Lee Hazelwood is behind some iconic surf/instro records from the likes of The Astronauts, Al Casey and Duane Eddy. He wrote “Baja”. But to the rest of the world that’s a footnote in his career after things took off with Nancy Sinatra’s “The boots are made for walking”. Light in the Attic has been rooting through the Lee Hazelwood archives, re-releasing out-of-print material and releasing things that never saw the light of day.
Amidst those archives was a tape labelled “Woodchucks”. The Woodchucks actually had two singles not included on this record with a bit of a tex-mex sound, but these 12 tracks are unmistakably surf music -- and perhaps more importantly with that perfect reverb treatment from his other surf records.
According to the liner notes, The Woodchucks weren’t a real band, just a bunch of Wrecking Crew members helping Lee out off-hours. The album cover doesn’t seem to be genuine, I believe it’s a picture of the band The Surf Bunnies. The liner notes speculate that this was an album in search of a band, and seem to wonder as to why it wasn’t released. It was recorded in October of 1964 -- my guess is that Lee saw that the writing was on the wall for surf, and that the British Invasion was well underway. Maybe this was jotting down some last ideas just for the sake of recording them, or maybe nobody was interested in spending money releasing a surf record in 1965.
There’s a mood to this record and it’s apparent right from the start, with a different version of “Movin’” which he had earlier written for the Astronauts. This is a creepier version, slower with a hypnotically simple and throbbing drum beat. “Baja” gets an even slower treatment with a bit thinner and deader of a guitar sound as well as some weird crowd sounds overdubbed. It doesn’t have those moments of beauty in the Astronauts’ version.
This isn’t all covers though. “Bangkok Cock Fight” is a much more energetic and menacing track that really doesn’t fit any of the surf groups he worked with, much more teenage misfit attitude. “The Man” has a mean drumline and an abrasive buzzy (still reverbed) guitar tone, one for a fight! It’s funny that these new songs all have exotic naming like “Torn Sarong” and “Crickets of Karachi”. Makes me wonder if Lee found inspiration somewhere.
That pounding drum and dull thud of the rhythm guitar are all over this album and they give the album identity but also might make it seem repetitive. Personally, I love it. “Batman” is the only cover that really sounds too similar to his previously released versions, otherwise this really really does deliver on the scarily exciting promise of a lost Lee Hazelwood surf record. People that flip for that Surfin’ Hootenanny or Surfin’ with the Astronauts sound should break down whatever walls stand between them and this record.
You can grab it from Light in the Attic’s website.