Love's Labors Not Lost: Arthur Lee Out And About
"The news today will be the movies for tomorrow, and look: we're going round and round and how could I forget they're locking them up today, they're throwing away the key -- I wonder who it will be to"The news today will be the movies for tomorrow, and look: we're going round and round and how could I forget they're locking them up today, they're throwing away the key -- I wonder who it will be tomorrow, you or me?" Thus was all-too-appropriately commented by Love founder Arthur Lee from a California prison, where he languished for close to six years for illegal possession of a firearm. Finally released in mid-December 2001, Lee has very much picked up where he left off.
The Memphis-born Lee founded Love in 1965, wrangling lyrics, lead vocals, harmonica, and guitar/bass/piano/drums as needed. With his signature tinted glasses and a taste for Edwardian shirts, Lee was the "first black freak on the white scene" of '60s Los Angeles. Along with Jim Morrison and his Doors and the Byrds, Lee and Love ruled supreme as the kings of the Sunset Strip.
Merging folk and psychedelia, yet wielding feisty elements that predated punk and garage, Love turned out three albums of West Coast art rock experimentation. Although times were turbulent for the group's founding members, Love established several "firsts": the first established racially-integrated band; the first such band signed to Elektra Records; the first to release a "stereo" 45 rpm single; and the first utilizing an entire album side for one track. Lee is also the only person to share a writing credit with Jimi Hendrix, on a song called "The Everlasting First," which has appeared on various Love releases.
The 1967 album "Forever Changes" was the last to feature the original Love lineup of Lee, John Echols (lead guitar), Bryan Maclean (rhythm guitar, vocals), Ken Forssi (bass), and Michael Stuart (drums). Stylistically daring, it was influenced by everything from raga to Burt Bacharach. And although it was virtually ignored commercially and critically at the time, "Forever Changes" now resides on many a music scribe's "top-10-albums-of-all-time" list.
The album was reissued by Rhino last year with seven bonus tracks. "I would like to thank God for allowing me to be around to see the re-release of 'Forever Changes,'" Lee says. "When I wrote the songs on that album, I wrote about the things I saw happening in the world and in my life."
Although he had moved far out the eye of the mainstream by the time of his incarceration, Love never stopped writing songs. Newer tracks are available on the Almafame Ltd. U.K. live album "Electrically Speaking," recorded in 1990 and '91. "The people on Almafame have put together some songs of mine of shows I did in the '90s. And although I have not heard these shows myself, I hope you will enjoy them as much as I enjoyed playing them," Lee asserts.
Asked if he continued to think musically while in jail, Lee says, "I have written some of the best songs of my life in the last few years and I hope to share them with you soon. As a challenge to myself, I wrote these songs without the help of an instrument to see how sharp my brain is as well as test my memory. So far, so good."
Lee is also laboring over his long-awaited autobiography, "Love Volume One," which he claims will offer details of his personal relationships with Hendrix, Morrison, and his Love bandmates. "I'm writing this book not only because I'm enjoying doing so, but also to sort of set the record straight," he says. He plans to start from the first band he assembled in high school all the way to Love, and will explain meanings of titles and lyrics. "I will also tell you about the most beautiful thing that ever happened in my life," he teases.
"I'm doing really well and am enjoying my downtime relaxing and concentrating on refocusing on my musical career," Lee affirms. "I'm in fine mental and physical shape." Presently he is rehearsing with his pre-incarceration backing band, the Los Angeles-based Baby Lemonade, and expects to launch an extensive European tour with the outfit in early summer.
On the legal front, a California Circuit Appeals Court hearing earlier this month was adjourned until mid-March, at which time all parties are prepared to have Lee officially released for time served. The state that imprisoned him showed Lee some more overdue love, as he was recently awarded the California Music Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award. Now that he has a new lease on life, it will prove interesting to see and hear what Lee has up his ruffled sleeve next.