Donate SIGN UP

At the edge

01:00 Mon 25th Mar 2002 |

Q.� I hear that Arthur Lee has been released from prison.< xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

A.� That's correct. The legendary psychedelic musician and founder of seminal Sixties band Love has served half a 12-year sentence for 'reckless discharge of a firear'. Lee was accused of firing the gun into the air during an argument with a neighbour over the level of noise emanating from Lee's apartment.

Q.� Isn't 12 years a bit excessive for letting off a gun, which wasn't aimed at anyone

A.� It would appear so, especially given that Lee's manager Doug Thomas admitted at the preliminary trial, and the full hearing, that it was he, not Lee, who fired the gun. It made no difference -�Lee was convicted on the 'three strikes' rule under Californian law.

Q.� What does the 'three strikes' rule involve

A.� It's a system where anyone appearing before a court three times receives a mandatory jail sentence - just like baseball, three 'strikes' and you are out, or in this case - in, in jail.

Q.� How come Lee has been released

A.� Because it has been decided that the section of his sentence relating to gun possession has been served, and that the prosecuting council was found to have acted 'improperly'. There is still an outside chance that Lee will have to return to court, but assuming he can stay out of trouble, that is looking less likely.

Q.� Why is Arthur Lee famous�- most people don't even know who he is!

A.� Anyone who grew up in 1960s California will know of Arthur Lee and his band Love, and their Forever Changes album, which is consistently mentioned in critics' 'best album' selections.

Q.� What was so good about this album

A.� Like all influential musicians, Arthur Lee was ahead of his time in many ways, and caused a degree of upset by virtue of his radical approach to life in general, and musicianship in particular. Love were a mixed race band, not that common in those times, and the eclectic blend of pop, soul, and rock that the band played was considered confusing to some, and a revelation to others. The album is regarded as a groundbreaking achievement, and as is the case with such early success, Lee and Love were destined not to sustain the impact of their best album.

Q.� Did they follow the album with anything good

A.� They did - Da Capo was also an intriguing album, with a second side consisting of just one song�- Revelation - which clocked up 19 minutes, something of a novel concept at that time. The flute playing of band member Tjay Cantrelli is an acknowledged influence on English bands Traffic and Jethro Tull, and Zeppelin's Robert Plant was, and is, a massive fan of Lee.

Q.� So why didn't it work out for Arthur Lee and Love

A.� No simple answer really. By a quirk of fate, Love were signed to Elektra, an independent label based in Los Angeles. Lee was equally adept at spotting groundbreaking artists, as well as being one himself, and he advised the label to sign a rising club act called The Doors. Because of The Doors' virtual overnight success, most of Elektra's promotional budget went on them, and Love were left with a critically credible album, and no serious promotion to ensure that it sold in the quantities it deserved.

Matters were not helped by the fact that Arthur Lee and Love were reluctant to tour to promote their output. They rarely left California, and even turned down a chance to appear at the influential Monterey Festival. Lee was far happier rehearsing and recording in Los Angeles, and was most reluctant to join the touring circuit. The Doors showed no such reluctance, and built a fan base and critical acclaim that sees them selling more records now than they did at their peak as a live and recording band. Aside from his unwillingness to play the games that are part of the music industry, rumours were circulating that Lee and others were involved in that most un-hippy of drugs�' heroin. The writing was on the wall, Lee almost died from a heroin overdose, and by 1967, Love in its most creative combination, was over.

Q.� So what then

A.� Lee continued to record and tour occasionally, although his output was destined never to match the power and influence of Forever Changes. A series of albums followed with variable quality�- the last proper Love release was Four Sail, Lee was fond of puns and word play, and enjoyed the notion of love for sale, and applying that idea to his own band. Through the 1980s Lee toured with LA indie band Baby Lemonade, insisting that 'they are Love when the play with me'. Although to all intents and purposes, they are a backing band for Lee to play his known songs to a nostalgia crowd, and the curious who have heard his reputation as an innovative musician.

Q.� What's next for Lee now he's free

A.� Arthur Lee is planning a few low-key concerts in the US, and a major European tour including the UK, before returning to America for a full-scale tour. There are discussions about playing the Forever Changes album in its entirety complete with orchestra, but it remains to be seen if Lee will be a sufficient draw to validate the expense of such a venture.

Q.� Is it looking good for Arthur Lee

A.� It's a hard one to call. Certainly Lee has a pedigree and reputation as an influence and a creative force that a lot of musicians would envy. The major problem is that his success and influence are rooted in the hippy times of 1960s America. Times there, and here, have most certainly moved on. There will be an audience of die-hard Love fans, and those who have investigated the influences of their own heroes who may turn up to see the legend in concert.

The cold fact remains that this is no 1960s America, and this is not the Arthur Lee of those times. This is an older, perhaps wiser man, playing his old songs, with a group of young musicians who are going to pretend to be Love. Time does not stand still, and may be terminally unforgiving, even to a musical legend who has seen the fame and fortune that should have been his taken away by folly, weakness and an unforgiving legal system. Arthur Lee is back, but he may be just visiting.

If you have a question about any style of music, please click here

Andy Hughes

Do you have a question about Music?