Free Love

Arthur Lee Lets It All Hang Out

Arthur Lee, the outrageous auteur behind the psych-pop legend known as Love, was the hippie prince of the Sunset Strip in the mid-’60s. Love’s music was a potent blend of folk, garage-punk, psychedelia, R&B and easy listening, and the band’s incendiary residency at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go drew an overflow crowd that stretched around the block. Lee had enough juice to get a then-unknown band called the Doors signed to Elektra Records. He dressed the part of trippy royalty, decked out in flamboyant psychedelic dandy attire later rendered iconic by Jimi Hendrix. (It was Lee who put Hendrix in the recording studio for the first time for an early pre-Love single called “My Diary.”) And for reasons that remain unclear, it was his trademark to wear only one shoe.

Not surprisingly, Lee was a freak magnet. For a time the band resided in Bela Lugosi’s castle-like estate in the Hollywood hills. An early version of Love included Bobby Beausoleil, who would later become infamous for his involvement in the Manson family murders.

A combination of aloofness, hardcore drug abuse and reclusiveness — Love rarely performed outside of Los Angeles — kept the band from achieving the kind of household-name status afforded other ’60s figures, and Love disbanded after three brilliant albums.

In the intervening 35 years, the adoration of Love’s music has only grown more intense among musicians and rock snobs. These days Forever Changes, the third and final proper Love album, is mentioned in the same hushed, reverent tones reserved for Pet Sounds.

And while time has been kind to Love’s legacy, its members have not fared so well. Two did time for holding up doughnut stands with water pistols to finance their heroin habit. One found God. Two are dead. In early 1995, Lee was arrested for discharging a firearm in the air, and with two previous arrests — one for arson — he wound up serving five and a half years as part of California’s three strikes law. Lee has always denied firing the gun, and his friend Doug Thomas insisted repeatedly to the police and then the jury that it was he who fired the gun. Lee was released from prison late last year and has just concluded a critically acclaimed European tour with a reconstituted version of Love, during which he was honored by Britain’s House of Parliament. Recently I caught up with Lee during a tour stop in Minneapolis, and as you will see, he remains one shoe shy of a pair.

Arthur Lee: Philadelphia? Been a long time since I played there. I think the last time was some cheese or something.

ME: Cheese?

AL: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m gonna tell ya: You come see my show, you are not gonna ever forget it.

ME: I’m sure. I’m a longtime fan and this is a huge honor to finally talk to you.

Arthur Lee: I’m lettin’ it all hang out, man. I’m not just standing, because I saw the Beatles, ’cause they just stand there and sing their songs. I can’t say that about James Brown and I sure can’t say that about Jackie Wilson.

ME: The reviews from the European tour have been glowing.

Arthur Lee: They should man, ’cause I’ve been sweatin’, shit, in my socks. I have to change my socks when I come off stage. Sweatin’ my ass off on that stage. Workin’ me like a government mule.

ME: So I see that you were recently honored by the British House of Parliament.

Arthur Lee: Yeah, I was fortunate enough to be recognized. They knew all the songs. They were singin’ all the fuckin’ Love songs!

ME: Is it true that one of the Members of Parliament got down on his knees and did the Wayne’s World “I am not worthy” thing?

Arthur Lee: He did that. He actually did that. I didn’t know if that was the Last Supper or what that was all about. [His voice cracks and goes unintelligibly hoarse.] I’m sorry to say I’m a little hoarse. I did something kind of stupid, I can tell you and you’re not going to print this, of course. I did something I don’t know anything about in Eugene, Ore. I ate some pussy, and my voice ain’t been the same since. I hope this bitch didn’t have nothin’ man. I don’t mean to advertise NyQuil, but as long as I take this stuff, it clears it up.

ME: Do you have any there to take right now?

Arthur Lee: I sure do. I’m gonna swallow some of this bullshit right now. Keep talking, man.

ME: So you are doing all the classic Love songs on this tour, but I hear you are planning to go back into the studio in September and record some new songs.

Arthur Lee: [Long pause] I’m swallowing it right now. [Another long pause] I drank half the bottle.

ME: You sound better already.

Arthur Lee: I’m just so happy to see people — young, old, middle-aged — jumping up and down to songs I wrote 35 years ago. This new band is as square as a pool table and just as green, but one thing I know is, I don’t have to worry about them overdosing or being alcoholics — they are dedicated to Love music.

ME: There is talk about you doing a tour in the fall with a string section and doing Forever Changes in its entirety.

Arthur Lee: Yeah, I’m just following the guy in front of me, my manager. I’m just doing whatever he says to become more known in the places that I’m playing. You see, I don’t like doing interviews. I don’t mind talking to people because I see them as a reflection of myself. I have no prejudices, but I do believe that my group has not been recognized, ever though we have been voted over Sgt. Pepper. The critics all say that we were in the top three with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Come see my show! I’m going to make sure that Love makes a mark on Earth.

ME: The conventional wisdom is that if Love had toured more, it could have been as famous as the Beatles or the Stones.

Arthur Lee: Well you can’t tour with people you can’t trust. That’s what it was. If you guys wanna go and pawn all my shit, I’m not going for it. If I said I played Voxx, Voxx would give me a whole set of Voxx equipment and these guys would pawn it off.

ME: To buy drugs?

Arthur Lee: Yeah, that’s right. I’ve written a book and lettin’ it all hang out. A couple people in my band are dead. You should always say something good about the dead. “They are dead. Good.” I always had the faith that my original band would somehow snap out of it, which they did for Forever Changes. I don’t care what anybody says, that’s the orginal Love band playing all those songs.

ME: Not the Wrecking Crew?

Arthur Lee: They did one song, “The Daily Planet,” and Neil Young helped me do a poor production of that song. I hate that song. But I’m singing it now with these guys and I like it. I don’t know. But I like Neil Young. I’m proud of Neil Young. I remember when he came to town with Buffalo Springfield at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go. I know a lot of musicians but I don’t hang out with musicians. Mick Jagger sent his brother Chris by to pick me up and come visit, and I’m not into that. A lot of people have stolen the idea that I had, to be a hippie and the way I dressed. By the way, I’m still a hippie and I will be until the day I die unless I have some brain surgery or something. But I did used to walk around with one shoe on and one off and people come and copycat me and be known around the world, such as one of the greatest guitar players in the world: Jimi Hendrix. By the way, I was with his brother Leon Hendrix in Seattle. I love Leon.

ME: You have been quoted as saying that Hendrix stole your look.

Arthur Lee: Leon said that to me the other night, too. And Sly Stone, you know I don’t like him. And Bootsy Collins. You know, I will never get recognized in the black community. When Jimi Hendrix died, Jet magazine wrote: “Guitarist Jimi Hendrix dies at 27, homosexual, appealed mostly to white audiences.” That’s what they said then, now it’s all “Praise Jimi.” If it wasn’t for me, there wouldn’t be any Jimi Hendrix looking the way he does. And Lenny Kravitz. Let’s face facts: You are talking to a living legend, right?

ME: Right.

Arthur Lee: And you’re proud of it, right?

ME: Sure.

Arthur Lee: Aw, you don’t have to say “right.” I’m just pullin’ your dick. My show is going to speak for it self. All this talking I’m doing right now is one thing – you can take it and let blow with the leaves in the trees in the wind.

ME: It’s true that Hendrix played on one of your early, pre-Love songs, “My Diary.”

Arthur Lee: First time Jimi Hendrix was ever recorded in the studio. It was a trip – lookin’ at Jimi Hendrix was like looking at myself.

ME: Bobby Beausoleil was an orginal member of Love?

Arthur Lee: Bobby Beausoleil is full of shit. He auditioned. He was a friend of mine, so I gave him some money to score for me, and he burned me. So I started calling him “Bummer Bob.” By the way, it’s all in my book that’s coming out the first part of next year, along with a documentary and a new album. Come and see the show, man.

ME: I’m coming!

Arthur Lee: I am not out just to play music — I am out to blow your mind! For the grace of God I am still able to do what I do, and I’m doing it better now than I ever have. By the way, you’ve heard of this guy Bruce Botnick (producer of Forever Changes and the Doors’ L.A. Woman)? He’s a fuckin’ homo. I could barely get my album done at the time I was doing Forever Changes ’cause he was hittin’ on me all the time. He didn’t talk about in interviews that good weed he was bringin’ down to the studio.

ME: Have you ever made any money from Love recordings?

Arthur Lee: Not a penny.

ME: Not a penny!

Arthur Lee: That’s the only lie I have told during this interview.

ME: You’re manager told me not to ask about prison, but I can I just ask you one question?

Arthur Lee: I was convicted for shooting off a gun and the case was overturned because of prosecution misconduct and ineffective assistance of council. My lawyer robbed me and left me for dead. I was put in a place where, you know, you put your hand in and they can tell if you shot a gun, comes back conclusive or inconclusive. Mine came back inconclusive. They took my shirt. There was no proof that I shot a gun. But instead of taking a plea bargain and going to jail for 16 months and doing nine months, but instead I went to jail for five and a half years because I went before a jury such as the one Rodney King had in Simi Valley. By the way, Rodney might want to do a couple of songs in my new Love thing.

ME: He’s a friend of yours?

Arthur Lee: I have never met him a day in my life. But a friend of mine happened to be going through rehabilitation and just happened to be Rodney King’s roommate. So I sent him some records and CDs. So he knows about me and I know about his history. I just saw Allen Iverson on the TV and behind one person saying he didn’t have a gun when he kicked in his wife’s door or some shit. He got off. I had three people saying I didn’t fire a gun, one actually standing up and saying he fired the gun. Doug Thomas from New Zealand. I realize the law and the newspapers work hand-in-hand and I’m not trying to provoke anyone, but I went to jail for five and a half fuckin’ years for nothing.

ME: Why did they single you out then?

Arthur Lee: Because I had a couple of white chicks and was livin’ in Sherman Oaks. You are about the last person I am going to tell this to, but the reason I’m telling you is that my mother, my best friend, Agnes Lee died while I was in prison. Prison was bad, but that was the worst thing that happened to me. Come and see my show, man.

ME: I’m comin’!