Sunday, May 1, 2011

Deep Bands: Love

 Love - Love
Picture: Cover of Love's debut album
Left to right: Alban "Snoopy" Pfisterer, Ken Forssi, Arthur Lee, Johnny Echols, and Bryan MacLean

There were a lot of bands in the West Coast area that made it big in the late 1960’s. However, there was one band in particular who could’ve been bigger. The band’s name was Love. Although they aren’t well known by casual music fans, Love’s music is still critically acclaimed by rock music critics alike. The band is now remembered as one of the greatest psychedelic rock bands ever and their leader, Arthur Lee, is seen as a “cult hero”.
            Arthur Taylor was born on March 7, 1945 in Memphis, Tennessee. Arthur’s father was Chester Taylor, a jazz cornet player, and his mother was Agnes Taylor, a school teacher. When Arthur was eight years old, his mother remarried to Clinton Lee. Clinton Lee adopted Arthur and therefore making Arthur Taylor now Arthur Lee. Lee, an African American, attended Dorsey High School. He was an excellent basketball player and did fine in school. While in high school, he met Johnny Echols, another African American. Lee and Echols were both guitarists and formed various bands together. In 1963, both of them had done various recordings and written a few songs. One time, they encountered Jimi Hendrix (a person who later became one of Lee’s friends). It wasn’t until 1965 when the two formed the Grass Roots. With Lee and Echols was bassist Johnny Fleckenstein, drummer Don Conka, and guitarist (also a roadie for the Byrds) Bryan MacLean. The group was able to stay as the Grass Roots…until they discovered there was another band called the Grass Roots. It’s not well cited as to how the band came up with the name. According to Lee in one interview, he said that when he changed the band’s name he wanted to do it with Love. In 1966, Fleckenstein left and was replaced by Ken Forssi. The band tried their best to keep Conka as their drummer but Conka had gone off to heavy drug taking. Conka was kicked out of the band and was later the inspiration for Lee’s song “Signed D.C.”, which appeared on the first Love album. Drummer Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer replaced Conka. The band had already been signed to Elektra Records by label president Jac Holtzman. Elektra Records were already known as a folk music label by that point until they signed the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Love was Elektra’s next rock band. In 1966, their self titled debut album was released. The album was semi-successful, reaching #57 in the charts, and scored the band a hit single with their cover of Burt Bacharach’s “My Little Red Book”.
            The band’s line-up changed again in 1966 when the band hired drummer Michael Stuart. With Stuart on drums, Snoopy switched over to harpsichord. Woodwind player Tjay Cantrelli joined as a seventh member. The band were well known by this time throughout the Los Angeles area. It might be hard to believe today but the band actually lived and commuted in a castle. Musicians from other bands would stop by the castle to hang out or just to have a place to stay for the night. People such as Janis Joplin were frequent visitors. In early 1967 the band’s second album, Da Capo, was released. The album featured the single “7 and 7 Is”. The song dabbled in proto-punk rock and was a very difficult recording session for the band to sit through as no one could keep down the drum beat for the song (no one is for sure who played drums on the song: it could’ve been Snoopy or Arthur).  Da Capo only ended up charting at #80 and soon after the release, Snoopy and Cantrelli left the band. This left Love as a five-piece band. For the band’s third album, they would end up making one of the greatest rock albums ever made by anyone. The album was called Forever Changes and it was to be a big step in the band. When sessions began in June of 1967, Lee and MacLean were the only members playing. Producer Bruce Botnick had no choice but to get session musicians. When the whole band heard the two songs the session musicians had played (“Andmoreagain” and “The Daily Planet”), they weren’t happy at all. Tensions in the band were lowered a bit and together, the band made their most ambitious album ever. When the time came to had the horns and strings to a few of the songs, Arthur Lee picked David Angel. With poetic lyrics and beautiful arrangements, the band had high hopes for Forever Changes.  Sadly, it was not to be: Forever Changes, release in November 1967, only charted at #154. The reviews for the album were very positive but the album wasn’t widely known to exist. Elektra, however, had signed a band that Lee had suggested to Holtzman: the Doors. The Doors were big fans of Love and they always had one wish: they wanted to be as big as Love. When the Doors released their debut album in 1967 and had a hit with “Light My Fire”, the Doors had pretty much become much bigger than Love. The band tried to promote the album but Lee was reluctant to have the band go on tour. Lee preferred if the band just played in L.A. By 1968, everyone in the band (Echols, MacLean, Forrsi, and Stuart) abandoned Arthur Lee and left.
            Although his band had abandoned him in 1968, Arthur Lee formed a new version of Love that same year. With Lee was guitarist Jay Donnellan, bassist Frank Fayad, and drummer George Suranovich. This new version of Love were still a psychedelic rock band but tended to play more bluesy material, sometimes hard rock. According to Lee years later, he said that none of the new guys liked Forever Changes. In 1968, the band released Four Sail. The album flopped and Elektra dropped the band shortly after. Love were then signed to Blue Thumb Records. In 1969, Out Here was released. By that time, Donnellan left the band and was replaced by Gary Rowles. In 1970, guitarist Nooney Rickett was added to the band. That same year, False Start was released. The album featured a song called “The Everlasting First”, which had Jimi Hendrix jamming with the band (By the time of the album’s release, Hendrix had died). False Start did so poorly in the charts that it didn’t even make it to the Top 200. However, Lee was touring with this version of Love until 1971 when Lee decided to dissolve them. Everyone but Lee and Fayad left. Guitarist Craig Tarwater and drummer Don Poncher joined the band in 1971. Love was signed to Columbia Records at this point and had recorded a whole new album. However, the album was shelved and wasn’t released until 2009 as Love Lost. In 1972, Lee release his first solo album Vindicator. The album featured many of the members of Love at that point. In 1973, Lee formed yet another version of Love. This time in the band was guitarist Melvan Whittington, bassist Robert Rozelle, and drummer Joe Blocker. This line-up recorded Black Beauty (although some sites say that the album is not a Love album but really a Lee solo album). Like Love Lost, the album remained unreleased and was only released via bootlegs. Black Beauty will finally be released this year on June 7. In 1974, Lee split Love for good. Still, Lee kept reforming the band sporadically.
            From the 1980’s to the early 1990’s, Arthur Lee was on and off the music scene. He had released a solo album or two and performed with new versions of Love. In 1995, a compilation called Love Story was released and became a success. Interest in the band was renewed and there were plans for the original band to go on tour. However in 1996, plans were halted. In 1996, Lee was arrested for illegal possession of a firearm. Lee’s record wasn’t already that good, having already been convicted of drug possession years earlier. Lee was sentenced to a harsh 12 years in prison. Still, fans hoped for a reunion in so way. However those plans were ruined in 1998: both Ken Forssi and Bryan MacLean both died that year. In 2001, Lee was released from prison after the prosecutor at the trial was guilty of misconduct. Now free, Lee decided he would reform Love and tour for the 35th anniversary of Forever Changes. Lee was backed up by the members of rock band Baby Lemonade. Johnny Echols joined the band later on several occasions from 2002 to 2005. Now years later, Love were getting the respect they deserved. During this time, a group of Members of the British Parliament declared Forever Changes to be the one of the greatest albums ever made. Things were looking good until July 2005. Lee announced that he couldn’t tour with the band but didn’t say why. Echols and Baby Lemonade, however, continued to tour as The Love Band. In April 2006, it was announced that Lee had acute myeloid leukemia and that he was being treated for it. . Benefit shows were held, one even featuring Robert Plant, to help and support Lee’s sickness. Sadly on August 3, 2006, Arthur Lee passed away. He was survived by his wife, who was at his side when he died.  
            When Arthur Lee died in August 2006, tributes poured out everywhere. Ever since Lee’s death, more tributes have followed. On occasion, Johnny Echols and the members of Baby Lemonade will perform or tour for a while in tribute to Lee. In 2008, Forever Changes was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. As mentioned before, posthumous releases have taken place: Love Lost in 2009 and Black Beauty in 2011. As for the other members in Love, they are all doing fine. Drummer Michael Stuart wrote a book about his time in the band a while ago. Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer currently lives by himself but in 2008, he released a solo album. As for the members of Love post Forever Changes, most of them are alive and doing well. As of April 2011, Love still haven’t been nominated to be inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.  

Recommended albums: Love, Da Capo, and Forever Changes

Personal thoughts: I’ll be honest: those are the only three albums I own by Love! Still even if I did have the others, those are the three I’d recommend getting. I have yet to purchase Four Sail, Out Here, and False Start. I first got Forever Changes in November 2006, I think it was. Arthur Lee had passed away and Alice Cooper, an avid Love fan, wouldn’t stop playing their music and talking about them. It took a couple of listens before I realized that Forever Changes is one of the greatest albums ever made. So this is a warning: don’t get Forever Changes thinking you’re going to like it when you first hear it. Let it grow on you. Love and Da Capo are both great albums as well.

Recommended songs: My Little Red Book, Signed DC, Can’t Explain, My Flash On You, 7 and 7 Is, She Comes In Colors, Stephanie Knows Who, Alone Again Or, A House is Not a Motel, The Red Telephone, Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark and Hilldale, Live and Let Live, You Set The Scene

Recommended compilations: There are two in print: their entry in the Definitive Rock and Best of Love.  Both have great song selections but Definitive Rock has two CDs. You decide. 

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