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Arthur Lee (March 7, 1945 – August 3, 2006) was the frontman, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist of the Los Angelesmarker rock band Love, best known for the critically acclaimed 1967 album, Forever Changes.

Early years

Lee was born Arthur Taylor in Memphis, Tennesseemarker, the son of Chester Taylor, a jazz cornet player and Agnes Taylor, a school teacher. He and his mother moved to Los Angelesmarker when he was five. In 1953 his mother married Clinton Lee, who adopted Arthur and legally changed his name to Arthur Taylor Lee.

Arthur would spend his childhood and teenage years in the now historic West-Adams District of Los Angeles. He attended Dorsey High School, where he excelled in basketball. He even held the record for most points scored in a single game. During his high school years he teamed up with family friend Johnny Echols (also originally from Tennessee) and formed various musical groups.


His first known recording is from 1963. The Ninth Wave was released by his first band, the instrumental outfit called The LAGs, a Booker T & The MG's type of unit which included Johnny Echols (future co-founder, guitarist and vocalist of Love), Lee (organ), Allan Talbert (saxophone) and Roland Davis (drums).

As a songwriter, Lee composed the surf songs "White Caps" and "Ski Surfin' Sanctuary". "My Diary" is the first Lee composition that came near to being a hit. It was written for the R&B singer Rosa Lee Brooks, who performed and recorded it. This recording included Jimi Hendrix on electric guitar. Lee had seen Hendrix backing up the Isley Brothers. The significance of "My Diary" is that it is considered by many to be the first known studio recording of Jimi Hendrix in any capacity.

Lee wrote "I've Been Tryin'" for Little Ray. "Luci Baines", a song about President Lyndon Johnson's daughter, was performed and recorded with Lee's new band, The American Four. He composed "Everybody Jerk" and "Slow Jerk" for Ronnie And The Pomona Casuals, a band that put out an LP on the Donna label featuring some vocals by Lee.

These early recordings are very rare but have been collected on a 1997 bootleg CD. The American Four however have since been reissued as a 45 and are also available now on iTunes.


Lee said when he first heard The Byrds, he felt vindicated since he'd already been writing music that had a similar folk rock sound. In 1965, The Grass Roots, his folk rock unit eventually changed their name to Love because there was already a signed act called The Grass Roots. Several other names were considered, including Bryan MacLean's choice of Summer's Children as well as other such as The Asylum Choir, Dr Strangelove and Poetic Justice and The Love. The name Love was chosen after a club audience voted it as the best choice. According to Barney Hoskyns' 2001 book Arthur Lee: Alone Again Or, Manson Family member and sometime Grass Roots guitarist Bobby Beausoleil claimed that Arthur had named the band Love in honor of one of Beausoleil's nicknames, Cupid.

Lee's early appearances were at clubs in Hollywoodmarker. He played them all, including the Brave New World, Bido Lito's and the Sea Witch. At Bido Lito's, a tiny hole-in-the-wall club located on a cul-de-sac known as Cosmo's Alley, Lee first showed he had superstar potential. The Bido Lito's audience was sometimes dotted by celebrities, including actor Sal Mineo, and rock stars Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, who would go on to collaborate with Lee on future recording projects. Lee then got the opportunity to play the larger Whisky a Go-Gomarker on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip, after which Love were given a recording contract by Elektra Records.

Love's music has been described as a mixture of folk-rock, psychedelic rock, baroque pop, Spanish-tinged pop, R&B, garage rock, and even protopunk. Though Lee's vocals have garnered some comparisons to Johnny Mathis, his lyrics often dwell on matters dark and vexing, but often with a wry humor. The group's cover of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition "My Little Red Book" (first recorded by Manfred Mann for the soundtrack of What's New, Pussycat?) received a thumbs-down from Bacharach: Love had altered the former Marlene Dietrich bandleader's chord changes. Nonetheless, the record was a Southern California hit and won Lee and Love a spot on American Bandstand.

Love released three albums with core members Lee, Echols (lead guitar, vocals), Bryan MacLean (guitar, vocals) and Ken Forssi (bass). The drum chair revolved between Alban "Snoopy" Pfisterer (Love, "Seven & Seven Is") and Michael Stuart (Da Capo excepting "Seven & Seven Is", Forever Changes). However, it has been reported that Pfisterer found the demanding drum parts on "Seven & Seven Is" so exhausting that he and Arthur alternated takes, with Lee himself drumming on every other take. On Da Capo, Tjay Cantrelli was added on saxophone and flute while Pfisterer was moved to organ and harpsichord. Both were out of the group by the time Forever Changes was recorded.

Love (1966) included their cover of "My Little Red Book". Side two of Da Capo (1967) featured just one song — "Revelation". The first side, however, contained six individual songs, including their only single to achieve any success in the Billboard Top 40 chart: "7&7 Is". Forever Changes (1967) followed, the album a centerpiece of the group's psychedelic-tinged sound, bolstered by David Angel's arrangements.

Forever Changes is regarded by critics and fans alike as Love's finest recording, and one of the best records of the '60s. Despite this acclaim, the LP sold poorly in its time, although it reached the top 30 in the UKmarker. Nonetheless, its cult status grew.

After Forever Changes, the band managed to record one more non-album single ("Your Mind and We Belong Together" b/w "Laughing Stock") which was released in June 1968 and failed to chart. Love then dissolved due to drug and money issues, only to have Lee revive the group name shortly thereafter. The new Love featured a lineup consisting of Arthur himself on vocals and guitar, Jay Donnellan on guitar, Frank Fayad on bass, and George Suranovich on drums despite a few tracks featuring The Crazy World of Arthur Brown drummer Drachen Theaker on the kit. Arthur chose to sign a record deal with Bob Krasnow's Blue Thumb label during this time. However Lee did not mention to Krasnow that he was technically still signed to Elektra records. Arthur had wanted out of his Elektra deal since 1966 (the year the self titled debut was released). Elektra founder [[Jac Holzman did not want to let Lee out of his contract because he admired his talents so much, but he also did not want to keep an artist who did not want to be kept, so a deal was worked out between Jac Holzman and Bob Krasnow. This deal would allow Arthur to record for Blue Thumb as long as Holzman gets to pick the ten songs he likes to fulfill the Elektra contract of a fourth album. That album would become "Four Sail". Arthur originally wanted to call it "For Sale" but being wordsmith that he was, chose the more clever "Four Sail". A mere three months after the release of "Four Sail" , Blue Thumb records would release their Love album titled "Out Here".

The album titled "Out Here" would feature essentially the same line up as "Four Sail" sans guitarist Jay Donnellan who would later be replaced with Gary Rowles. Lee felt that Donnellan was getting a little too egotistical for his tastes. This new lineup consisted of musicians who were not fans of "Forever Changes" thusly a harder edged, almost acid rock/country rock sound was to be the new direction of Love. During the initial sessions for "Four Sail/Out Here" Bob Krasnow approached Arthur Lee about the possibility of rounding up the original members of Love. Krasnow felt there was some magic missing with the new line up. Lee obliged him, and started rehearsing and even recording some with original members Johnny Echols, Michael Stuart, and Ken Forssi. Bryan MacLean had refused to work with Arthur. Heroin proved to be too dominant in the lives of guitarist Johnny Echols and Ken Forssi. Both men were constantly pawning off the rented equipment for drug money and were eventually let go yet again. Love would also tour both "Four Sail" and "Out Here" for what would become their first ever trip to Europe where they were always more popular. The irony of this situation is that Arthur famously paid for the tour out of his own pocket, and the version of Love that Europe was getting was not the famed incarnation responsible for the first three albums. This Love however would go on to do a nationally televised performance on Dutch television and would also feature promotional videos for older songs from the Elektra years. Out Here managed to chart at #29 in the UK in May 1970.

The next album to appear from Love would be titled "False Start" and would also be a part of the Blue Thumb label. This album continues on with the heavier sonic direction of acid rock, while featuring more elements of classic R&B. One new member was added to this incarnation of Love, a vocalist/guitarist named Nooney Rickett. The most notable aspect of this album remains the fact that the opening track (titled The Everlasting First") features Jimi Hendrix]] on guitar. Apparently Arthur ran into Jimi]] while in England, and they decided to record on Bob Krasnow's dime. For years there would be rumors that Arthur and Jimi recorded an entire record together but the truth surfaced in 2009 when an acetate from Blue Thumb]] made rounds and it was revealed that there was only a long jam session (titled Jam on the actual acetate, to accompany "The Everlasting First" and an early version of "Easy Rider"). Legend has it that Arthur overheard Bob Krasnow telling someone that if the "False Start" album did not crack the top ten he was going to release the band from its contract. Also according to legend, Arthur made Krasnow give him that in writing. The album would not even grace the top 200 on the billboard charts. Not even the inclusion of Jimi Hendrix's last recording would save this album. Arthur would break up this version of Love a mere two months after their tour was over.

The post "Forever Changes" albums were never really well received by fans and critics alike. The sound had changed, and Arthur was being accused of trying to imitate Jimi Hendrix, especially after his death.

Solo career

In July 1972, Lee released his first solo album, Vindicator, on A&M Records, featuring a new group of musicians also playing as the band Love. At one point in time they would use the name Bandaid, a name originally suggested by Jimi Hendrix for a briefly considered lineup of himself, Lee, and Steve Winwood. This album failed to chart. Lee recorded a second solo album in 1973 entitled Black Beauty for Buffalo Records, but the label folded before the album was released.

Lee's next move was to credit the backing group for Black Beauty as a new Love for Reel to Real, which was released on RSO Records in December 1974. Once again, the album went nearly unnoticed.

A new Lee solo album — called just Arthur Lee — appeared on Rhino Records in 1981, featuring covers of The Bobbettes' "Mr Lee" and Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross".

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, there were various attempts to reunite the original Love lineup. One such show from 1978 featuring Lee and Bryan MacLean was released as a live album entitled Love Live on Rhino Records in 1982. Also in 1982, MCA released Studio/Live, which was a collection of tracks from the early 1970s incarnation of Love.

The 1980s were a mostly fallow period for Lee. According to him: "I was gone for a decade. I went back to my old neighborhood to take care of my father, who was dying of cancer. I was tired of signing autographs. I was tired of being BS'd out of my money...I just got tired."

Lee didn't re-emerge until 1992, with a new album entitled Arthur Lee & Love - Five String Serenade on the French New Rose label. Lee also played a few gigs around this time with Mick and John Head of legendary Liverpoolmarker bands Shack and The Pale Fountains, in Liverpool and Francemarker.

In 1993 he played shows in New Yorkmarker and Englandmarker. The following year he released a 45rpm single — "Girl on Fire", backed with "Midnight Sun" — on Distortions Records. He began to tour regularly with a backup band comprising former members of Das Damen, and LA group Baby Lemonade.

In 1995, Rhino Records released the compilation Love Story, a two-disc set with extensive liner notes which chronicled the period 1966-1972, and reignited interest in the band. In fact, the original Love planned to reform and tour in promotion of the compilation, but Arthur's legal troubles got in the way.


In the autumn of 1996, Arthur Lee was sentenced to 12 years for illegal possession of a firearm. Lee was convicted of negligent discharge of a firearm. California's three strikes law meant Lee was forced to serve a prison term, having previously been convicted on "a couple of assault and drug charges" in the 1980s. While in prison Lee refused visitors and interviews. Former bandmates Bryan MacLean and Ken Forssi both died while Lee was incarcerated, ending any speculation as to a full-fledged Love reunion.

One bright spot for Lee was the inclusion of two Love tracks, "My Little Red Book" (from Love) and "Always See Your Face" (from Four Sail), on the soundtrack of John Cusack's adaptation of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity. (Lee's songs have been heard in other films as well, notably "7 & 7 Is" in 1990's Point Break).

On December 12, 2001, Lee was released from prison, having served 5 1/2 years of his original sentence. A federal appeals court in California reversed the charge of negligent discharge of a firearm, as it found that the prosecutor at Lee's trial was guilty of misconduct. After Lee was freed, he put together a new incarnation of Love and planned a Forever Changes 35th Anniversary Tour, to kick off at the Royal Festival Hallmarker in London.

Final years

In 2002, Arthur Lee began touring in earnest under the name "Love with Arthur Lee". This new phase of his career met with great success, and he performed to enthusiastic audiences and critical acclaim throughout Europe, North America and Australia. Arthur Lee and The Love band (aka) Baby Lemonade, who first performed with Lee in May 1993 at Raji's, began performing the Forever Changes album in its entirety, often with a string and horn section. A live CD and DVD of this material was released in 2003.

Johnny Echols joined the new group for a special Forever Changes 35th Anniversary Tour performance at Royce Hall, UCLA, in the spring of 2003. Lee and the band continued to tour throughout 2003 and 2004, including many concerts in and around hometown Los Angeles, notably a show at the outdoor Sunset Junction festival and a headlining date with The Zombies. Echols occasionally joined Lee and the group on the continuing and final tours of 2004 to 2005.

Because of Arthur Lee's illness, the details of which were not known by the band at the time, he could not participate in the final tour in July 2005. Since no one knew of his illness, Arthur's decision to forgo the final tour was met with angry, confused reactions. The remaining members of the band, along with Echols, continued to perform at the venues of the last tour (July 2005) without Lee, under the name The Love Band.

At the end of September 2005 Lee moved to Memphis, Tennesseemarker, where he planned to continue to make music and continue the name Love. Joining him was to be drummer Greg Roberson (Reigning Sound, Her Majesty's Buzz, Compulsive Gamblers) to put together a new lineup in Memphis, which was to include Adam Woodard, Alex Greene (The Reigning Sound, Big Ass Truck), Jack "Oblivian" Yarber, Alicja Trout, and Johnny Echols from the original Love line-up. Ultimately Arthur's ill health prevented this from happening.

In April 2006 it was publicly announced that Lee was being treated for acute myeloid leukemia. A tribute fund was set up shortly after the announcement, with a series of benefit concerts to be performed to help pay medical bills. The most notable of these concerts was produced by Steve Weitzman of SW Productions at New York's Beacon Theater on June 23, 2006, and featured Robert Plant, Ian Hunter, Ryan Adams, Nils Lofgren, Yo La Tengo, Garland Jeffreys, Johnny Echols (Love's original lead guitarist) and Flashy Python & The Body Snatchers (featuring Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah). Robert Plant, backed by Ian Hunter's band performed 12 songs, including five Led Zeppelin songs and five recorded by Love in the 60s ("Seven And Seven Is", "A House Is Not A Motel", "Bummer In The Summer", "Old Man" and "Hey Joe").

Lee underwent several months of aggressive treatment, which included three bouts of chemotherapy, followed by a stem cell transplant on May 25, 2006 using stem cells from an umbilical cord blood donor; Lee was the first adult patient in Tennessee to receive this treatment. His condition worsened, however, and Lee died on August 3, 2006, at Methodist University Hospital in Memphismarker, with his wife Diane at his side.


Since Lee's passing, a number of Arthur Lee websites have appeared online. Moreover, Lee was memorialized by both fans and friends. The most notable of these memorials was written by Stuart Goldman , who had known and written about Lee ever since his early days on the Sunset Strip.

In Lee's absence, many current artists such as, Golden Animals, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Dears, Siddhartha, Na mes and Fa ces, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Apollo Heights and Yo La Tengo cite his music as a major influence.

Robyn Hitchcock's 1993 song "The Wreck of the Arthur Lee" was written as a tribute to the singer.


With Love

Solo albums

  • Vindicator (1972)
  • Black Beauty (1973 unreleased)
  • Arthur Lee EP (1977)
  • Arthur Lee (1981)

Other collaborations

  • Arthur Lee Live in Liverpool with Shack (Viper Records 2000)


External links

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