By Richie Unterberger

Though Love established themselves as a premier California folk-rock-psychedelic group with their mid-to-late-1960s albums on Elektra, the two LPs they released after moving to the Blue Thumb label were much different from the material with which they'd first made their mark. In fact, the Blue Thumb LPs were considerably different from each other, both in sound and personnel.

    The first of these, Out Here, was actually recorded at around the same time as their final Elektra album, Four Sail. Like Four Sail, it showed the group exploring different directions than they had on their first three LPs, with leader and chief singer-songwriter Arthur Lee the only remaining member from the previous Love lineups. Recorded in 1970, False Start was another shift, going into a harder-rocking mode than any previous Love release. There was another lineup change between Out Here and False Start as well, with Gary Rowles replacing Jay Donnellan on lead guitar, though Lee, bassist Frank Fayad, and drummer George Suranovich remained aboard the Love train.

    Rowles's history with Fayad and Suranovich predated  his enlistment into Love's ranks by some time. He was playing with Fayad in Las Vegas in 1967 when Nooney Rickett—"an amazing R&B singer and rhythm guitarist," as Rowles describes him today—approached Gary and Frank to be in a new band he was starting. Suranovich, who had drummed with Pittsburgh doo wop greats the Skyliners (famous for the classic 1959 smash "Since I Don't Have You"), joined to complete the quartet early the following year. As the Noon Express, they were playing the Brass Ring club in Encino in the San Fernando Valley in September 1968 when Arthur Lee, looking to form a new lineup of Love after his latest Elektra version had dissolved, checked them out.

    "Arthur wanted that band to be Love," Rowles explains. "So when Nooney's band broke up and I went up to San Francisco, Arthur hired Frank and George and Jay for the Out Here album." But Rowles did play on one cut of the Out Here LP, as Lee "wanted something specific that was part of my style at the time. I went up to San Francisco to play with a band up there for a while, and when I came back to L.A., Arthur called me and said, 'I really would like you to be a part of this.' He mentioned something about a European tour and a record after that, so I was definitely interested."

    Love's metamorphosis into a more hard rock-oriented outfit, Gary adds, "didn't come as a surprise to me because the band basically had transformed from this eclectic group of individuals that Love was before, [when] it seemed to me like there was some struggle for identity within the group. You had different people writing, different people saying 'this is how I want it to sound.' Certainly to a listener, that's very appealing, because it gives a lot of colors to the palette of the presentation. But Arthur realized that the future was a little bit more hard rock, because that was when Zeppelin came out, and all of a sudden, that was the beginnings of metal. It was also an outflowing of the Jimi Hendrix presentation, which really changed quite a bit of how guitar players thought and what the expanded capabilities of the instrument could be. So actually the change of direction was a result of Arthur being exposed to us—the Nooney Rickett band—and him wanting that to be what he could identify his songwriting and his presentation with."

    Before most of the studio recordings were done for the record, Love embarked on their first European tour in early 1970. Indeed, Love were perhaps more popular in the UK than they were in their native US at this point, 1968's classic Forever Changes album having charted far higher there (peaking at #24) than any Love LP had in the States. It was in England during this tour that Love would record two of the tracks to appear on its forthcoming album, one of them being the live concert recording "Stand Out." The other would be the most famous cut on the record, "The Everlasting First," for the simple reason that it featured some guest lead guitar by none other than Jimi Hendrix.

    Hendrix and Lee had first met in the mid-1960s before either musician became famous, Jimi even playing on an obscure soul single written by Arthur, Rosa Lee Brooks's "My Diary." On March 17, 1970, as Rowles tells it, he came back from a walk in London to find "Jimi Hendrix sitting on the couch in the apartment. I happened to have an old '54 Stratocaster, and I wanted him to see it. He looked at my guitar and played it a little bit, and then Arthur says, 'you know, we should go jam.' Everybody thought that was a great idea, so Arthur called Olympic Studios, and it just so happened that they didn't have anything booked that night in the main room. I'd say we played a good eight or nine hours that night. I don't know what happened to all of the material. I do know that we did a version of 'Ezy Ryder' [Hendrix's own version later showing up on his first posthumous album, 1971's Cry of Love] that was quite spectacular. He wanted to show it to us, 'cause he liked our rhythm section a lot. We did some jamming—there was a percussionist friend of his there, I can't remember who it was—just two-chord stuff."

    "The Everlasting First" itself, adds Gary, "represents a dream of any guitar player who's ever played a Stratocaster. I sat next to Jimi Hendrix, three feet away from him, for almost eight hours, and none of us even got up to go to the bathroom. When that song fades out, you have no idea what happened after that. No one does—I may be one of the only people left alive who knows. That thing went on for twenty minutes; I mean, we sat there for twenty minutes and just played that riff. The roof came off of the building several times that night."

    Most of False Start, however, was recorded a few months later, in June and July, at the Record Plant in Los Angeles. Here again, there was a strong Hendrix connection, as Record Plant co-founder and engineer Gary Kellgren had done a lot of work with Jimi, who visited Love to hang out with the band during the recording. Although Hendrix didn't play on any more tracks to find release on False Start, another old friend who did was Nooney Rickett, who contributed some vocals and rhythm guitar. "Ride That Vibration" is a particular favorite of Rowles as it was "a chance for me to do my thing, and I loved the feel. There's that George Suranovich 16-bar phrases thing, and Frank Fayad's psychedelic bass thing, and my just kind of going out into my little place in outer space thing."

    False Start received a glowing review in Rolling Stone by Mike Saunders, who enthused, "Arthur Lee is now a good and unaffected singer, having both a soft and a screaming voice...[his] songs are engaging in their simple structure, this album is engaging in its whole, and I think I could rave on all day saying wonderful things about it." But despite the praise, it could only struggle to #184 in the charts, and the lineup that recorded it started to crumble soon after it was recorded. "There were substance abuse problems," admits Rowles. "Arthur had some issues, they're probably well known. It started getting to the point that when we would go to play a gig, he would basically almost have to be dragged on the stage. I couldn't be a part of that, so I left; I was the first one to quit." Though he was replaced by John Sterling, and Fayad and Suranovich carried on playing with Lee in Love for a while, no more albums were recorded before this version of the band broke up.

    Rowles, who today runs Audio Media Services in Oregon, remains proud of his stint with Love. For all Arthur Lee's quirks, Gary emphasizes, "he was a very powerful singer, and his writing was very good, timely prose and lyrics for the culture at the time. He knew how to get good things out of people, and there were a lot of good times working with him." He's also thankful that "my opportunity to play with Arthur Lee afforded me probably one of the greatest opportunities that anyone of my era could have experienced, and that is the opportunity to play with Jimi Hendrix three times. Any guitar player on this earth that's ever heard that from me...immediately, their jaws drop." -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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