On August 3, 2006, the world was at a loss when a very special singer/songwriter named Arthur Taylor Lee passed away in Memphis –the same Tennessee town where he was born on March 7, 1945. Arthur’s too-soon demise was not entirely unexpected by those who knew and loved him; the man had been battling acute myeloid leukemia for several months. Still, the news that the enigmatic and enchanting lead singer of the influential Los Angeles rock band, Love, was gone came as a dreadful blow to musicians and music fans around the globe.
When Arthur Lee, who sometimes referred to himself “the first black hippie,” left the planet, it seemed as if it would be the final end to the pioneering psychedelic band. Fans may have felt a similar sentiment when the original band fell to pieces at the end of the 1960s and again when Lee went to jail in the mid-90s. Fortunately, this is not the way things ultimately worked out.
Arthur Lee’s last backing band, Baby Lemonade cum Love Revisited, continues to present the remarkable Love songbook to appreciative audiences. Love Revisited band members include singing guitarist David “‘Rusty Squeezebox” Ramsey, bassist David Chapple, guitarist Mike Randall, and David “Daddy-O” Green on drum duty.
In July, Love co-founder and preeminent lead guitarist, Johnny Echols, joined the impressive ensemble of first-class musicians, and Love Revisited took the show on the road. Echols and company recently returned from a highly successful tour of the United Kingdom, where they wowed crowds with pitch-perfect renditions of the songs that made Arthur Lee and Love a very big deal on the Sunset Strip in the 1960s.
On the tenth anniversary of Arthur Lee’s demise, Johnny Echols posted on Facebook a beautiful quote by his friend and former bandmate:
The original 1964 Love lineup consisted of songwriter Arthur Lee, guitarist John (sic) Echols, drummer Don Conka, and bassist Johnny Fleckstein, according to official Love website. In 1965, Bryan MacLean joined the band, contributing guitar skills, vocals, and songs such as the hauntingly Flamenco-flavored, “Alone Again Or.”
The band’s eponymous debut album was released in the summer of 1966 featuring Ken Forssi on bass and Alban Pfisterer on drums. Love’s second album, Forever Changes, is lauded as one of the most wonderful collection of psychedelic songs ever recorded.
Many rock ‘n’ roll scholars believe that without Arthur Lee and Love’s influence at Elektra Records, the world may not ever have known about Jim Morrison and The Doors. Jim admired Arthur very much and even copied some of his phrases and stage mannerisms. Love band members were nearly as impressed with The Doors and encouraged the record label to sign singer/songwriter Jim Morrison, guitarist Robby Krieger, keyboard player Ray Manzarek, and drummer John Densmore to its roster of rock musicians. It didn’t take long for The Doors to rise to the heights of the record charts, while Love lived in Bela Lugosi’s former home in Laurel Canyon and remained in relative obscurity.
The reasons Love did not make it as big in the biz as The Doors was certainly not due a lack of talent or worthy songs. By all accounts, Arthur Lee loathed traveling outside of California, whereas The Doors began touring almost as soon as the ink was dry on their contract with Elektra.
The New York Times called the songs of Arthur Lee and Love catchy, shifty, dark, and playful. To say that Love shows at venues like the Whisky a Go-Go, Bido Lito’s took audiences on a ride through heaven and hell is putting it mildly. The songs and musical sensibilities of Love touched audience hearts and minds back then and continue to do so to this day.
Shine on, Arthur Taylor Lee. 1945-2006
[Photo by Elektra Records | Public Domain | Wikimedia Commons]