LEE (1945 - 2006)
The band Love were best known for the albums 'Da Capo' and 'Forever
Changes', with defining songs of the late 1960s like 'Seven And
Seven Is', 'She Comes In Colors', 'A House Is Not A Motel' and 'Alone
Again Or'. They were the first rock group to sign to Elektra Records,
the label set up by Jac Holzman, who would later discover the Doors
and Tim Buckley. Arthur Lee, ostensibly Love's leader, referred
to himself as "the first so-called black hippie, maybe the
first hippie", but he was a difficult man to work with and
the multi-racial group never managed to capitalise on their early
reputation as the ultimate garage-folk-rock band.
Lee subsequently led several incarnations of Love, issued a few
solo albums and toured Europe backed by the Liverpool group Shack
in 1992. However, he experienced drug and mental health problems
and eventually spent five and a half years in jail on firearm offences
as a result of California's "three strikes and you're out"
policy. Love's music had always been popular, with Robert Plant
especially, and was championed in Britain by the disc-jockeys John
Peel and Bob Harris, but by the time Lee came out of prison in 2002,
he had become a cult figure second only to Brian Wilson of the Beach
Love's Elektra catalogue was remastered and Lee played live again,
this time with the LA indie group Baby Lemonade, though he insisted:
"I was Love from the beginning, I am Love now." He had
a point, since Bryan MacLean, Love's composer and the lead voice
on 'Alone Again Or', had died in 1998. Love's lead guitarist Johnny
Echols rejoined the new line-up, but in 2005 found himself the only
original member when Lee stopped touring altogether, citing ill-health.
Lee was diagnosed with leukaemia and underwent a bone marrow transplant.
In June, Robert Plant headlined a benefit concert for him in New
York, which also featured Ryan Adams, Ian Hunter, Nils Lofgren,
Garland Jeffreys and Yo La Tengo.
Born Arthur Porter Taylor in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1945, he was
the son of Chester Taylor, a white trumpeter, and Agnes, a black
schoolteacher. The couple divorced and, in 1949, Arthur's mother
moved to Los Angeles where she met and married Clinton Lee, a builder,
carpenter and decorator, who adopted Arthur.
At Dorsey High School, he was a tall teenager with dreams of playing
basketball professionally. An injury put paid to that and he began
spending more time raising pigeons and listening to Nat "King"
Cole and Johnny Mathis. He harboured dreams of signing to Capitol,
whose label and distinctive round-shaped building in Los Angeles
fascinated him. At first, he played the accordion but moved on to
piano, organ and guitar with Arthur Lee and the LAGs, an instrumental
group with ambitions to become Los Angeles' answer to Memphis's
Booker T & The MGs.
In 1963, they signed a one-off deal with Capitol Records and issued
'The Ninth Wave'/'Rumble-Still-Skins', two surf instrumentals. When
they disbanded, Lee formed a new band called the American Four with
the guitarist Johnny Echols. In 1964, they cut one single, 'Luci
Baines', and Lee began showing promise as a producer and arranger
with Li'L Ray and Ronnie and the Pomona Casuals. He worked with
the young Jimi Hendrix on 'My Diary' by Rosa Lee Brooks and was
impressed by the guitarist's musical ability and freaky afro.
One day in 1965, he wandered into Ciro's on the Sunset Strip and
saw the folk-rock band the Byrds. "When I saw them, it all
just clicked in terms of my own creativity," Lee said later.
"Up until then, everything was rhythm'n'blues, but they were
doing their own material and it sounded like the music I was writing
on my own. I knew something was happening. I wanted to be the best
pop artist in the world, that was my ambition."
Lee and Echols recruited the Byrds roadie Bryan MacLean and became
the Grass Roots, but soon realised that two other groups were already
using that name. By the time they signed to Elektra in 1966, Ken
Forssi (bass) and Alban "Snoopy" Pfisterer (drums) had
joined, and they had become Love and were the toast of LA with sell-out
gigs at the Whisky A Go Go. Explaining the name Love to Sylvie Simmons
of Mojo magazine in 2002, Lee said, "Everybody is Love, that's
the way I feel about it. I'm part of everybody. Everybody is Love.
It's a great name."
In June 1966, Love's first single, a punked-up cover of the Burt
Bacharach and Hal David composition 'My Little Red Book', and their
eponymous début album - which contained a version of 'Hey
Joe' several months before Hendrix released his own cover of the
Leaves' track - both made the US charts and they seemed to be on
their way. The exciting single 'Seven And Seven Is' reached the
US Top 40 in the autumn and 'Da Capo', the album which followed
in March 1967, confirmed Love's status as darlings of the alternative
They had begun to incorporate baroque elements like Latin rhythms
and Tjay Cantrelli's flute and were definitely on to something,
though they were loath to venture away from their base on the West
Coast. Instead, they went back into the studio and cut the ambitious
'Forever Changes', which featured mariachi brass, strings arrangements
and acid-rock guitars galore. Originally released at the tail end
of 1967, Love's third album would eventually be hailed as a masterpiece
but, by then, their reputation had been eclipsed by their labelmates
This rather rankled with Lee, even though he had been the one who
had convinced Holzman, the Elektra boss, to take a second look at
the Doors. "Jim Morrison used to sit outside my door when I
lived in Laurel Canyon," Lee told the rock writer Barney Hoskins.
"He wanted to hang out with me, but I didn't want to hang out
Although Love lived in a communal "castle" - a decaying
mansion which had been used for horror films - and their name fitted
the flower-power era like a glove, their music often had dark, sinister
undertones and Lee showed anything but love to his fellow band-members.
I interviewed him in 1992 and, in between glaring at me and saying
"Are you calling me nuts?", Lee admitted that, by the
time of the third album, he was competing with MacLean. "We
were like Lennon and McCartney, trying to see who would come up
with the better song. It was part of our charm . . . Eventually,
the others couldn't cut it."
In 1969, Lee led a completely new line-up of Love and recorded
the albums 'Four Sails' and 'Out Here', but then he nearly died
of a drug overdose. "I didn't like heroin," he said, "I
went a different way. Some friends of mine found me dead. Luckily,
they were paramedic types who knew what to do to save my life. I
mean, I was lying in the bathtub, blue."
Love finally reached Britain in February 1970 for a series of concerts
and Lee renewed his friendship with Hendrix, who guested on 'False
Start' (1971) a few months before his death. Lee subsequently went
solo with 'Vindicator' in 1972 and resurrected the Love name for
'Reel To Real' in 1974 but, by 1976, he was painting houses with
He returned fitfully to recording and made the occasional live
appearance until 1995, when he was arrested after firing a gun in
his Los Angeles apartment. Since he had two previous convictions
on assault and drug charges, he was sentenced to eight years in
On his release in 2002, Lee, who had been hailed as a genius and
as influential a figure as Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett, enjoyed a belated
renaissance and was even welcomed to the House of Commons by the
Labour backbencher Peter Bradley. With the help of the guitarist
Mike Randle, Baby Lemonade and a string and horn section, he could
finally play 'Forever Changes' in all its glory, the way he'd always
heard it in his head. "I am the music," he said. "In
1967 I thought 'Forever Changes' was going to be my last words.
My last words to this world would be forever changes because this
world forever changes. If someone asked me if I was on my way to
another planet or another incarnation, or whatever, and they asked
me how I feel about earth, I'd say, 'forever changes'."
Perrone, The Independent)