Love - Biography

By Brad Austin


            Typical of one of rock history's most influential bands (if one can get away with calling Love a band, as they were sometimes more of a solo project for one enigmatic singer) to be sorely unappreciated when they were doing their best work. Love's devoted Los Angeles following found them quickly in their career, but beyond that, they never rose beyond cult status in America. Today, the Love name is synonymous not only with the name of front-man Arthur Lee, but with 1967 and the summer of love, when they released their artistic breakthrough, Forever Changes. That now-classic album sold poorly in the US, and Lee's next move was to break up his drug-addled Love lineup, resulting in several subsequent albums by Lee and a new lineup, albums that paled in comparison to the first three Love releases. Lee's behavior grew increasingly unusual through the seventies, and he had always been a difficult man to explain (and by some accounts, a difficult man to deal with). Love was more or less defunct by the mid-70's, with sporadic reunions here and there, and solo efforts by Lee popping up once in a while. Lee went to prison throughout all of the late 90's, but in between his death in 2006 and his release from prison in 2001, he toured with a new incarnation of Love, playing Forever Changes from front to back. And, in the roaring applause of the audience, he got to hear how much that album means to people. 


            Arthur Lee, born in Memphis, moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was five years old. He got started playing in bands as early as age 17, and released a few singles with these bands that gained little notice. Before forming Love, he wrote a song for Rosa Lee Brooks and produced it. The song was called “My Diary,” and the guitar player on the session was none other than Jimi Hendrix.

 By the age of 20, Lee was in a band called the Grass Roots. That name had to be changed when Lee caught wind of another band with that name that had just signed to Dunhill Records, and the name was changed to Love. Lee and guitarist Bryan MacLean – the more gentle songwriter in Love who would put  his effectively shaky croon to use on some of Love's best songs – wrote songs influenced largely by the Byrds, another California band. Also giving them inspiration were the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and other British Invasion bands.


            The burgeoning Elektra label had been mostly associated with folk, releasing albums by Paul Butterfield and the Byrds' early music. The label signed Love after the band had made its name as part of the LA club scene. Love released Love on Elektra in 1966, and scored a minor hit when their cover of “My Little Red Book,” a song composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, reached number 52 on the charts. Love did not tour outside of LA in support of their debut. Inertia became a habit with the band, and by refusing to tour, they were unable to drum up the kind of sales and recognition that, because of the strength of their debut, were very much within their reach. By 1967, there were seven members of Love, all of which appeared on that year's Da Capo (Elektra). This album gained them their first and last single to break the top forty, “Seven and Seven Is,” a song that came strikingly close to hard rock, perhaps even punk, and a similar energy can now be heard in bands like TV on the Radio. It peaked at 33, while the LP stalled out at 80. Artistically, the album was certainly a progression, and with that top 40 single thrown in, Da Capo could be called a great success. The only thing that threatened to ruin the band was themselves, as they still saw no point in going on tour, and perhaps because of all of their free time, drugs were becoming something of a problem within the group. MacLean, for one, was addicted to heroin.


            What's more is that Love simply was and always had been a disheveled, sloppy organization, so much so that Elektra, instead of just dropping the band, arranged to have session musicians accompany Lee and Maclean on their respective compositions. The plan worked for two songs before Lee, Maclean, and the rest of the band took stock in themselves and got it together. What resulted from the revitalized sessions was Love's greatest achievement, Forever Changes. MacLean's beautiful, orchestral compositions (“And Moreagain,” “Alone Again Or”) ingeniously juxtaposed with Lee's hard-to-imitate rock writing style (“The Daily Planet,” “A House is Not a Motel”) truly makes this LP an event to behold, even though there was nothing very eventful that surrounded it upon its initial unveiling. It's not clear why the album was not a big seller upon its 1967 release. Today, it sounds like the quintessential summer of love album. It was psychedelic, it was catchy, and yet it did worse than any previous Love album, halting in the charts at number 154. The argument that it was too experimental or ahead of its time might hold water, given that its underlaying paranoia captures the zeitgeist of a time that had not yet arrived, as the sense of doom that would overtake hippie counterculture was still a few years away. Perhaps the album's low sales merely stemmed from the continued lack of touring.


            The next year, Lee broke up this original Love lineup, as the band had always been his to alter, and not even MacLean was kept as a member. The exact details of MacLean's departure are unclear, but the separation between him and Lee was most likely drug-related. MacLean was later offered a solo recording deal from Elektra, but once they heard what he had come up with, the disappointed label reneged on the contract. MacLean made a few more stabs at a music career before devoting himself to his newfound Christianity. He died of a heart attack in 1998 on Christmas day.  


            Lee quickly set to work on the new Love incarnation, hiring the guitarists Jay Donellan and Gary Rowles, as well as drummer George Suranovich and bassist Frank Fayad. The first new piece of material to come out of this arrangement was Four Sail, an album that was by no means a bad effort, but it is generally felt that Lee was wrong to use the Love name, as he was the only original member left in this distinctly different band. After that album, Lee's association with Elektra was no more, and he moved to One Way Records for the release of Out Here, a double-LP that failed to make much of an impact, on the charts or otherwise. Then came the misleadingly-titled False Start (1970, One Way), which actually marked the end of this incarnation of Love. The album opens with “The Everlasting First,” a tune worth hearing as it was co-written by Lee and Hendrix, and features the latter's legendary guitar sound. Love barely placed in the Billboard 200 with this album.


            One can't underestimate the value or the talent of MacLean and the other jettisoned Love members, but even without them, Lee should have been able to write material that was at least on a par with Forever Changes. Unfortunately, none of the subsequent Love albums were in the same league.

A bona fide solo album called Vindicator was released in 1972 before Lee gave Love one last shot, pulling a lineup together in 1974 for Reel to Real (RSO). Again, listeners were left cold. By the mid 70's, Love had faded away. On October 20th, 1978, Lee reunited with MacLean for a show at the Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles. Under the moniker they once shared, they played a set that included even some post-MacLean Love songs, and the show was recorded and released in 1982 as Love Live. Lee has not recorded a full-length album since then, though he has recorded songs on occasion. As recent as 1994, he released a single on the small label, Distortions.


            Two years later, Lee found himself in prison, sentenced to eight-to-twelve years on charges of possession of an illegal firearm. Apparently, he'd been having an argument with a neighbor when he shot his gun into the sky. The court took Lee's reckless 90's history into account when determining his sentencing. Fortunately, he did not have to see the sentence all the way through, and was released in 2001. The most recent Love “reunion” took place on January 15th, 2003, when Lee assembled a team  for a front-to-back performance of Forever Changes, which was released later that year as The Forever Changes Concert on Snapper Music. On August 23rd, 2006, Arthur Lee, who had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia earlier in the year, passed away in Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 61.

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