Friday, August 04, 2006

GENIUSOBIT: Arthur Lee

The founder of Love, Arthur Lee, has died at the age of 61.

Born in Memphis in 1945, Arthur Taylor Porter adopted the "Lee" at roughly the same time as he cut his first single, as leader of Arthur Lee and the LAGS. Musically borrowing heavily from Booker T and the MGs in style, the LA-based act managed just the one 1963 release before falling apart.

In the wake of the LAGS, Lee concentrated on songwriting, writing (amongst other tracks) My Diary for Rosa Lee Brooks. Not only was this the first Lee-penned tune which was a hit, musicologists also believe it to be the first recorded appearance of Jimi Hendrix making an appearance at a recording.

Lee didn't stop performing totally, though, working with The American Four and providing guest vocals an almost-lost album by Ronnie And The Pamona Casuals.

It was the success of the Byrds which gave Lee the confidence to take making music more seriously: he'd been experimenting with writing in a similar folk-rock style to theirs, and he pulled together Love as a band to make use of material whose time, he believed, had come. Although Bobby Beausoleil (a diletante who managed to combine time in Love with being a member of Charles Manson's murderous cult) claims the name of the band was a tribute to his nickname Cupid, the question 'why weren't they called Cupid then' can never be convincingly answered and the accepted story of the band's name is that it was chosen in a poll of fans. We really wish some acts had the guts to do that today - what would Kasabian have been called if they'd left it up to democracy? Prior to the audience show of hands, Love had been the Grass Roots.

The Love line-up of Lee with guitarists Johnny Echols and Bryan MacLean and bassist Ken Forssi (bass) was joined by drummer Michael Stuart after 1966's self-titled debut. 1967 saw DaCapo and then, later in the year, what's considered the masterwork: Forever Changes.

Having reached these heights, Lee then started on a course which would see him labelled as erratic, difficult and - eventually - a bit nuts. He broke up the group, reformed it, stuck out three largely inferior albums - 1969's Four Sail and Out Here, and 1970's False Start. Only False Start registered much in the way of a reaction, although Out Here did manage a creditable top thirty placing in the UK.

Lee then went solo - although the late 1960s versions of Love were pretty much solo projects in all but name. Vindicator, in 1972, didn't bother the charts; 1973's Black Beauty never came under starter's orders, going down with the Buffalo record label.

The seventies saw Lee trying to reignite Love - the original line-up played together a few times, a new version tried another album which is best ignored out of kindness. He then disappeared for much of the 1980s, claiming to be "tired" of all the "bullshit." More pressingly, he had returned home to care for his father, terminally ill with cancer.

Lee's absence from the circuit may explain his mid-90s renaissance: unlike, say, Rod Stewart or Stevie Wonder, he'd never slumped into a single-album-tour routine dedicated to chip away at his reputation through a mixture of over-familiarity and diminshing returns. When the indie-kids of the 1990s rediscovered Love, it was without a carapace of subsequent disappointment to break through.

1992 saw his first album in ages - and his first decent work for twenty years - with Arthur Lee & Love; in 1993 he returned to the stage, including a gig in Liverpool whose promotion was greeted with bemusement at the time - the sudden pasting up of posters advertising an Arthur Lee date in the city seeming as unlikely as suggestions that Elvis was going to grace the steps of the Liverpool Museum. It did seem as if nothing could derail his comeback.

Until he got arrested.

In 1996, Lee had a minor row with a neighbour with a neighbour which would normally have passed off with little more than a spot of ill feeling. Unfortunately, Lee had waved a gun around, which had brought the cops in, and in a state in thrall to the "three strikes and you're out" concept of justice-mockery, Lee's previous two minor convictions saw him get a twelve year stretch.

Again up went the posters, this time calling to "Free Arthur Lee."

He was eventually released after serving five years. After a brief spell finding his feet again, Lee resurrected the Love brand for yet another incarnation, touring a live version of Forever Changes. Diminishing health led to his decision to quit the group last year; the other members still play as The Love Band, although none of them, of course, were part of the original Love who made the album.

Just how sick Lee was became clear in April this year, when friends and fans started to organise benefit gigs to help Arthur pay for his treatment for acute myeloid leukemia. His battle, though, was to be his last, and he died from his illness on August 3rd.


5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Genius indeed. What a diamond

RIP XXX

Anonymous said...

Love Forever Changed Us.Until we meet again.Remain at heights.A.C

barbara flaska said...

I dig you, Simon, but like Mick mumbling out the lyrics on "Route 66", your "typo" has done that town wrong. "Don't forget Pomona." The Pomona Casuals were boss ... Rainbow Gardens ... bleating baritone saxophones ... a mixed race band ... "I Wanna Do the Jerk" ... they actually were approached to do a USO tour of Viet Nam (and for all I know they might have gone!). But that Arthur Lee is really something, isn't he? Bless him.

simon h b said...

I offer my sincere apologies to Pomona - I didn't mean to do the town down.

The Pomona Casuals.

All I can plead is the effects of hearing bad news and trying to fit an obituary into a lunch-hour.

barbara flaska said...

No harm meant, Pomona's probably used to being forgotten. That was pretty bad news. But that was a great remembrance you put together for Arthur, heads and shoulders above what appeared in the print press. Thanks for that.

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