’s intense collaborative relationship with local filmmaker/TV producer/artist/poet Torbjörn Axelman, following Hazlewood’s unexpected move to Sweden after he’d had the biggest success of his music career with Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin.”

By the way, there’s a NSFW image below, so consider yourself forewarned.

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Cowboy in Sweden features Hazlewood and Nina Lizell singing all the songs on the album of the same name; also featuring Suzi Jane Hokom, Lena Edling, Mark and Debbie Hazlewood, plus two UK acts — Rumplestiltskin and Steve Rowland & The Family Dogg — and the George Baker Selection, from Holland, who are seen in 1970 having a good time at the first pizzeria restaurant (Wedholms) in Stockholm, Sweden.

Together, Hazlewood and Axelamn turned out a series of albums and TV specials over a mutually beneficial extended jag, projecgts that had a subtle use of symbolism and twinge of magical realism to them, what some have termed “cowboy psychedelia,” although that’s not succinct enough of a description, really. We’ll work on that.

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Hazlewood — who was widely known for his work with guitarist Duane Eddy during the late 1950s and singer Nancy Sinatra in the 1960s — is probably best remembered for having a distinctive baritone voice that added a resonance to his music, which often featured him talking the lyrics rather than singing them.

Five years ago, the Cinefamily — a Night Flight favorite we’ve mentioned many times, including here, and here — featured a Lee Hazlewood Triple Feature as part of their Don’t Knock The Rock 2010 series. In addition to screening Cowboy in Sweden, they also highlighted 1972′s Nancy & Lee in Las Vegas and 1973′s The N.S.V.I.P’s.

It was quite a night — we were there and remember it well.

Nancy & Lee in Las Vegas (Swedish TV-1972, 1 hr.) is a vérité backstage account of Lee’s return to the U.S. and reuniting with Nancy Sinatra in Sin City. It was filmed at the Riviera Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, and show sNancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood doing their damnedest to entertain a distracted Vegas audience, who don’t really seem like they want to enjoy a floorshow.

Despite delivering some fine performances, with terrific backing from the Wrecking Crew (Hal Blaine, Billy Strange and Don Randi), Nancy and Lee just can’t get a rise out of the crowd, and one wag said about it “the vibe is flatter than a glass of day-old champagne.”

It aired on January 13, 1973 by Swedish TV 1, and featured outtakes of the show but also interesting background information by Lee and Nancy, Donnie Owens, Billy Strange and more. Songs performed include “Did You Ever,” “Arkansas Coal,” “Friendship Train,” “Summer Wine,” “Jackson” and “She’s Funny That Way.”

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The N.S.V.I.P’s (Swedish TV-1973, 30 min.) was another Axelman TV production with songs composed by Harry Chapin, and sung by Hazlewood and Swedish singer Lill Lindfors. It was the the Swedish entry for the European Montreux (Switzerland) festival in 1973.

This Swedish entry won first prize, the Gold Rose Award of Montreux. It’s a real treat not just for Hazlewood fans, but also for fans of wild experimental cinema.

Another great project that deserves a shout-out is the 1971 Hazlewood-Axelman collaboration Requiem For An Almost Lady, another concept film made for Swedish TV.

It features all of the songs that appeared on Hazlewood’s album of the same name plus some additional tunes: “I’m Glad I Never,” “If It’s Monday Morning,” “Won’t You Tell Your Dreams,” “I’ll Live Yesterdays,” “Little Miss Sunshine (Little Miss Rain),” “Stone Lost Child,” “Come On Home To Me,” “Must Have Been Something I Loved,” and “I’d Rather Be Your Enemy.”

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Also, Hazlewood performs with the Hazlewood Kids, a tune called “(Let’s take a walk) Down Valhallavägen,” and Sven-Bertil Taube sings the Lee Hazlewood composition “Why Do They Bother.”

One reviewer has said about it, Requiem For An Almost Lady is some kind of melancholic masterpiece, a love letter drenched in Lithium-laced tears. The film’s wintry setting adds to the overall sense of rock bottom heartbreak.”

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.