Love Biography

For many, the doyens of Los Angeles progressive rock in the 60s, brilliantly erratic and producers of one of the most beautiful albums ever made: Forever Changes. Love were formed in 1965 out of the ashes of the Grass Roots, and comprised former Byrds road manager Bryan MacLean (25 September 1946, Los Angeles, California, USA, d. 25 December 1998, Los Angeles, California, USA; guitar/vocals), Arthur Lee (b. Arthur Porter Taylor, 7 March 1945, Memphis, Tennessee, USA, d. 3 August 2006, Memphis, Tennessee, USA; guitar/vocals), John Echols (b. Memphis, Tennessee, USA; lead guitar). Don Conka (drums) and John Fleckenstein were soon replaced by Alban ‘Snoopy’ Pfisterer (b. Switzerland) and ex-Surfaris Ken Forssi (b. Cleveland, Ohio, USA, d. 5 January 1998, USA). They become the first rock band to be signed by the expanding Elektra Records, just beating the Doors by a whisker. Their debut single was a punkish cover version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s ‘My Little Red Book’, in a different form from the way the writers imagined it. Love were an instant sensation on the LA club scene, outrageous, loud, innovative and stoned. The furiously energetic ‘Seven & Seven Is’ was released in the summer of 1966 and became their second hit. Line-up changes saw drummer Michael Stuart (ex-Sons Of Adam) and flautist/saxophonist Tjay Cantrelli (b. John Berberis) joining, while Pfisterer moved to harpsichord and organ. ‘The Castle’ on Da Capo pointed to a new direction, although beautifully crafted songs such as ‘Orange Skies’ and ‘Stephanie Knows Who’ were also strong tracks. For most listeners ‘Revelation’, the entire flip side of the album, was a completely self-indulgent exercise in time-wasting and marred a potentially great album.

It was the awesome Forever Changes, recorded without the departed Pfisterer and Cantrelli, that put Love in the history books. That album, 35 years later, is still found on most critics’ recommended lists and no comprehensive record collection should be without it. In the All-Time Top 1000 Albums book it is gaining momentum, and is currently number 12. It is a superlative suite of songs, unassumingly brilliant, gentle, biting and full of surprises. It combines the occasional acid guitar solo with gentle acoustic strumming, and is awash with beautiful orchestration, utilizing brass, strings and surreal lyrics. It proved to be Arthur Lee’s masterpiece and marked the end of the partnership with Bryan MacLean. A barren period followed with only one excellent single ‘Laughing Stock’/‘Your Mind And We Belong Together’ to placate the fans desperate for more of Forever Changes.

A new Love, featuring Lee, Frank Fayad (bass), Jay Donnellan (guitar) and the drumming pyrotechnics of George Suranovich and Darren Theaker, recorded the material for Four Sail (on Elektra) and Out Here (on Blue Thumb Records). These records contained rare glimpses of the magic of Forever Changes, but ultimately they were disappointments, especially Out Here. Four Sail is notable for the excellent drumming of Suranovich and contains three gems; ‘August’, ‘Robert Montgomery’, and ‘I’m With You’. False Start, recorded by Lee, Fayad, Suranovich, Nooney Rickett (rhythm guitar, vocals) and Gary Rowles (guitar), featured few memorable moments, one being the guitar solo from Jimi Hendrix on ‘The Everlasting First’. The rest of the record is quite appalling. Lee released Vindicator, a solo album in 1972 before reviving the Love name for the truly wretched Reel To Real.

The long-held opinion that Lee had become a casualty of too many chemicals was strengthened throughout subsequent decades with various stories chronicling his erratic and eccentric behaviour. Performances over the years were patchy and found Lee and whatever Love he used, attempting pseudo funk and Hendrix-inspired lengthy workouts, with the audiences aching for Forever Changes. Many attempts to resurrect Lee’s career faltered, although any news of him was always greeted with enthusiasm. Like Brian Wilson, Syd Barrett, and Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence he is another wayward genius who is viewed as having taken one trip too many. In 1996, the latest rumours to surface were that Lee and former member Johnny Echols were working together again. Later that year it was alleged that Lee was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The most astonishing development, though, was Lee’s eight-year prison sentence for illegal possession of a firearm (he was eventually released in December 2001). Lee’s masterpiece, Forever Changes, was reissued in February 2001 with bonus tracks and the legendary single ‘Laughing Stock’/‘Your Mind And We Belong Together’. The excellent re-mastering was rewarded by an extraordinary wave of music media coverage; not surprisingly the album sneaked into the UK charts for one week and quickly sold over 60, 000 copies. Love’s magnificent legacy is a record as important as Pet Sounds, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and Kind Of Blue.

Following his release from prison, discussions were soon in hand for Lee to tour again. This time it was mooted that he perform Forever Changes in its entirety with a full orchestra. Lee had previously avoided performing more than a handful of songs from this beautifully complex gem. The success of the tour and concerts in 2002 and over the next three years was absolute proof of the album’s long-lasting genius, and for Lee it was a sweet reward that allowed him to bathe in the appreciation and adulation of his adoring fans. In 2004 original Love guitarist Johnny Echols joined Lee’s backing band, which also features members of Los Angeles-based neo-psychedelic outfit Baby Lemonade. The following year an extraordinary decision was made to sack Lee from Love, with the other band members citing a ‘steady decline’ in his mental and physical health. In April 2006, Lee was revealed to be suffering from cancer. His death in August 2006 generated a multitude of tributes, most of which concentrated on his one magnificent legacy that is destined to last; the superlative Forever Changes.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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