Our resident NYC CAS Musicologist Ron Like Hell loves LOVE! Here is his presentation for our “Forever Changes” session.
“LOVE influenced contemporaries of theirs, including stablemates, The Doors, The Seeds and The Strawberry Alarm Clock and later impacted the sounds of The Monochrome Set, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Damned, Teenage Fanclub, The Boo Radleys, The Stone Roses, Thee Oh Sees and Mazzy Star. While every band has it’s frontman, LOVE and its legacy could not have existed without the freethinking and outsider personality of Arthur Lee.
“Arthur Lee was born in Memphis TN in 1945. He was the son of Chester Taylor, a Jazz coronet player, and Agnes Taylor, a school teacher. Arthur’s mother loved music and played Arthur the music of the late 40s such as jazz, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Nat King Cole. When Arthur turned five, he and his mother moved to LA and in 1953, Agnes married Clinton Lee, who adopted Arthur and legally changed his name to Arthur Taylor Lee. Arthur was an only child and grew up quick, being wild in the streets, caring more for the older set rather than those of his age.
“In that time, he met future LOVE guitarist, Johnny Echols, at the high school they attended together. He was so intrigued with Johnny’s guitar work at a school assembly, that Arthur left the basketball team he excelled at (despite his short stature) and decided it was time for a new challenge. He and Johnny started a band where Arthur originally played percussion before switching to keyboards. Their band played bar mitzvahs, weddings, parties, frat houses…any gigs for more experience.
“Growing eager for more success Arthur walked from school, venturing past Crenshaw Blvd. and the mansions of Beverly Hills, before reaching his final destination, Capitol Records. He didn’t know any one who worked there so just looked up names on the walls and asked to see whoever would listen to his tapes. He and Johnny got signed as studio musicians and as a songwriting team for Del Fi records although Arthur made sure he gave ‘second best and not his absolute best’ for use. Arthur wrote ‘My Diary’ for Rosa Lee Brooks, which became a minor hit and is known today for including the talents of a then unknown young guitarist named Jimmy James, aka Jimi Hendrix.
“Ready to take bigger leaps in their careers, Arthur & Johnny formed a group proper and called themselves The American Four, which existed briefly before they decided to shift to a more folk rock sound and renamed this outfit, The Grass Roots. Faced with having to find a new name since there was already a signed act called The Grass Roots, Arthur asked ‘What is the opposite of anger?’ and so emerged the band we now know as LOVE.
“Scoring gigs around town and gaining great success with industry music heads, they met, Bryan Maclean, a roadie for The Byrds (whom Bryan idolized). Arthur asked the dandy clad Bryan to join the band once Bryan returned from the Mr. Tambourine Man tour with The Byrds in the UK. While The Byrds stayed in London to hang with The Beatles, Bryan returned to the US and joined LOVE.
“Seven nights a week, the band gripped packed audiences that included artists, art students and celebrities such as Sal Mineo, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and future members of the Doors at a club called Bido Litos located in a cul-de-sac known as Cosmo’s Alley. It was a stimulating scene, the beginning of the hippie era. The crowd gathered blacks and whites, grooving together just as LOVE—the first integrated band—did in their own lineup. They were always tight and delivered a knockout live performance. Every time they played, the lines leading into the club stretched around the block making a total scene for the alternatives. It wasn’t so much about getting inside Bido Lito’s itself, the alley was where you met others who didn’t fit in everywhere else.
“It was the beginning of a movement. Here was a psychedelic rock band fronted by a black man wearing velvet jackets, striped pants and colored spectacles, a few years before Hendrix made the look famous in 67. The LA scene was naive yet hopeful in the years of 65 -67. As Bryan says, ‘Those who were there early were on the spearhead of a social revolution.’ Johnny Echols looks back fondly on those years saying that ‘you could tell who was different then… by the way a person dressed or talked…you could tell who was a kindred spirit.’
“Jac Holzman, head of Elektra, wanted to build upon Dylan going electric from the Newport Folk Festival. Jac saw LOVE in 65 and knew he had found his ultimate band. Elektra was only taking chances with folk music and its only rock friendly and electric act then was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He felt that Lee’s band was the best and most powerful band in the world. Love was offered a four album deal. They accepted the offer since Jac was taking a chance with LOVE, a band which truly looked and sounded like no one else. LOVE arrived to the studio and basically did their live set and that was the first album. Next to Arthur’s dark lyrics, Bryan’s songwriting could now get attention to those beyond the gigs. Arthur admired Bryan’s talents with words as well as his stage presence. LOVE’s drummer, Michael Stuart compliments the partnership of Arthur and Bryan in saying ‘Both Bryan and Arthur when around each other, were each as good as they can be.’
“The band’s second album, ‘Da Capo’ was released in 1966 during the time the band all lived together in a large house known as the Castle. The door was never locked. When passing through LA, bands such as Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin would hang there and crash. It was a house, not a motel if you will…as Johnny described, ‘Anything that you would imagine happening at the Playboy Mansion, happened at the Castle.’ If you knew the band, you had a place to stay. The Castle was a constant LOVE INN where local musicians and fresh up and coming talented artists would socialize and party.
“‘Da Capo’ sees the band embracing a softer sound of pop, later referred to as baroque pop. This album brought their highest charting single with ‘7 & 7 Is’, a monster composition that took more than 30 takes to get right and caused Jac Holzman to lose his hearing for days. The 60’s garage punk sound found a new reference point for identification with ‘7 & 7 is’, even being referred to as Pre-Punk! Producer Paul Rothchild saw Da Capo as a transition to something more serious but just couldn’t predict, as no one else could, where Arthur was going next.
“But before Arthur would reveal his own legacy. He had a gift for Elektra and they were a band known as the Doors. Jac didn’t get them at first, and in fact found them to be rather horrible but with Arthur telling Jac, ‘C’mon man, go again, take a better listen to these guys,’ Jac did and became a fan. He signed them to Elektra and The Doors would eventually catapult to much greater success than Arthur’s band. Something The Doors, beyond appreciation and respect to LOVE, never intended to do.
“A few months after ‘Da Capo’ was completed and released, Arthur Lee and Love started work on ‘Forever Change’s. As each member became more and more spoiled with success, discord increased. Bryan wanted more of his songs on the albums, whereas Arthur felt it unnecessary since he liked the band’s growing success as is. Drummer Michael Stuart notes, ‘There was a tremendous amount of separation with members of the group at that time. We only got together to record and rarely played together. The feeling of being in a band was gone.’
“Holzman looking back on this period, recalls ‘By the third album, the band couldn’t play their own instruments’. The fire in the studio was no more. Where once the band was so tremendously devoted and energized to get ‘Da Capo’’s ‘7 & 7 Is’ right even if it took so many takes, after attempting just three songs for ‘Forever Changes’, the band was simply too ridden with drug addiction to make it right. Arthur grew frustrated and after seeking legal approval from Elektra, fired the band and brought in top session musicians such as Carol Kaye, Hal Blaine, Don Randi and Billy Strange. Among the mythology that emerged from the making of this record, it is suggested that even Neil Young assisted with the arrangements of one of my favorite tracks from the album, ‘The Daily Planet’.
“Each musician played Arthur’s music well but the dynamic that LOVE once possessed was nowhere to be found. Arthur previewed the demos to Bryan, Johnny, Michael and bassist Ken Forssi and the boys realized they had to get their act together and record this album proper. The final result was an album dominated by Arthur’s songwriting, with the varying musical textures of studio professionalism and raw energy.
“The album’s producer, Bruce Botnick reveals that Arthur wrote nearly all the music and lyrics on the album. ‘He had no expectations or idea of what he was doing or writing with ‘Forever Changes’. He was just simple describing the world.’ In the song, ‘The Red Telephone’, Arthur writes,
‘They’re locking them up today
They’re throwing away the key
I wonder who it’ll be tomorrow, you or me?
We’re all normal and we want our freedom’
“Political subjects are referenced but not preached at you. Frustration and tension with the world’s turbulent stories and headlines are felt but there is no calling out for a revolution only recognition, a telling of the times, the observation, reality. This song also reflects how Arthur felt about his own life. He literally thought he was going to die at that particular time and wanted these song to be his remembered as his last words.
“The songs were multidimensional and needed plenty of rehearsal time and preparation in the studio to be done right. From the very beginning, LOVE knew that they were going for something different and had strings in mind from the start, and Jac Holzman was equally eager to get more musicianship into the album due to the band’s compounding issues. Arthur was introduced to arranger David Angel to add the strings and horns to articulate the instrumentation Arthur was hearing in his head. David Angel recalls instant magic when the two met: ‘No one knew exactly what was going to happen. We were relying on each other and were young enough to believe in that. The band did not tell me what to write. They weren’t trying to get something from a technical perspective. They were trying to get me to feel something. Arthur would sit there and play on the piano and work on the songs like he wasn’t finished with it yet. He would hit a note and look at me. I would make a notation because he liked it. They wanted me to belong to what they were doing and I would just absorb it.’
“Johnny Echols states that ‘our approach was beyond what other bands did with strings back in those days. Those other bands would just get overdubs and drop strings, muzak where ever. That was not what we did.’
“’Arthur was like a symphony composer,’ says David, ‘He had an idea and it didn’t have to be pretty it just had to live! Bryan Maclean was more direct and knew what was going on when it came to this style of music. What knocked me out was he would throw in the unexpected and yet it fit perfectly. This was a very fortunate combination with these two guys. The difference was bigger than it appears on the records.’
“‘Forever Changes’ opens with the track, ‘Alone Again Or’. Jac Holzman could not have said it better: ‘Forever Changes would not exist if it did not have Bryan MaCleans ‘Alone Again Or’. The whole album is built not so much upon that foundation, but upon the door that song created so that people could walk through it and into Arthur’s and the rest of the band’s cosmology. Starting with the rippling guitars, going into a bridge and suddenly, this crescendo of horns and strings, and then a flight of fancy, a bull fight trumpet wails above everything else. I was knocked out when I heard it. No LA band had done this and I thought it was wonderful!’ Originally titled, ‘Alone Again’, Maclean wrote the tune in 1965 and wanted to include it on the first album but never got around to actually finishing it then. Arthur, eternally receiving signals from another place, added more mystery to the track by changing the title to ‘Alone Again Or’.
“The album closes with ‘You Set The Scene’, a group of three songs, re-assembled together by Arthur’s logic, and backed with a full orchestra, jazzy bass, hard plucked cellos and a flamenco stomp . The song was completed in September of 1967. David Angel recalls: ‘String players would talk to me during the break and say, ‘You’re doing something very unusual here.’ They sensed that this was groundbreaking.’ Arthur’s lyrical genius reveals itself in it’s most simple and romantic form with the lines,
‘This is the time and life that I am living
And I’ll face each day with a smile
For the time that I’ve been given’s such a little while
And the things that I must do consist of more than style’
“Johnny Echols’ favorite Lee lyric is from this song and he finds this line to be Lee’s most profound: ‘And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game, Do you like the part you’re playing?’
“Released in late 1967, ‘Forever Changes’ did not make a big splash. Even though it remained on Billboard’s 200 for 10 weeks, it only peaked at #154. In the UK, it fared much better reaching #24. Johnny Echols always felt that the album was never promoted properly, put in the right stores or that the album’s one and only single, ‘Alone Again Or”’, was never given enough attention on the radio. Jac felt it did fairly well in sales then but also realized its failure to succeed lay with band’s unwillingness to ever tour since Arthur was afraid of ever leaving LA or opening for others. LOVE was the headliner back then and Arthur, being the band’s manager, was the king of the Castle.
“Though being the least successful of LOVE’s early albums, ‘Forever Changes’ received critical admiration. Gene Youngblood of LA’s Free Express, described it in May of ’68, ‘Soft, subtle. Forever changing in tonal color, rhythm patterns, vocal nuances, lyric substance. ‘Forever Changes’ is melancholy iconoclasm and tasteful romanticism.’
“Andrew Cowen of The Birmingham Post (UK) wrote, ‘This 1967 masterpiece … is the nearest the Americans came to having their own ‘Sgt Pepper’ and, in true American style, it was largely overlooked by the mainstream audience which, at the time, was hanging on to every note played by The Beatles. The album is a bittersweet song cycle of alienation, paranoia and lysergic hokum, but nothing else from the so-called summer of love sounded quite so ambitious.. No other album catches the beauty and strangeness of those mythical hippy days and the lurking hangover round the corner.’
“In May of 68, Ken Forssi states that the band met and decided to break up. Arthur reflected on this moment with a smile saying, ‘Nothing lasts forever and my group is a part of nothing because it didn’t last.’
“Arthur would keep the name LOVE for a new roundup of members for two more records in the 60s and add an ever changing cast of musicians for other LOVE albums in the 70s but those releases would never reach the success as the first three LOVE records.
“In 1996 Arthur was arrested for firing a gun into the air. As a previously convicted felon, he was sentenced to twelve years at Pleasant Valley State Penitentiary in California. In December 2001, Arthur successfully appealed against his sentence and was released having served five and a half years in prison. He called up the most recent LOVE members to put on a ‘Forever Changes’ tour so that the album could be heard live in its entirety, but unfortunately without Bryan Maclean. Bryan passed away from a heart attack in 1998 at the age of 52. Arthur took the job of lead vocals for Bryan on ‘Old Man’ and ‘Alone Again Or’ for the show.
“In 2002, members of the British Parliament praised ‘Forever Changes’. The letter by honourable Peter Bradley is as follows,
‘This house pays tribute to the legendary Arthur Lee, also known as Arthurly, frontman and inspiration of Love, the world’s greatest rock band and creators of the greatest album of all time; notes that following his release from jail he is currently touring Europe; and urges honourable and especially Right honourable members to consider the potential benefit to their constituents if they were, with the indulgence of their whips, to lighten up and tune in to one of his forthcoming gigs.’
“Arthur Lee returned to his hometown of Memphis in 2005. He was diagnosed with Leukemia in March of 2006 and died later that year on August third.
– By Ron Like Hell
Photo by Leslie Lyons
Check out what Ron Like Hell played in the Musical Lead-Up here.