A Rockapaedia Obituary
Arthur Lee died aged sixty-one on 3rd August 2006 from the complications of Leukemia in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A. Arthur Lee underwent several months of treatment for leukemia, including chemotherapy and an experimental stem cell transplant using stem cells from an umbilical cord blood donor but his condition continued to worsen.
In April 2006 it was publicly announced that Arthur 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 23rd June 2006 and featured Robert Plant, Ian Hunter, Ryan Adams, Nils Lofgren, Yo La Tengo, Garland Jeffreys, Johnny Echols..In April 2006 it was publicly announced that Arthur 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. Due to 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. The remaining members of the band, along with Echols, continued to perform at the venues of the last tour without Arthur Lee, under the name The Love Band. At the end of September 2005, Arthur Lee moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he planned to continue to make music using the name Love. Joining him was to be drummer Greg Roberson to put together a new lineup in Memphis, which was to include Adam Woodard, Alex Greene, Jack "Oblivian" Yarber, Alicja Trout, and Johnny Echols from the original Love line-up. Unfortunately Arthur's ill health prevented this from happening.
Arthur Lee was born Arthur Porter Taylor in Memphis, Tennessee, on 7th March 1945. As an only child, Arthur Lee was known by the nickname "Po", short for Porter, and was looked after by additional family members so his mother could proceed her teaching career. With his father being his first connection with a musician, Arthur Lee was fascinated by music at young age. He would sing and hum along to blues musicians such as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters on the radio. At the age of four, Arthur Lee made his debut on the stage at a Baptist church, reciting a small poem about a red telephone.
In the early 1950s, his parents separated. Arthur Lee only remembered seeing his father three times during his entire life. Subsequently, Arthur Lee and his mother packed their things and took a train to California, while his father was at work. Arthur Lee and his mother resided in Los Angeles permanently in 1952. In 1953, their divorce was granted and his mother married Clinton Arthur Lee, a successful construction worker in 1955. Arthur Lee was formally adopted by Clinton Arthur Lee in 1960, legally acquiring his surname, after filing for an adoption notice in 1958. His mother was able to resume her teaching career, enabling the family to buy a new home in the West Adams area of South Central Los Angeles. The neighborhood was also home to Johnny Echols, who attended the same schools as Arthur Lee and would later be the lead guitarist for Love.
Arthur Lee attended Sixth Avenue Elementary School and excelled in athletics but was behind academically. Being known as "the toughest kid in the neighborhood", Arthur Lee was pressured into succeeding in school by his great aunt, a former school principal, but showed interest in sports, music, reading, and animals. Arthur Lee later attended Mount Vernon Junior High, where his interest in music would soon outweigh his focus on sports.
Arthur Lee's first musical instrument was the accordion, which he took lessons in from a teacher. He adapted to reading music and developed a good ear and natural musical intelligence. While he was never formally taught about musical theory and composition, he was able to mimic musicians from records and compose his own songs. Eventually, he persuaded his parents to buy him an organ and harmonica. Graduating from Susan Miller Dorsey High School, Arthur Lee’s musical ambitions found opportunities between his local community and classmates. As opposed to attending a college under a sports scholarship, he strived for a musical career. His plan of forming a band was under the influence of Johnny Echols, after seeing him perform "Johnny B. Goode" with a five-piece band at a school assembly.
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, the future co-founder, guitarist, and vocalist of Love, Arthur Lee (organ), Allan Talbert (saxophone), and Roland Davis (drums).
As a songwriter, Arthur Lee composed the surf songs "White Caps" and "Ski Surfin' Sanctuary". "My Diary" is the first Arthur Lee composition that came near to being a hit. It was written when Arthur was a teenager, about his teenage sweetheart Anita Billings. Later it was the R&B singer Rosa Lee Brooks who performed and recorded it for Revis Records. This recording included Jimi Hendrix on electric guitar. In a 2005 interview, Arthur Lee stated that he was looking for a guitarist with a Curtis Mayfield-like feel, and Hendrix was recommended for the session by label owner Billy Revis.
Arthur Lee wrote "I've Been Tryin'" for Little Ray. "Luci Baines", a song about President Lyndon Johnson's daughter, was performed and recorded with Arthur 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 Arthur 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 45rpm and are also available now on iTunes.
Arthur 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, 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 others, such as the Asylum Choir, Dr Strangelove, Poetic Justice, and the Love. The name Love was chosen after a club audience voted it 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.
Arthur Lee's early appearances were at clubs in Hollywood, including the Brave New World; Hullabaloo; 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, Arthur Lee first showed his potential for excellence. The Bido Lito's audience was sometimes dotted with celebrities, including actor Sal Mineo, and rock stars Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix, who would go on to collaborate with Arthur Lee on future recording projects. Arthur Lee then got the opportunity to play the larger Whisky a Go-Go on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip, after which Love received a recording contract by Elektra Records. Love received a lot of air play in Los Angeles, and performed several times in 1967 at the Cheetah nightclub in Venice, CA..
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. Arthur Lee has been regarded as "the first punk rocker" but wasn't flattered by the phrase as he thought the term punk meant "being somebody's bitch or something like that." Though Arthur 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 song's chord changes. Nonetheless the record was a Southern California hit and won Arthur Lee and Love a spot on American Bandstand.
Love, their 1966 album, included their cover of "My Little Red Book". "Emotion", an instrumental track from the album, is used in the opening credits of the 1969 movie Medium Cool. Side two of Da Capo featured just one song, "Revelation". The first side contained six individual songs, including their only single to achieve any success in the Billboard Top 40 chart: "7 and 7 Is". Forever Changes in 1967 followed, the album a centerpiece of the group's psychedelic-tinged sound, bolstered by David Angel's arrangements.
Love released three albums with core members Arthur Lee, Johnny Echols (lead guitar, vocals), Bryan MacLean (guitar, vocals), and Ken Forssi (bass). The drum chair revolved between Alban "Snoopy" Pfisterer (Love, "7 and 7 Is") and Michael Stuart (all tracks on Da Capo except "7 and 7 Is", Forever Changes). Pfisterer reportedly found the demanding drum parts on "7 and 7 Is" so exhausting that he and Arthur Lee alternated takes. Da Capo also included Tjay Cantrelli, who was added on saxophone and flute while Pfisterer was moved to organ and harpsichord.
Forever Changes is regarded by critics and fans alike as Love's finest recording, and one of the best rock records of not just the 1960s but of all time. Despite this acclaim, the LP sold moderately in its time, reaching number 154 on the Top 200 albums, and stayed on the charts for 10 weeks, without the benefit of a hit single, although it reached the top 30 in the UK. Nonetheless, its cult status grew. In 2012, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Forever Changes 40th in its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008. It was entered into the National Recording Registry in May 2012.
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 but failed to chart. Love then dissolved due to drug and money issues, only to have Arthur Lee revive the group name shortly thereafter. The new Love featured a lineup consisting of Arthur Lee 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. Arthur Lee signed a record deal with Bob Krasnow's Blue Thumb label during this time, but without mentioning to Krasnow that he was technically still signed to Elektra Records.
Elektra founder Jac Holzman did not want to let Arthur Lee out of his contract as he admired his talents but he also did not want to keep an artist under contract who did not want to stay, so a deal was worked out that allowed Arthur Lee to record for Blue Thumb with Holzman getting his choice of ten of the resulting songs to fulfill the Elektra contract of a fourth album. That album would become Four Sail (1969), Arthur Lee's pun on his original title "For Sale". A mere three months after the release of Four Sail, Blue Thumb records released their Love album.
Out Here featured the same musicians as Four Sail with the addition of Gary Rowles, who played on one track. Arthur Lee felt that Donnellan was getting a little too egotistical for his tastes. The new lineup consisted of musicians who were not fans of Forever Changes, resulting in a harder-edged rock sound. During the initial Four Sail/Out Here sessions, 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. Arthur Lee obliged him, and started rehearsing and even recording some with original members Johnny Echols, Forssi, and Stuart .
Heroin proved to be too dominant in the lives of Echols and Forssi. Both men were constantly pawning off the rented equipment for drug money and were eventually let go yet again. Love also toured both Four Sail and Out Here for their first trip to Europe, where they were always more popular, and went on to do a nationally televised performance on Dutch television which also featured promotional videos for older songs from the Elektra years. Out Here managed to chart at number 29 in the UK in May 1970.
The next album to appear from Love was False Start in 1970 which continued on with the heavier sonic direction of acid rock, in addition to featuring elements of classic R&B. One new member was added to this incarnation of Love, a vocalist/guitarist named Nooney Rickett. The album's opening track, "The Everlasting First", features Jimi Hendrix on guitar.
Arthur Lee met Jimi Hendrix while in England, and they decided to record at Bob Krasnow's expense. For years there were rumors that Arthur and Jimi recorded an entire album 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, to accompany The Everlasting First and an early version of the Hendrix song "Ezy Rider". According to legend, Arthur overheard Bob Krasnow telling someone that if the False Start album did not crack the top 10 he was going to release the band from its contract. Moreover, Arthur made Krasnow give him that in writing. The album did not even reach the top 200 on the Billboard charts.
In 1971, Arthur Lee was signed to Columbia Records and spent the better part of the summer recording; all of the songs were deemed unworthy of issue (the entire Columbia project, along with a handful of demos, was released for the first time in 2009 on Sundazed Records as "Love Lost").
In July 1972, Arthur 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, Arthur Lee, and Steve Winwood. This album failed to chart. Arthur Lee recorded a second solo album in 1973 entitled Black Beauty for Buffalo Records, but the label folded before the album was released. Arthur Lee contributed the title track to the 1974 film Thomasine & Bushrod. Arthur Lee's next move was to credit the backing group for Black Beauty with the addition of guitarist John Sterling as a new Love for Reel to Real.
A new Arthur Lee solo album, called just Arthur Lee, appeared on Rhino Records in 1981, featuring covers of The Bobbettes' "Mr. Arthur Lee" and Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" and musicians Sterling (guitar), George Suranovich (drums), and Kim Kesterson (bass), as well as some of the members from "Reel to Real".
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, there were various attempts to reunite the original Love lineup. At the suggestion of guitarist John Sterling who first joined Arthur for Reel To Real, one such show from the Whisky in October 1978 was recorded by Sterling on cassette. It featuring Arthur Lee and Bryan MacLean with Sterling (guitar), George Suranovich (drums), and Kim Kesterson (bass), and was released on Rhino as a live album picture disc entitled Love Live (1980) on Rhino Records. In 1982, MCA released Studio/Live, which was a collection of tracks from the early 1970s incarnation of Love coordinated by rock lawyer/journalist Stann Findelle, including never before heard tracks recorded from Bill Graham's Fillmore East.
Apart from the Studio/Live package on MCA, the 1980s were a mostly fallow period for Arthur Lee. According to Arthur he was gone for a decade and went back to his old neighborhood to take care of his father, who was dying of cancer. He was tired of signing autographs. He was tired of being BS'd out of his money...he just got tired. Alice Cooper did record a cover version of Arthur Lee's "7 and 7 Is" on a 1981 album, Special Forces.
Arthur Lee did not re-emerge until 1992, with a new album entitled Five String Serenade on the French New Rose label. The title track, "Five String Serenade", was later recorded by Mazzy Star and Jack White of The White Stripes. The album also featured a new artist he discovered from San Francisco, Keith Farrish aka Demian X Diamond. He performed live around this time in Paris, London, and Liverpool. In 1993 he played shows in New York and England. 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 prevented this.
In late 1996, Arthur Lee was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the negligent discharge of a firearm. California's three strikes law meant Arthur Lee was forced to serve a prison term, having previously served two years in jail for arson, and having been charged with various drug, driving and assault offences.
Arthur Lee denied that he had fired the gun, and visiting fan Doug Thomas who had denied involvement when the police responded later confessed to the deed. Arthur Lee was incompetently represented in court; a year-delayed analysis of a gunpowder residue test on him produced a negative result. Had he pleaded guilty, Arthur Lee would have been sentenced to nine months in jail but he fought the case and lost. With the charges enhanced on account of his prior felony conviction and coincidental accusations of domestic violence of the same time-frame, the court made an example of him: 12 years, 85 percent of time served: about 9 years.
In prison Arthur Lee refused visitors and interviews.
Former bandmates Bryan MacLean and Ken Forssi both died while Arthur Lee was incarcerated, ending any speculation as to a full-fledged Love reunion.
In December 2001, Arthur Lee was released from prison, having served 5½ 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 Arthur Lee's trial was guilty of misconduct.
After Arthur Lee was freed from prison, he put together a new incarnation of Love and planned a Forever Changes 35th Anniversary Tour, to kick off at the Royal Festival Hall in London. The Make-Up released a song calling for Arthur Arthur Lee's release, called "Free Arthur Lee".
Two Love tracks, "My Little Red Book" (from Love) and "Always See Your Face" (from Four Sail), were included on the soundtrack of John Cusack's adaptation of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity. Arthur Lee's songs have been heard in other films as well, notably "7 & 7 Is" in both 1990's Point Break and 1996's Bottle Rocket.
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. This incarnation of Love was composed of the members of the band Baby Lemonade, who had first performed with Arthur Lee in May 1993 at Raji's. The band 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. Arthur 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, the San Diego Street Scene, and a headlining date with The Zombies at the Ebell Theatre. Echols occasionally joined Arthur Lee and the group on the continuing and final tours of 2004 to 2005. They played a well received date at the Fillmore in San Francisco with the full string and horn section.