Arthur Lee, the incredibly gifted 61-year-old singer and guitarist for the influential '60s-era band Love, died in a Memphis hospital on August 3, 2006 after a year-long battle with acute myeloid leukemia. The brilliant, yet oft-troubled Lee spent most of his remaining months in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy and an experimental umbilical-cord blood treatment. After three rounds of chemotherapy failed, several benefit concerts were held in Britain and the United States to help him cover his medical expenses. In June, longtime fan Robert Plant headlined a benefit concert at The Beacon Theater in New York City which raised over $50,000 (Plant cited the influence of Mr. Lee and Love in his acceptance speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995).
A native of Memphis, Lee moved to Los Angeles in the early '60s to work as a session musician and songwriter. "My Diary," one of his earliest compositions, was recorded by R&B singer Rosa Lee Brooks, and featured a young Jimi Hendrix on electric guitar. Lee and Hendrix would work again several years later on a tune called "The Everlasting First" from Love's "False Start" album (1970) and also on a tune called "Girl on Fire" which emerged as a single in 1994. After performing with an instrumental band called The LAGS, Lee was influenced by the burgeoning LA rock scene and in 1965 decided to form a new band called The Grass Roots. Since that name was already taken by an up-and-coming recording act, Lee chose the name Love. The band quickly developed a cult following on LA's Sunset Strip club scene and caught the attention of Elektra Records (primarily a folk label at the time) who immediately signed them. Love's explosive self-titled debut album, released in 1966, was the first rock release in Elektra's history, and spawned a minor hit with their unique version of Burt Bacharach's "My Little Red Book." The following year the band released the more ambitious "Da Capo" LP, which exceeded all expectations and included some of the finest material of Lee's career.
By the time Love released their third album, "Forever Changes" in the later part of 1967, they had become one of the most popular and influential bands in the Los Angeles area so influential in fact that they used their clout to get their friends, a local band called The Doors, signed to Elektra. "Forever Changes" was a landmark artistic achievement which earned Lee the reputation as being a trailblazing musical visionary (credit must also go to fellow band mate Bryan MacLean for his excellent contributions), and even though the album was not a hit, it has gone on to achieve classic status as one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded. "Forever Changes" however, turned out to be the last essential Love album, as Lee's increasingly paranoid and erratic behavior began to take hold. Lee reformed the band with a new group of musicians and continued to release records under the Love name until the early '70s, but none of them ever captured the greatness of "Forever Changes."
Speaking about the tragic loss of one of music's finest, Lee's manager Mark Linn issued the following statement on August 4:
"Arthur Lee died peacefully at Methodist Hospital in Memphis, a little after four in the afternoon August 3, 2006 with his wife Diane by his side. His death comes as a shock to me because Arthur had the uncanny ability to bounce back from everything, and leukemia was no exception. He was confident that he would be back on stage by the fall. When I visited with him recently, he was visibly moved by the stories and pictures from the NYC benefit concert. He was truly grateful for the outpouring of love from friends and fans all over the world since news of his illness became public. Arthur always lived in the moment, and said what he thought when he thought it. I'll miss his phone calls, and his long voice messages, but most of all I'll miss Arthur playing Arthur's music."