is all you need.
By Shep Stern
In July of 1967, The Beatles sang “All You Need Is Love” and lo, it was The Summer Of Love.
A group of young L.A. musicians called Love were in the studio working towards the November release of their third and final album, Forever Changes – an album that would reverberate through enough decades to become one of the most influential rock albums of all time.
Maybe you’ve never heard of them. Maybe you’re already a huge fan. There is no in-between. One thing is for sure, once you listen to this amazing time capsule of a masterpiece, you’ll understand why it’s on so many lists.
Love’s front man and musical visionary Arthur Lee was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1945 and moved with his family to the West Adams area of South Central Los Angeles when he was five. His mom and the mother of Love’s guitarist Johnny Echols were teachers and best friends back in Memphis, and whether it was luck or serendipity, when Johnny’s family moved to L.A. they wound up living next door to each other.
By the time he was fifteen, Echols had learned to play the guitar from Adolph Jacobs of The Coasters, and had started a band with Billy Preston playing weddings and bar mitzvahs.
Arthur had been a star athlete that had taken accordion lessons for years and could already read music. When he saw Echols’ band play “Johnny B. Goode” at a school dance, he begged to be part of it, so they let him play the bongos. When Billy left the band to play gospel music, Arthur took over on vocals and organ.
In 1963, their first effort, “The Ninth Wave,” as The LAGs (Los Angeles Group), was a surf music instrumental, released as a single on Capital Records. It went nowhere.
Arthur continued to composed and produce songs for himself and for other artists such as Little Ray and a band he sang for called The Pomona Casuals, and he also produced “My Diary,” a song he wrote when he was fifteen about his girlfriend, for R&B artist Rosa Lee Brooks, featuring a then unknown guitarist who would later become Jimi Hendrix. It almost became a bonafide hit. Almost.
By 1964, they had formed another group called The American Four, complete with Beatle haircuts, and had recorded a couple of tracks for Selma Records, a subsidiary of Del-Fi Records. With no chart activity whatsoever, they had to reinvent themselves yet again.
Arthur had begun writing songs in the folk rock style on guitar, and after he heard a new band called The Byrds play on the Sunset Strip, he knew he was on the right track.
That same year, a young man named Bryan MacLean landed a steady gig playing folk and blues guitar nightly at The Balladeer, later to become The Troubadour, and it was here that MacLean met the Byrds’ Jim McGuinn and Gene Clark, and became good friends with David Crosby.
The Byrds gave MacLean a gig as their equipment manager, but when they flew off to tour the U.K. with their hit cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” they left Bryan behind. Upset about being ditched, and after a failed audition for The Monkees, MacLean was walking home when Lee offered him a ride in his car. During the ride, Arthur ask Bryan to join his band, thinking MacLean could bring some of the Byrds’ fans to their shows while The Byrds were touring the U.K.
Bryan agreed, and they started playing regular gigs at a rock club called The Brave New World under the name The Grassroots.
Considered by many to have been a musical prodigy from a very young age, Bryan MacLean’s songwriting, guitar playing, and vocal talents worked to complete this new sound, and word was beginning to spread.
One of the regulars at The Brave New World told us that she had just heard our new record on the radio, “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Of course, that wasn’t our record. So after checking it out, we learned that Lou Adler had brought together a bunch of studio musicians and called them The Grass Roots, which was no coincidence since he had been to the club where we were playing on a number of occasions and even asked how we came up with the name. It was believed by many, including me, that he was banking on the fact that our fans would rush out and buy the record, thinking it was us… which is exactly what happened. By the time it became widely known that it wasn’t us, the damage (from our perspective) had already been done. The record skyrocketed up the charts and became a hit. We could have challenged his use of our name, but after much discussion, we decided to find a new name.
Bryan, Arthur and I, were driving down Beverly Blvd, in Hollywood when I noticed a Billboard advertising “Luv” brassieres. Bryan said: “man that would be a fantastic name for our group!” Arthur said the name Luv was perfect, I added… let’s just call the group L.O.V.E. we don’t want to create a potential problem, by choosing a name that’s already being used. It was unanimous: our group was to be known as LOVE. It was also agreed that we would not make a public announcement until we legally trademarked the name LOVE. Which is how the Grassroots, became LOVE. – Johnny Echols
In addition to The Brave New World, Love played all the local clubs including Hullaballoo, The Sea Witch, The Whiskey A Go-Go and several shows at Venice Beach’s famed Cheetah Club, but it wasn’t until they played at a Hollywood dive bar called Bido Lito’s at the end of a dead-end called Cosmo’s Alley, that music visionary Jac Holzman encountered Love.
In those days the label heads were often producers with an ear for acts that could be nurtured into recording artists. Lou Adler, for example, had Dunhill Records with acts such as The Mamas And The Papas and The (famous) Grass Roots among others. Holzman had his folk label, Elektra Records, with artists Judy Collins, Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs.
Change was in the air, Dylan had gone electric, and seeking new directions, Jac had heard of this great new folk/rock band called Love.
When he walked into Bido Lito’s that night, the crowd was a mix of hippies, beautiful people, and other assorted characters. Onstage was Arthur Lee, peering out from behind tiny, red “granny glasses” that were faceted like rubies. “How can he see through those?” Jac thought.
When they played their set, Jac at once connected with Arthur. He could hear the soul and angst in the vocals, the gorgeous 12-string guitar playing of Bryan and the incredible, trail-blazing electric guitar riffs of Johnny Echols.
To Jac Holzman, Love was the American band that epitomized where he wanted to take Elektra Records.
He signed them to the label where they recorded and released two albums: Love early in 1966 and Da Capo by the end of that year. Both albums were disappointing chart performers, but Love was still L.A.’s favorite band.
Jim Morrison was a huge fan of Love, and was always following Arthur around in those days. He would often say to Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek how great it would be if they could be as big as Love. One day Arthur made the introduction of young Morrison and The Doors to Elektra and the rest, as they say, is history.
By that psychedelic summer of 1967, Love was already falling apart. Drug abuse and endless partying at “The Castle,” the name given to the famous Los Feliz mansion where the band shared communal living, had taken a toll. Failing to tour at all due to Arthur’s reluctance to perform outside of L.A., the band had lost its mojo.
Still, Bryan and Arthur both had exciting new material to record, as they had grown more competitive to out-best each other as songwriters.
Scheduled to begin work on their third album, the band which also included Ken Forssi on bass and Michael Stuart replacing Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer on drums, showed up unrehearsed and unable to play the complicated arrangements for both Lee and MacLean’s new songs.
Recording engineer and producer Bruce Botnick had been engineering at Sunset Sound for years and had worked on numerous projects, including producing the previous two Love albums for Elektra.
Holzman had asked Botnick to oversee this third Love album, and having just completed an album with Buffalo Springfield, Bruce thought Neil Young might be interested in co-producing, but when Young passed to pursue his solo career, the young engineer set about going it alone.
When he saw the internal conflicts compounded by their lack of preparation, Botnick decided to hire “The Wrecking Crew,” the quartet made up of top studio musicians Hal Blaine, Billy Strange, Don Randi and Carol Kaye, to play on two tracks “Andmoreagain” and “The Daily Planet.” The legendary session players recorded both tracks effortlessly in less than three hours, motivating the band to get their act together and record the other nine tracks that make up Forever Changes.
By now Arthur Lee was the personification of the despair associated with creative output, and he was determined to make this record his legacy.
Only twenty-two years old, yet convinced he was going to die that year, Arthur felt that there was no hope left in this world, and that these would be the last words he would say about this planet.
His complex, overlapping arrangements and morphing time signatures support lyrics that reflect his suspicion of government, his rejection of consumer values and even his skepticism of the flower power movement.
From the start, Lee had all of the musical arrangements in his head, and sang the horn and string parts to orchestrator/arranger David Angel. Botnick enlisted his own mother, a music copyist, and his father a violist, to help him contract the players. To this day, these arrangements still swing.
A swirling vortex of psychedelic imagery between bliss and paranoia, caked with sinister, yet gorgeous and timeless songs that are unforgettable, Forever Changes is the hippy fever dream most name-checked by post-punk music artists as their inspiration.
For whatever reasons, Forever Changes did not do very well in the U.S.
Without a doubt, the juggernaut performance of the Beatles in 1967 overshadowed it. The massive success of their earlier release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band picked up steam all summer until the equally massive success of their summertime single “Love Is All You Need” built anticipation for their soon to be released Magical Mystery Tour, dropping that very same November that Forever Changes dropped.
Perhaps Arthur’s inexplicable fear of leaving L.A. also had something to do with it, even though the album was enjoying much more success in the U.K., charting there at #24.
Either way, after the sessions, Bryan MacLean left the band feeling that he didn’t get enough songs on the album. Arthur dismissed the rest of the band, and that was the end.
MacLean became a devout Christian and released some solo projects of inspirational music until his death from of a heart attack in 2008.
Demo tapes of songs he wrote for Love were found in the family garage by his mother and released in 1997 on Sundaze Records.
His song, “Alone Again Or,” was the sole single released from Forever Changes and was included in a reader’s poll by Rolling Stone of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
The great Johnny Echols became a studio musician in New York City and lived in Sedona, Arizona for 15 years. Now back on the west coast, he still rips it up with LOVE revisited, the band that backed Arthur on his last European tours.
Joined by Baby Lemonade guitarists Mike Randle and Rusty Squeezebox, David Chapple on bass and David “Daddy-O” Green on drums, Echols and company have thrilled audiences all over the world playing the music of Love, including shows at our very own Townhouse in Venice.
Some upcoming dates include headlining the Nuggets Night festival in Portland, Oregon as well as a few L.A. dates to be determined this spring.
Forever Changes has been on “desert island” playlists for decades, and it comes as no surprise that it is widely regarded as one of the best rock albums ever made, ranked at #40 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2003 list of The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time and included in the 2005 book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, so it’s a good thing that Rhino Records is expected to release a 50th Anniversary Edition of Forever Changes in March of this year!
1967 was not Arthur Lee’s last year on this planet. He lived to be 61, albeit through some tough times including spending almost 6 years in prison, wrongly accused of firing a gun in public. Lee would later say that he wasn’t the first black man to be framed and he wouldn’t be the last. He was planning to tour through Europe once again with Echols and the members of Baby Lemonade before he was diagnosed and subsequently lost his battle with acute myeloid leukemia in 2006.
The story goes that Arthur had heard about a friend of a friend who had just broken up with his girlfriend. “You said you would love me forever!” she said. “Well, forever changes.” he replied.