Lee Hazlewood (pictured, left), who died Saturday at 78, may be best remembered for his work with Nancy Sinatra (at right) — first, for crafting her breakthrough hit “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” and later, for a haunting series of duets they sang (“Summer Wine,” “Some Velvet Morning”) — but he deserves to be remembered for the totality of his career, which spanned half a century and profoundly influenced generations of musicians. Long before country-rock was a gleam in the eye of Gram Parsons (whose early work Hazlewood produced), Hazlewood all but invented the hybrid genre with his songwriting and production work for the likes of proto-surf guitarist Duane Eddy (“Rebel Rouser”). Phil Spector studied Hazlewood’s recording techniques — and borrowed some of his best studio musicians. All that before Hazlewood’s mid-’60s work with Frank’s daughter finally made them both famous.
Hazlewood spent most of his later decades working in Europe and releasing quirky solo albums for a cultish fanbase. He returned to the US spotlight during a mid-’90s mini-comeback tour with Nancy but was otherwise little heard from until last year when, diagnosed with kidney cancer, he gathered old friends like Eddy to help him record what he knew would be his final album, Cake or Death. Over at Hazlewood’s MySpace page, you can hear some of his last music, still full of his signature touches: an ominous guitar sound, a dry wit, and a sense of foreboding menace.