December 25, 1998 – Bryan Andrew MacLean was born in Beverley Hills, California on September 25, 1946. Bryan’s father was an architect to the Hollywood stars and his mother an artist and a dancer. Neighbour Fritz Loew of the composers Lener & Loew recognized him as a melodic genius at the age of three as he doodled on the piano. Bryan’s gift for music was duly noted and he was given piano lessons and taught classical arrangement theory. Bryan’s early influences were more Billie Holliday and George Gershwin rather than Robert Johnson, although he confessed a strong obsession for Elvis Presley. During his childhood he wore out show music records from ‘Guys & Dolls’, ‘Oklahoma’, ‘South Pacific’ and ‘West Side Story’.
His first girlfriend was Liza Minelli and they would sit at the piano together and sing songs like ‘The Wizard of Oz’. He learned to swim in Elizabeth Taylor’s pool and his father’s best friend was Robert Stack from T.V’s ‘Untouchables’. At 17 Bryan encountered the Beatles, “Before the Beatles I had been into folk music. I had been showing my art work at a panel shop (I wanted to be an artist in the bohemian tradition) – where we would sit around with banjos and do folk music, but when I saw ‘A Hard Days Night’ everything changed. I let my hair grow out and I got kicked out of three high schools.”
Bryan started playing guitar in 1963/64. He got a job at the Balladeer before it changed its name to the Troubadour Club, playing back-up blues guitar. It was here he met the pre Byrds Jet Set while dating Jackie De Shannon and he became ‘fast friends’ with David Crosby. He moved away from home and by early 1965 he became road manager for the Byrds on their first Californian tour with the Rolling Stones. He managed one more cross-country tour with the group after they hit big with ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ but the exhausting 30 one nighters broke him physically and when the Byrds left for their first U.K. tour in the summer of 1965 they left Bryan behind.
After an unsuccessful audition for a part in the Monkees Bryan got into a car on Sunset Strip which Arthur Lee was driving. Arthur had a band called the Grass Roots doing a residency at the Brave New World Club and being street wise knew Bryan’s ‘connections’ with the Byrds. He knew all of the scene that followed the Byrds would follow Bryan if he invited him to see the band play at the club as the Byrds were out of town and sure enough after a couple of weeks the crowds were lined up and down the street for blocks. Bryan desperately wanted to join the band and he said, “I’d give my right arm to be in your group.” To which Arthur responded “No – you’re going to need it!” The Grass Roots became Love when another group registered a hit with the name.
Love were rapidly gaining a reputation as the ‘street band’ and Jac Holzman’s Elektra Records snapped them up and they hit big with their version of the Bacharach/David song ‘Little Red Book’ and a very successful first album to which Bryan contributed the beautiful ‘Softly To Me’ as well as co-writing two others and the Byrds arrangement of ‘Hey Joe’ which he sang. In a staggering progression in just nine months Love put out their second album “Da Capo” and the storming hit single – a pre punk blast of a song ‘7 & 7 is’. Bryan’s beautiful ‘Orange Skies’ was just one of the “6 sides of an uncut diamond” that formed side one of this classic “flower power” album. As the band threatened to implode with addiction to hard drugs taking hold; sessions for what would turn out to be one of the classic albums of the “summer of love” began. Bryan’s ‘Alone Again Or’ was the opening cut on ‘Forever Changes’ and although Arthur mixed Bryan’s lead vocal under his own harmony vocal it is still Bryan’s song that Love are remembered for as it has gone on to become a radio classic and Bryan lived most of his life on its royalties as it was covered by the Damned and UFO amongst others. Although Arthur’s songs crowded out Bryan’s, it is Bryan who believed he influenced Arthur more than the other way around. “What you have on the second and third Love albums is a black guy from L.A. writing show tunes.”
Bryan admits to an addiction to heroin at this point in his life and had a near death experience where he overdosed after leaving Love. Meanwhile band members Ken Forssi (bass) and Johnny Echols (lead guitar) were busted for heroin and armed robbery – they were known as the ‘Doughnut Stand Robbers!’ – and served time in San Quentin and the original Love fell apart.
After an aborted attempt at a solo career – his demos were rejected by Elektra – Bryan wrote film music that wasn’t used and tried without success to record an album for Capitol records in New York. He hit a real low point and shortly afterwards became a Christian, “I was alone in a hotel room in New York and I had lost practically everything. It occurred to me that I was in a tail-spin so I thought ‘well, why don’t I pray?’ So I did and nothing happened for about two or three weeks. At the end of that time, I was sitting in a drug store on 3rd Avenue having a drink and suddenly the drink turned to sand in my mouth and I left the bar and when I reached the pavement and daylight I knew something had changed and from that point on my life has been totally different.
Bryan joined a Christian Fellowship Church called the Vineyard, “The guy that led the church was the guy that converted Bob Dylan.” During Friday night Bible stints Bryan took the concert part of the session and was so amazed at the reaction he gradually assembled a catalogue of his Christian songs. His next move was to open a Christian night club in Beverley Hills called ‘The Daisy’ and when it closed in 1976 Bryan considered going full-time into the ministry but decided once again to devote himself to music. He played an unsuccessful reunion with Arthur in 1978 on two dates but wasn’t paid so he turned down the offer to join Arthur in a U.K. tour as the ‘original’ Love. Ironically the Bryan MacLean band got a gig supporting Arthur Lee’s Love at the Whisky in 1982 which resulted in a stoned Arthur constantly interrupting Bryan’s show and when physically rejected from the stage he threw a cup of hot coffee over Bryan, leaving him with, “a great sense of loss, over someone who’d once been a close friend.”
There were several attempts in the early 80’s to make a solo album for Rhino, which never came out due to Bryan’s continued problems with alcohol. In 1986 Bryan agreed to take Arthur’s place at a gig, as Arthur was too unwell to play the date.
Debbie Boone had a hit with Bryan’s song ‘You Light Up My Life’ which was on her album for which she won a Grammy in 1990 and he worked for a period with his half sister, Maria McKee writing one song for the debut album by Lone Justice ‘Don’t Toss Us Away’ while she went on to success, Bryan sank into obscurity. Then along with Arthur in the early 90’s he started to make a comeback.
Bryan freely admitted that the small amount of success he had with Love nearly killed him and indeed it was some thirty years on from his late 60’s hey day with Love that his Love demos were discovered by his mother Elizabeth in their garage and after 2 years of persistent and patient shopping around record companies a deal was struck with Sundazed and the CD ‘ifyoubelievein‘ was released in 1997 and was critically well received. He had completed a spiritual album of “spooky Christian music” and was about to record a brand new studio album. His famous song ‘Alone Again Or’ had been used on a Miller Draft advert in the U.S. and he’d just recorded a Spanish language version of the same song for the large Hispanic audience.
The mantle of Love had fallen on Bryan as his Love partner Arthur Lee was just two years into a twelve-year jail sentence for firearm offences.
It is a cruel irony that fate should deal him such a blow just as he was finally beginning to resurrect his career. Bryan died from a heart attack on December 25, 1998 in a restaurant. He was 52.
In the album’s liner notes, MacLean adds, “The music that is presented in this collection was written decades ago, when I was in the band Love, and was written with that band in mind, and had been intended to be performed by, and associated with the band, Love. I firmly believe that if things had been the other way around, by now, you probably would’ve already heard a great deal, if not all of what is assembled here. For one thing, I would’ve stuck around the band a lot longer, not feeling the frustration of having such a backlog of unpublished, and unperformed material, and the natural unfulfilled desire for recognition, or even vindication.”
“It’s, in a sense, the Love record that never was: solo demos and home recordings of fourteen original MacLean songs, all written in the earliest and most vital years of Love and all but three virtually unheard in any form since MacLean wrote them,” said David Fricke of Rolling Stone magazine.