Arthur Lee, the prime architect of Sixties rock legends Love, will be released from prison today, after serving almost six years of an eleven-year sentence. In 1996, Lee was convicted of possession of a firearm by an ex-felon and grossly negligent discharge of a firearm for allegedly shooting a gun in the air during a dispute with a neighbor. The previous year, Lee was arrested after an altercation with a former girlfriend.
The possession charge has been served, and a federal appeals court in California reversed the negligence charge, ruling that the prosecutor in Lee’s original trial was guilty of misconduct. However, the fifty-six-year-old Lee may face another trial.
“The question now is whether they are going to decide to bring him back to trial and again attempt to prove that he committed that crime,” says Lee’s attorney, William Genego, who did not represent him at the original trial, “in the face of what was, at the time, very strong defense evidence that someone else had fired the gun. In fact, the person came forward and said that he [and not Lee] had fired the gun, and now it’s a question of whether they are going to want to re-try him on that, or simply recognize that he has served more than enough time than he should have in the first instance and just forget about it.”
According to Genego, Arthur Lee has held up remarkably well during his six years behind bars. “I know that he’s anxious to get back out on the road again and see all of his fans and play music,” he says. “Mentally and emotionally, he’s in good shape.”
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Love, who recorded for Elektra Records, were the kings of Los Angeles’ psychedelic rock & roll scene from 1965 to 1968. In fact, it was Lee who suggested that Elektra sign the Doors, who would far surpass Love commercially.
The elaborately arranged and apocalyptically themed Forever Changes (1967), which consistently appears on critics’ lists of all-time best rock albums, is considered Love’s finest moment. Rhino Records reissued a deluxe version of it earlier this year.
Since the 1968 dissolution of the original Love, Lee’s career has been checkered, but he has maintained cult status among musicians. In 1993, Mazzy Star recorded Lee’s “Five String Serenade” and included the song on their platinum-selling So That Tonight I Might See album. During the early Nineties, Los Angeles indie rockers Baby Lemonade backed Lee on a few tours.
“I really miss the guy,” says Lemonade’s Mike Randle. “The last image I have of him was when he left the courtroom to go into prison. But I prefer to remember him at the last gig we played, which was in Rotterdam, Holland . . . I know he’s still got a lot of great music left in him.”