Friday, September 14, 2007

Have You Ever Heard Of Arthur Lee?

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF ARTHUR LEE?
By Antonio G. Pereira © 1997, 2007 Antonio G. Pereira
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‘Love’, is a 60’s group with an obvious name, which should be better known than it is. Behind this mystery, is the genius of a gentleman named Arthur Lee. Born in Memphis Tennessee, but raised in Los Angeles California, Arthur Lee came out of the early 60’s Rhythm and Blues boom in L.A. He formed a series of R&B groups with friend and lead guitarist John Echols (a dead ringer for Johnny Mathis). The L.A. Gs (a pun on then current and popular band, Booker T. and The M.G.s – after all Arthur did come from Memphis) being one of his earliest bands. It was during the tenure of Lee’s next band, ‘The American Four’, that two very interesting things happened. First, he prepared to produce a record for a local singer named Rose Lee Brooks, and second, at an L.A. nightclub where The American Four were playing, Arthur met up with a guitarist named Maurice James (who would later become known as Jimi Hendrix); and asked him to play on the record. The single, named ‘My Diary’ (which is quite a remarkable hard edged R&B production), became a local hit. But by that time Maurice James had left town. Arthur never forgot that guitarist, because his approximation of the sound of R&B and Gospel guitarist Curtis Mayfield (that Lee liked and wanted for the record) was very good. (Arthur Lee told this whole story in detail in the Blue Thumb Records Press Book that accompanied the D.J. copies of Love’s 1970 album 'False Start').
Like other Blacks before them, and during that peculiar period just before the beautiful blossoming of ‘Black Awareness’ of the late sixties (that happened to occur at the same time as the ‘Summer of Love’), Arthur Lee (along with Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and Buddy Miles) found it easier to ‘get over’ in their particular milieu, by processing their hair. (Until this point, it is rather interesting that most Rock Historians, Music Journalists and ‘experts’ of the period, have systematically bypassed discussing this; almost as if they have something to hide. A notable and most interesting exception being John Lennon, who while discussing Feminism with Yoko and the interviewer from Playboy magazine in 1980 said, “First, there was a tendency to imitate whitey and straighten the hair and things like that. And suddenly they thought, what the hell are we doing? We have to be ourselves. We’re beautiful in ourselves, though there’s still a little of the straighten-the-hair business. It’s not a put-down. It’s a natural evolution.” Lennon apparently, did not feel threatened by change). At any rate, later on of course, Hendrix and Miles, like many other Blacks, began wearing ‘natural’ `fros (Hendrix interestingly, while still in the Experience, during their 1969 American tour); while Arthur Lee like Sly Stone, took to wearing flamboyant Little Richard type wigs. Eventually, Arthur Lee opted for the caldo look, similar to Isaac Hayes.
Not long after The American Four had a local R&B hit with the single ‘Luci Baines’ (which was Lee’s adaptation of the Isley Brothers hit ‘Twist And Shout’, with an even wilder and joyful/ecstatic arrangement and lyrics), Arthur Lee and John Echols went to check out a new group in L.A. named ‘The Byrds’, and Lee changed the name of his band to ‘The Grass Roots’.
From observation, Arthur Lee appears to have had a very focused manner very early on, before there was a ‘Love’. He was not only performing in a couple of different groups, he also was writing songs for other groups to record. The 1970 Blue Thumb Press Book is very useful in filling up huge gaps in his story. One thing which has been left out (and which he explained in detail in the Press Book), was where he had gotten the original name of the group ‘The Grass Roots’:
“Anyway, so after I saw the Byrds, we had an audition at Ciro’s (Ciro’s was an ancient ‘Hollywood’s Golden Era’ type Supper Club which back in the 50’s was frequented by Hollywood’s biggest stars, and where the Will Mastin Trio Featuring Sammy Davis Jr. broke into the big time; but had now since the early 60’s been ‘reduced’ to featuring ‘Rock and Roll’ acts as the times had changed). And we needed a new name. So I heard somebody speak of people in the streets that…. Let me see, how can I put this. Like the people out in the Watts riot…. People who demanded and were tired of being put down and they did something about it. I heard some cat say that those people were the grass roots. Those were the people who’d be the starting of a new revolution that was going to take place. And y’know who said that? It was Malcolm X. So I got the name The Grass Roots from Malcolm X. So anyway, we had that group and we did the audition at Ciro’s. But we were still doing R&B things like ‘Shotgun’ and ‘Twist and Shout’. See, I had seen the Byrds and decided what I wanted to do, but I was still seated behind the organ when I should have been standing with a tambourine… I was playing organ and some piano then. But then I started thinking of cats like Mick Jagger and James Brown doing their trips and I got out from behind the organ.
While all of this was going on, another group suddenly appeared on the Los Angeles scene, calling themselves ‘The Grass Roots’ and getting top billing at local clubs.
“There was nothing I could do about it. What was I supposed to do…go to court? I didn’t even have our name registered. Like who’s going to steal your name? Or so I thought. So the next day, there’s this record out called ‘Mr. Jones’ by ‘The Grass Roots’. And everybody is coming up to me saying, “Wow, man, I thought you could do better than that!” So I just got the name Love out of that whole trip. It was the opposite of the hate trip that I was supposed to go on. So I announced one night at the club that we weren’t to be called The Grass Roots anymore, but Love. And then I got the name registered.
Not only did Arthur Lee have the name of his group registered as ‘Love’, but he had his music publishing company registered in the name, ‘Grass Roots Music’. Thereby, one suspects, reminding himself not to make that mistake again, besides retaining some satisfaction.
Next, he and Echols bought new instruments. Lee, a Gibson Double neck Mandolin/Guitar, and Echols, what appears to be a Danelectro double neck experimental model twelve string/six string guitar. (For viewing of a wealth of photographs of Love, log onto the web site: http://www.bryanmaclean.com/.) They carefully began to mix in the new influence of ‘Folk-Rock’ into their repertoire of basic Rhythm and Blues. This must have been a fascinating time to see the band as they developed, which at this point, had to have been at an incredible rate.
Not long after, the members of Love slowly began to change as well. With Arthur Lee and John Echols as the foundation, then came Bryan Maclean (who brought a genuine talent for writing exquisite songs, with him), and after, Ken Forssi (quite an exceptional bass player) and Alban Pfisterer on drums. (Meanwhile Lee, ever the song hustler, was still occasionally writing songs for other groups to record; separate from what he composed for Love.) An odd thing that is noticeable now, having seen some very early photographs of Love in concert in Los Angeles in 1965, is that Lee’s wardrobe at the time, of Frye Boots and Suede jackets, was exactly what Jim Morrison began to wear later on with ‘The Doors’.
By 1966, Love had acquired quite a following in L.A. Enough of a following that they were now not only doing turn away business at the prestigious ‘Whisky A Go Go’ on Sunset Strip, but due to an influential (and rather bizarre) friend named, Vito Paulekas (to read more about him, check out the website: http://www.united-mutations.com/ - there is a wealth of information here about Vito, plus a very extensive and detailed 2003 interview with Vito's associate Carl Franzoni; with references to the band Love - and the books, 'Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play' by Ben Watson - Published by St. Martin's Griffin, and 'No Commercial Potential: The Saga of Frank Zappa' by David Walley - Republished by Da Capo Press {Also check the Articles and Interviews Section of St. Alphonzo's Pancake Homepage: Go to The Internet Archive http://www.archive.org  Type http://www.science.uva.nl/~robbert/zappa  into the Wayback Machine and Click Take Me Back/Browse History}), telling Jac Holzman (President of Elektra Records, who was looking to expand his Folk music label into Rock territory) to check them out; they now had a record contract.
Love’s first album (self titled ‘Love’ not surprisingly) was released in March of 1966, and really delivered the goods. It was one great debut album, full of bright happy songs and thought provoking ones; all sung with tight close harmonies and aggressive melodic playing. (Though the occasional comparison to the Byrds is unavoidable, Love must have been some mothers to see live). The songs ranged from hard luck Blues, ‘Signed D.C.’, to overwhelming kick-`em-back, pull out all the stops Rock n’ Roll, ‘No Matter What You Do’, to nice head bopping groove Rock, ‘Can’t Explain’, to utterly gorgeous ballads, Maclean’s ‘Softly To Me’ (part of this song became a slogan for a 1960’s woman’s cosmetic). It’s not too hard to imagine Arthur Lee sitting in a movie theatre watching ‘Dr. Strangelove’, and afterward going home and composing ‘Mushroom Clouds’. But the song that became Love’s first hit single was ‘My Little Red Book’. This was not written by anyone in Love, but by Burt Bacharach and Hal David; the songwriting team that wrote many hit songs for Dionne Warwick. The band remained in California, constantly gigged, and enjoyed what must have been their heyday; and had the time of their lives.
Love’s second album, ‘Da Capo’, was released in December 1966. Full of more great songs. (And an advanced move beyond the Folk-Rock and Blues idiom of the first album, now incorporating Jazz and a primitive though fascinating attempt at comping ‘New Music’.) Among them, two beauties. Lee’s “Seven and Seven Is’, and Maclean’s ‘Orange Skies’. The former (and hit single), a forceful, driving Hard Rock number, and the latter, a very pretty jazzy composition. (The ladies must have swooned to this one.) Love was beginning to show a lot of promise as a music ensemble. Instead of sticking to a formula, Love played everything. ‘Stephanie Knows Who’, a cut-me-loose, barely restrained Jazz-Rock number, that is striking. (With the addition of Saxophonist-Flautist Tjay Cantrelli and Michael Stuart now on drums, as Alban Pfisterer moved over to Harpsichord, one could imagine the now expanded seven piece Love, opening their sets with an extended version of this song; full of elongated improvisation. And since Love was one of Jim Morrison’s favorite groups, do I see him in the audience taking notes for a future song named ‘Wintertime Love’?) The other three songs on side one, ‘¡Que Vida!’, ‘The Castle’ and ‘She Comes In Colors’, showing very carefully and masterfully crafted examples of songwriting in the Jazz and Classical idioms; both musically and lyrically. (In the song, ‘¡Que Vida!’ Arthur Lee sang the lyrics:
I once had a girl
She told me I was funny
She said In your world
You needed lots of money
And things to kill your brother
But deith just starts another….
On the second word of the last line of the final stanza of the song, Lee used an odd archaic acronym, that used the words ‘death’ and ‘this’. Peter Tork, was to use this again in the Monkees song ‘Shades of Grey’, on their album Monkees’ Headquarters.)
Side two is a whole other experience, containing one long….improvisation? ‘Revelation’, begins with quite an impressive solo on Harpsichord by Alban Pfisterer, and leads into Arthur Lee vocalizing about a woman’s effect on him. This is followed by some nice soloing on guitar by John Echols. Afterwards, Arthur (always an exceptional Harpist) solos on Harmonica and then trades licks with John Echols. After this point, the song falls flat on its face until Tjay Cantrelli rescues it when he starts soloing on Soprano Saxophone. It is here, when the band falls in behind Cantrelli, that you realize what a tight ensemble they can be. The influence of the then current ‘New Music’ experiments of John Coltrane, Bill Dixon, and Albert Ayler, can be strongly felt. And the song takes off again with drummer Michael Stuart adding a killer drum solo. Maybe this is the point of the song’s title. ‘Revelation’. Because it is as if after laying fallow, the song rises from the ashes and becomes something else. Might Love have turned into a Jazz-Rock ensemble? Unfortunately, there is no known live footage of the band performing this song. But the potential was there. It must also be added that Arthur and Brian must have been listening to Mexican Classical-Pop music and the then new Jazz/Latin hybrid of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Sergio Mendes and Brazil `66 and Stan Getz with Joao Gilberto; which in turn was of course preceded and influenced by the Afro/Cuban Jazz music created by Dizzy Gillespie with Chano Pozo, and the Machito Big Band with guest soloists like Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy, and later Johnny Griffin and Herbie Mann. Arthur Lee was quite an interesting character. And ‘Da Capo’, along with it’s not very organized ‘Revelation’, was nevertheless quite a marvelous second album. (Somewhere, Dick Clark of ‘American Bandstand’ fame, has a half hour of footage of Love performing live on T.V. in 1967; from a spin-off show called ‘Where The Action Is’. Lee mentioned having done this television program in the Blue Thumb Press Book in 1970. (You can however, view some priceless footage of the original 5 piece Love on American Bandstand in 1966, performing, 'My Little Red Book' and 'A Messege To Pretty', at http://www.youtube.com/. Type Arthur Lee and Love in the Search Box. Fascinatingly, John Echols is playing his doublenecked guitar while Arthur plays Harmonica, on 'Messege To Pretty'!)
This brings us to what many people consider to be Love’s masterpiece. ‘Forever Changes’. A partial return to the beautiful close harmonies of the first album. The Jazz and New Music experiments of Da Capo are gone (and so are Tjay Cantrelli and Alban Pfisterer. Cantrelli would later turn up in ‘Geronimo Black’, the band formed by ex-Mothers Of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black, and later in The Buddy Miles Band.) and in place, a Classical-Pop orchestration with a return to Folk-Rock. But this time, the sound had more of an acoustical bent than electric; although the electric sound was still there. (For someone who has already heard Crosby Stills and Nash’s first album and is hearing Love’s third album for the first time, it might be a bit of a shock. More on that later.) ‘Forever Changes’. Exquisite. Beautiful. Deeply moving. Deeply disturbing. Was this a reflection of our America? The Summer of Love was also the summer the cities burned. The Civil Rights Movement struggled on, having already changed the course of troubled American History and it’s still fragmented society. The war in Vietnam raged, while a slowly rising tidal wave of debate as to the very legitimacy of Vietnam, began to spread across College campuses across the nation. A group of ‘negros’ that no one had ever heard of before named ‘The Black Panthers’, walked into the state capitol, Sacramento, carrying guns and articulately discussing the Constitution of the United States and the reason for their existence with reporters; while the television cameras rolled… And slowly, Americans began to realize, after watching their evening news…. That something was wrong….disturbingly and frighteningly wrong. And it would not go away. This was the backdrop of the America that reflected the period during which Forever Changes was created. And much of what was occurring was happening right in the state of California. The ethereal beauty and profound ugliness of the picture that was painted of 1967 America was difficult to deny. The exquisite radiance of the album’s opening number ‘Alone Again Or’, led into the stark images that were full of disturbing metaphors, in the following song, ‘A House Is Not A Motel’. Forever Changes was an incredible album for its time. The ideas that went into the juxtaposition of lyrics in some of the songs, were particularly jarring. For example, in ‘The Daily Planet’:
I can see you, with no head/hands
Like I need you, you’re my heart/face
And in ‘The Red Telephone’:
And if you think I’m happy, paint me black/white
And it’s ominous ending:
They’re locking them up today
They’re throwing away the key
I wonder who it will be tomorrow
You or Me?
The music of course was again richly crafted. The beauty and humor of Lee’s ‘Andmoreagain’, Bryan Maclean singing of the haunting plaintive memory of the ‘Old Man’, and Lee in ‘Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark and Hilldale’, singing about an era of Los Angeles night life that was quickly disappearing. (Due in part no doubt, to the Los Angeles County Supervisor’s repealing of the permits that allowed the clubs on Sunset Strip to admit 18-21 year olds; as Crawdaddy magazine observed and informed in it’s Jan. 1967 issue.) An era that he had helped to create, little more than a year before. And the album finished with one hell of a closing number. ‘You Set The Scene’. Arthur Lee at maybe his lyrical peak, and putting his stamp on the sixties. HISTORY (and he knew it at the time) as it was happening before him.
1968 saw a change in Love. In April, they appeared in beautiful, soft, sensitive photo portraits in Crawdaddy magazine. For the beginning of the year, the band went into the recording studio to make their next album. There, for some reason that has never been made clear, the band began to fall apart. But a single was subsequently released from the studio sessions. ‘Your Mind And We Belong Together’ and ‘Laughing Stock’, were part of Love’s 1968 album; but the album itself was never released. ‘Your Mind And We Belong Together’ was an excellent Hard Rock number with one mother of a guitar solo at the end by John Echols. (It is unfortunate that John Echols, who possessed a remarkable developing originality as a guitarist, did not remain in the band. One can only marvel at thoughts of a concert where Arthur Lee was strumming his acoustic and singing, while Echols was trading licks with Hendrix sitting in on second lead.) And ‘Laughing Stock’ was a painfully beautiful, mysterious Folk-Rock song, that sounded as if Lee was mourning the disintegration of his band. The master tapes for the album are said to be in existence. Some questions remain. Why wasn’t the album released? Why did Love break up at the height of their creative powers? What happened? (You can view what is (or maybe was) a very interesting promo film for 'Your Mind And We Belong Together', on http://www.youtube.com/. Some of the footage in the film appears to be from a photo session that Michael Stuart alluded to in his book, 'Behind the Scenes on the Pegasus Carousel with the Legendary Rock Group Love'. Published by Helter Skelter Publishing (UK). Recently published in the US.)
In the summer of 1969, Arthur Lee emerged with new musicians and a new album. Love’s fourth album was titled, ‘Four Sail’. Lee was the only member from the original band left. But the album he produced was stunning. It contained a mixture of Hard Rock and pleasantly pretty and relaxing Jazz. A beautiful album. It opened with a blockbuster Hard Rock number called, ‘August’, and contained breathtakingly beautiful Jazz numbers like ‘I’m With You’ and ‘Nothing’. Two curious songs were the slightly sarcastic ‘Your Friend and Mine (Neil’s Song)’, and ‘Dream’, in which Arthur sang about arriving back in L.A. from New York by plane. (While using the juxtaposition of lyrics technique that he previously used on Forever Changes.) Was ‘Dream’ about the original Love’s only national tour, prior to their final breakup in 1968? There was also a powerful locomotive-driven Rock-Blues number called ‘Singing Cowboy’, that just got better and better as Arthur cut loose on the vocals; and a strong boogie number named ‘Good Times’. This band was something else. And the album’s closing number, ‘Always See Your Face’, used orchestration with a prominent chorus of French Horns. ‘Four Sail’ was well worth the wait. It was also Love’s final album recorded for Elektra. Arthur Lee took his new band, now consisting of Jay Donnellan (lead guitar), Frank Fayad (bass), and George Suranovich (drums); and began to gig on the west coast, reestablishing himself.
By now in our story, I think it is pretty clear that Arthur Lee was somewhat of a visionary. Seeing the handwriting on the wall so to speak, and making the appropriate moves ahead of time. Wanting to expand his audience and his appeal. This was the direction Lee was heading in, and brings us to his next album (a pivotal one), ‘Out Here’.
In late 1969, Arthur Lee signed a new record contract for Love on Blue Thumb Records. Love’s next album was a two record set, produced again by Lee, titled ‘Out Here’. The title, one can assume, meaning “out here in the real world”. Just like the previous Love album, the music was varied and superb. And it was here, this album, where you got a wide taste of the range of talent of Arthur Lee, the songwriter. With a song-by-song analysis, we have:
The album’s opener ‘I’ll Pray For You’, is a Bible thumping Gospel number about a man who is an obvious racist (a millionaire, but nevertheless…) and needs ‘The Gospel Truth’ to set him straight. Sung by Arthur, in what sounds suspiciously like an Elvis Presley voice, while guest pianist Jim Hobson tinkles the ivories in a truly wonderful and inspired manner; this song is precious.
‘Abolony’ is a Country and Western tune with a quick, funny and very witty play on words, about people being false with each other in a motel room (and knowing it!)
‘Signed D.C.’ is an extended and reworked version of the song from Love’s first album. This version could have been even longer because it is very good. Arthur singing his butt off and soloing on Harmonica like a demon. The band at their bombastic best behind him.
‘Listen To My Song’, a pretty acoustic number with haunting melodic whistling by Lee. Very influenced by the 60’s period Bee Gees, whom Arthur seems to have liked very much.
‘I’m Down’, a very good exercise in Rock songwriting by Lee, that would have made a perfect vehicle for the Vanilla Fudge or maybe even Jackie Lomax’ post-Apple solo career band, Heavy Jelly.
‘Stand Out’, a biting commentary about racial and social intolerance.
‘Discharged’, a funny but disturbing anti-Vietnam war song. Food for thought. And have you listened to your neighbor lately? Are you still laughing?
‘Doggone’, a very pretty Country Rock song, with Arthur reflecting about things he’s lost and things he’s gained, followed by an unexpected and very inventive, much better than average drum solo by George Suranovich.
‘I Still Wonder’. This song is quite a paradox, musically and lyrically, because it points to the fact that the close harmonies with acoustic guitars that Crosby Stills and Nash were using at the time, had previously been done by the original Love on Forever Changes (with orchestration no less). An interesting question is, in ‘I Still Wonder’, was Arthur Lee singing about the original Love and the aftermath of their dissolution?
‘Love Is More Than Words or Better Late Than Never’. Lee singing movingly about what was then the ideology of the 1960’s Peace Movement, and what followed was a wild extended jam; with guest guitarist Gary Rowles sitting in with Love and raising hell with some great psychedelic soloing.
‘Nice To Be’, a wonderful lounge song, perfect for a nightclub. Relaxing lyrics and pretty melody. Should have been lengthened, as there was plenty of material to work with here.
‘Car Lights On In The Day Time Blues’. A very funny Hillbilly sing along.
‘Run To The Top’. A really nice Pop song with a joyous ending.
‘Willow Willow’. A pretty Folk song with a shimmering acoustic guitar solo in the middle. The type of song a young student might sing to his girlfriend beneath the shade of a tree on a sunny afternoon.
‘Instra-mental’. A great Progressive Rock instrumental with some striking soloing on Organ by Arthur Lee. Besides playing guitar and drums, and being an exceptional Harpist, Lee was a very good keyboardist too; as he mentioned was his original spot when he was playing Rhythm and Blues with The L.A. Gs and The American Four.
‘You Are Something’. A cute attempt at Pop songwriting with a marvelous guitar solo by Jay Donnellan.
‘Gather Round’, the melody reminiscent of Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-changin’, is Arthur doing what he does best. A Folk-Rock song where he comments pointedly and often with sharpest clarity, on what he observes in society. However, in this case, the coda was too long. Over all though, quite an interesting album.
By 1970, Lee was back in the swing of things. Love went on tour in Europe and then did a national tour of the United States. While on a return trip to England, Lee met up with Jimi Hendrix again, in London. But just how all of this came about is very vague. (This of course also concerns whether Hendrix visited Morocco a second time in 1970. They had been hanging out together in L.A. during the Experience’s 1969 American Tour, but the rest of that story will have to be told by Arthur Lee when he publishes his autobiography; that he is currently working on now.) They recorded together, and one of the songs they produced was, ‘The Everlasting First’. (The melody and arrangement, somewhat reminiscent of ‘Dream’ from the album Four Sail.) Appropriately titled, ‘The Everlasting First’ was a very, very moving song about seeing good people who stand up and be counted, die. Among those mentioned in the song is Dr. King. The fact that it’s Hendrix and Lee, just makes the song that much more touching; and it has Hendrix playing his liquid and complex ideas in best of form. They had come a long way from being part of Curtis Mayfield’s progeny. This song was on Love’s next album, released on Blue Thumb Records, titled ‘False Start’. (During an interview in the Dec. 29th issue of the British weekly music paper Melody Maker, Arthur Lee mentioned that he recorded a whole album’s worth of songs with Jimi Hendrix in London in 1970. But to this date, they have never been released.) False Start, contains one mother of a live version of ‘Stand Out’, that was recorded at a British University concert, with Arthur spitting the words out with timely dead on emphasis; while guitarist Gary Rowles (who by now had joined the band, replacing Jay Donnellan) plays a gut crunching lead. There are two hysterical sing-alongs. One called ‘Flying’, concerning Housing Integration, Sit Ins etc., using ‘in’ and ‘out’ wordplay, and in the other, ‘Slick Dick’, one could visualize the ‘Richard’ character in the song as then President ‘Tricky Dickey’ Nixon. There was also ‘Anytime’, a very good Soul inflected ballad, about the then very popular feeling of being socially conscious, civic minded, generous and responsible. Finally, there was the deep Funk of ‘Feel Daddy Feel Good’, where Arthur really cuts loose on the vocals as the band gets down and dirty with a gutbucket twist. ‘False Start’ is a fascinating album, because it showed from the songs that Arthur Lee was very aware of what was going on in the world around him at that time.
Although Love continued to tour and build up a sizeable audience in Europe and maintain their popularity on the west coast of America, this was their last album for a good number of years. During the next two years, two greatest hits albums appeared. Both on Elektra. One in America and one in Britain. Both are worth having. The American version, which is called ‘Love Revisited’, is a must, because it has some of Love’s most beautiful ballads and Rock songs from all four Elektra albums in chronological order; plus half of the 1968 single ‘Your Mind And We Belong Together’; and liner notes by American Music Journalist, Ellen Sander. The British album, titled ‘Love, Elektra Masters’, contains some more great Love songs in chronological order, plus the complete collection of B-sides of singles that were never on any of their albums; and liner notes by British Music Journalist John Tobler. Oddly, some of the cuts from ‘Forever Changes’ are slightly longer on this record. (It's also interesting to note the differences of perception of the band Love, when comparing the American and British liner notes.) The band members in Love also changed again. Drummer George Suranovich went on to work with Eric Burdon, and lead guitarist Jay Donnellan had already formed a Country Rock band called ‘Morning’, with pianist Jim Hobson; who worked with Love on the ‘Out Here’ album. Donnellan later gave an interview about his days in Love, and about the new album by ‘Morning’; in the July 10th 1971 issue of the British music paper, Sounds.
In 1972, Arthur Lee moved on to A&M Records (Interestingly, co-owned by Herb Alpert) and produced one album, which turned out to be his first solo album, ‘Vindicator’. Somewhat different from his previous albums with Love, ‘Vindicator’ was not only a mixture of Hard Rock and Rhythm and Blues songs, this one also contained what could be termed as ‘demented hip musical satire’. ‘Demented’ and ‘satire’, being the key words here. But once again, Lee was not far off the mark. In a current field of Heavy Rock Music, that now proffered groups like ‘Led Zepplin’, ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘Alice Cooper’, ‘Funkadelic’, and ‘Frank Zappa’, Lee’s timing was perfect. The backing band for this album (their name ‘Band-Aid’, a sly metaphor for a ‘groupie’), was made up of musicians from the Buddy Miles Band, Love, and session musicians.
The album opened with ‘Sad Song’, Arthur Lee drawing on the Elmore James legacy of 1950’s Chicago Blues. Arthur had left the Jagger imitation behind and turned into quite an authentic Blues Shouter. The Rock songs ranged from average fare like ‘Everytime I Look Up I’m Down’ and ‘Busted Feet’, to very good Classic Love, ‘You Want Change For Your Re-run’, to one hell to pay Hard Rock number called, ‘Love Jumped Through My Window Last Night’; where Arthur really outdid himself. There was a smooth stylish Rhythm and Blues number, ‘He Said She Said’, a butt kicking R&B number, ‘Find Somebody’, and also ‘Everybody’s Gotta Live’; a very good Rhythm and Blues song with a very simple and direct message, that would have been even better if Arthur had continued singing it in his smooth singing style all the way through. And the song ‘He Knows A Lot Of Good Women’, reminiscent of the Country Rock period Byrds.
Then there were the pieces of satire, spread strategically throughout the album. ‘You Can Save Up To 50% But You’re Still A Long Ways From Home’, an odd piece of demented racial poetry (sung acapella), ‘Hamburger Breath Stinkfinger’, a wickedly funny and naughty little tale of a blind date; sure to have given the folks at ‘McDonald’s’, heart burn, cardiac arrest, or worse. And finally, ‘`Ol Morgue Mouth’, a priceless little curio, worthy of Cheech and Chong.
The album cover carried a pair of photos. One, of Arthur as a janitor (his hair very closely cropped!) from the Clean Sweep Janitor Co., with a broom in one hand, while with the other he was ‘slipping five’ with the Arthur in the other photograph; who was dressed as a Rock Star with a Little Richard type wig, carrying an interesting looking guitar (part Plexiglas) and wearing a boxer’s robe with the word ‘Marines’ on the back. Was this finally the merging of two worlds for Arthur, and was he returning home? Among the collection of photographs on the fold out inside record jacket, were photos of Arthur and current ‘Band-Aid’ members on one side, and on the other, a mixture of his childhood photos, current photos at home, and a very mysterious (at the time Vindicator was released) photograph of Arthur Lee and Jimi Hendrix laughing together, that looked like it was taken in 1969. (Since that time, we now know that this photograph was taken during the period mentioned earlier, when Lee and Hendrix hung out during the Experience’s final American tour. It will be interesting to see, when he publishes his autobiography, if Arthur Lee reveals anything new, concerning any jamming or recordings that may have been done during this time period in L.A. Until then, you can view another outtake from the same photo session and read about it and Arthur Lee by logging onto The Doug Thomas web site at: http://www.lekiwi.com/. (You can also access a wealth of articles and interviews on Arthur Lee and Love, by logging onto Ntlworld at: http://www.ntlworld.com/ , and typing 'Arthur Lee and Love in UK Magazine Articles and Interviews' in the Search Box; then after clicking search, go to the Zig Zag Archives. These are a series of very informative interviews conducted with Arthur Lee for Zig Zag magazine, during different points in his career during the 1970s. There is also a very rare interview with Love drummer (and later Hapsichordist), Alban 'Snoopy' Pfisterer: http://web.archive.org/web/20050421013102/birthdaybiff.co.uk/sandydenny/al/snoopy+in+love.htm )
Though an uneven album and not entirely successful, on Vindicator, Arthur had taken his first steps in realizing an original voice for himself; that would eventually pay off, as he matured into a different artist with a different style. And being the visionary that he was, seeing the handwriting on the wall again.
In 1973, Arthur Lee recorded a whole new album of songs for an independent record label (Buffalo Records) that never got off the ground. (That album remains unreleased to this day, though it has been said that a foreign record licensing deal is in the works. This release would be as important a missing link as the original Love’s unreleased 1968 album.) Meanwhile, he continued gigging with Love, using different musicians.
In 1974, two things happened. The first was the release of a very interesting turn of the century western named, ‘Thomasine and Bushrod’. Lee composed the title song and in it displayed a new, relaxed and smooth singing style. It was a lovely song and the movie was very well received. This was during the height of the Black Movie Business, and ‘Thomasine and Bushrod was one of the better films. The movie was made by actor and playwright Max Julien, who co-starred in such films as ‘Psych Out’ (with Jack Nicholson), ‘Uptight’ (with Frank Silvera), and ‘Getting Straight’ (with Elliot Gould), during the late 60’s; and co-starred in ‘Thomasine and Bushrod’ with actress Vonetta McGee. The second thing was that Arthur signed a new record contract with Robert Stigwood’s RSO Records’ label (which also included Eric Clapton on it’s roster) and recorded a new album, ‘Reel To Real’. To promote the new album, Arthur Lee and Love toured the United States with Eric Clapton in 1975, (The Nassau Coliseum concert receiving a nice review in The New York Times) and Lee gave an interview to Hit Parader magazine, that appeared in the March issue; where he discussed his career, the differences between audiences in Europe and America, and his current album. ‘Reel To Real’ turned out to be Arthur hitting it right on the nail again. For on it, he is returning to the Rhythm and Blues music he did before he heard the Byrds. On this album he had an entirely new band, with two exceptional guitarists. Melvan Whittington on lead and John Sterling on slide. (The latter had previously played with Eric Burdon.) On bass, Sherwood Akuna (a meaty Fatback bassist) and Joey Blocker on drums, providing an able pounding punchy backbeat. Among the guest musicians, Arthur had Buzzy Feiten on guitar and Bobby Lyle on keyboards (well known session men), and among the people he thanked for helping him with the album was Keith Moon of the Who. Arthur Lee was always able to find great new musicians to play with. And maybe this is his secret. Why he has been able to survive so long. Because like Miles Davis, he is always changing. Lee, who at this time had the clean shaven headed Isaac Hayes look and a Fu Manchu mustache (which looked surprisingly good on him), seems to have developed an interest in Eastern Religion and Vegetarianism; as evidenced by the photographs on the album jacket and inside record sleeve.
With the opening number, ‘Time Is Like A River’, Arthur hits us with something entirely outrageously new. A perfectly blended, smoky Rhythm and Blues sound. Horns, background chorus (with a molten groove) added to the band (a deep New Orleans Funk if you will, just hinted at contextually in Rock form in ‘Feel Daddy Feel Good’ on False Start.) And with each succeeding song, ‘Stop The Music’ (where Lee plays burning Harmonica and Melvan Whittington a stuttering guitar solo while John Sterling plays a lean threatening slide) the stop/start arrangement hanging you on the edge, ‘Who Are You’ (a really silky devil of a vocal) with guest guitarist Buzzy Feiten smoking furiously on guitar, ‘Good Old Fashion Dream’ (Arthur cooking and boiling with the background chorus); this is a startlingly different Arthur Lee. ‘Which Witch is Which’, a merging of acoustic and electric Blues, with Lee adding just a touch of Harmonica to a mix of backwards guitar (that Beatles/Hendrix influence) and John Sterling’s slide solo. ‘With A Little Energy’, another smoking R&B number with the added twist of a solo on Moog Synthesizer by second guest keyboardist, Gary Bell.
On side two Arthur revisits ‘Singing Cowboy’ from Four Sail. A more restrained and relaxed smooth vocal this time, with Melvan Whittington and John Sterling cutting two musical swathes across on guitars, behind his vocal. A very different take on the song, with Arthur having developed a completely new singing style (which he first attempted on Vindicator and perfected on the title song for the film ‘Tomasine and Bushrod’). Next is William Devaughn’s popular ‘Be Thankful For What You Got’. And Lee does one hell of a reading; as good as the original. This is Arthur Lee, very Black and very Funky. Besides using his own regular vocals and voicings on the album, he also uses occasional inflections of Sly Stone and Al Green; which are very good. The following song, ‘You Said You Would’, is a humorous Country Rock affair with Arthur singing the tale of the ‘woman who done him wrong’. Whittington and Sterling trading licks, and the song ending with an explosion worthy of ‘Seven and Seven Is’. Next, a remake of ‘Busted Feet’ from the Vindicator album, that is much better than the original. Whereas on Vindicator it was just an average Rock song, here, the song is shorter and the arrangement is much tighter and threatening. Gary Bell provides a great atmospheric background with Moog Synthesizer, as Melvan Whittington really cuts loose on guitar and Arthur abruptly cuts off the song; as he sings about not quite being able to let go of the past. The final song, ‘Everybody’s Gotta Live’ (also from Vindicator) is an acoustic reworking and a very poignant statement; as Lee leads the group of backup singers into the chorus, singing smoothly and finally doing justice to a very good song. An album worth having and cherishing.
Arthur Lee and Love continued to tour every year from 1976 onwards, gigging occasionally in America (mainly on the west coast and also the south) and in Europe (they were later to add the far east) where they continued to have a large following. And in 1980, Lee gave an interview in Creem magazine, discussing his past, the 1978 reunion with Bryan Maclean, and current projects.
In 1981 Arthur Lee released his second solo album titled, ‘Arthur Lee’, on Rhino Records. He produced an album of varied styles and beautiful melodies. Especially the pretty ‘I Do Wonder’ (reminiscent of Orange Skies), the gorgeous ‘Just Us’ (composed by a songwriter named Ron Buford) and the kissable ‘Do You Know The Secret’ (Arthur sings this song with co-composer Otis Walker). Lee blows some mean Harmonica on a very good extended rocking Blues number called ‘Down Street’; where he also squeezes and shakes every ounce of feeling out of the vocals. Quite a performance. Here, he uses the same basic unit he had on ‘Reel To Real’. Melvan Whittington and John Sterling on guitars, Sherwood Akuna on bass, and Joey Blocker on drums. Arthur’s new arrangement of ‘Seven and Seven Is’ (which he re-made for this album) was very expertly done. And if you couldn’t get all of the lyrics before, you could hear them all now with crystal clarity; and an even sharper edge to them. (Interestingly, Alice Cooper and his band, did a wild performance of Love’s 1966 version of ‘Seven and Seven Is’, on the long ago defunct, revamped Tom Snyder talk show on NBC channel 4 in New York; sometime in the early 80’s). ‘Stay Away From Evil’, an R&B song with a very catchy boogie rhythm, is an exceptional composition by Lee. It would make a wonderful theme song for a movie. On some of the songs there is the occasional addition of George Suranovich on drums. And there is one very notable ‘new’ addition. Velvert Turner on guitar. Turner’s licks on Lee’s song ‘Bend Down’ are frighteningly good. (Turner actually took guitar lessons from Jimi Hendrix at one time, and like Randy California, learned his lessons well). Arthur had obviously been listening to and influenced by a lot of Reggae, as evidenced by his compositions ‘One and One’ and the good-naturedly sounding but deadly serious ‘Mr. Lee’. Neil Williams on guitar and Carlos Carraby on drums, add a very tasteful and authentic Reggae sound. And there is a rousing finale with Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Many Rivers To Cross’, with Lee at the piano, playing his heart out. What an album! Y`know something? ARTHUR LEE IS THE BEST KEPT SECRET I KNOW OF IN THE WORLD TODAY! I consider him to be a national treasure.
Now, this brings us to the live material.
In 1982, two live albums of Love in concert were released. One in America and one in Germany. Interestingly, both were recorded in the United States. The first album, simply titled ‘Love’, on MCA Records, has studio recordings on one side and concert recordings on the other. The studio recordings were some of the cuts from Love’s 1969 double album ‘Out Here’. The live recordings were from Love’s Fillmore East concert in New York in February of 1970; and had never been released before.
The first song, ‘Stand Out’, begins with Arthur straightening out a heckler in the audience. And from that point on, Love take total command of the stage. They do a powerful version of ‘Stand Out’ that has the effect of being grabbed by your shirt collars and thrown up against a wall. One can tell from the way the ensemble is working, that the musicians were totally in tune with each other. The next song is a curiosity called ‘Product Of The Times’. It is a curiosity because it has never appeared on a Love album before. It sounds as if this must have been a work in progress, because it is very loose; but the words are interesting (“Well if you want to be free, don’t look at me, if you are just a product of the times”), and I’m sure must have given the Fillmore audience something to think about. Following this is an early version of ‘Keep On Shining’ (a song that would later appear on the album False Start) with everyone getting in some nice licks. The final song is an extended version of ‘Singing Cowboy’ from the Four Sail album. It is quite a performance, where during the middle section Arthur improvises on the lyrics (the message being ‘hope for tomorrow’), while Jay Donnellan follows him with exceptional soloing on guitar. The interplay between the band members is striking. Very tight but fluid. The most interesting thing about Arthur Lee the guitarist, is that whenever he plays an electric guitar, he has his own distinctive definable sound, like Hendrix had a sound that is immediately identifiable as his. The extraordinary thing about Lee’s phrasing and feel on guitar, is that it is reminiscent of John Coltrane on Soprano and Tenor Saxophone. Jay Donnellan is one hell of a lead guitarist and does some incredible fills. He knows when to play and carefully measures how much of his swirling frenzy to release. Frank Fayad does some clockwork timekeeping on bass and George Suranovich is all over the place on drums. Constant explosions of rhythm. My only disappointment is that the live recordings did not include ‘August’. ‘Arthurly’, (as he was known at that point) stated in his 1970 Press Book from Blue Thumb Records, that one day he thought about gathering up some of the musicians he had previously worked with, and making an album called, ‘Love’. ‘Love Live’ is the closest thing to a realization of that dream as possible.
‘Love Live’, released on Line Records in Germany, is a reunion concert that was recorded at the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles in the Autumn of 1978. Arthur Lee apparently had always remained friends with Bryan Maclean from the original Love, and along with John Sterling on guitar, Kim Kesterson on bass, and George Suranovich on drums (all from previous Love incarnations), formed the band at this reunion concert. From the first ominous chords of ‘My Little Red Book’, it is sheer pandemonium. The audience is ecstatic and the band plays with driving force. Next is ‘Orange Skies’. YES. Orange Skies is every bit as beautiful as you always thought it was. Arthur Lee sings a heart-rending version of it, that brings back the memory of that carefree day in the mid 60’s you’ll always remember. Now the special surprise. Bryan Maclean sings ‘Old Man’ from the Forever Changes album. And you are there. Listening. Bryan and Arthur sing a touching duet together during the second half of the song. Kim Kesterson exhibits a rich, deep, tasteful tone on bass. Following this is a deliberately loose goodtime version of ‘Keep On Shining’. And in the middle of the song Arthur Lee starts preaching, and the audience eats it up; after which Arthur and Bryan sing another duet together. John Sterling does a stinging slide guitar solo that builds the song up to a nice climax. The Love crowd at the Whisky is going crazy.
Side two starts with a hell to pay version of ‘7 and 7 Is’ off of the Da Capo album. George Suranovich burns across his drum kit. At the end of the song, Arthur Lee the consummate showman, sings a smooth rap with deep Soul inflections; and has the audience eating out of his hand again. He abruptly leads the band into a gutbucket version of ‘Signed D.C.’ off of Love’s first album, during which he does two wrenching Harmonica solos. Arthur leaves the audience hanging on the edge of hysteria. Then the band hits them with a strong boogie version of ‘Good Times’ from the Four Sail album, that just doesn’t let go. By this time I am exhausted. Love Live is an experience. But it’s not over yet. The final song is ‘Singing Cowboy’, with John Sterling doing a fine job on the instrumental breaks. Arthur Lee does a relaxed loving job on the lyrics. Y`know, that’s what feeling you’re left with, as the final song fades out. A very loving relaxed feeling. That’s Love Live.
POSTSCRIPT
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Recently, I heard a bootleg recording named, ‘Black Beauty’, that is a collection of rare recordings by Arthur Lee. The title song, purportedly was the title composition of Arthur’s unreleased album for Buffalo Records in 1973, Black Beauty. Black Beauty is a stone Mack Daddy womanizer’s song; and it is very good. Also included on this record are songs by The American Four, ‘Luci Baines’ (mentioned earlier) and ‘It’s the Marlin’ (a dance tune with Arthur putting on his mid-sixties Jagger imitation). This is followed by another dance tune named ‘The Jerk’ (sound familiar?) that Arthur wrote for a group named ‘Ronnie and the Pomona Casuals’. (Frank Zappa, if I remember correctly, was a member of that band at one time, pre-Mothers; as well as having sat in with ‘The Grass Roots’, before Arthur changed their name to ‘Love’. ‘My Diary’ is also on this record. And it is obvious that Arthur loved Curtis Mayfield and was steeped in R&B. His production was an incredible recording and Hendrix did a great job. I can see why it was a local hit in L.A. Among the other songs on the record, is Lee’s cover of Bluesman Gus Cannon’s song ‘Walk Right In’; which was made famous during the 1920s by ‘Cannons Jug Stompers’. (This is aside from his solo work, like ‘Po boy long ways from home’ under the pseudonym of slide banjoist ‘Banjo Joe’ with Blues guitarist Blind Blake. Gus Cannon was also from Tennessee, so it’s likely that Arthur came in contact with him). On another song, ‘Beep Beep’, Arthur really captures a glorious Reggae recording. There is an acoustic solo version of ‘Give Me A Little Energy’, a prototype of ‘With A Little Energy’ from Reel to Real; with Arthur singing and playing rhythmically and forcefully, powerfully exhibiting what an incredible solo performer he is. His integral occasional yells of “Right On!” are truly striking. There is a live version of ‘Product Of The Times’, with what must be Gary Rowles on guitar; so this concert recording must be from the very early 1970s, and is much tighter than the version on the MCA album ‘Love’. ‘Skid, not really a friend’, is a very observant commentary on street life. Finally, there is Arthur’s recording of ‘Fine Feathered Fish’ with the group Baby Lemonade. Originally composed by him for 60s group ‘The Sons Of Adam’, whose drummer Michael Stuart, became an integral part of the original Love. This version (which has two takes on the record, back to back) with Baby Lemonade (an interracial group by the way – like the original Love?) is very good; and Arthur’s lyrics are fascinating, and similar to the cryptic-psychedelic words to ‘Seven and Seven Is’.
Last summer of 2003, Arthur Lee went on tour. The concert he performed with Baby Lemonade and an orchestra, at the House of Blues in West Hollywood in Los Angeles California on August 19th, featured him covering songs spanning Love’s career (including performing all of the songs from Forever Changes). That night, John Echols and Don Conka (the original lead guitarist and drummer in The Grass Roots and Love), sat in (Bryan Maclean had passed away on Dec. 25th, 1998) with Arthur blowing Harmonica on the final song; Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Smokestack Lightnin’! You can read a review of the concert plus some photographs taken that night, by logging onto: http://love.torbenskott.dk/ ; one of a couple of websites that offer additional information on Love. The others are:

(1). http://www.thelovesociety.com/
(2). http://www.soul-patrol.com/ - A very informative and intellectually stimulating website. Check out their database. Of particular interest is the Lester Chambers interview: http://www.soul-patrol.com/funk/chambers.htm
(3). http://www.pegasuscarousel.com/ - Michael Stuart's website
(4). http://www.thefreedomman.com/ - This site has a series of fascinating recollections by John Echols, on his days in the band Love. His first hand account, three part story 'How The Grass Roots Became Love', makes very informative (and at times disturbing) reading.
(5). http://www.jimihendrix.com/
(6). http://www.univibes.com/
(7). http://www.lekiwi.com/
(8). http://www.chromeoxide.com/ - A good site for general historical documentation of Love. Click enter, then click Site Map and scroll down to Love.
(9). http://www.doorshistory.com/ - An interactive site with plenty of historical information on how the Doors became labelmates at Elektra Records with Love.
(10). http://www.rockmine.com/Archive/Library/Mojo.html - A historical archive for the Mojo Navigator, started in 1966 by the late Greg Shaw. Quite remarkable.
(11). http://alrunen.melipona.org/ - This is a really interesting Scandinavian website, with performance coverage of Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Cream, Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, Scandinavian groups, and 60's counterculture ephemeria.
(12). http://www.chickenonaunicycle.com/Whisky-A-Go-Go%20History.htm - This is a very detailed and excellent performance list of artists (including Love), that played the Whisky-A-Go-Go from Jan. 1966 through Dec. 1969. A particularly wonderful website, full of information.
(13). http://poisgoneforever.blogspot.com/ - A webpage devoted to Arthur Lee. Beautifully constructed, it is possibly the best on the Worldwide Web.

FRIDAY AUGUST 4th, 2006
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This evening I was deeply saddened to read over the Internet, that Arthur Lee passed on. I admired him greatly, like a lot of other people. He had leukemia. And last month, many friends put on some benefit concerts here in New York, and in Los Angeles; to raise money for his hospital and treatment bills. People like John Echols and Michael Stuart (members of the original Love), Robert Plant (former vocalist of Led Zeppelin, and dating back to the 60s, always a very deep, open and vocal admirer of Arthur Lee and Love), Willie Chambers (former guitarist and vocalist with the Chambers Brothers, who was an old friend from back when the Chambers Brothers and Love worked the same Whiskey-A-Go-Go/Fillmore West concert circuit), Baby Lemonade (the great band that accompanied Arthur on his world tours), and many more. The bright spot in all of this, is that Arthur did perform again and toured the world a couple of times since 2002; and performed his greatest songs, including Forever Changes, in all it's majesty. The DVD, 'The Forever Changes Concert', is well worth searching for. Hopefully, Arthur's autobiography will eventually be published. I will miss him.

Peace,
Antonio

7 comments:

tgnyst-google said...

That was a very informative and moving tribute to Arthur Lee. I didn't know about the band called "Love" (or very much about Arthur Lee) but now I'm interested in checking it out. Thanks!

poisgone said...

i have a web page devoted to Arthur Lee at
http://poisgoneforever.blogspot.com/

Jay Donnellan said...

Thank you for a very good piece of informed work here. Arthur deserves it. A couple of small details that nobody could possibly know without being there were slightly altered, but only minor considering the accuracy of the entire piece. Probably the best I've run across. Thanks for sharing. Maybe a few more people will learn and enjoy who Arthur Lee was..

poisgone said...

WOW! humbled greatly by your praise.

poisgone said...

Reading the obituary for Oscar Peterson this morning in yesterdays LA Times ( a beautifully written and informative obit.), brought to mind what a magnificent
job you would have done writing Arthur's.

soundboutique said...

Very informative! Thanks very much for this labor of Love as I can easily see how much this man meant to you...same here!

cheers, and keep up the great work!

bigangrydyke said...

Brilliant that, really enjoyed reading it as i sit here and watch the Forever Changes DVD!

I also was greatly saddened when i heard about him passing, especially as i was fortunate to see them live twice - pretty good going for an Englishman!

Excellent site and a thoroughly enjoyable read