PREMIERE: Hear Lee Hazlewood’s Unearthed Demo of “Trouble Is a Lonesome Town” From 1956

The track is from 400 Miles From L.A. 1955-56, a new collection featuring the first known recordings of Hazlewood singing his own material.

“Trouble’s little and it’s lonesome. You won’t find it on any map, but you can take three steps in any direction and you’re there.” Lee Hazlewood spoke those ominous words on the title track of his debut album, Trouble Is a Lonesome Town,  a concept record about an imaginary dead-end small town and the strange characters that inhabit it. After years of hustling as a songwriter, producer, and label owner for other artists—contributing to several hits for country twang hero Duane Eddy—the album launched Hazlewood’s storied career as a singer/songwriter in his own right.

Released by Mercury Records in 1963, legend has it that Hazlewood originally delivered the album as a demo to label president Jack Tracy, hoping he would find an artist to sing the songs. Tracy loved it but insisted his demo was the finished album and that it should be released as is, with Hazlewood as the unintentional singer, and the rest is history. The record would go on to become a cult classic, spawning multiple reissues and even a tribute record recorded by members of Modest Mouse, Pixies, and The Dandy Warhols. Until now, it was assumed the songs were written around the time of the album’s original release. 

Since 2012, venerable archival label Light in the Attic have served as the “official custodians of the Lee Hazlewood musical legacy,” releasing nearly two dozen Hazlewood records, including scores of unreleased tracks and early recordings. Certainly there couldn’t be much more left to unearth? Enter 400 Miles From L.A. 1955-56, a new twenty-four-song collection coming out September 13 with a treasure trove of material lost for over sixty years. These are the first known recordings of Hazlewood singing his own songs, including a complete early draft of the Trouble Is a Lonesome Town song cycle. After all these years, we find out Hazlewood had been sitting on his Trouble concept album for over seven years before it finally came out.

According to the album’s extensive liner notes by producer and Hazlewood historian Hunter Lea, “It was recorded in Arizona around 1956, when he was running his first label Viv Records out of his house in Phoenix. Lee was spending all his money pressing records of the artists he produced and riding a greyhound bus from Phoenix to Los Angeles to pitch tunes. After a series of rejections and when he had spent his last dime, he made a deal with another small local Phoenix label MCI to record his song ‘The Fool’ with Sanford Clark. The song became a huge hit, selling 750,000 copies. The success allowed Lee to move on and never look back. He sold the label, including all its master tapes and unsold records to one of the Viv artist’s, Loy Clingman. Buried deep in the boxes of Viv tapes were two [nondescript] marked tapes of early Lee Hazlewood demos [pictured above], that managed to go unnoticed. The first tape featured Lee playing guitar and singing his compositions and the second tape contained an early draft of Trouble Is a Lonesome Town.”

Featuring Al Casey on lead guitar and members of Duane Eddy’s backing band, we’re thrilled to offer the premiere of this intimate early recording of “Trouble Is a Lonesome Town,” showcasing Hazlewood’s distinct voice and storytelling years before launching his own career, and over a decade before topping the charts around the world with Nancy Sinatra and “These Boots Are Made For Walking.”

400 Miles From L.A. 1955-56 is out September 13 and available for pre-order via Light in the Attic, including deluxe vinyl and CD editions.

 

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