Arthur Lee, the founder of LOVE during the late 1960s in Los Angeles. (Photo: Ronnie Haran Mellen).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
In 1965 a band by the name of The Grass Roots had replaced The Byrds as the premier Los Angeles rock group. The Grass Roots were the remains of an R&B group called The American Four (and sometimes The L.A.G.'s). The band consisted of Arthur Lee (vocals), Johnny Echols (guitar), Bryan MacLean (guitar, vocals), Ken Forssi (bass), Don Conka (drums).
As time would pass however the legendary Conka would abandon his post as the groups drummer due to a serious battle with heroin, and be replaced with Alban "Snoopy" Pfisterer.
The group would gain much notoriety on the L.A. scene playing at places such as Brave New World, Bido Lito's and of course The Whiskey A Go-Go. A chance encounter with rock promoter Lou Adler would in a way seal some of the band's fate. As legend has it Adler approached members Johnny Echols and Bryan MacLean in an effort to sign the band, but the two young men suggested he speak with their manager. Adler took offense and within weeks another group calling themselves The Grass Roots had a hit on the radio.
Arthur decided to change the name of the band, and among the candidates were Bryan's choice of Summer's Children, The Asylum Choir, The Love, and Love. A contest in which the fans were allowed to have some input revealed the name would be Love. They would eventually catch the eye of Elektra records found Jac Holtzman, become the first rock band signed to the label.
Their self titled debut would appear on store shelves in 1966 and feature the classic songs "My Flash On You", and early version of "Hey Joe", and a cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "My Little Red Book". That same year the band would appear on Dick Clark's American Bandstand.
By the time 1967 rolled in, Arthur and company had developed a reputation not only as being the top group in Los Angeles, but also being somewhat inconsistant with their touring. It was a rarity for the group to tour outside of L.A. let alone California. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that Love was the first integrated rock band to be signed to a major label, but a lot of it was Arthur.
Before the writing process for the second album came underway Arthur Lee had persuaded Jac Holtzman on more than one occasion to sign The Doors. At this point Morrison had been hanging around Lee's pad sometimes to Lee's chagrin, but he was around nevertheless. Arthur would add two new members to the band, Tjay Cantrelli (another African-American) who would play the sax and flute along with the drummer from The Sons of Adam, a young man named Michael Stuart. "Snoopy" would move from drums to the harpsichord.
Arthur wanted off the Elektra label at the time, and there is a humorus story of a time when Arthur and Johnny Echols walked into the label and snapped an LP in half citing they use cheap materials.
Of course Holtzman was not about to let go of his top act. The album that would be recorded was none other than Da Capo. It would feature what is viewed as the first ever punk song with "7&7 Is", and also the first ever song to take up the entire side of a rock album with "Revelation" (also known as "John Lee Hooker"). The album would also yield the wonderful song "She Comes In Colors" which was later co-oped by The Rolling Stones for the song "She's A Rainbow". Arthur would never forget that. As far as the charts go, Da Capo was their strongest effort, although some feel the fact there were only seven tracks prevents the album from being considered more iconic. There has been much speculation as to why Arthur chose "Revelation" as opposed to writing more songs or allowing Echols or MacLean to have some compositions. Some speculate this was Arthur's way at getting back at the label for not letting him go.
As time passed 1967 proved to be a somewhat tumultous year. As the band's behavior became more erratic (especially the ever reclusive Arthur), the very band Arthur urged Holtzman to sign became a worldwide sensation, the gap would widen between Love and The Doors and Arthur Lee would forever carry a chip on his shoulder. It can be argued that Elektra did show extreme favoritism towards The Doors, but then again they were willing to jump through the hoops that Arthur wouldn't.
Tjay Cantrelli and Alban Pfisterer were let go, and the band was not rehearsing much or playing very many shows. Arthur began to turn down shows including one in which The Doors were willing to open for Love. Most notably Arthur turned down an opportunity to play the Monterey Pop Festival due to bitter feelings towards the show's organizer Lou Adler (the man who stole their original name). When it was time to go into the studio and record their next album the band was in a chaotic state so intense that Elektra tried to surround Arthur with session players.
The band eventually pulled together and recorded what is considered to be their masterpiece, the album known as Forever Changes. It would feature a full orchestra provided by the L.A. Philharmonic and it was arranged by David Angel with the assistance of Arthur himself. The album would see released in late 1967 but it would not chart well despite being critically acclaimed.
However it would reach number 24 on the British charts. Forever Changes would go on to be considered arguably the greatest rock album of all time by many respected publications and powerful figures in the music industry. Its haunting lyrics and tones are still relevent, maybe now more than ever.
The tour for Forever Changes was a disaster. From missed shows, to drivers getting the band lost while in New York, to even their roadie Neil Rappaport dying of a heroin overdose. (It has been long rumored that Love had hung Neil which is not true). Plans for a follow up to Forever Changes were aborted.
An album to be called Gethsemane would have been the fourth and possibly final record by the original lineup. Two tracks that appeared on a 45 called "Your Mind and We Belong Together" and "Laughing Stock" are rumored to have originally a part of this lost album. It has been long speculated as to whether or not other tracks from the Gethsemane session ever existed. Arthur's foil, sometimes friend, and genius bandmate Bryan MacLean annouced he was leaving the band to pursue a solo career.
Arthur decided to disband Love and start over. There was an interesting dynamic between Bryan and Arthur. Bryan came from a wealthy family in Beverly Hills, he was raised on his mother's flamenco and classical music whereas Arthur was from a middle class South Los Angeles background. Bryan was once the roadie for The Byrds until they went national.
Arthur was in need of a new guitar player since Bobby Beausoleil (later instrumental in the Manson murders) was always hanging out in San Francisco. The two would influence each other immensely but a rivalry would ensue one in which he would sometimes prevent MacLean's songs from appearing on the records. Some have argued that MacLean was responsible for the more acoustic sounds Love had in the 1960's.
During 1968 Arthurly (as he was calling himself) would assemble guitarist Jay Donnellan, bass player Frank Fayad, and drummer Drachen Theaker to play as the new Love. The band would record tracks with Arthur on rythm guitar. Theaker would eventually quit (joining The Crazy World of Arthur Brown) and be replaced with George Suranovich. Arthur planned on releasing a double album and joined a new label called Blue Thumb.
The label persuaded Arthur to try and gather the original Love lineup, however the group was too off into the drug trip to keep it together. The new Love would go onto record the album Out Here, however Arthur still owed Elektra some songs. Those songs were were compiled to make the last Elektra album titled Four Sail.
Three months after the release of Four Sail, Out Here would come out and chart in Britain at number 29. At some point Arthur would turn down an opportunity to play Woodstock. The sound took yet another direction, this time a more progressive rock trip with many jazz progressions and hints of country.
At some point during all of this Arthur would turn down an opportunity to showcase his new Love at the legendary Woodstock. Arthur would also replace guitarist Jay Donnellan with Gary Rowles who would later work with Rick James. In 1970 Arthur would go on his first tour outside of the United States hitting Denmark and doing a show that was recorded for Danish television. This lineup would not last very long either.
In 1970 Arthur would have a chance encounter with Jimi Hendrix. One in which he and Hendrix recorded what is believed to be about an albums worth of material. However the only song that would show up on the new Love album would be titled "The Everlasting First" which appears on False Start. Arthur's lineup shifted once again, this time with the addition of guitarist/vocalist Nooney Rickett. The album did not sell very well nor was it reviewed well. It is looked upon as mainly an album with filler material and that can be evidenced by Arthur's odd inclusion of a live version of Out Here's "Stand Out".
1972 on the heels of an aborted Love album at CBS records Arthur was signed to the A&M label. He would assemble yet another group of musicians and release his solo album Vindicator. The album would not chart at all, not even in England. It was critically panned at the time of release. It can be viewed as having a serious Hendrix influence, not only in terms of composition but in terms of Arthur's vocals. It has a sound reflecting his Memphis roots as well. In 1973 Arthur would find himself on Michael Butler's Buffalo label. Yet another lineup one that would feature the longest running incarnation of Love. Guitarist Melvan Whittington, bass player Robert Rozelle, and drummer Joe Blocker. The solo album titled Black Beauty was produced by Paul Rothchild but not even that would stop Buffalo records from folding before the album ever saw the light of day. The irony of the situation is that Billboard gave the album a positive review.
In 1974 RSO records signed Arthur who used the Love name for the soul album (yes soul album), Reel to Real. This too would not go over well with longtime Lee fans, especially with Skip Taylor's (Bee Gees, Eric Clapton) ultra-slick production. However an odd note would be the almost indentical to the original cover of "Be Thankful for What You Got". This incarnation of Love would feature essentially the same players from Black Beauty. There was a very strong tour that accompanied the album, one in which they toured with the likes of not only Lou Reed but Eric Clapton. Around this time Arthur's behavior was becoming more erratic as his days were more drug fueled.
Lee would record another solo album in 1977 titled More Changes, and this too would go unreleased with a few songs surfacing as part of a self titled 45 from Da Capo records. By the late 1970's Arthur tried to get the original lineup back together, but the same old problems would always rear their ugly heads. He would record a self titled solo album for Rhino in 1981 which would also not do well and is largely viewed as a collection of demos and outtakes with some songs that were originally set for the 1977 More Changes.
Lee would record sporadically throughout the 1970's and 1980's only to re-emerge in the 1990's with a new Love album titled Five String Serenade for New Rose Records in France. The irony in Five String Serenade is that it may be his most profitable recording. The title track was covered in 1993 by Mazzy Star for their platinum selling album.
His true revival would come with the fantastic indie group known as Baby Lemonade who would support Arthur Lee up until his prison sentence in 1996 for a firearms charge. Baby Lemonade was waiting for Arthur when he was finally released from prison in 2001 and the group would make magic with their Forever Changes Tour in 2002 through 2004. They would even make a DVD of 2003 which was enough to inspire punk icons The Damned to do the same. Arthur would receive accolades from the British government and receive awards from MOJO among other musical entities in Europe.
In 2005 the man who is often viewed as too stubburn to die like many of his contemporaries such as Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix began to show signs of slowing down. Erratic behaviors lead to the demise of the most recent incarnation of Love, which featured Mike Randle, Rusty Squeezebox, Dave Chapple, David Green, and the recently reconciled with Johnny Echols. it was later revealed that Arthur had been battling leukemia, and in 2006 he was hospitalized in his native Memphis. Arthur would hold the distinction of being the first adult in the state of Tennessee to receive an umbiblical cord stem cell transplant. Several benefit concerts were held in his honor with the intent of raising money for Arthur's rising medical bills. August 3rd 2006 Arthur Lee passed, leaving behind him a trail or triumph and tragedy and an endless assortment of "What ifs"...