From Ephemeral Love to Eternal Love
Nothin' seems to be goin' right
Nothin' seems to be goin' right
Well now you wake up in the mornin'
Find your poor self dead
Well now you wake up in the mornin'
Find your poor self dead
---Arthur Lee, et al, "Can't Explain"
In Memoriam: Where is the Love?
I remember back in the mid-1960's being attracted to the album, titled Love. Love, I mean the concept, was so hip; and the arabesque lettering, the cool rebellious guys on the cover in their garish garb: I had to buy the album. They kind of had a patent on love! It was one of only a few of my first LP's, the others being Surrealistic Pillow, and one by Lightnin' Hopkins. I had heard on the progressive college radio stations Arthur Lee's version of "Hey Joe" on the radio. It's one of the first tunes I learned to play on the guitar trying to copy his manic modality. This was just a few years before I heard Jimi Hendrix's sonorous version. Hendrix, tie-dyed scarf and all, was still the second to "...the first so-called black hippie," as touted by Arthur Lee himself. Someone once quipped that it was "Johnny Mathis meets Mick Jagger."
I’ll pray for you
Even if you don’t have faith,
I’ll give to you;
And even if you don’t believe,
I’ll try for you,
Die for you.
---Arthur Lee, "I'll Pray for You"
I was saddened today to hear Arthurly, (a.k.a.) had finally succumbed on August 3, 2006 after a three month battle with acute myeloid leukemia. He was one of the rare adults to receive umbilical cord blood transplants gleaned from a few acceptable non-related donors. The hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical cost, without insurance, was going to be underwritten by proceeds from a couple of shows like the June 23 benefit concert at New York's Beacon Theatre. Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, at the top, was bringing in the New York Dolls frontman David Johansen (a cancer survivor, too), the Ian Hunter Band, original Love guitarist Johnny Echols, Yo La Tengo, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah vocalist, indie-rock Alec Ounsworth. Donations were also solicited to go to The Love Society. Robert Plant had done the Lee song, "A House is Not a Motel" on his Song to the Siren LP. The other Love co-founder, Bryan MacLean, (also baptized years ago in Dylan's same Vinyard Church font), could not help as he died of a heart attack in a restaurant on Christmas Day, 1998. That was a bad year also for the original bassist for Love, Ken Forssi, who died in early winter of brain cancer.
Unfortunately, the maximum waiting period of a hundred days showed that his immune system, destroyed by harsh chemotherapy, did not regenerate itself, and he awaited the end at Methodist University Hospital where the last ditch effort took place. However, it was nice to know he did not die as one of Love's songs, "Alone Again Or", but with his wife, Diane, at his side at Methodist University Hospital. He had just recently married his love of 35 years. While rush-hour traffic was jamming the avenues, this creator of the album Forever Changes which was numbered Rolling Stone Magazine's 40th best of all time (out of 500) was, as one of his latter songs declared, "Passing By."
On The River: Circle of Life and Death
They've got catfish on the table
They've got gospel in the air,
And Reverend Green be glad to see you
When you haven't got a prayer;
Boy, you got a prayer in Memphis.
---Marc Cohn, "Walking in Memphis"
Arthur Taylor Porter (or was it Arthur Lee Porter?) was born March 7, 1945 in Memphis, Tennessee, a town he left when he was five. And it was one to which he had just returned to live, only about a year before he died, to inhabit the house of his recently departed mother.
Guitars for Harps and Knives: City of Angels
That was the time the world was beginnin' to get on a rock;
That was the burnin' down in L.A., all them buildings was burnin' down.
Well you know they didn't have enough water to put out the fire;
250-some home they got burnin' down.
---Lightnin' Hopkins, "Burnin' In L.A."
It was a very fortuitous thing that the young Arthur hooked up with musicians, as he was one of many the youths, as today, that were running the mean streets. By the time he was 18, he formed his first group, Arthur Lee and the LAG's. They did Booker T. and the MG's inspired instrumentals that featured him playing the organ, Johnny Echols doing guitar duties, Alan Talbot blowing sax, and the beat was provided by Roland Davis. They released a single in 1963 on Columbia, "The Ninth Wave" (the B-side was "Rumble-Still-Skin"), and Lee wrote some typical early California surfing tunes, "White Caps, and "Ski Surfin' Sanctuary."
In 1964 he forayed into R & B by writing a song, and local hit, for Rosa Lee Brooks, "My Diary," recorded for Revis. Most interestingly, it featured a very young Jimi Hendrix guitar accompaniment! (Jimi would later play guitar on the Love LP title cut, "Everlasting First" in early 1971.) Producer Bob Keene, who was associated with Donna, Selma, and Atco, used some of his tunes, like "I've Been Trying" for Little Ray, and wrote for his vocal part "Luci Baines" for the American Four. He became the composer and lead singer for a club band, Ronnie and the Pomona Casuals, with his contributions to the "jerk" dance craze/phase, the "Everybody Jerk," and "Slow Jerk."
There's a Fog Upon L.A.: California Dreamin'
I went to Frisco
Bumped into Cisco.
He had a shoebox
Behind his icebox, but now...
You I'll be following.
---Arthur Lee, "You I'll Be Following"
In 1965 Arthur Lee met Bryan MacLean after he failed to beat out 437 Monkee tryouts and he brought the folk-rock flavor of the Byrds, for whom he was their roadie. Maclean has been likened to the Paul McCartney of the duo, whereas Arthur Lee would be more like John Lennon as the Beatles other famous songwriter. Significant too, the Beatles were the inspiration for Bryan to take up guitar. (Later, he became a Christian and wrote Pat Boone's kid, Debbie's hit, "You Light Up My Life.") Ken Forssi, who for a nano-period was with the Surfaris (albeit post "Wipe Out" fame), joined them on bass guitar having just moved from his native Cleveland, Ohio a year before. He would eventually live in Laurel Canyon (hmmmm, a John Mayall LP title) next to singer-songwriter Carole King. Another musician in the area that joined them for a very short time was Bobby Beausoleil, whose nickname "Cupid" was part of the inspiration for the name Love. He is presently serving more than 30 years of a life sentence (commuted from death in 1972)) for the Manson family killing of Gary Hinman in 1969. Guitarist Johnny Echols who stayed with Lee was from Memphis, and another member, John Fleckenstein came from the "Dirty Water" Standells long enough to help write some songs. Don Conka was the drummer.
Love is coming wherever you are
If that's what you're hungry for.
You're gonna get it yeah,
Get that love you want.
---Arthur Lee, "Love is Coming"
Initially they signed on with Jack (Jac) Holtzman's Elekra, (a little later Lee would void the contract as a minor.) Elektra, was started by a 20 year-old Holtzman in 1950, and after a stint with classical, specialized in blues and then folk music a la Theodore Bikel, (and especially the blacklisted, Josh White, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the Weavers). This would be a new thing for them: rock. He already had a hit with Judy Collins, and they had just signed the most expensive contract yet with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Their electric folk made an inroad that would influence folkster Bob Dylan Jac gambled that Lee and company's genre might be acceptable. He had just signed The Lovin' Spoonful in, but lost them to a legality, and he finally found Lee and Love on the Sunset Strip. He said, "Five guys of all colors, black, white and psychedelic-that was a real first." While playing at the Whiskey A Go Go, they recommended trying their opening act to Rothschild and Holtzman, too. But it was not until after seeing them the fourth time at the Whiskey A Go Go that the Doors were considered.
They had originally had the name The Grass Roots, but after it became apparent they were not the only ones with that name, they polled an audience with several choices: Summer's Children, Dr. Strangeglove, Poetic Justice, Asylum Choir, or Love. History bears their choice. The Logo was inspired by the one for the Byrds, the gender symbols cleverly added. By the time they went to studio, the ones recording were Echols, Forssi, Lee, MacLean, a junkie (topic of "Signed D.C.") Donka was replaced by Swede "Snoopy" Alban Pfisterer. They had a moderate hit when Elektra released the company's first single. A 45 with Hal David's lyrics and Burt Bacharach's music ditty, (not Chairman Mao's also mentioned by that other Lennon): "My Little Red Book." Manfred Mann had done it for the movie sound track, What's New Pussycat?.
The self-titled album, Love was released in 1966, after only 21 hours straight of recording. It had (lyrics by Lee unless noted):
- My Little Red Book (David/Bacharach)
- Can't Explain (Lee-Echols-Fleckenstein)
- Message to Pretty
- My Flash on You
- Softly to Me (MacLean)
- No Mattter What You Do
- Emotions (Lee-Echols)
- You I'll Be Following
- Hey Joe (Valenti)
- Signed D.C.
- Colored Balls
- Mushroom Clouds
- And More (Lee-MacLean)
They followed this in early '67 with Da Capo The whole second side was radically filled by the long cut "Revelation." "7 and 7" many have said is the real punk precursor.
- Stephanie Know Who
- Orange Skies (MacLean)
- Que Vida
- Seven and Seven Is
- The Castle (MacLean)
- She Comes in colors
- Revelation (Lee-MacLean-Echols-Forssi)
The album went to number 80. They had the same lineup except they added Michael Stuart
for some extra percussion. Drugs, uppers and downers, and all-arounders, became too readily a distraction, and Lee's residence was Bela Lugosi's Castle in more ways than one. Lee and some were getting paranoid about Holtzman and Elektra. Was he replacing them with the Doors, an act they introduced to Elektra? Somewhere during this time they fought so much, and were lorded over by Lee and his right-hand man Bryan that Big Brother and the Holding Company
's Peter Albin
to quip: "They should call themselves Hate."
True Classic Rock: Breaking Up is So Easy To Do
After they finished Da Capa they spent time holed up in the keep high (physically and whatever) on Mulholland Way, and enraged fans by snubbing the Monterey Pop Festival. They were barely holding together as a cohesive entity. Echols and Forssi did not make very good smackheads, while Lee and MacLean seemed to continue their artistic efforts despite the acid.
The next project, released in the fall of 1967, become one of music history's psychedelic canons, Forever Changes. Without the bands consultation, the cover has a bright Bob Pepper watercolor of the group in a merging head cluster echoing some exotic continent. The group was photographed in Arthur's garden by Ronnie Haran with varied poses. A broken container of probably fake flowers has some dire prophetic message. Bryan did not think this LP was a watershed; he continued to say it was boring, and that he had listened to it only once. Perhaps his song "Alone Again Or" hit too close to home, as he never did marry for his 52 years of life. His song "Old Man" was written about Lee, and sung in 1998 by the latter honoring the former's death. The others felt that this album was not marketed aggressively as Elektra had a new bunch of wunderkinds, Jim Morrison and the Doors. After all, Elektra had their first number one hit with "Light My Fire." It never changes: "What have you done for me lately?"
- Alone Again Or (Maclean-Breadcrust)
- A House is Not a Motel
- The Daily Planet
- Old Man (Maclean-Breadcrust)
- The Red Telephone
- Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale
- Live and Let Live
- The Good Humour Man He Sees Everything Like This
- Bummer in the Summer
- You Set the Scene
By the way: there are several bonus tracks on the CD of this title released in 2001.
By 1969 Arthur Lee was the only original member when he did Four Sail. He used Jay Donnellan on guitar, Frank Fayad for bass, George Suranovich, and Drachen Theaker (2 songs) beat the skins. The next year he was Out Here with the same lineup except he added guitarist Paul Martin and Jim Hobson's piano and a tune. In 1971 he kept the same bass and drummer, but added Gary Rowles for guitar on his False Start work. (The one with Jimi Hendrix on the first cut, "Everlasting First." In 1972 Lee did a solo project, Vindicator, and around here he was in the VIP's. Played for Band-Aid, bringing together his old friend Fayad with help from Don Poncher on drums, and guitarists, Craig Tarwarter and Charles Karp.
Somewhere around 1973 Arthur signed to do an LP with Michael Butler and Paul Rothchild of Buffalo Records. At Halleljah Records (a Buffalo subsidiary) Rothchild could not get Arthur to commit himself to consistant studio time to finish the whole thing. The studio tried to use another band, Jericho, to do covers of some of Lee's material, but not materializing was more the case, especially when their front man was busted.
By 1975 he brought back the Love moniker and did less than ideal Reel to Reel with a huge entourage:
He went solo again in 1977, released two albums (one with the eery "I Do Wonder" and by 1980, Arthur's recording and touring gave him enough material for a compilation entitled, Studio/Live This 1982 had all the members from the False Start era. He was arrested for drug charges a couple of times in this decade.
"...ever the pimp-dandy in hat, shades, star-spangled doo-rag, cowboy shirt and snakeskin boots..."----popmatters
The 1990's were not a good decade either for Arthur. Though he was playing with Arthur Lee and Love in 1992, and on the French label, New Rose with very creative "Five String Serenade" he suffered from the artistic and personal erratic-ism that sporadically plagued him for years. 1994 saw another Love come to life, and on the Distortion label released "Girl on Fire"/"Midnight Sun." In 1995 he broke into a girlfriend's apartment and set it on fire, and then in 1996, after shooting a gun into the air, he was imprisoned for 8 years because of the California 3 strike law. He denied all visits and interviews then. Finally after friends fought for his release, in 2001 he was out. He embarked on his musical career full tilt, and was touring up until 2003 strong. He appeared at He was asked in a recent interview, "You were a superstar, your name is in every rock encyclopedia, what it is --- to be a star?"
He answered: "I can't do nothing without the Grace of God."
They asked him another, "What do you believe in now?"
He answered: "God."
Former acquaintance of his producer.