Episode one hundred and sixty-one of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Alone Again Or”, the career of Love, and the making of Forever Changes. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.
Patreon backers also have a twenty-minute bonus episode available, on “Susan” by the Buckinghams
Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/
I refer to Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat minor in the episode. It’s actually in B-flat major, but Amazon wrongly tagged the MP3 copy of Glenn Gould playing Bach’s Partitas that I bought from them.
My main source for the episode is Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love by John Einarson, and I also referred a lot to Arthur Lee: Alone Again Or by Barney Hoskyns.
I also referred to Pegasus Epitaph: The Story of the Legendary Rock Group Love , the autobiography of Michael Stuart Ware, and to the 33 1/3 book on Forever Changes.
This documentary is a very good look at Love’s career.
And this double-CD contains almost every track anyone other than a serious completist could want by Love. It has Forever Changes in its entirety, plus eleven of the fourteen tracks from the first album, every track except “Revelation” from Da Capo, both sides of the “Your Mind and We Belong Together”/”Laughing Stock” single, the non-album B-side “Number 14”, and five of the better tracks from the second version of Love.
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Before I start, I should just say that this episode involves some discussion of drug addiction, mental illness, and racism.
In this episode and the next one, we’re taking what is almost our final look at the LA pop music scene of the sixties. The story over the last ten episodes or so has been about how the Monterey Pop Festival precipitated an end to LA’s dominance in music on the West Coast of the US, and how it was replaced by San Francisco. There will of course be LA artists turning up over the next thirty-odd episodes, especially as we see the Laurel Canyon scene, which is a separate but connected thing to the pop scene, take off towards the end of the sixties.
We haven’t seen the last of several of the artists from LA we’ve already looked at, but here and in the next episode we’re going to look at the last gasps of the scene that had built up around Sunset Strip and the Hollywood recording studios, the one that encompassed proto-punk garage rock, jangly folk-rock, and modern jazz style harmonies. The influence of that scene would reverberate for decades to come, but the scene itself was largely at an end by the middle of 1967.
This episode is an unusual one in some respects, because we’re looking at a band who we *have* seen previously, but who haven’t had an episode to themselves. Normally, when we’ve seen a band before, I’d just do a “when we last saw X” intro, but while about half an hour in the middle of the episode on “Hey Joe” was devoted to Love, and to how the band formed, we left the group before they’d even made their first album, and the story was being told in the context specifically of their relationship with that song.
So I’m going to do a brief recap of what we covered there, so some of this may sound a little familiar to you. It’ll be a much briefer version of the story than I told there, but will include different details.
The core of the band that became Love was two Black men born in Memphis, Arthur Lee and Johnny Echols. Both had been neighbours in their very early childhood, but Lee’s family had moved away to LA when he was small. But then Echols’ family had also happened to move to LA, and the two had reconnected when Lee was seven and Echols was eight.
They both grew up surrounded by musicians — Echols was neighbours with Ray Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, and Ornette Coleman, and Adolphus Jacobs of the Coasters taught him guitar, while Lee was one of the kids who Johnny Otis involved in his pigeon-breeding club — leading to a lifelong love of the hobby in Lee’s case.
Echols formed a group as a teenager, and when Lee joined it was renamed “Arthur Lee and the LAGs” in homage to Booker T and the MGs. Lee would say later “I was playing the organ at these gigs. Johnny Echols was playing the guitar and he was playing some of the best R&B guitar I ever heard. Not only was the playing the best but he was upstaging all the other guitar players in town, too. Johnny was playing behind his back, through his legs, behind his head, and even with his teeth. Talk about putting on a show … and this was before Jimi Hendrix made it big doing all that [and here Lee used an expletive]. That was Mr. Echols, the man with the guitar. I really did admire him.”
The LAGs released one single, “Rumble Still-Skins”:
[Excerpt: The LAGs, “Rumble-Still-Skins”]
After that, Lee and Echols started to work a lot of sessions for small record labels. Lee would write and produce, while Echols played guitar — though Echols has claimed later that he deserves a co-writing credit on many of the tracks. They would produce pastiches of Phil Spector hits, and of records by Curtis Mayfield, one of Lee’s idols, like this track by Rosa Lee Brooks:
[Excerpt: Rosa Lee Brooks, “My Diary”]
The Mayfield impression on guitar there is by Jimi Hendrix, and the track is often claimed as the first Hendrix ever played on, though that’s disputed and there’s good reason to believe he played on a few before that.
Then Echols was taken by their schoolfriend Billy Preston, with whom he would sometimes play gigs, to see a show at the Hollywood Bowl by a band Preston had got to know in Germany:
[Excerpt: The Beatles, “She Loves You (live at the Hollywood Bowl 1964)”]
Within a few days, Echols and Lee had bought themselves wigs to make themselves look like they had long hair, and formed a new band with a white rhythm section, who were variously called the Weirdos and the American Four. Instead of trying to sing R&B, Lee was now trying to sing in the style of white singers, especially Mick Jagger, originally as a joke, but as he later said “What started out as a put-on materialized as something real and positive.”
The American Four also put out one single, which very much wore its influences on its sleeve:
[Excerpt: The American Four, “Luci Baines”]
At this point the group consisted of Lee and Echols on guitars and vocals, John Fleckenstein on bass, and Don Conka on drums. Incidentally, pretty much every book on the group spells Conka’s name C-o-n-k-a, but I recently read an online article about him which stated that his name was spelled C-o-n-c-a, and that it has been persistently misspelled over the decades because Lee spelled it wrong and nobody ever checked with Conka. As Conka’s now dead and this is just something I’ve seen on a single website, with no way to check either way, I’ve spelled his name the standard way in the transcript of this episode, but thought it worth noting.
Lee was never a very good guitarist — he’d started out on keyboards and only learned the rudiments of guitar — and they decided that they needed to let him just be the frontman, and get in a second guitarist, copying the lineup of the Rolling Stones, and also of the Byrds, whose style the group had now decided to emulate. They also changed their name, this time to the Grass Roots.
This change in style was partly because there was another multiracial band on the scene doing Stones-type material, and rather than compete with the Rising Sons they wanted to stand out, but also because the Byrds had a large crowd of followers who would attend all their gigs, the same crowd of hipsters led by Franzoni and Vito who also followed the Mothers of Invention, and it would be a good idea to appeal to a devoted fanbase like that.
Lee also thought they needed a good-looking white man up front, and so they decided to get in someone from the circle around Vito and Franzoni. Initially they got in a good-looking young man who Lee quickly nicknamed “Bummer Bob”, but Bobby Beausoleil was soon out of the band, and instead they got in Bryan MacLean, a former roadie for the Byrds who had been performing a bit with people like Taj Mahal. MacLean had a bit of a reputation as a spoiled brat — he was from a very privileged background, and for example Liza Minnelli was his childhood girlfriend — but he was also a good rhythm guitarist and singer, he looked a little like Brian Jones, he was a talented songwriter, though his writing was always more inspired by show tunes than by the music the rest of the band were playing, and he was friends with the whole Vito and Franzoni crowd, and he could get them to come along to the group’s shows.
The new group were soon the hottest thing on the Sunset Strip scene, and started looking around for a record deal. They recorded some demos with, of all people, Buck Ram, the manager of the Platters and the Penguins, who we last talked about exactly a hundred and thirty episodes ago. A demo of Lee’s song “You I’ll Be Following” recorded in Ram’s home studio in 1965, shows the sound this group had, a sound that seems to combine the jangle and block harmonies of the Byrds with the stomping rhythms of the Rolling Stones and a Jagger-like vocal:
[Excerpt: Arthur Lee and the Grass Roots, “You I’ll Be Following”]
Soon the group had to change their name again, this time because another band was using their name. According to Johnny Echols, this was not a mere accident — the group had annoyed Lou Adler by not showing him the proper respect in front of a woman he was trying to impress, and Adler had started yelling about how “You’ll never work in this town again!”
Soon after that, a studio group put together by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri on Adler’s Dunhill label were releasing singles under the name “The Grass Roots”:
[Excerpt, The Grass Roots, “Where Were You When I Needed You?”]
As Sloan and Barri’s studio group started having hits, the group were resigned to changing their name. Lee had worked for a time at a bra shop named Luv Brassieres, and the rest of the group thought this was hilarious, and decided to name themselves after it.
The newly-renamed Love were now playing regularly at Bido Litos, a small venue where they were so popular the crowds overflowed into the street. Luckily, the venue was on a side street and so part of the road would be closed off and speakers placed outside so those who couldn’t get in could at least hear the music.
The group would always open with a version of Howlin’ Wolf’s blues classic “Smokestack Lightnin'”, which would extend into a long improvised jam, of which Lee later said “It would go into a lot of jazz feelings, like John Coltrane – it could get really far out, expressing what the person playing was feeling in the song. With a steady beat going, we used to improvise, everyone changing the music to what he wanted but somehow making it fit with what the others were playing. We’d play that song until it hypnotized the audience.”
Sadly none of those shows were recorded, but we can get some idea of what it might have sounded like from a live recording from 2003, when Lee, Echols, and Conka were reunited on stage for one song and chose to play their old opener, though that track only lasts about eight minutes rather than the forty it would sometimes stretch to in the sixties, and so doesn’t have much of the improvisational aspect:
[Excerpt: Arthur Lee, Johnny Echols, Don Conka, and Love, “Smokestack Lightnin'”]
By this point, the group had a clearly defined dynamic. Arthur Lee was the undisputed leader — he was the lead singer, the frontman, and a pioneer of the LA freak scene, wearing multi-coloured glasses and a boot on one foot and a shoe on the other. He also wrote most of the group’s original material — though precisely who contributed what to the arrangements of some songs, and to what extent they should be considered co-writers, has been a matter of some dispute.
Then on either side of him were his two lieutenants — Johnny Echols, his oldest friend, a supremely talented blues and jazz guitarist, good looking — people said he looked like Johnny Mathis — and regarded by many as the group’s secret weapon, the Keith Richards to Lee’s Jagger; and Bryan MacLean, a blonde surfer boy with a completely different look, who played jangly guitar and wrote sweet ballads and knew everyone on the scene.
Behind them were a rhythm section, who were as good as any around, but for different reasons would soon exit the group. The first to go was John Fleckenstein, who quit the band because he had a chance to join the Cameraman’s Guild and get into the film industry. He would later briefly play bass with the Standells, as on their classic garage-rock track “Riot on Sunset Strip”:
[Excerpt: The Standells, “Riot on Sunset Strip”]
But for the most part he worked in film, later going on to be a cameraman on films like ET.
His replacement was Ken Forssi, who had previously played bass with a late line-up of the Surfaris. While Forssi was originally just playing the parts Fleckenstein had previously played, Echols has nothing but praise for him, saying later “He was a real Renaissance Man. His bass playing was the underpinning of our sound. He was perfect for us. He was able to pick up our stuff quickly and was able to fit in, so we hired him right on the spot.”
The first recordings by Love actually didn’t feature Arthur Lee at all. The group had a friend, Vince Flaherty, who would sometimes sit in with them on vocals and harmonica. Like about half the people in the LA scene, it seems, Flaherty had been a child actor, but now wanted to be a musician, and he got the four instrumentalists from Love to back him on demos:
[Excerpt: Vince Flaherty, “Dead From You”]
Flaherty’s music career went nowhere, however, even though later demos over the next couple of years would feature, as well as Echols, Forssi, and MacLean, Jimi Hendrix, Gene Clark, and Daryl Dragon of the Captain and Tennille. He returned to acting and later also stood unsuccessfully as an independent candidate for the House of Representatives.
Those tracks are the only studio recordings in existence of Love with Don Conka on drums, though. Conka was, by all accounts, one of the best drummers around, and people compare his playing at the time with Buddy Rich. He would often take extended drum solos which were considered highlights of the group’s shows, and he had his own fanbase among the audience.
The problem was that Conka was using heroin. This would later become a problem for almost every member of the band, but at this time they were all relatively straight with the exception of Conka. They were using a bit of dope and psychedelics, but Conka was a heroin addict, and as heroin addicts will, he started missing work.
More and more often Ken Forssi’s flatmate was called on to sit in with the group instead. Alban Pfisterer, who went by the name “Snoopy”, was younger than the band, and a trained keyboard player who could play the drums reasonably well. He was no Don Conka, and neither Echols nor MacLean liked him as a person — MacLean later said “I didn’t feel he was homogeneous with what we were doing. He seemed like this straight kid. He wasn’t hip and didn’t look right”, while Pfisterer said “I didn’t like Bryan, and the feeling was mutual. He mistreated me more than any of them. He was really nasty to me. He thought I was square and he was hip – and I wasn’t the drummer he wanted. Also, Arthur liked me…”
But Lee took him on as something of a mascot. He didn’t become a full member of the group — whenever they signed union contracts for gig bookings, Conka’s name would be on the contract, and Snoopy would just be given a token payment rather than an equal share. There’s some dispute as to whether this was because they were still holding out hope for Conka’s return, or it was just because the other band members disliked him and didn’t want to give him an equal share.
But when Conka didn’t turn up for the sessions for the group’s first album, Snoopy ended up on that, too — although perhaps appropriately, there were no drums at all on the album’s highlight, “Signed D.C.”, a rewrite of “House of the Rising Sun” with lyrics about Conka’s heroin addiction:
[Excerpt: Love, “Signed D.C.”]
The album came about through Herb Cohen, who we’ve seen before as the manager of the Mothers of Invention and the Modern Folk Quartet, among others. Cohen apparently at this point had a personal management contract with Arthur Lee, though no contract with the rest of the band.
Cohen was soon replaced — he got a woman named Ronnie Haran to start a fan club for the group, and as she told the story “I called Arthur up and said, ‘Hi Arthur, my name is Ronnie Haran; Herbie Cohen suggested I call you about running your fan club.’ This was Arthur’s response: ‘Oh yeah, well, how’d you like to fire Herbie Cohen for me?’ That was my introduction to Arthur Lee.”
Haran became the group’s manager instead, though her gender caused some problems, at a time when misogyny was even more rampant than it is now, and she would sometimes have to deal with overzealous security guards who assumed she was a groupie and wouldn’t believe she could be their manager.
But Cohen was still around in some capacity for a while, and he introduced the group to Jac Holzman of Elektra Records, who at this point was starting to get interested in signing rock bands. Love agreed to sign to Elektra, in part because Elektra were the only label they spoke to who would let them keep their own publishing rights. Every other label had wanted to grab their publishing, but Echols and Lee were friendly with the older generation of R&B performers, people like Little Richard, who had told them that that was where the money was and giving it up would be a big mistake.
Love set up their own publishing company, Grass Roots Music, but they didn’t fully understand what they were doing, and while they owned Grass Roots, the way the contract was set up it was administered by Third Story Music, the publishing company owned by Cohen and his brother, who took a percentage off the top for their trouble. This is actually fairly standard for artists who own their own publishing — very few of them want the bother of doing all the boring admin that comes with music publishing — but it wasn’t properly explained to the group, and they didn’t realise this was happening for literally decades.
According to Echols “We thought we had no relationship with Herb whatsoever; we had signed nothing with him. He’d introduced us to Jac Holzman, nothing more, as far I know. Here we were, thinking we were smarter than those guys that came before us, like Little Richard, who were all ripped off … we thought we had all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, when, in fact, we were just as naive and stupid as they were. We didn’t have the savvy or the business sense to have somebody look at the contracts. That was our own naivety, but it was also because Arthur thought he knew everything. In the 90s, Arthur was looking to sell Grass Roots Music to Leiber and Stoller’s Trio Music. That’s when I found out that Third Story had been collecting part of the publishing on the songs for all those years. We thought we had all the bases covered and didn’t see the signs.”
They signed the contract — including a clause stating “All checks shall be made to Arthur Lee on behalf of the group.” — on the third of January 1966. Conka’s name was included on the contract, but he didn’t sign. Snoopy’s wasn’t, and he only got a hundred dollars of the five thousand dollar advance — Lee kept the rest of his share, keeping nineteen hundred, while the other three got a thousand dollars each. As a result, Snoopy only got session fees for the records he played on, no royalties, though he was pictured as an equal band member on the first two albums.
Three weeks after signing to Elektra they were in the studio. The plan had originally been to use Paul Rothchild as the producer, but he was in prison after a drug bust, and so the album was produced by Holzman and Elektra staff producer Marc Abramson, with assistance from Bruce Botnick, who was engineering and who did the final mix himself. Botnick, and Sunset Sound studios where he worked, had been recommended to Holzman by another Elektra artist and Herb Cohen act, Tim Buckley.
Love’s first album was a classic of garage rock, taking the jangly sound of the Byrds and mixing it with the aggression of the Rolling Stones, and coming out with something spiky and harsh, punk a decade before punk was a thing. The song that most obviously shows the group’s influences is “Can’t Explain”, which takes a melodic fragment from the Stones’ “What a Shame”:
[Excerpt: The Rolling Stones, “What a Shame”]
gives it the title of a Who song, and marries it with the Byrds’ jangle, to come up with something that doesn’t sound quite like any of them:
[Excerpt: Love, “Can’t Explain”]
The album contains seven songs credited solely to Lee as a writer — though again, there has been some dispute as to how much the other band members, especially MacLean and Echols, contributed — plus two songs credited to Lee and Echols alone, one to the two of them with Fleckenstein, and one to all of the band except Snoopy. MacLean also got a single solo composition on the album, “Softly to Me”:
[Excerpt: Love, “Softly to Me”]
That song quite handily shows up exactly why a fault line was already starting to appear in the group. MacLean thought of himself as at least as talented as Lee — and he was, to be clear, an excellent songwriter in his own right. He wanted the group to record more of his songs than they did, but as Echols put it “Arthur and I talked about that and we both felt that, while Bryan wrote very nice songs, you could only put maybe one or two on an album. He wrote these Lerner & Loew show-tune kind of songs. As part of a whole album they can work, but not on their own. They would never have been played on the radio. Nowadays they might, but back then you had to have something the kids could relate to. Bryan’s stuff was a bit too soft – too many chocolate-covered rainbows. He saw everything through rose-tinted glasses. There was always conflict about us doing more of his songs.”
Lee always said that what he would have actually liked to do was to co-write more with MacLean, and to collaborate more equally, but that had never worked out, but MacLean insisted all his life that the main reason he only got one or two songs per album was that Lee knew that songwriting was where the money was and wanted to keep it to himself.
The obvious choice for a lead-off single for the album was the group’s version of “Hey Joe”, which might have made MacLean feel better as it was his big live showcase and a song he’d brought to the group, but as we discussed in the episode on Hendrix’s version of the song, by this point it had been released by half a dozen other bands, so instead they went for the other cover version on the album. “My Little Red Book” was a song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, which had originally been recorded by Manfred Mann for the film What’s New Pussycat?:
[Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “My Little Red Book (film version)”]
Lee and Echols had been to the cinema to see that film and had started rehearsing a version as soon as they got home. Echols had forgotten some of the chords, having only heard the song once, and even after they learned the lyrics properly from Manfred Mann’s record, they kept Echols’ misremembered chord sequence — much to the later disgust of the song’s composer, who never liked their version:
[Excerpt: Love, “My Little Red Book”]
“My Little Red Book” only made number fifty-two on the charts, but up to that point that was the best any record released on Elektra had ever done. When Jac Holzman heard the track on the radio for the first time while driving, he had to pull his car over to the side of the road and cry, because he had never believed he would hear an Elektra record on the radio at all.
And while it wasn’t a massive hit, it was an influential record. Sterling Morrison of the Velvet Underground, who were just starting up in New York at the time the record came out, would talk later about how his group would listen to “My Little Red Book” over and over on repeat, trying to figure out how Love got their sound.
As the group were now having a little success, they decided to move in together, into a huge mansion which had formerly been owned by the silent film director Maurice Tourneur, and which they nicknamed The Castle. The mansion was dilapidated at the time, and the group were allowed to move in for a rent which just covered the cost of the property taxes.
Or at least, all of the group except Snoopy moved in. As he later put it “I’m the only one who did not live in The Castle. I didn’t want to live with them. I didn’t like those guys, and the feeling was mutual. The only person I got along with was Arthur.”
The group started promotions for “My Little Red Book”, but things were already moving forward. Lee had written a song about his high-school sweetheart, Anita, who like him was born on the seventh of March, and had titled it “7 & 7 is”. Originally this had been a folky, acoustic number, but Ken Forssi had been given a new fuzzbox, one of the first bass fuzzboxes on the market, and he had started using it on the song, playing a sliding bass line in octaves. The song soon sped up to accommodate the new tone, though in the studio Forssi had to turn the fuzz off as the recording equipment simply couldn’t cope with it — but he was playing a semi-acoustic bass and managed to get a similar tone through feedback:
[Excerpt: Love, “Seven and Seven Is” tracking session]
The song wasn’t without its problems in the studio, though. As you can hear, the drum part is intense and frenetic, and took a lot of work to get right. Pfisterer later said “The session was a nightmare, I had blisters on my fingers. I don’t know how many times I tried to play that damn thing and it just wasn’t coming out. Arthur would try it; then I’d try it. Finally I got it. He couldn’t do it. By the twentieth take I got it. Everything before that was basically rehearsal.”
Lee would sometimes later claim it was him playing on the final record, but Echols concurred, saying “That is Alban ‘Snoopy’ Pfisterer, and he did a hell of a job, too. He really played his little heart out on that song and he deserves credit for it. It’s the best he ever played. It was a very physically demanding song. It took about four hours to get it down, and, back then, four hours for one song was a long time.”
But at the end, they managed to get the track recorded, and it’s a blistering ball of energy:
[Excerpt: Love, “Seven and Seven Is”]
The song proper ends with the sound of an explosion, and then a slow guitar instrumental. While the only songwriter credited is Lee, both Echols and MacLean at different times have claimed to have written this coda. I believe Echols, for what it’s worth, and he says it’s an attempt at copying the sound of the instrumental hit “Sleepwalk” by Santo and Johnny:
[Excerpt: Love, “Seven and Seven Is”]
At the same session, they recorded the B-side for “Seven and Seven Is”, “No. 14”, and also a demo for a song they would pick up on several months later. The group had become good friends with the Buffalo Springfield, and Lee had been inspired by their record “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing”, and especially the guitar part:
[Excerpt: Buffalo Springfield, “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing”]
And he’d come up with a similar-sounding instrumental, which for now was titled “Hummingbirds”:
[Excerpt: Love, “Hummingbirds (demo)”]
But for now that was put to one side, as “Seven and Seven Is” became a top forty hit and the group had to start promoting it.
Or, at least, if they’d been any other group, they would have started promoting the record. But Arthur Lee refused to tour. This is often portrayed as him being a prima donnaish diva, and no doubt there was an element of that — nobody has ever said that Arthur Lee was the world’s easiest person to work with — but there was more than just that. In LA, Lee could be at home in his own bed every night — and for all that he was a big face on the scene, he was also someone who needed a lot of time by himself, out of the public eye, and who liked being in familiar surroundings. He was also able to make good money playing as many gigs as he wanted in LA — if they could play for adoring crowds night after night just on the Sunset Strip, and get more money than they needed, why go anywhere else?
Not only that, but every time they ventured any further than San Francisco, they ended up dealing with dodgy promoters — people they’d never worked with before and never would again, so there was no long-term relationship there and no way to build up trust that they’d pay what they owed, or that the PA would work.
There was also the fact that Elektra were a very new label in the rock market and didn’t have great distribution outside major cities — when the group did play elsewhere they’d find that nobody had any of their records. That would later be fixed by the time Elektra signed their next rock act, the Doors, but Love were the band who they made all their mistakes with, mistakes they learned from.
And that meant that Love were also not going to get the same spot on bills outside of California. In LA, they would headline with acts like the Buffalo Springfield and the Doors as their support acts, because everyone knew Love were the top of the heap as far as live acts went. When they had offers elsewhere, it was to play third on the bill to the Strawberry Alarm Clock.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, one thing that both Lee and Echols have mentioned in interviews over the years as a reason they didn’t tour, but which none of their white business associates ever bring up — Love were an integrated band with two Black members and three white ones, and with a white woman as their manager. There were large swathes of the US in the mid-sixties where Black men travelling with a white woman would be in danger of their lives, and very few venues where an integrated band could get booked. As Echols put it “A Black group could play the chitlin’ circuit and places like that, in the South, and a white group could go anywhere in the South. But it was different for an integrated group. We could play the West or East Coasts but the Midwest and the South were never big markets for us. It wasn’t that we were lazy; we needed to earn a living and we needed to play.”
Haran did start getting the group occasional gigs elsewhere, but they were few and far between, and when she did get them a big showcase gig in Dallas, with a huge amount of effort on her part, Bryan MacLean complained that she was getting the same money as the band members, and she started to back away from Love and concentrate on the Doors, who she had also started doing managerial work for.
The Doors, indeed, desperately wanted to be like Love. Ray Manzarek later said “Morrison turned to me and said, ‘You know, Ray, if we could be as big as Love, man, my life would be complete.’ I thought Love was one of the hottest things I ever saw. They were the most influential band in Los Angeles at that time, and we all thought it was just a matter of time before Love conquered America. Johnny was the first guy I ever saw playing guitar behind his head, before Hendrix. Love was also the first band I ever saw playing long, improvisational songs. Out of that came Doors songs like ‘The End,’ ‘When The Music’s Over,’ and the long instrumental parts in ‘Light My Fire.’ Arthur Lee and Love: they were in charge. We wanted to be like Love. Arthur himself was enigmatic, very intense, and sort of possessed by darker forces.”
[Excerpt: The Doors, “Light My Fire”]
Arthur Lee, in turn, did like the Doors and help them get signed, but as he put it “I would see Jim Morrison from time to time, and now Pam was with him. I thought nothing of it until Jim’s death. Then I noticed that on a poster of Jim, he was standing with a black Labrador retriever just like my dog. Later, a book came out about The Doors in which Jim Morrison said that what he wanted to be was as big as Love. I thought that was such a nice compliment, but I couldn’t help thinking that Pam had been my girlfriend, then she was his girlfriend; I had a black Labrador and then he had a black Labrador; I was on Elektra Records and so was he … . It seemed to me that not only did Jim Morrison want to be as big as Love; he also wanted to be like me. Jim never bothered me, but he did kind of copy me.”
Instead of touring, the group started work on their second album, titled Da Capo. The title was originally a reference to the idea that they were going to go back to their roots — they were going to stop doing garage rock and start doing Booker T and the MGs style soul, like Lee and Echols had done in the LAGs.
Instead, as rehearsals began, that started to change. To start with, they got in Tjay Cantrelli, who had played sax with Lee and Echols in some of their early groups several years earlier. Cantrelli had now become an accomplished jazz sax and flute player, and they started to rework their arrangements to incorporate more of his jazz style. And then the ongoing arguments about Snoopy reached something of a resolution. Everyone was agreed that even though he’d played fantastically on “Seven and Seven Is”, he wasn’t a natural drummer, and was something of a wooden player. But Lee still wanted him in the band. As he was actually a fairly accomplished keyboard player, it was decided to move him to piano on stage and harpsichord and organ in the studio.
In his place on drums, they brought in Michael Stuart-Ware, who had previously been the drummer in The Sons of A dam, a group we talked about briefly in the “Hey Joe” and Buffalo Springfield episodes, and who had recorded one of Lee’s songs, “Feathered Fish”:
[Excerpt: The Sons of Adam, “Feathered Fish”]
The music this new lineup of the group started performing was characterised by everyone who heard it at the time as jazz-rock, though by this they didn’t mean the genre we now know as jazz-rock, which hadn’t yet become a thing. But while everyone involved in making it talks about it as being influenced by jazz, especially Coltrane, and that influence is definitely audible at points, in truth the jazz influence seems to have been something that mostly showed up in the group’s live performance.
Certainly, you can hear some jazz in Cantrelli’s solos, especially, but other than the crashing garage rock of “Seven and Seven Is”, recorded by the smaller lineup, the primary styles I hear in Da Capo are baroque pop, folk rock, bossa nova, and more than a little influence from Burt Bacharach. Just as the group’s first single was a cover of a song from Bacharach’s What’s New Pussycat? soundtrack, compare the title track from that film:
[Excerpt: Tom Jones, “What’s New Pussycat?”]
With “Stephanie Knows Who”, the opening track of Da Capo:
[Excerpt: Love, “Stephanie Knows Who”]
“Stephanie Knows Who” is also a good example of the way in which how much the musicians contributed to the song and arrangement could differ, not only from song to song, but within the same song. Everyone is agreed that the chords, melody line, and lyrics to “Stephanie Knows Who” are all Arthur Lee’s work — though often the band would change the chord sequences if Lee wrote a song on guitar, because he only knew a handful of chords, so they’d figure out what he meant and rework his simple triads into more complex chords — but according to Michael Stuart Ware the instrumental break by Cantrelli and Echols, the most obviously jazz-influenced thing on the whole album, was entirely their work with no input from Lee:
[Excerpt: Love, “Stephanie Knows Who”]
But on the other hand Pfisterer has said that the harpsichord part he played on the track was dictated note for note by Lee — which is entirely believable, given that by all accounst Pfisterer was an excellent technical keyboard player but had no aptitude whatsoever for improvisation.
That track, like much of Da Capo, was the work of a new production team. Paul Rothchild had now got out of prison, and so after he produced the Doors’ first album he moved on to producing Love. Five of the six songs on side one of the album were also recorded at RCA studios, with Dave Hassinger, who engineered for the Rolling Stones when they recorded there, as the group wanted to get the sound he’d got with them — though Bruce Botnick, who had engineered “Seven and Seven Is” and side two, mixed the whole album to give it a consistent feel.
Around this time, Lee also moved out of the group’s communal Castle, and into a house that became known as the Trip House, because it had been used in a cheap exploitation film called The Trip, put out by American International Pictures, starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, and written by Jack Nicholson:
[Excerpt: The Trip trailer]
The first thing Lee did there was to build cages for his pigeons.
Part of the reason for him moving out can be seen in “Stephanie Knows Who”, and in another song on Da Capo, “The Castle”:
[Excerpt: Love, “The Castle”]
That line, “A my love, B I love” is a reference to the fact that the titular Stephanie who knows who had dated both A — Arthur — and B — Bryan — and she’d chosen B, which upset Lee enormously. It caused a rift between the two that would never fully heal, and that would start the serious problems within the band that would soon cause it to split. According to Stuart Ware “In the beginning, Arthur and Bryan were great friends. They loved to be around each other and did things socially together. They were funny. After the Stephanie thing, that began to deteriorate; it got to the point where they didn’t hang together at all. Arthur was trying to organize it so that Bryan was no longer in the group. They rest of us kind of vetoed that.”
The other most notable song on Da Capo is “She Comes in Colors”:
[Excerpt: Love, “She Comes in Colors”]
As well as being a live favourite for the rest of Lee’s career, that also had a line that was picked up by the Rolling Stones. You might think that turnabout is fair play given what Lee did with “Can’t Explain” and “What a Shame”, but he was furious when he heard the Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow”, recorded about six months after Da Capo came out:
[Excerpt: The Rolling Stones, “She’s a Rainbow”]
Da Capo is half a great album. Unfortunately it’s kept from true greatness by the decision to turn the entire second side over to a single track, “Revelation”.
This idea was apparently not a bad one in principle. The song, originally titled “John Lee Hooker”, was a highlight of their live sets. It had started out as an extended version of “Gloria” by Them, but they’d turned it into a lengthy, largely instrumental, excuse for every band member to get multiple solos and show off their instrumental abilities.
But the session took place at Sunset rather than at RCA, which the group didn’t like — Echols has said “It wasn’t uptight at RCA as it was at Sunset Sound. Several times we had fistfights at Sunset Sound, ’cause it was a small kind of claustrophobic type of place. The atmosphere and the people – Bruce and all that – just was not as conductive in the way RCA was with Dave Hassinger.”
According to Lee the group were in a foul mood for the session, and played the song worse than they’d ever played it before as a result, with no feeling. But they did play the track for the full forty-five minutes they normally played it.
Obviously that was too long for an album side, but they expected Rothchild to just fade the track out after nineteen minutes, but leave the performance as it was until then. Instead, according to Echols, “It sounded so different live compared to what we got on the album. What Paul Rothchild did was record 45 minutes of this jam, but instead of leaving it alone and just cutting the end off, he hacked the song up into this mishmash, so you can’t get the feeling for what we were trying to do. If it had been done the way we performed it live, it would have been a whole different song, a whole different feel.”
Rothchild took this Frankensteined version of “Revelation”, and because Snoopy wasn’t an improvisational player and was largely not on the main track, he took the gigue from Bach’s Partita number 1 in B-flat minor, here played by Glenn Gould:
[Excerpt: Glenn Gould, “Partita number 1 in B-flat minor, gigue”]
And got Snoopy to play that on the harpsichord at the beginning and end, creating a truly bizarre juxtaposition:
[Excerpt: Love, “Revelation”]
Literally everyone involved agrees that “Revelation” is by far the worst thing the original version of Love were ever involved in, and Da Capo became one of that small number of albums where people play side one to death but never play side two a second time.
But even though the album was only a qualified success, the seven-piece lineup of Love was getting more praise than ever in the clubs. This was a band that had already been one of the most versatile bands on the Strip, ranging from psychedelic freakouts to sharp proto-punk to folk-rock jangle, and now they were performing garage rock with jazz flute, songs that sounded like Johnny Mathis singing the Byrds, and songs that were being covered by hip British bands like the Move, and even ripped off by the Rolling Stones!
But then the riot on Sunset Strip happened. We’ve already talked about this in the episode on “For What It’s Worth”, so I won’t go over it again, but the important thing is that this meant that half of the nightclubs on Sunset Strip closed down pretty much overnight. This devastated LA’s nightlife, but while every other band that played those clubs was also playing all over the country or the world, Love weren’t playing anywhere else. The gigs dried up, the band weren’t making enough money, and they had no choice but to sack Snoopy and Cantrelli. Cantrelli was fine with this — he was a jazz musician, and jazz musicians are always moving between bands — but Snoopy was understandably bitter, and has had very few good words to say about his erstwhile bandmates in the decades since.
These changes seem to have thrown Lee into a depression, and that came out on what would become the group’s last album as an actual group, Forever Changes.
Lee said later “At the time I wrote those songs, I thought this might be the last album I’d ever make. The words on Forever Changes represented the last words I would say about this planet. The album was made after I thought there was no hope left in the world. I thought I was going to die. I used to sit there in my house on the hillside and think of all the things that had happened, or were happening all around, in my life, as well as to others. I would write them the way I saw them.”
[Excerpt: Love, “The Red Telephone”]
Lee had big ideas for the new album. In fact the whole group did. They were going to record a double album, and it would have songs by Lee and Echols and MacLean, all fully orchestrated. They weren’t going to do the thing that rock bands normally did of playing as a band and then getting some strings to embellish things, Lee especially was going to write songs with the orchestration as an integral part.
Bruce Botnick suggested Lee work with an arranger, David Angel, who had been an assistant to Nelson Riddle, for whom Botnick’s mother worked as a music copyist. Angel spent three weeks working intently with Lee, transcribing Lee’s ideas. Lee was not a trained musician, or even a particularly good guitarist or pianist, and as Angel said “Arthur communicated with me without words and without instruction. He knew some things, but he didn’t know how to express them and had no training. He would refer to a ‘string instrument,’ a cello or violin, say, and I got the idea finally that he was referring to any stringed instrument. He would use general words like ‘strings’ or ‘brass.’ Sometimes he’d play a note on the piano and look at me, so I would make a mental note to make sure that note got in there. It was a largely non-verbal communication.”
Nonetheless, Angel credited Lee with the final arrangements, insisting on only being given the credit of “orchestrator” on Lee’s songs, because he was just implementing Lee’s ideas — he took an arranger credit on Bryan MacLean’s songs, because MacLean gave him more of a free hand.
Neil Young was brought in as the producer for the album, although he soon dropped out. Reports differ on quite what happened — according to Botnick, Young worked with Lee on the songs until shortly before the first session, and then said “Man, I can’t do it. I’m hearing too much in my own head for me to immerse myself in someone else’s music.”
According to Echols meanwhile “We were contemporaries and very good friends with the guys in Buffalo Springfield. If we were playing a club and Neil came in, he’d jump up on stage and play with us. Bruce said he had a friend who needed some money and would come in and maybe produce a few of the songs on Forever Changes. He didn’t tell us it was Neil. I guess Neil told Bruce not to tell us it was him. When he showed up, we all started laughing and said, ‘Come on, this won’t work. We’re not going to listen to Neil.’ We did maybe one song together and that was it. He got some money for that day because he desperately needed it.”
It was eventually decided that Lee and Botnick would co-produce, without an outside producer getting involved. If Young did produce one song, it was likely an early take of “The Daily Planet”, which he often gets credited for arranging, though he’s always denied having anything to do with it:
[Excerpt: Love, “The Daily Planet”]
But “The Daily Planet”, the first song recorded for the new album, was where things started to fall apart. By this point all of the band had severe drug problems, and that’s often blamed for the first session going horribly wrong. But in fact there were a whole host of problems.
The first was the new way of writing, with an orchestrator. The problem was that in the past, what had always happened was that Lee would come to the band and play them the simplified versions of songs that he had worked up, and they would come up with their own parts, something like what he described. But he’d already done that with David Angel, and now the band had to follow his inarticulate instructions but *also* had to fit with the pre-written orchestral parts.
They’d also not had a chance to play the new material live, because they’d hardly been playing any gigs. The only reason they had any money was that they had renegotiated their contract with Elektra. They’d got a twenty-five thousand dollar advance for the album, but they had to pay the costs out of that — if they could keep the costs down, anything left over was theirs.
And then they’d been told by Elektra that they weren’t going to be doing a double album after all. They were going to be doing a single album, and it would be all Arthur’s songs, with two of Bryan’s and none of Johnny’s. Echols was hurt by this but put his songs to one side, hoping to put them on a future album, which he started referring to as Gethsemane, because that was where Judas betrayed Jesus and he felt similarly betrayed by the label.
But MacLean and Forssi hatched another plan. They were going to do a work-to-rule, and play sloppily on Lee’s songs, If their playing on Lee’s songs was barely competent, but on MacLean’s songs it was great, they reasoned, the label would ditch a few of Lee’s songs and put in a few more of MacLean’s.
So at the initial session, when they started recording “The Daily Planet”, there were two musicians, Echols and Stuart Ware, who were trying their best but underrehearsed, and two others who couldn’t care less. As the recording dragged on and on without a single decent take, using up valuable studio time and eating into that advance, Lee and Botnick were in the control room, and came up with a way to shake the instrumentalists up.
They announced that the group weren’t going to be playing on the sessions any more. They were going to bring the Wrecking Crew in.
So on “The Daily Planet” and “Andmoreagain”, instead of Bryan MacLean, Ken Forssi, and Michael Stuart Ware, the musicians were Billy Strange, Carol Kaye, Hal Blaine, and Don Randi, though Echols still added lead guitar — and according to some reports, Carol Kaye couldn’t get the bass part down for “The Daily Planet”, Forssi showed her how it went, and Lee let him just play it:
[Excerpt: Love, “The Daily Planet”]
The tactic worked. The band were shaken, and MacLean was apparently in tears. The two tracks cut with the Wrecking Crew were kept on the album, but Botnick and Lee told the group they were going to postpone the rest of the sessions two months. They had better be able to play the songs when they restarted.
The group spent the summer of 1967 rehearsing the new material, not playing gigs. They even turned down the Monterey Pop Festival in order to concentrate on learning the new material — though that may have had as much to do with it being organised by Lee’s old bete noir Lou Adler, and it not paying the artists, as it did their concentration on their work, though as Jac Holzman said, it was a sign of how respected they were that they were offered the slot at all, while a band like the Doors weren’t even invited to play.
Of the eleven songs on the album, nine were Lee’s, and many of them combined dark, paranoid lyrics with almost nursery rhyme melodies:
[Excerpt: Love, “Live and Let Live”]
Even a more optimistic song like the one that had originally been titled “Hummingbirds”, all about hummingbirds flying and little girls playing outside, was given the sardonic, undercutting, title “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This” — that’s not the real world, it’s just how the ice cream man sees things. Of course everyone’s happy when they’re getting ice cream, but the world’s still going to end.
This does, however, get resolved at the end of the album, with the magnificent “You Set the Scene”, which manages to turn that pessimism of imminent death into something positive:
[Excerpt: Love, “You Set the Scene”]
That track was placed at the end by Jac Holzman, who sequenced the album, and so it was him who placed MacLean’s song “Alone Again Or” at the start. Possibly this was in part to placate MacLean, but it’s also the most obvious choice for an opener, being far more immediate than anything else on the album.
The song had started as a fairly straightforward folk-rock song, and listening to MacLean’s later solo demo recordings it sounds like he probably intended it to be vaguely Byrds-like:
[Excerpt: Bryan MacLean, “Alone Again Or”]
But Echols, as he did on the one or two songs MacLean got per album, tried to steer him into a more interesting direction. He said later “Bryan started ‘Alone Again Or’ as another one of his folk songs. I started playing flamenco licks and flourishes in rehearsal, and it went from being a folk song to a Spanish-influenced song. We changed the cadence of it. I was just noodling around, trying to find different things that would compliment what Bryan was doing. I would always rearrange Bryan’s songs, trying to add something so as to pull them away from sounding like show tunes. It had that Spanish feel, to me. There were probably two or three overdubs of mine where I’m playing inside the chords of that song.”
And then when Angel arranged the strings and horns, he picked up on Echols’ flamenco embellishments. As he put it “Unlike Arthur, Bryan didn’t know what to tell me, He didn’t have any idea what he wanted, so I had to ask him a lot of questions to draw out something that I could hold onto. In the end, I made all the suggestions and he would always say that sounded very cool. With Bryan’s songs, the orchestration was completely an interpretation from my point of view. On “Alone Again Or,” he just told me to take it where I wanted to take it. I heard this very strong Spanish guitar effect and I went with that feeling, more than the song. The song itself had no Spanish effect at all, but the rhythm of the guitar drew me into that feel and I just reacted to it. I suggested to him, ‘What if we have a baroque background with a trumpet doing a kind of Spanish style?’ It’s not Mariachi. It’s not Mexican. What makes it Spanish is that the background is baroque in style, not polka. It’s like bullfight music, because that’s Spanish music”:
[Excerpt: Love, “Alone Again Or”]
“Alone Again Or” is one of only two tracks on Forever Changes with little Arthur Lee involvement. Lee probably doesn’t appear at all on MacLean’s other song, “Old Man”, as while most issues of the album credit him as playing guitar on the record, Johnny Echols has always been insistent that Lee didn’t play at all on Forever Changes, just sang and produced.
On “Alone Again Or”, though, Lee is present — in the studio he sang harmony with MacLean’s lead, but when they were mixing it, it was decided that MacLean’s vocals were weak, and so Lee’s vocal was raised in the mix, and his harmony became the lead, rather than what was intended to be the melody:
[Excerpt: Love, “Alone Again Or”]
MacLean later accepted this was necessary, but at the time he was infuriated. That wasn’t the only problem band members had with the mix of Forever Changes, either. Both MacLean and Stuart Ware thought that the mix was too light, and didn’t have enough of the rhythm section, and Lee was never happy with how the intro of “Alone Again Or” faded in, saying it started too quietly:
[Excerpt: Love, “Alone Again Or”]
According to Echols, this was because MacLean was using steel picks on his fingers, and they were clattering against the guitar when he played, and he wouldn’t let Echols — who played with his fingers rather than picks — play it, so it had to be ducked in the mix at the beginning until the other instruments came in to cover up the noise.
Bruce Botnick has later said that he thinks he could do a better job, and wishes he had the opportunity to do a surround sound remix of the album, but sadly almost all the multitracks and master tapes are lost and presumably destroyed.
The album was originally to be titled “The Third Coming of Love”, but at the last minute Lee changed the title. He’d split up with a girlfriend, who had said to him, upset, “You said you’d love me forever!” and he’d replied, “Yeah, well, forever changes”, and been so pleased with his cleverness that that became the album’s title.
The group went into the studio after Forever Changes to record two more tracks, which eventually became a single but were intended for a fourth album. But by this point everything was falling apart. All the group except Lee were using heroin — Lee had his own drug problems, but heroin was never his drug of choice — and the rift between Lee and MacLean had grown insuperable. The final straw came when Elektra chose “Alone Again Or” as the single from Forever Changes. Lee needed to be the leader of the group, and he couldn’t cope with having someone else’s song picked over any of his.
And at the same time, MacLean was making plans for a solo album, which Lee was vehemently against, telling him “You’re either in Love or you’re not”. As it turned out, he was not. Then one of the band’s roadies died of a heroin overdose.
The few gigs the band were playing, they were playing awfully, they were all addicts, they all hated each other. The group didn’t formally split up, they just stopped talking to each other.
MacLean would always blame Holzman for the split, saying “It was facilitated by Jac Holzman. He’s actually responsible for the end of Love. I might not have quit, but when they offered me a way out I started thinking, ‘Maybe I’m unhappy here.’”
He left the group, got himself off heroin, and recorded some demos for the solo album Holzman had been suggesting he could do:
[Excerpt: Bryan MacLean, “Claudia”]
But Holzman listened to the demos and turned him down. According to Holzman, “His best stuff turned out to be the songs he recorded with Love,” The demos finally got a release in 1997, and MacLean largely left the music business after Love, going into real estate, though with occasional attempts at solo performances in the eighties, and becoming a born-again Christian.
The rest of the band tried to struggle on for a while, but without MacLean, the band simply didn’t feel like Love, and their addictions were making them flaky and unreliable. Eventually they heard through the grapevine that Lee had put together an entirely new band and was calling that Love.
Stuart Ware went on to play with Neil Diamond, before retiring from music so that he could stay off drugs. He later wrote an autobiography about his time in Love. Echols went to New York, got himself clean, and got some session work and became a music teacher, Ken Forssi struggled for most of his life, finding it unable to hold down a job because of his addiction issues.
And Lee, he found another group — didn’t take too long:
[Excerpt: Love, “Doggone”]
But his new group, while it called itself Love, was… *not* Love. The musicians in his new band looked at Lee’s older music with contempt. They wanted to be heavy rockers, not do things with acoustic guitars and harpsichords and mariachi trumpets. They wanted to show off their solos. And it destroyed the music. Like that song we just heard a snatch of, “Doggone”, from Out Here, the second album by that version of Love. It’s a lovely little gentle ballad. And then it becomes this:
[Excerpt: Love, “Doggone”]
An eight minute drum solo, by a drummer who, when the group toured the UK, went up to someone he thought was Ginger Baker and started boasting about how much better he was on drums than Baker.
These were not the most sympathetic musical companions for Lee. Their recordings did so badly that Lee’s new label, Blue Thumb, insisted on him trying to get the old version of Love, minus MacLean, back together for a European tour. They played one gig together in the US, but that was a disaster, and so the New Love continued to be the only Love there was.
During the seventies, Lee moved to smaller and smaller labels, and had an ever-changing lineup of musicians. He had his own drug problems now, mostly cocaine, and also some severe mental health issues. He would make albums with one or two new songs that sounded as good as anything he’d done and a bunch of terrible filler.
There were moments of hope, like when he reconnected with his old friend Jimi Hendrix, and Hendrix guested on a track on the latest album by a version of Love:
[Excerpt: Love with Jimi Hendrix, “The Everlasting First”]
According to Lee, Hendrix was considering putting together a new band with Lee and Steve Winwood, but died before the group got together.
Or there was the time when Eric Clapton and Robert Plant, two huge fans of Love, persuaded Robert Stigwood to sign Lee to his label. Stigwood gave him a multi-album contract, with a big budget for the first album, and threw all his weight behind promoting the album, including getting Lee a support slot on Clapton’s tour. And then on the first night of the tour, with Stigwood in the audience, Lee started complaining on stage about how he’d been treated badly by every record label, about how all the label executives were racist, and about how he was still a slave and Stigwood just his latest master. Stigwood would have nothing further to do with him after that, and Lee never recorded for a major label again.
He spent part of the late seventies caring for his terminally-ill stepfather, and then spent the eighties getting into legal trouble and playing bad gigs with bad backing bands, and recording the odd bad album. By 1993, he was a legendary casualty of rock music, so much so that Robyn Hitchcock recorded a song called “The Wreck of the Arthur Lee”:
[Excerpt: Robyn Hitchcock, “The Wreck of the Arthur Lee”]
But then something strange happened. A song from one of those bad albums — actually his last ever studio album, from 1992 — was covered by Mazzy Star on their 1993 platinum-selling album So Tonight That I Might See:
[Excerpt: Mazzy Star, “Five String Serenade”]
Suddenly, people wanted to know Arthur Lee again, and bands that had been influenced by him started talking about him. He played gigs in the UK, backed by the Liverpool band Shack and by the chamber-pop band the High Llamas, and for the first time since the original band split up he was being backed by musicians who actually cared about his music and had the skill to play it.
The same thing happened in the US, where he hooked up with Baby Lemonade, a band who were part of a growing scene in LA in the nineties, of experimental powerpop bands that also included the Wondermints, the Negro Problem, and others. These were serious musicians, serious fans of Love, and most importantly they were a band in their own right. Lee had grown used to playing mind games with his musicians and playing them off against each other, threatening to sack individuals if they annoyed him. Baby Lemonade, because they were a band themselves and had been playing together already, had a one-for-all and all-for-one attitude that meant that Lee couldn’t bully them.
Things were finally going well for Lee, and he even talked with the other original members of Love about working with some of them again, though as far as he was concerned Baby Lemonade were the new Love. But then disaster struck. Lee was arrested for allegedly discharging a gun in the air. The details of what happened are murky, and he was later freed on appeal, but at the time, because he had two previous felony convictions, he was convicted under California’s “three strikes” law, and sentenced to twelve years in prison.
Bryan MacLean started corresponding with him in prison, and the two had apparently patched up their friendship, but while Lee was in prison both MacLean and Forssi died, as did Lee’s mother. When he got out of prison after serving five and a half years, he was a changed man.
He reconnected with Baby Lemonade, and they started touring, mostly in the UK and Europe. The shows weren’t always big or prestigious, at least at first — the second time I saw him, it was at the Limelight Club in Crewe, a small club venue with a capacity of four hundred that pretty much exclusively hosted tribute acts, and I remember chatting with the sound engineer before the show. Baby Lemonade had soundchecked without Lee, as was their habit, and the sound engineer was complaining about them being one of these young bands who rely on huge numbers of effects pedals, and how you wouldn’t get proper old-school musicians like Jimi Hendrix doing that kind of thing. He looked suitably chastened when I explained that the singer with the band had actually sung with Hendrix.
But Lee gave truly exceptional performances, even in venues like that, and he got a lot more appreciation than that would suggest. In June 2002, for example, nine MPs signed an early-day motion in the House of Commons “That this House pays tribute to the legendary Arthur Lee, also known as Arthurly, frontman and inspiration of Love, the world’s greatest rock band and creators of Forever Changes, the greatest album of all time; notes that following his release from jail he is currently touring Europe; and urges honourable and especially Right honourable Members to consider the potential benefit to their constituents if they were, with the indulgence of their whips, to lighten up and tune in to one of his forthcoming British gigs.”
This new version of Love — Arthur Lee and Baby Lemonade — played the main stage at Glastonbury, played the Royal Festival Hall, and performed the whole of Forever Changes live with string and horn sections:
[Excerpt: Love with Arthur Lee, “Alone Again Or (live)”[
In 2004, Johnny Echols even rejoined the group, the two old friends reunited and playing their old classics together. But then, when the band got to the airport for their 2005 UK tour, they called Lee to find out where he was. He was at home. He wasn’t coming. He wouldn’t tell them why. He told them they couldn’t go to the UK either.
He was behaving very erratically, but they were used to that. The band were faced with a dilemma — if they didn’t make the trip, all the promoters, people who had supported them for years and who in many cases were fans themselves working on shoestring budgets, would be out thousands.
They ended up doing the tour with Echols and without Lee, giving audiences partial refunds if they stayed to watch the show even without its star, or full refunds if they didn’t. Mike Randle, Baby Lemonade’s guitarist, later said “We paid off the tour bus and that was it. That was a very tough thing, but what made it all right were the fans; they were wonderful. They were feeding us and bringing us groceries because we were dirt poor. We would stop the bus by the side of a road and barbecue whatever the fans had given us. Johnny was wonderful. His house was facing foreclosure; I was facing going to court because I was behind in my child support payments. But all we could do was play the music. We did all this because we didn’t want to stick anyone with the bills. We talked with Arthur every day, several times a day, asking him to come over, but he wouldn’t do it and he wouldn’t tell us why.”
Randle started blogging about what was happening, in an understandably angry tone, so the fans would know that the situation wasn’t the fault of him or his bandmates. This got back to Lee, and Lee decided he was never going to work with them again. He was going to get a new Love.
Except while he tried to do that, the new band never played a gig together, because what Lee hadn’t told the members of Baby Lemonade was that he hadn’t gone to the airport because he was physically incapable of it. He was in too much pain.
He’d been ill since he was in prison — I was amazed to discover later that the vibrant, active, charismatic person I saw on those UK tours between 2002 and 2004 was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and he was also diabetic — but this was worse. He simply couldn’t function any more, he was in so much pain, though he did manage to make one last record, a guest vocal appearance on a record by Chico Hamilton, singing the old standard “What’s Your Story, Morning Glory?”
[Excerpt: Chico Hamilton, “What’s Your Story, Morning Glory?”]
Lee had been raised a Christian Scientist, and didn’t like going to see doctors, even when he was in agony. When he finally did, he found out he had leukaemia, and needed a stem cell transplant, though even then the prognosis wasn’t good — he was told he had a twenty percent chance of survival if he had the operation, but no chance at all if he didn’t.
He was uninsured, but the musicians he’d inspired rallied round, putting together a benefit concert in New York to raise funds for his treatment, featuring Ian Hunter, Nils Lofgren, Yo La Tengo, Ryan Adams, and Robert Plant, who did a twelve-song set, including five Love covers, performing with Johnny Echols:
[Excerpt: Robert Plant, “Bummer in the Summer”]
But sadly, the transplant didn’t take, and Arthur Lee died in August 2006.
Johnny Echols still tours, performing with Baby Lemonade, the musicians who played with Arthur Lee for longer than any other group of musicians, as either Love Revisited or The Love Band. He’s regularly talked about plans to finish up the songs he wrote for the follow-up to Forever Changes with the members of Baby Lemonade and release them as Gethsemane, possibly with Michael Stuart Ware being involved too, and he’s also said he’s writing an autobiography. I’ve seen the band twice since Arthur Lee’s death, and they put on a great show, devoted to songs from the first three classic Love albums.
The story of Love is a story of heartbreak, self-sabotage, and missed opportunities, But then, aren’t most stories? They may never have had the commercial success their obvious talents suggested they would, but they inspired artists as different as the Doors and the High Llamas, Robert Plant and Robyn Hitchcock, and they leave behind three classic albums and a bunch of momentarily brilliant might-have beens. The unfulfilled potential of those might-have-beens can sometimes make us forget the very real, existing, music that they made, so I’ll leave you with a final clip from Forever Changes:
[Excerpt: Love, “You Set The Scene” into theme music]