OK, gather ’round children. We’re hitting the way back machine again. The magical year was 1967. The Summer of Love. The Los Angeles band we are discussing today, as we continue our Hallmark Holiday themed month, eventually came to be known as Love after temporarily calling itself The Grass Roots for a time. Apparently another L.A. band called The Grass Roots (of “Midnight Confessions” fame…talk about Guilty Pleasures…count me among the fans of that group as well) beat the Love Grass Roots to the punch by releasing a single and staking a claim to the name. I’d say it worked out well for both parties. Love was led by Arthur Lee, who called himself the first “Black Hippie” according to Rolling Stone. He was of the opinion that without him there would have been no Jimi Hendrix or Sly Stone. I don’t know about that, but what is true is that this guy was a pioneer. I can’t think of anybody remotely like him and don’t confuse him with Blues Rock legend Alvin Lee of Ten Years After fame either.
Love was a major factor in the Los Angeles music scene in the 60′s. It has been said that Lee’s role models were folks like Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and James Brown, but he took it in another direction. Love was involved in Folk Music, Psychedelic Rock and even some Latin or Spanish tinged sounding music. I can remember my childhood friend Jim’s older siblings having copies of Forever Changes and we both grew to like this record very much. We used to play it all the time while playing cards and board games. We were barely teenagers at the time and the record had been out seven or eight years by then, but like most records our “elders” turned us onto we treated it as new and fresh. And it was to us. I have to admit, I was a little slower to embrace Forever Changes as opposed to my friend Jim. I’m still a rocker at heart and Love could be construed as Soft Rock to some I suppose, but Jim would not take this record off the turntable so I absolutely absorbed it as a result. Jim and I actually got to see a version of Love behind Arthur Lee in early October of 1994 at a now defunct New York City nightclub called Tramps. The tickets were $10. I’m still dumbfounded at ticket prices sometimes. I’m gong to see another monster legend in John Mayall this Thursday night and those tickets are $27.50. Try seeing U2 for that kind of money. You can find some unbelievable entertainment bargains if you stay out of the stadiums.
Arthur Lee changed backing musicians with regularity and he allegedly struggled with narcotics and was even jailed at one point for unlawful possession of a firearm. He died in 2006, after a potracted battle with Lukemia, a tad bitter about failing to capitalize financially on his legend. His band did blaze the trail on a number of fronts though. They were the first rock band to sign on at Elektra Records, which was essentially a folk label until rock bands like The Doors put the rock stamp on the label for good. Love was also one of the first bands to release a song that took up an entire side of an LP (Long Playing record in case we’re losing you here with this walk down memory lane) when they released “Revelation” on De Capo in early 1967. One of Love’s other claims to fame was their racially mixed lineup. That didn’t happen very often in those days. Love was a very different act as rock bands go.
Arthur Lee had a lot of famous admirers. Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Jim Morrison of The Doors, William Reid of The Jesus & Mary Chain, Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd can all be counted as Lee fans. The Folk Rock scene was huge in Los Angeles in the 60′s. The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield were unbelievably popular back then and Crosby, Stills, Nash & sometimes Young filled that void nicely after those bands broke up. The Mama’s and The Papa’s became wildly successful and the legendary Joni Mitchell also called that area home for many years just to name a few famous folkies. Arthur Lee and Love were as big as any of them with one exception; commercial success seemed to elude them.
Forever Changes was Love’s third record, but by then they were already fixtures at famous L.A. rock clubs like Brave New World and Whiskey a Go-Go. The thing is, Forever Changes barely dented the charts. Love already had a couple of singles from their earlier records by the time Forever Changes was released. “7 and 7 Is” and a cover of Burt Bacharach’s “My Little Red Book” had already charted for them before Forever Changes. They say that soft pop maestro Burt Bacharach didn’t care for Love’s rendition of “My Little Red Book” at all. I find that funny for some reason. The main reason Forever Changes didn’t sell as well, according to then Elektra head honcho Jac Holtzman, is that Lee didn’t like to tour. The rumor is that he preferred to stick close by his dealer. Now that’s addiction huh? Love even turned down a chance to play the legendary Monterey Pop Festival. Ouch.
Despite all the self imposed roadblocks to commercial success, Love’s Forever Changes is universally critically acclaimed to this day. It was more an album than a collection of hit singles, but you can find Love’s “Alone Again Or” covered by all kinds of diverse acts like Calexico, Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs, The Damned, The Boo Radleys, Sarah Brightman and UFO. Rolling Stone says a London film company is working on a Rockumentary tentatively titled “Love Story” to chronicle the Love story. If you are like me and you like to change it up often you could do a lot worse than to work some Love into your iPod at one point or another. Enjoy.
Buy or download Forever Changes from Amazon here.