Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark
March 12, 1970
The greatest, unbootlegged live band of the mid-Sixties is the original lineup of the Los Angeles group Love — the bi-racial folk-rock pirates who made Love and Da Capo in 1966, then the silken psychedelia of Forever Changes in 1967. If there are any soundboard or audience recordings of Love in their Sunset Strip prime, they have not surfaced. Singer-leader Arthur Lee’s aversion to the grind and indignities of the road ensured that no one rolled tape anywhere else.
Lee’s next version of the group, a hard-rock U-turn from Forever Change” bruised romanticism, toured hard (by his standards), reaching Britain and Europe in early 1970. Love were especially feted in Denmark: Danish TV interviewed Lee and taped five songs at the Tivoli show, including the convulsive thunder of “August,” from 1969’s Four Sail, and Lee’s brutal update of the heroin-blues crawl “Signed D.C.,” originally on Love. It is a short but rare solid-audio shot of Lee in the kind of dramatic vocal command that made him an instant, fearsome star on the Strip just five years earlier. A fuller, official view of that Love era was finally released in 2007: A disc of recordings from the British leg, with Cream-like bluster and dramatic rearrangements of songs like Da Capo‘s “Orange Skies,” comes with the three-CD set, The Blue Thumb Recordings (Hip-O Select).
Unreleased studio album, 1973
The band that made this album, for the small Buffalo label, was Arthur Lee’s first all-black Love. It was also the first Love album produced by Paul Rothchild, best known for the Elektra albums he made with Love’s chief rivals at the label, the Doors. Black Beauty might have been received as a strong comeback for Lee, a turn to steamy R&B with heavy-guitar punch — if it had come out. The label went bankrupt before release.
Born in Memphis, Lee was — under that black-Mick Jagger armor — a soul man who sang like a tougher Jackie Wilson, with a sharp crying edge that cut through the early Love’s tense folk-rock jangle with emotionally vengeful poise. That voice is here too, with more Dixie in its inflection. Lee’s writing and the power-funk arrangements lack the provocation and complexity of Forever Changes, but “I’m Good & Evil” is frank cocky rock, “Midnight Sun” sounds like something Lee could have written for his friend Jimi Hendrix and “Stay Away” would make a hip cover for Living Colour. Black Beauty has circulated in various forms and fidelity for many years. The good news: According to the official Arthur Lee website, an official release is, at last, in the works.
Robert Plant, “We’re Doing It for Love: A Benefit for Arthur Lee,” Beacon Theater, New York City
June 23, 2006
After his release from a California prison in 2001, Lee quickly went back on the road, going deep into Love’s Sixties catalog, mostly with the perfectly suited Los Angeles band Baby Lemonade. Bootlegs abound from Lee’s final working years, along with an official release of his complete performance of Forever Changes, with an orchestra, at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2003 — The Forever Changes Concert (Snapper). But in the spring of 2006, Lee announced that he was being treated for leukemia. Nils Lofgren, Yo La Tengo and Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter were among the artists who performed at this New York benefit to raise funds for Lee’s care.
Ex-Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, an avowed fan of Love and Lee, was the star in name and commitment, performing a full set with a good New York band and, in the Forever Changes songs “A House Is Not a Motel” and “Bummer in the Summer,” original Love guitarist (and Lee’s boyhood friend) Johnny Echols. Plant celebrated Lee’s influence as well as his songbook, drawing connections to Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Shall Never Be.” Plant also slipped a shot of Neil Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand” into Da Capo‘s “7+7 Is.”
Plant’s performance was an unforgettable show of Love ¬ — and love. I was there. I keep going back, thanks to a DVD shot from the Beacon balcony — with steady hands, decent focus and better-than-expected sound — and sent to me by an acquaintance in Denmark. Something from the soundboard, formally released, would honor both Plant and Lee.
Lee, hospitalized in Memphis, could not attend the show. He died a few weeks later, on August 3rd. He was 61.
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