August 2, 2006 – Arthur Lee (Love) was born Arthur Taylor Porter on March 7, 1945 in Memphis, Tennessee. During his parents’ divorce proceedings in early 1950, Lee and his mother packed their things and took a train to California, while his father was at work.
Lee’s first musical instrument was the accordion, which he took lessons from a teacher. He adapted to reading music and developed a good ear and natural musical intelligence. While he was never formally taught about musical theory and composition, he was able to mimic musicians from records and compose his own songs. Eventually, he persuaded his parents to buy him an organ and harmonica. Graduating from High School, Lee’s musical ambitions found opportunities between his local community and classmates. As opposed to attending a college under a sports scholarship, he strived for a musical career. His plan of forming a band was under the influence of Johnny Echols,(lead guitarist for LOVE, after seeing him perform “Johnny B. Goode” with a five-piece band at a school assembly.
Prior to forming Love, Arthur Lee was a Los Angeles music hustler, desperately searching for the formula that would make him a star. In the early mid-’60s, Lee recorded some unsuccessful singles including one as the American Four on Selma, a subsidiary of Del-Fi, “Luci Baines”/”Soul Food.” He also recorded a session for Rosa Lee Brooks that featured Jimi Hendrix as a session guitarist. But then Lee found his niche, when he founded one of the ’60s seminal, legendary garage/folk/psychedelic bands, Love, in 1965.
In 1965 the Grass Roots, his folk rock unit, changed their name to Love because there was already a signed act called The Grass Roots. Several other names were considered including Bryan MacLean’s choice of Summer’s Children as well as others, such as the Asylum Choir, Dr Strangelove, Poetic Justice and the Love. The name Love was chosen after a club audience voted it the best choice. According to Barney Hoskyns’ 2001 book Arthur Lee: Alone Again Or, Manson Family member and sometime Grass Roots guitarist Bobby Beausoleil claimed that Arthur had named the band Love in honor of one of Beausoleil’s nicknames, Cupid.
Lee’s early appearances were at clubs in Hollywood, including the Brave New World, Hullabaloo, Bido Lito’s and the Sea Witch. At Bido Lito’s, a tiny hole-in-the-wall club located on a cul-de-sac known as Cosmo’s Alley, Lee first showed he had superstar potential. The Bido Lito’s audience was sometimes dotted with celebrities, including actor Sal Mineo, and rock stars Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, who would go on to collaborate with Lee on future recording projects. Lee then got the opportunity to play the larger Whisky a Go-Go on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip, after which Love received a recording contract by Elektra Records. Love received a lot of air play in Los Angeles, and performed several times in 1967 at the Cheetah nightclub in Venice, CA.
In 1966 and 1967 the multi-racial band recorded three groundbreaking albums that fused rock, blues and psychedelia, the self-titled Love, Da Capo and Forever Changes. Especially Forever Changes, certainly a strong contender for “Best Rock Album Ever Made”, catapulted the group to one of the most influential groups of the sixties and Lee rise to fame as its frontman singer/songwriter.
In 1968, on their way to the absolute top of the charts, Lee decided to scrap the idea of Love as a real band, kicked out all the remaining members, and began recording with pickup bands and sessionmen. It has been cited that his unwillingness to tour, forced this move. The band’s and Lee’s fortunes quickly declined, and Lee, never the most normal person in the best of times, began exhibiting erratic behavior as his drug intake began to take its toll.
He recorded more unsuccessful albums as Love, recorded a solo album, Vindicator, in 1972, and began to fade away. Lee would regularly tour and recordings were made of these shows, but he rarely returned to a studio or wrote new songs. In 1994, Lee recorded a new single “Midnight Sun”/”Girl on Fire,” although the B-side was actually salvaged from an unreleased album Lee recorded with Jimi Hendrix years before.
Soon after this, Lee’s problems with the law took over his life. In 1995, he broke into an ex-girlfriend’s apartment and tried to set it aflame. He was bailed out by Rhino Records, which had just released the Love Story 1966-1972 compilation. In 1996, he was arrested for shooting a gun into the air during an argument with a neighbor and was convicted on an illegal possession of a firearm charge. Thanks to California’s strict and sometimes unfair three strikes and you’re out law, Lee (who had been convicted of a drug offense sometime in the ’80s) was sentenced to eight to 12 years in prison. In 2000, Rhino reissued an expanded version of Love’s Forever Changes that served as a reminder of just what a huge talent Arthur Lee was in his prime.
On December 12, 2001, Lee was released from prison, having served 5-1/2 years of his original sentence. Happily for Lee and his fans, a federal appeals court in California reversed the charge of negligent discharge of a firearm as they found the prosecutor at Lee’s trial was guilty of misconduct. After Lee was freed, he toured the US and Europe with a new incarnation of Love in 2002, playing all of Forever Changes to glowing reviews.
Over the next few years he continued to perform, receiving such accolades as a Living Legend Award at the 2004 NME Awards. In early 2006, Lee was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. In April 2006 it was publicly announced that Lee was being treated for the disease. A tribute fund was set up shortly after the announcement, with a series of benefit concerts to be performed to help pay medical bills. The most notable of these concerts was produced by Steve Weitzman of SW Productions at New York’s Beacon Theater on June 23, 2006, and featured Robert Plant, Ian Hunter, Ryan Adams, Nils Lofgren, Yo La Tengo, Garland Jeffreys, Johnny Echols (Love’s original lead guitarist) and Flashy Python & The Body Snatchers (featuring Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah). Backed by Ian Hunter’s band, Plant performed 12 songs, including five Led Zeppelin songs and five recorded by Love in the 60s (“7 and 7 Is”, “A House Is Not A Motel”, “Bummer in the Summer”, “Old Man” and “Hey Joe”). A benefit concert was held in Dublin, Ireland.
Despite aggressive treatment, including three bouts of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant using stem cells from an umbilical cord – which made him the first adult patient in Tennessee to receive this treatment – his condition worsened and Lee passed away on August 3, 2006, at Memphis, TN’s Methodist University Hospital with his wife at his side. He was 61.