I know this is way off topic, but I will be listening to Love on my phone and PC today, as well as watching Love videos on my Xbox tonight. So here it goes.
Arthur Taylor Lee – March 7, 1945 – August 3, 2006.
Arthur Lee, biracial himself (his Mom, a schoolteacher was black – his dad, a trumpet player was white), was the front man for America’s first biracial rock band, “Love”, which ruled the Club scene in LA for several years in the mid to late 60s. Arthur’s influence can be found throughout music history. He paid his friend, James (Jimi) Hendrix, for his first ever studio recording gig, a song written and produced by Arthur called My Diary, recorded by Rosa Lee Brooks (no relation), a blues singer of the time. He wrote and performed the first punk song, “7 & 7 Is”, in 1966! He introduced the band that opened for Love, “The Doors”, to his label Elektra, and you know what happened after that. He released “Forever Changes”, a timeless rock opera in 1967. Forever Changes is still considered one of the Greatest 25 Albums ever (and I bet you never heard of it). Rock legends like Robert Plant still talk about Arthur with fervency. Even after death, he remains an icon in England, where he sold out every show, and was even recognized by Parliament. To be clear, Arthur Lee was the original bad boy of rock and roll.
My brother and I discovered Arthur Lee & Love in 1970 completely by accident. He had a friend who worked for a company that made copies of 8 Track tapes for redistribution. There were always some rejected tapes with crooked or damaged labels. My brother would bring them home and would normally listen to the tape before I recorded some “real” music over the top of the original recording. He ran across and listened to Love’s Four Sail and it immediately became a keeper. In fact, I made multiple copies ( I had a pretty impressive audio rig when I was 14) just to be safe, along with backing it up to reel to reel (some things never change).
Without the availability of the Internet it would take decades to find even small details of Arthur Lee and Love. For years I couldn’t walk past a record shop/department without checking the “L” slot. I did find a couple of his albums on vinyl but knew there was more out there, out of my reach. It wasn’t till the mid-80s, when most of the Love collection was re-released on CD, that I really got to know and understand the band, and the man behind the band (there were many, many iterations of Love, but there is only one Arthur). It would be another decade before I really got to piece together Arthur’s story. And another decade still before my brother and I (and my best friends) got to see Love live at The Town Hall in NYC on October 13, 2004. Seeing Arthur perform, and having the opportunity to shake his hand after the show is still one of pinnacle moments in my life. It took 34 years to accomplish. Being groupies as we were at that point, my brother and I drove down to Collingswood, NJ to see Arthur again the following night. And I almost convinced him to drive with me to Maryland for show #3.
Had Arthur accepted the invitations he received to perform at Monterey & Woodstock (he always insisted on top billing or no show), or had he complied with the pleas of his record company to tour more, I wouldn’t be having to explain who Love was to you. But not being well know, does not make his contribution to rock history any less important. Unfortunately, Arthur had this fear of success, something that I can relate to. Every time things got moving in the right direction, he was sure to apply the brakes; canceling shows, canceling tours, berating record executives on stage, and so on, and so on. Sad.
What’s even sadder is that despite Arthur’s numerous contributions to modern music, he, nor his band has ever been nominated to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Something that had a profound effect on Arthur till his death. You see, inductees to the R&R Hall of Fame are first nominated by a committee of promoters and record executives, many of whom still hold grudges towards Arthur’s early career antics. It’s important that the world not forget who Arthur Lee & Love were, despite the childish politics of a select few. Forgetting the genius who was Arthur Lee would be a true loss for Rock history, as well as anyone who appreciates music.
I never fail to ask anyone I meet, “have you ever heard of Arthur Lee & Love”. My unofficial results are around 2-3%. About as common as a Windows Phone in the US. Go figure.
A quote from Arthur Lee in the liner notes of Black Beauty, a studio album recorded in 1973 and finally released in 2011.
“I write songs like a letter. If you take away the music, records, tapes and all that, and just put the words on a piece of paper, they’ll probably tell you something you already knew. That’s all I’m here to do, is remind you. If you took all the songs I wrote and put them together, it would be a book. They all tell a story. They are from what I’ve seen and lived.”