It’s eerily fitting that the death of Love frontman Arthur Lee at 61 yesterday followed so closely on the heels of Syd Barrett’s passing. Like the Pink Floyd founder, Lee was a psychedelic pioneer whose eclectic music — especially 1967’s must-own album Forever Changes — was some of the most influential of the 1960s. And like Barrett, Lee seemed to disappear into himself for decades after releasing his masterwork. Unlike Barrett, Lee finally seemed to have conquered his demons and had re-emerged as a performer over the last five years, only to be brought low in 2006 by leukemia.
Lee, who called himself a ”black hippie” years before Jimi Hendrix came along, founded Love in 1965 and served as the group’s singer, guitarist, and chief composer. The band scored early radio hits with proto-punk tunes ”My Little Red Book” (a cover that reportedly irked composer Burt Bacharach) and ”Seven and Seven Is.” Love’s experimentalism reached full flower in 1967’s Forever Changes, a haunting, moody blend of acid rock, chamber music, folk, and lounge jazz. (Its leadoff track is the flamenco ballad ”Alone Again Or,” which has been covered many times over the years, most notably by The Damned.)
Forever proved the last hurrah for the classic lineup of Love; Lee would continue to record under the group’s name, with new musicians, for the rest of his career, but he began a long slide into obscurity in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. He reached a personal low point in the mid-1990s when a weapons possession bust ran afoul of California’s three-strikes law and earned him an 8-to-12-year prison sentence.
Things seemed to be looking up for Lee when he was released after six years in 2001 and resumed touring, often performing Forever Changes in its entirety. In early 2006, he was diagnosed with leukemia, prompting a series of tribute/benefit concerts in June, featuring the likes of Robert Plant and Ryan Adams, to help pay his medical expenses. (You can see and hear some excerpts from those shows at YouTube.) Lee had hoped to be back on the road again this fall. ”For the time that I’ve been given’s such a little while/And the things that I must do consist of more than style,” he sang on Forever‘s closing track.
For an intro to Love, listen to this sampler of tracks at RollingStone.com. Love fans will enjoy hearling Lee and his bandmates jamming in the studio on these bonus tracks from the Rhino reissue of Forever Changes.