Love, headed by singer/guitarist Arthur Lee, was a seminal '60s L.A. band, emerging from the Sunset Strip at the same time as the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Doors, and the Mamas and the Papas. The group started out playing a Byrds-influenced folk rock but later covered many styles, including bluesy R&B, pop, and hard rock.
Lee moved from his Memphis birthplace to L.A. with his family when he was five. By age 17 he was playing in local bands, including Arthur Lee and the LAGs (styled after Booker T. and the MG's). The band, which included later Love member John Echols, cut one single for Capitol, an instrumental, "The Ninth Wave." Love was formed with unknown musicians: MacLean had been a roadie for the Byrds, and Forssi had played with the Surfaris after their hits faded. Lee originally called the group the Grass Roots, but changed it, since the name was already taken by another soon-to-be-well-known band.
Love's first album was hailed by critics as a classic in the new folk-rock style and sold 150,000 copies. Its 1966 single "My Little Red Book" (penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David) was a minor hit. The band's second album, Da Capo, featured some topically druggy lyrics, jazz touches, and a few personnel changes. The album was another groundbreaker, featuring one of the first side-long cuts in rock, the 20-minute-long "Revelation." The album also included the Top 40 hit "7 and 7 Is." Forever Changes, however, is considered by many to be Love's best, its answer to Sgt. Pepper, with orchestral touches, including horn and string arrangements, and a psychedelic feel that influenced many of the early-'80s neopsychedelic British bands such as the Monochrome Set, the Teardrop Explodes, and Echo and the Bunnymen.
In 1968 Lee reorganized the group (members of the first edition later claimed excessive drug use had driven the band apart; MacLean said he nearly overdosed on heroin, then joined a Christian ministry and suffered a nervous breakdown) and hired a new band of three, plus four sessionmen to help out in the studio on Four Sail and Out Here; he briefly renamed himself Arthurly. Love next toured England (the band seldom left L.A.), and Lee recorded a full LP with Jimi Hendrix. The album was buried in legal problems, though one track, "The Everlasting First," turned up on False Start in 1970. In 1971 Lee dismissed his band.
Lee was supposed to have recorded a solo album for Columbia, but his debut wound up on A&M in 1972, the hard-rocking Vindicator, credited to Arthur Lee and Band Aid. Like later Love LPs, the record didn't sell well. In 1973 he planned to make another solo album with Paul Rothchild's new Buffalo Records, but the label folded before the LP was released. In 1974 Lee came back on RSO with an all-new Love, but the music disappointed many and included three remakes of old Love cuts. His next effort was a solo EP in 1977 on Da Capo Records. In 1979 he toured locally with MacLean (whose sister Maria McKee would emerge in the '80s with the country-rock band Lone Justice) and another incarnation of Love, and in 1980 Rhino Records put out Best of Love, a compilation of '60s tracks. In 1981 the label issued a new Arthur Lee solo LP, his first in seven years. In 1994 Lee, backed by members of the New York–area punk band Das Damen, toured clubs under the Love banner, to ecstatic reaction from audiences and critics, who urged reappraisal of his oeuvre as the missing link between the Byrds and the Doors. That comeback was cut short in 1996 when Lee —who had had several run-ins with the law over the years —was sentenced to 8 to 12 years in prison for illegal possession of a firearm after pointing a pistol at a neighbor.
Forssi died of brain cancer in early 1998. MacLean remained in the Christian ministry and returned to making music. He died of a heart attack on Christmas Day, 1999, without having completed an album. IfYouBelieveIn (1997) and Candy's Waltz (2000) are two collections of demos and solo recordings spanning the 1960s through the 1980s.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
Remastered version of acclaimed L.A. band's final LP – featuring 12 bonus tracks, unpublished photos – is out in November
High Moon Records is putting out bonus-tracks-laden editions of Love's 'Black Beauty' and Gene Clark's 'Two Sides to Every Story' this fall