Love’s Main Man Looks Back on the ‘60s, Man : Arthur Lee, leader of Elektra’s first rock band, talks about the Doors, the Byrds and Mick Jagger.
“All ya need is love,” sang those Beatles. “All we need is Love,” said the guys at Elektra Records, according to Arthur Lee of Love.
In 1965, Love became the first rock band signed to Elektra Records. The second was the Doors. Therein lies some exposition, but more on that later. The musical part of the story unfolds Saturday night at Cheers in Simi Valley.
Love’s first hit, “Little Red Book,” still lives long and prospers on the radio. The band, with its ever-changing cast, still plays. Lee is Love. He has written folk-rock songs, blues songs, jazzy songs. His repertoire includes more than 200 songs, and almost all of them sound different.
On some songs, Lee sounds like Lenny Kravitz’s dad, doing the psychedelic black guy thing. Listening to his tortured voice on “Signed D.C.” is the closest you’ll get to expanding your mind without breaking the law. “7+7 Is” still sounds like the first punk-rock song. The band’s third album, “Forever Changes,” combines jazz and rock and is simply one of the top 10 albums of all time.
For now, we’ll jettison the jocularity, and let Arthur Lee, Love’s main man, tell his story, man.
Love was the first rock band signed to Elektra. How did that come down?
Man, this guy named Jac Holzman, who owned Elektra, came to see us play at a club in Hollywood which is now the Gaslight. I wasn’t even 21 when I signed. Elektra started out with something like 300 bucks and just sold for 14 million. They didn’t have enough money to back my band at first. Jim, what’s- his-name, Morrison was playing at the London Fog in Hollywood. So I told Holzman to go down and check out the Doors. He said he didn’t like them. I told him it wasn’t about liking them, but to check out their crowd. So he signed them. Everybody made money but me. Our first album was No. 1 in L.A. and a few other places, but Elektra didn’t have enough money to distribute it to make it No. 1 everywhere else. They used the money they made off us to promote the Doors and make them No. 1.
How did you get in the rock star biz?
I’ve been playing music since I was 5. I ran away, no, drove away from home when I was 16. Later, I was playing R & B when I saw the Byrds do their folk-rock thing at Ciro’s. I was always a songwriter and I already had songs like that. It was all over but the shouting. No, wait, man. I gotta tell you the first thing that really inspired me to play the guitar. I was going to Dorsey High School and ditching class. So we’re hanging out in front of a Thrifty’s drugstore and up drives this guy in a gold Cadillac. He had a gold suit, gold teeth, hair all slicked back, just walking slow, being cool. “That’s Johnny (Guitar) Watson,” said my friend. “How’d he get that car?” I asked. “By playing the guitar,” said my friend. I was about 15, man, and I’m tellin’ ya. . . .
What was it like being a rock star in the ‘60s?
We had it made in the shade with lemonade. The Grateful Dead opened for us. The Doors opened for us. I got so sick of Janis Joplin’s screaming when her band, Big Brother & the Holding Company, opened for us. Everyone was standing outside the Whiskey playing “Little Red Book” on the tambourine. We had the West Coast sewed up, man. But Elektra always wanted us to play the East Coast, but I didn’t want to do it. Hey, I wasn’t gonna leave the land of milk and honey and go play no club for no 25 bucks.
Do you still have those triangle sunglasses you used to wear?
As a matter of fact, I do. I got ‘em, but they only have one lens.
So do you still hang out on the Strip?
Oh, no sir.
Talk about your music.
Love music, man. It’s like a trip, man. I’ve always listened to all kinds of music all my life.
Does the first album sound like “Forever Changes”?
Hell, no. I’m the most versatile singer, man. As far as styles--blues, I can do it. Classical, I can do it. Reggae, I can do it. You name it, I can do it. If you can do it, do it, man.
The song “Signed D.C.” was the junkie song of all time. How did you happen to write that one?
I was just looking at the environment and the people I was associated with. The music came more or less from “The House of the Rising Sun,” and that one came from “St. James Infirmary.”
On your second album, the song “Revelation” takes up the whole side. Did this inspire other bands to excess?
That’s exactly right. The Stones copied that. Back in those days, Jeff Beck and all those guys were my groupies. I did a song “She Comes in Colors.” Next, the Stones did a song “She Comes in Colors.” What’s up with that? So, I’m in London, man, and Mick Jagger sends his brother to pick me up. I say, “Mick stole my song, (bleep) Mick.” I guess that was one of the mistakes I made. I’ve been ripped off coldblooded, and I don’t care, man. It still ain’t gonna change me back to when I was 16. So ya gotta just keep goin’.
Who goes to your shows, old hippies?
Believe it or not, man, all ages. Recently we played at Raji’s and the majority of the fans were like 20, man. But in the back, there were still a lot of hippies with all their hippie stuff on. It trips me out, man.
What’s the most misunderstood thing about Love?
So how does a young band get signed these days?
By knowing an important person in the music industry. So you want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star? There’s always someone who won’t like you.
How many Love albums are there?
Ten, 12 man, I dunno. It’s very strange. Sometimes, they’re around. Other times, they’re not. I named the band Love because that’s the opposite of what happened. I’ve kept the name alive all these years. My last album came out in 1992 on New Rose Records, a French label. It’s called “Arthur Lee & Love.” Pretty clever, huh?
I’m trying to get another record deal. I’m going to New York in September, then Europe. My current band is great.