Members of the E Street Band, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and others tell Gary Susman how the late Arthur Lee influenced them

By Gary Susman
Updated August 15, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Arthur Lee: Jorgen Angel/Retna

Arthur Lee, the creative force behind genre-defying ’60s art-rockers Love, was an inspiration to generations of musicians, from contemporaries like the Doors and Pink Floyd to such present-day troubadours as Ryan Adams and Gavin DeGraw. Nearly 40 years after Love released 1967’s Forever Changes, generally considered one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded, news that Lee was battling leukemia drew a varied roster of performers (led by Robert Plant) to participate in ”We’re Doing This for Love,” a tribute concert in June in New York City whose proceeds went to defray Lee’s medical expenses. Sadly, Lee lost his battle six weeks later; the singer/guitarist died at 61 on Aug. 3. The musicians quoted below had all performed at the fundraiser and were quick to respond to news of Lee’s passing with personal thoughts on what his music had meant to them.

NILS LOFGREN, guitarist, E Street Band
Lofgren at first offered a prepared statement commenting on Lee’s importance:
”Arthur Lee was a soulful front-runner in breaking down musical barriers. He showed us that music at its best, like life, could and should be a melting pot of ideas and inspirations. I’ll miss and remember him always.”

Lofgren followed up, however, by phoning as he was boarding a plane to Baltimore to tell us what Lee’s example had meant to musicians like him who got their start in the ’60s and ’70s:
”He gave us permission to use any and all genres. The whole concept of music didn’t need to be formatted or labeled. He was one of the front-runners of giving us permission to explore all those possibilities, which has been going on since the ’60s.

”There was a fresh, soulful authority to Love’s music. It was taking it a step further than everyone else was, but it wasn’t affected, it wasn’t forced. It was just the natural way he heard music.”

IAN HUNTER, former Mott the Hoople frontman
Hunter sent a prepared statement, which read in its entirety:
”Unique — not easy; Forever Changes — lasting.”

Jeffreys, the New York rocker best known for such ’70s and ’80s hits as ”Wild in the Streets” and ”R.O.C.K.,” e-mailed while on tour in France:
”Arthur Lee was quite an artist, and while he wasn’t an influence musically, he certainly was a help to me racially, as one of the very few black rock & roll musicians, in the ’60s. Anybody who was racially different had to have received a measure of courage from Arthur Lee.”

ALEC OUNSWORTH, lead singer, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Ounsworth had issued a simple statement — ”Arthur Lee is not dead” — but, like Lofgren, he later called to elaborate:
”When I got word that he had died, I wrote a friend of mine, and my reaction to his death is that Arthur Lee is not dead. As far as his value in popular music in the U.S. is concerned, you can’t put any estimate on how highly he should be considered. The albums are extraordinarily complex and defined. I went back and listened to all the Love albums I have. He was an extraordinary figure and he should be sorely missed by the entire musical community and then some. For me, a lot of my heroes are at an age where — this is obviously before it should have happened. Losing somebody like this is a lot like losing a family member. I don’t want to sound schmaltzy, but if you’ve spent as much time with his music as I have, the toll it takes on one’s psyche when someone like Arthur Lee disappears is intense. His life had pains that were over the top. That he was able to balance it in such extraordinarily beautiful music was important to me.”