Saturday, August 05, 2006

Arthur Lee: There's just no getting over you

From the BBC:

Arthur Lee, singer and guitarist of the influential 1960s band Love, has died in Memphis at the age of 61 following a battle with acute myeloid leukaemia.

A Memphis native who called himself the "first so-called black hippie", Lee formed Love in Los Angeles in 1965.

As a former musician who wandered the Sunset Strip in the mid-to-late '60s, I got chance to hear many of the great bands of the day in Los Angeles. And there were two bands that scared other musicians. Not just because of virtuosity, or power, or looks. Rather, because in those heady times when everything was new, these two bands were doing something completely different. They were sailing in waters almost uncomprehensible to many of us. They were making music that was on the raw cutting edge of new. They were The Doors, and Love.

Both were fronted by charismatic vocalists, but there the comparison stops. The Doors relied less on instrumental strengths (Light My Fire notwithstanding) and more on the poetry and dark imagery of Jim Morrison. While Love also depended largely on the strengths of Arthur Lee, they were musically the more adventurous.

"7 & 7 Is" is an archetype of the kind of garage band energy that dotted the L.A. landscape in those years, and in a way predicted the kind of energy that would come almost a decade later in the proto-punk music of the mid-'70s. "Alone Again Or" took the folk music themes of many '60s bands, and added tons of energy along with a Spanish chord progression and horns! And "Little Red Book" took upcoming schmaltz-meister Burt Bacharach's most unusual song, and gave it a most unusual setting. And their version of the oft covered "Hey Joe" may be the best (sorry Jimi!)

The band I was in at the time covered one of their more obscure songs, "Signed, D.C.".

More from the Beeb:
Although the original members of Love were only together for two years, they typified West Coast progressive rock.

The excess and bravura of the period is reflected on Da Capo, one side of which was taken up with a single song.

The album, like its predecessor, was not a commercial success. But Forever Changes, the band's next album, did reach the Top 30 in the UK.

Considered by many as Lee's bold response to the Beatles' Sgt Pepper album, it remains one of the most enduring records of the period and has been named the 40th greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.

After that highpoint the band lost momentum and went through many changes of line-up. Lee also recorded as a solo artist, with little success.


My friend Wintermute has put together a great piece, with links to many video clips, and also says this:

'Twas 1968, after two albums of garage-ish rock and hippie experimentation and with generous help from his record company, Arthur Lee made a classic album, Forever Changes, that still makes the all-time best lists.

Arthur came home to the place of his birth, the great music town of Memphis, Tennessee, for his final months and passed away recently despite the best treatments our world-class medical center provided him.

Wintermute did such a great job with video, I'm not going to bother. Go see his piece.

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