Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Clip: Kot on Arthur Lee

Expand Messages
  • Carl Z.
    Arthur Lee stayed on fringe despite his early
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 6, 2006
    • 0 Attachment

      Arthur Lee stayed on fringe despite his early acclaim

      By Greg Kot
      Tribune music critic
      Published August 6, 2006

      "I never did like to be categorized as a blues singer, or country or
      rock," Arthur Lee once told the Tribune. "I like Beethoven, Jackie
      Wilson, the Beatles. I believe God put me on this earth to do all
      kinds of music."

      Lee, who died Thursday of cancer at age 61, was one of rock's most
      inscrutable and enduring mavericks. In the 1960s he led Love, a
      biracial hippie band with a switchblade attitude and a handful of
      classic albums. Lee was the band's aloof, opinionated and strikingly
      handsome mastermind and lightning rod. He accentuated his oddness by
      walking around town with a moccasin on one foot and triangle-shaped
      granny glasses. Yet Lee was something of a musical savant; though he
      couldn't read music, he orchestrated dense concept albums with strings
      and horns that were the equal of anything recorded by Brian Wilson or
      the Beatles.

      A footnote

      At the height of their fame, most notably with the release of the 1967
      masterpiece "Forever Changes," Love and Lee were the most buzzed-about
      band on the Sunset Strip. "If we could be as big as Love, my life
      would be complete," the Doors' Jim Morrison once said. After signing
      with Elektra Records, Lee poured most of the band's $5,000 advance
      into a new Mercedes, with the intent of touring the country in it. But
      Love rarely made it outside of Los Angeles to perform, and became a
      footnote in many rock histories.

      "Everybody had different hobbies, and some of those involved drugs,"
      Lee once said. "We were all young -- I was 19 when I signed with
      Elektra -- and the rest of the guys didn't realize how serious I was
      about music."

      Poor relationship with label

      Elektra President Jac Holzman, whose label included such artists as
      the Doors, the MC5, the Stooges and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band,
      wrote that Lee was "more talented" than any of them, but "in his
      career and his relations with the company he was a basket case."

      Love's classic five-piece lineup, which included Lee and guitarists
      Brian Maclean and Johnny Echols, stuck around only long enough to
      record three brilliant albums: "Love" (1966), which included the
      band's first hit, a furious, erotically charged reinvention of the
      Burt Bacharach song "My Little Red Book"; "De Capo" (1966), which
      included the punk precursor "7 and 7 Is" as well as the sprawling
      "Revelation," the first sidelong track in rock album history; and
      "Forever Changes" (1967), still regarded as one of the pioneering
      orchestral-pop albums.

      In contrast to Summer of Love fare such as the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's
      Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Forever Changes" reflected on the horrors
      of the Vietnam War and racial discrimination with bittersweet music
      and surreal lyrics. In "A House Is Not a Motel," Lee described streets
      running red with blood, "and if you don't believe me, turn on your
      tub." The song "The Red Telephone" contained his manifesto: "And if
      you want to count me, count me out."

      As a black artist making his way in a society divided by racial riots,
      Lee saw no other choice than to remain on the fringe. "I was just
      being honest and real about my concept of how life really is," Lee
      said in a recent interview. "I saw the same [expletive] repeating
      through the years, whether it be war or whatever."

      Lee's confrontational stance and his refusal to follow a prescribed or
      coherent musical path sealed Love's fate as a cult act. Lee recorded
      with different Love lineups through the '70s, then drifted through a
      solo career that gained focus when he hooked up with the Love acolytes
      in the band Baby Lemonade in the early '90s.

      Costly mistake

      Just as he began to tour again, Lee was convicted on gun charges in
      Los Angeles and spent nearly six years in prison. He was released in
      2002, and returned with renewed determination. In 2003, he toured
      Europe and North America with an expanded version of Love that
      included a string and horn section and performed "Forever Changes" in
      its entirety.

      Lee was thrilled to get the opportunity: "It's an honor to finally
      present this thing the way it should have been presented 35 years
      ago," he said at the time. A few months ago, when he was being treated
      for cancer, musicians such as Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, Mott the
      Hoople's Ian Hunter and Yo La Tengo rallied to stage benefit concerts
      for him, a testament to a troubled artist whose music had touched
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.