Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Arthur Lee R.I.P.

Arthur Lee, best known as frontman and guitarist for Sixties rock group Love, died August 3 at the age of 61 from acute myeloid leukaemia.

Arthur Lee was born in Memphis on March 7, 1945. While he was still young, Lee's family moved to Los Angeles. It was in the early Sixties that he formed his first band, an instrumental group called Arthur Lee and the LAGs. They released one single, "The Ninth Wave," on Capitol Records in 1963. It would be Arthur Lee who would hire guitarist Jimi Hendrix for his first recording session. Producing "My Diary (a song which Lee also wrote)" for Rosa Lee Brooks, he hired the young Hendrix to play guitar on the record. Lee also wrote songs for Ronnie And The Pomona Casuals ("The Slow Jerk") "I've Been Tryin'" for Little Ray.

Drawn to the folk rock sound of The Byrds and the British Invasion bands (such as The Beatles), Lee formed a band called The Grass Roots with drummer Don Conka, guitarist Johnny Echols, and bassist Johnny Fleckenstein. Bryan MacLean, who had been a road manager for The Byrds, would be asked to join as vocalist and another songwriter. It was not long before the band as to change their name (there was already another Los Angeles band called The Grassroots). Considering such names as "Summer's Children" and "Dr. Strangelove," they eventually settled on the name "Love." Their self titled first album was released in 1966 and featured an early version of the song "Hey, Joe." At this point Love sounded liked The Byrds crossed with a garage band. Later in the year they would release their only top forty hit, "7 and 7 Is," which went to number 33 on the Billboard pop charts.

Love would only release two more albums with anything close to its original lineup. Da Capo appeared in January 1967. Besides featuring the single "7 and 7 Is," it also featured such songs as "She Comes in Colours" and "Stephanie Knows Who." The album spanned musical styles from garage rock ("7 and 7 Is" and "Stephanie Knows Who") to more melodic ("She Comes in Colours"). Their third and final album, Forever Changes, was released in November 1967. The album was a mix of Love's expected garage rock, sweeter sounds produced with violins, and outright psychedelia. Although the album did well in the UK, it bombed in the U.S. What is more, by this time the group was falling apart. Eventually, everyone left the band except Lee. Lee would form new bands called "Love" well into the late Seventies.

In addition to his work with Love, Lee released three solo albums (Vindicator in 1972, Black Beauty in 1973, and Arthur Lee in 1981. He eventually dropped out of sight entirely before reemerging with Arthur Lee & Love and the album of the same name in 1992. Sadly in 1996 he was convicted of owning an illegal firearm under California statutes and sentenced to 12 years. He would serve only five, being released in 2001. In 2002 he would start touring with a reconstituted Arthur Lee and Love.

Arthur Lee was an influence on such asrtists as Pink Floyd (in fact, he has been compared to Syd Barrett), Led Zeppelin, and Echo and the Bunnymen. Lee and his band Love lacked any one sound, as their albums often cut across such genres as garage rock, psychedelia, and blues. Although very few people today probably recognise the names "Arthur Lee" or "Love," they have had a lasting influence on rock music.

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