Arthur Lee is still in and out of Love

February 25, 1994|By Michael Yockel | Michael Yockel,Special to The Sun

Almost 30 years ago, Arthur Lee was the man.

Tall, lanky, dressed in wild checkered pants, red sweater and leather jacket, and wearing triangular, blue-tinted glasses, he cut something of a conspicuous figure, even on Los Angeles' flamboyant Sunset Strip. In the spring of 1966, Mr. Lee and his band, Love, tumbled out of L.A.'s hurly-burly folk-rock scene (the Byrds, Sonny and Cher, the Mamas and the Papas, the Turtles) with a hit single (a rambunctious cover of Bacharach and David's "My Little Red Book"). Their hit, hip, self-titled debut album genuflected to folk rock while hinting at the gathering psychedelic storm that would break full force one year later.

As Love's principal singer/songwriter, Mr. Lee pushed the band in all kinds of directions -- jazz, r&b, pop, psychedelia, baroque rock, garage rock -- over the course of six albums, until Love finally self-destructed in 1971 after countless personnel changes. The band's influence and potency have remained evident since that time, especially in the '80s, when a handful of alternative bands covered Mr. Lee's Love songs.

Those songs remain potent even today: A Love tribute album with tracks by such college-rock honchos as Urge Overkill, Teenage Fanclub and Das Damen is scheduled to be released this year. In fact, New York City-based Das Damen will back up Mr. Lee when he plays the 8x10 club Wednesday.

"They're Love fans, they know the songs," says Mr. Lee, speaking over the phone from Los Angeles. "Plus they play good."

Mr. Lee says he can't tour with the current L.A.-based incarnation of Love -- himself plus four guys in their 20s -- because of the financial hardships of going on the road without support from a major record company. Now 49, Mr. Lee has been in and out of rock and in and out of Love for the past 20-plus years, releasing a handful of solo and Love albums, the most recent a 1992 European-only disc.

"The energy in me is still there," he says. "I put on a show now that I didn't even do then."

He recalls a particularly memorable 1992 show in Liverpool: "It's about the warmest reception I ever got. The whole audience sang my songs with me. They even had my picture on the pound [note] to advertise the show."

Mr. Lee's '90s resurrection hasn't always been that enthusiastically received.

Take that show in Boston a few years ago. "It was a pretty cold audience," he remembers. "They just wanted to see if I was dead or alive."

Mr. Lee stopped performing altogether in the late '80s, he says, as a result of continued frustrations with the record industry. "Just 'cause you know how to play music doesn't mean you know the right record company to be on," he says. "I still don't. And I've had a golden opportunity. The business end of it has been lousy."

Then he experienced an epiphany of sorts.

"I was fiddling around [with music] but I was still watching 'The Twilight Zone' and 'The Honeymooners' like you wouldn't believe," he says. "Then I got pushed down -- slammed down -- on the couch one day. I didn't see anybody. No one said, 'Go sell my words and make yourself rich.'

"After that, I made up my mind to do what I was put here to do, and what I was put here to do is play music." He adds with a laugh: "You know, I think God really likes my music."

His band, Love with Arthur Lee, just released a single, "Girl on Fire," on the independent Distortion label, and Mr. Lee says that he and Das Damen will play that song, plus two other new ones, at 8x10.

They'll also perform many of Love's best-known and best-loved '60s songs, including "My Little Red Book," "Signed D.C." and the band's only Top 40 hit, the explosive "7 and 7 Is." The Ramones recently recorded "7 and 7 Is" on their album "Acid Eaters."

"I'll tell you how things change," says Mr. Lee, by way of explaining that Love might be opening for the Ramones in Los Angeles, one week after the show here. "I started this punk rock thing, I do believe, with '7 and 7 Is.' Now the Ramones are doing '7 and 7 Is' on their new record, and I'm playing second billing to them."

He pauses for a second, then adds, laughing, "That's the way the world goes."

Arthur Lee and Love

Where: 8x10 Club, 10 E. Cross St.

When: Wednesday, March 2; doors open at 9 p.m.

Tickets: $8

Call: (410) 625-2001

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