– Arthur Lee (and Love) live from Bergen, Norway – 2004 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
It’s often been said that, had the music business been different and that had Arthur Lee been left up to his own devices, the contributions he and Love made to music in the 1960s would have been far more profound and influential than they wound up becoming. As it stood, Arthur Lee was always considered something of a well-kept secret, save for his initial string of hits and the milestone Forever Changes which, to this day is considered one of the most iconic albums to come out of the 1960s. But it was no secret Lee was frustrated by the Music business and his lack of creative control which made him something of a persona-non-grata around A&R Departments. If people just left him alone . . .
Despite all that – despite the frustrations and potentials-unfulfilled, Arthur Lee has remained one of the influential figures in rock music, certainly in Indie. Since his death in 2006 his reputation and work has only increased among new fans – he is always being discovered by a new group of people – some artist or band are still citing Arthur Lee as a primary influence. And for good reason – Arthur Lee was an extremely talented and gift songwriter. As is evidenced by this concert. Even as late as 2004 (just two years before his death), Arthur Lee was still gathering new fans and was still as vital as ever.
In 2002, Lee began touring in earnest under the name “Love with Arthur Lee”. This new phase of his career met with great success, and he performed to enthusiastic audiences and critical acclaim throughout Europe, North America, and Australia. This incarnation of Love was composed of the members of the band Baby Lemonade, who had first performed with Lee in May 1993 at Raji’s. The band began performing the Forever Changes album in its entirety, often with a string and horn section. A live CD and DVD of this material was released in 2003.
Founding member Johnny Echols joined the new group for a special Forever Changes 35th Anniversary Tour performance at Royce Hall, UCLA, in the spring of 2003. Lee and the band continued to tour throughout 2003 and 2004, including many concerts in and around hometown Los Angeles, notably a show at the outdoor Sunset Junction festival, the San Diego Street Scene, and a headlining date with The Zombies at the Ebell Theatre. Echols occasionally joined Lee and the group on the continuing and final tours of 2004 to 2005. They played a well received date at the Fillmore in San Francisco with the full string and horn section.
Due to Arthur Lee’s illness (acute myeloid leukemia), the details of which were not known by the band at the time, he could not participate in the final tour in July 2005. Since no one knew of his illness, Arthur’s decision to forgo the final tour was met with angry, confused reactions. The remaining members of the band, along with Echols, continued to perform at the venues of the last tour (July 2005) without Lee, under the name The Love Band. At the end of September 2005, Lee moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he planned to continue to make music using the name Love. Joining him was to be drummer Greg Roberson (Reigning Sound, Her Majesty’s Buzz, Compulsive Gamblers) to put together a new lineup in Memphis, which was to include Adam Woodard, Alex Greene (The Reigning Sound, Big Ass Truck), Jack “Oblivian” Yarber, Alicja Trout, and Johnny Echols from the original Love line-up. Ultimately Arthur’s ill health prevented this from happening.
In April 2006 it was publicly announced that Lee was being treated for acute myeloid leukemia. A tribute fund was set up shortly after the announcement, with a series of benefit concerts to be performed to help pay medical bills. The most notable of these concerts was produced by Steve Weitzman of SW Productions at New York’s Beacon Theater on June 23, 2006, and featured Robert Plant, Ian Hunter, Ryan Adams, Nils Lofgren, Yo La Tengo, Garland Jeffreys, Johnny Echols (Love’s original lead guitarist), and Flashy Python & The Body Snatchers (featuring Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah). Backed by Ian Hunter’s band, Plant performed 12 songs, including four Led Zeppelin songs and five recorded by Love in the 60s (“7 and 7 Is”, “A House Is Not A Motel”, “Bummer in the Summer”, “Old Man”, and “Hey Joe”). A benefit concert was held in Dublin, Ireland.
Lee underwent several months of treatment for leukemia, including chemotherapy and an experimental stem cell transplant using stem cells from an umbilical cord blood donor. His condition continued to worsen, and he died from complications of the disease in Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 61.
Sadly, most of the early live material isn’t well recorded, and the later concerts only give a vague idea of what Arthur Lee was like during that time. But this concert from Bergen, Norway is one of the better representations of some of his last live concerts.