Classic Rock Corner

'60s Hitmaker Tony Hazzard Demonstrates His Songwriting Craft

Tony Hazzard getting horizontal during a recording session break, late 1960s.
Tony Hazzard getting horizontal during a recording session break, late 1960s. Photo by Dave Clague/Courtesy of Tony Hazzard
It was the late 1960s and Tony Hazzard was visiting his neighbor John Paul Jones one morning for coffee and conversation in the English village of Loudwater. Hazzard, an accomplished pop songwriter and sometimes performer, knew that his musically-gifted mate was playing bass in a new band. But Hazzard wasn’t one to mince words on what he thought about their material.

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Record cover
“I told him that I didn’t care much for the group,” Hazzard says via Zoom from his home in the UK. “And he said ‘Great, neither do I!’”

That band? A little four-piece known as Led Zeppelin. And despite Hazzard’s initial opinion, they went on to do OK for themselves.

As a songwriter, Tony Hazzard was at the epicenter of the English recording scene in the 1960s and ‘70s, penning a string of hit songs for a variety of acts including the Hollies (“Listen to Me”), Manfred Mann (“Ha! Ha! Said the Clown” “Fox on the Run”), the Yardbirds (“Goodnight, Sweet Josephine”), Herman’s Hermits (“You Won’t Be Leaving”) and Lulu (“Me, the Peaceful Heart”).

Like other songwriters, Hazzard would make demos of his songs and try and interest publishers, record producers, A&R reps, and performers. But as he was in possession a good voice and had guitar (and ukulele!) skills, he’d usually play on them himself.

Now, a baker’s dozen of those mostly demos appear on the new compilation Demonstration (Liberation Hall Records, out March 18). All recorded in sessions between 1966 and 1969, it’s a “reincarnation” of his debut record as a performer Tony Hazzard Sings Tony Hazzard. Demonstration features all but one of the songs on that original effort and adds two more.

Hoisting a gin and tonic onscreen (Well, it was 6 p.m. over there), the 78-year-old Hazzard said the pandemic and forced lockdown made him very reflective about his life and musical legacy. But still wasn’t sure about this project.
“I thought why would anybody even want this? They’ve had it before!” he laughs. “But then I started to view things differently in that for me it was a historical document of a time which been mythologized. I wanted to do this and a book [last year’s Selected Lyrics]. They are the last two creative things I wanted to do. So, it’s a bit of a farewell.”

Not that things weren’t a bit precarious in getting even here. The original 4-track tapes of the sessions were kept in a recording studio that had closed years ago, and they “went on a journey,” ending up in a storage unit in South London. The owner of the unit was about to junk it all, but an intermediary offered Hazzard the chance to buy them back, which he did “at a very reasonable price.”

What Hazzard received were 27 boxes of tapes, but nowhere with an accessible 4-track machine to clean them up. He approached the legendary EMI Studios on Abbey Road (where he had also recorded in the ‘60s), but they wanted 1,200 pounds a day to use their Studer J37 machine (or about $1,588 U.S. dollars).
He then found a company that could transfer tapes to digital files, purportedly without the loss of quality. Hazzard did that, then engaged Grammy-winning sound engineer Jerry Boys to mix and master what would end up as Demonstration.

In his career, Hazzard has also written songs for the Tremeloes and Cliff Richard. But the commonality of all those artists and others already mentioned is that they had much bigger success on the charts in their UK home without enjoying similar fruits in the U.S. When asked why this was (and is) so common, Hazzard hazards a guess.

“It may have to do with record companies or publishers,” he says. “‘Ha! Ha! Said the Clown’ was number one in Germany and very big in Austria! Who knows?”

The conversation then leads to Suzi Quatro, the groundbreaking female rocker from Detroit, Michigan who found massive success in England but made barely a dent in her home country.

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Tony Hazzard in the studio.
Photo by Dave Clague
“It may have been because she chose to stay and actually live here,” Hazzard suggests. “Plus, well…the leather suits!”

In the U.S., the most-heard Hazzard song is probably “Fox on the Run.” It’s become a bluegrass standard and has been covered by artists ranging from Bill Monroe, George Jones, and Ricky Skaggs to Flatt & Scruggs, the Barenaked Ladies and The Zac Brown Band.

Though he does wonder if some of his royalties over the years have maybe gone to the similarly-titled glam rock hit by Sweet. His songs “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Hello, It’s Me” also share titles with massive hits by Van Morrison and Todd Rundgren, even though Hazzard’s titles were out first.

“It’s like if I wrote a song now and called it ‘Yesterday!’” he laughs.

He says the song reflects his personal love of southern U.S. country and blues music. though he admits it’s the romantic pop fare that he’s most adept at writing. On this tune, he was particularly influenced by the Band. But his all-time favorite group? It’s Little Feat.

In his business dealings, Hazzard would often find himself in the company of producer Mickie Most (the Animals, Herman’s Hermits). “They would be lined up outside his office waiting to see him!” Hazzard laughs. He also recalls a ride with Most in his limo.

When Hazzard jokingly said he thought you weren’t supposed to hear the engine running in such an expensive vehicle, Most dryly informed him that it was the air conditioning, a then fairly-new (and luxury) addition to vehicles.
Hazzard also befriended Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night, who would often stay with him. And the singer left his host with one valuable lesson.

“He taught me that Americans can’t drink!” Hazzard laughs. “I’d take him to the pub and fill him up with Greene King Abbot Ale. One evening, he was stretched out in front of the fire, completely unconscious!”

Hazzard also regrets turning down Hutton’s invitation one night to drive into London with him (about 19 miles away) and hang out with singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson. “I said that I was too tired. What was I thinking!” he says today. “Of course, if I went, I would have gotten incredibly drunk and stoned.”

In fact, Hazzard admits that he often can’t remember much about who he met and what he did at a range of English clubs like the Speakeasy, Scotch of St. James and Bag O’ Nails, whose clientele on any given night included the cream of the crop of English rockers and industry movers and shakers.

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Tony Hazzard today.
Photo by Sarah Cole
“In the ‘60s, we had strict licensing laws. The pubs would close at 11 p.m. during the week and 10:30 p.m. on Sundays, so we’d have to find somewhere else to go, and that was the clubs,” he says. “I used to go to the Cromwellian a lot. But I can’t remember much about it!”

In the 1970s, Hazzard released some albums as a performer and took a band on the road. But his life took a complete turn in 1981 when he left the music industry entirely. Feeling “stale and uncreative,” he forged a new career as the Treatment Director and counselor/therapist at a drug and alcohol rehab center. He also dabbled in acting, writing and singing in choirs.

He came back to music in 2006 and released a new record. “I actually started writing a song in the early ‘80s and finished it in the 2000s!” he laughs.

Finally, asked if there was one artist he wished had recorded one of his songs but didn’t, he’s quick to answer: Art Garfunkel, who was close to putting his perfect and angelic tones on Hazzard’s “I Think I’m Over Getting Over You.”

“I had a connection because I used to know Paul Simon’s girlfriend, Kathy Chitty,” he says of—yes—the same Kathy who inspired Simon and Garfunkel’s well-known “Kathy’s Song.”

“She used to come stay with us and we were quite close, and she was close to Art. At one point, Art was filming Catch-22 in Mexico, and we’d get these Air Mail letters, but he never did the song. I heard he didn’t like the lyric ‘Like her, I’m indescribably blue.’ I was talking about the ocean!”

For more on Tony Hazzard, visit TonyHazzard.com
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero