Arthur Lee (March 7, 1945 – August 3, 2006) was the frontman, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist of the Los Angeles rock band Love, best known for the critically acclaimed 1967 album, Forever Changes.
Lee was born Arthur Taylor in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Chester Taylor, a jazz cornet player and Agnes Taylor, a school teacher. He and his mother moved to Los Angeles when he was five. In 1953 his mother married Clinton Lee, who adopted Arthur and legally changed his name to Arthur Taylor Lee.
Arthur spent his childhood and teenage years in the now historic West Adams District of Los Angeles. He attended Dorsey High School, where he excelled in basketball, and held the record for most points scored in a single game. During his high school years he teamed up with family friend Johnny Echols (also originally from Tennessee) and formed various musical groups.
His first known recording is from 1963. The Ninth Wave was released by his first band, the instrumental outfit called The LAGs, a Booker T & The MG's type of unit which included Johnny Echols (future co-founder, guitarist and vocalist of Love), Lee (organ), Allan Talbert (saxophone) and Roland Davis (drums).
As a songwriter, Lee composed the surf songs "White Caps" and "Ski Surfin' Sanctuary". "My Diary" is the first Lee composition that came near to being a hit. It was written for the R&B singer Rosa Lee Brooks, who performed and recorded it. This recording included Jimi Hendrix on electric guitar. Lee had seen Hendrix backing up the Isley Brothers. The significance of "My Diary" is that it is considered by many to be the first known studio recording of Jimi Hendrix in any capacity.
Lee wrote "I've Been Tryin'" for Little Ray. "Luci Baines", a song about President Lyndon Johnson's daughter, was performed and recorded with Lee's new band, The American Four. He composed "Everybody Jerk" and "Slow Jerk" for Ronnie And The Pomona Casuals, a band that put out an LP on the Donna label featuring some vocals by Lee.
These early recordings are very rare but have been collected on a 1997 bootleg CD. The American Four however have since been reissued as a 45 and are also available now on iTunes.
Lee said when he first heard The Byrds, he felt vindicated since he'd already been writing music that had a similar folk rock sound. In 1965, The Grass Roots, his folk rock unit eventually changed their name to Love because there was already a signed act called The Grass Roots. Several other names were considered, including Bryan MacLean's choice of Summer's Children as well as other such as The Asylum Choir, Dr Strangelove and Poetic Justice and The Love. The name Love was chosen after a club audience voted it as the best choice. According to Barney Hoskyns' 2001 book Arthur Lee: Alone Again Or, Manson Family member and sometime Grass Roots guitarist Bobby Beausoleil claimed that Arthur had named the band Love in honor of one of Beausoleil's nicknames, Cupid.
Lee's early appearances were at clubs in Hollywood. He played them all, including the Brave New World, Bido Lito's and the Sea Witch. At Bido Lito's, a tiny hole-in-the-wall club located on a cul-de-sac known as Cosmo's Alley, Lee first showed he had superstar potential. The Bido Lito's audience was sometimes dotted by celebrities, including actor Sal Mineo, and rock stars Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, who would go on to collaborate with Lee on future recording projects. Lee then got the opportunity to play the larger Whisky a Go-Go on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip, after which Love received a recording contract by Elektra Records.
Love's music has been described as a mixture of folk-rock, psychedelic rock, baroque pop, Spanish-tinged pop, R&B, garage rock, and even protopunk. Though Lee's vocals have garnered some comparisons to Johnny Mathis, his lyrics often dwell on matters dark and vexing, but often with a wry humor. The group's cover of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition "My Little Red Book" (first recorded by Manfred Mann for the soundtrack of What's New, Pussycat?) received a thumbs-down from Bacharach: Love had altered the former Marlene Dietrich bandleader's chord changes. Nonetheless, the record was a Southern California hit and won Lee and Love a spot on American Bandstand.
Love released three albums with core members Lee, Echols (lead guitar, vocals), Bryan MacLean (guitar, vocals) and Ken Forssi (bass). The drum chair revolved between Alban "Snoopy" Pfisterer (Love, "Seven & Seven Is") and Michael Stuart (Da Capo excepting "Seven & Seven Is", Forever Changes). However, it has been reported that Pfisterer found the demanding drum parts on "Seven & Seven Is" so exhausting that he and Arthur alternated takes, with Lee himself drumming on every other take. On Da Capo, Tjay Cantrelli was added on saxophone and flute while Pfisterer was moved to organ and harpsichord. Both were out of the group by the time Forever Changes was recorded.
Love (1966) included their cover of "My Little Red Book". Side two of Da Capo (1967) featured just one song — "Revelation". The first side, however, contained six individual songs, including their only single to achieve any success in the Billboard Top 40 chart: "7&7 Is". Forever Changes (1967) followed, the album a centerpiece of the group's psychedelic-tinged sound, bolstered by David Angel's arrangements.
Forever Changes is regarded by critics and fans alike as Love's finest recording, and one of the best records of the '60s. Despite this acclaim, the LP sold moderately in its time (reaching #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.
After Forever Changes, the band managed to record one more non-album single ("Your Mind and We Belong Together" b/w "Laughing Stock") which was released in June 1968 and failed to chart. Love then dissolved due to drug and money issues, only to have Lee revive the group name shortly thereafter. The new Love featured a lineup consisting of Arthur himself on vocals and guitar, Jay Donnellan on guitar, Frank Fayad on bass, and George Suranovich on drums despite a few tracks featuring The Crazy World of Arthur Brown drummer Drachen Theaker on the kit. Arthur chose to sign a record deal with Bob Krasnow's Blue Thumb label during this time. However, Lee did not mention to Krasnow that he was technically still signed to Elektra Records. Arthur had wanted out of his Elektra deal since 1966 (the year the self titled debut was released). Elektra founder Jac Holzman did not want to let Lee out of his contract because he admired his talents so much, but he also did not want to keep an artist who did not want to be kept, so a deal was worked out between Jac Holzman and Bob Krasnow. This deal would allow Arthur to record for Blue Thumb as long as Holzman gets to pick the ten songs he likes to fulfill the Elektra contract of a fourth album. That album would become "Four Sail." Arthur originally wanted to call it "For Sale" but being wordsmith that he was, chose the more clever "Four Sail." A mere three months after the release of "Four Sail," Blue Thumb records would release their Love album titled "Out Here."
The album titled "Out Here" would feature essentially the same line up as "Four Sail" sans guitarist Jay Donnellan who would later be replaced with Gary Rowles. Lee felt that Donnellan was getting a little too egotistical for his tastes. This new lineup consisted of musicians who were not fans of "Forever Changes," thus a harder edged, almost acid rock/country rock sound was to be the new direction of Love. During the initial sessions for "Four Sail/Out Here" Bob Krasnow approached Arthur Lee about the possibility of rounding up the original members of Love. Krasnow felt there was some magic missing with the new line up. Lee obliged him, and started rehearsing and even recording some with original members Johnny Echols, Michael Stuart, and Ken Forssi. Bryan MacLean had refused to work with Arthur. Heroin proved to be too dominant in the lives of guitarist Johnny Echols and Ken Forssi. Both men were constantly pawning off the rented equipment for drug money and were eventually let go yet again. Love would also tour both "Four Sail" and "Out Here" for what would become their first ever trip to Europe where they were always more popular. This Love however would go on to do a nationally televised performance on Dutch television and would also feature promotional videos for older songs from the Elektra years. Out Here managed to chart at #29 in the UK in May 1970.
The next album to appear from Love would be titled "False Start" and would also be a part of the Blue Thumb label. This album continues on with the heavier sonic direction of acid rock, while featuring more elements of classic R&B. One new member was added to this incarnation of Love, a vocalist/guitarist named Nooney Rickett. The most notable aspect of this album remains the fact that the opening track (titled The Everlasting First") features Jimi Hendrix on guitar. Apparently Arthur ran into Jimi while in England, and they decided to record on Bob Krasnow's dime. For years there would be rumors that Arthur and Jimi recorded an entire record together but the truth surfaced in 2009 when an acetate from Blue Thumb made rounds and it was revealed that there was only a long jam session (titled Jam on the actual acetate, to accompany "The Everlasting First" and an early version of "Easy Rider"). Accordng 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 would not even grace the top 200 on the billboard charts. Not even the inclusion of Jimi Hendrix's last recording would save this album. Arthur would break up this version of Love a mere two months after their tour was over.
The post-"Forever Changes" albums were never really well received by fans and critics alike. The sound had changed, and Arthur was being accused of trying to imitate Jimi Hendrix, especially after his death.
In 1971, 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 were released for the first time in 2009 on Sundazed as "Love Lost.")