As an engineer and producer, Bruce Botnick worked with many top artists in the 1960s, particularly for the Elektra label. He was the engineer for Love's first two albums, and co-produced their classic third album, 1967's Forever Changes, with the band's principal singer-songwriter, Arthur Lee. Here he discusses his work with Love, one of the top folk-rock-cum-psychedelic West Coast bands of the era.
Did you see Love live before you started working on their records?
I didn't go to Bido Lito's or the clubs they were playing. They walked in the studio with Jac Holzman, and I think five days later there was an album.
At the time I wasn't doing a lot of rock'n'roll. I was doing a lot of work with Jack Nitzsche. We were doing pop work, things for Liberty Records -- Bobby Vee, Johnny Burnette, and that kind of thing. Lots of children's albums for Disney. I really wasn't familiar with the genre. Although I was familiar with the end of the acts -- Bobby Vee, Johnny Burnette, and Jackie DeShannon, and that whole particular group of people, which was the level before we got into '60s rock'n'roll. I knew nothing about acid, drugs, or anything like that. This was totally unusual. I was never one to go clubs and be a part of that. So when they walked in the door, I didn't think that they were weird. They performed, and I recorded them, and I really liked the music a great deal.
Was Arthur Lee very much the main figure in the band, even at the point they first started recording?
Oh, definitely. He wrote all the songs, except for some of the things that Bryan wrote. But basically, he was the band. And he could play any of the instruments in the band, and would show the guys what to play.
There's a lot of growth in the songwriting for the first three albums. How was Lee trying to expand his horizons from basic folk-rock to the psychedelia and orchestration you hear on Forever Changes?
I don't necessarily think it was conscious, saying I'm going to go from here to there. I don't think that was Arthur's way. Arthur had a great way with words, and I think some pretty terrific melodies. But he just grew. It was a very productive period for him, from the first Love album through Forever Changes and Da Capo.
Was it hard for the other guys in the band to keep up with Arthur, when his music was developing so rapidly?
The only thing about that was the fact that he kept the focus, and he was going a lot faster than they could. I think it's well documented that I took them into the studio to produce this album [Forever Changes], and they couldn't play, basically. He was quite upset about it. I did a little shock value, and I said "look, I'm going to bring in [top Los Angeles session musicians] Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew. And I said, "let's try and record a couple cuts with them." And I did it intentionally, to shock the band into getting serious, which -- it did work. I remember Bryan [MacLean, the band's other songwriter] sitting there crying during the session.
Was there a sense at that point that you might not be able to record with any of the band playing their own parts for Forever Changes, except for Arthur?
I don't think that was the case. I always went into it with the concept of getting the band on track, so that they would be on the album. As it turns out, two of the songs that I did with the Wrecking Crew did wind up on the album. But I mean, when we recorded them, I remember that Arthur played live rhythm guitar. I don't think we did too many overdubs with the guys on those songs. I thin it was as it was, and then he overdubbed his voice, and that was kind of it. All the rest -- "Alone Again Or" and all that -- it was all the band playing.
There was some thought of having Neil Young involved in the production at the beginning of Forever Changes. How do you think the album might have turned out differently had he worked on it?
I think it would have been different. I brought him into it, and I thought it would be a real good idea, because I had worked with him with Buffalo Springfield. And the more he got into it, he was realizing that he had things he wanted to say and he wanted to do, and producing wasn't one of them. So he basically just said, "I'm sorry I said yes, I made a mistake. I gotta go do my thing." That was basically it. But I'm certain had he been involved, it would have been different. I'm sure he would have played guitar and things. I would have been interested to hear what it would have been like, in hindsight, you know. He just enjoys being an artist.
What do you think were Bryan MacLean's key contributions to Love?
I tell you, I think he was incredibly valuable. He balanced the whole -- what was Love was really the two writers, which was Arthur and Bryan. And Bryan brought another sensibility to it. A little deeper, from where he was coming from. As deep as what Arthur was writing, I think Bryan was easily as deep, but coming from a different direction. I didn't know it at the time, but a lot of things affected Bryan religiously, and caused him to go out and become a born-again Christian, and do that kind of thing for many years. I really liked Bryan. I thought he was very sensitive. I really liked his music. And as you can tell, one of his songs ["Alone Again Or"] is actually the most famous one that Love ever did. He[was] much less prolific. Arthur was spewing them out by the ton. If you listen to Forever Changes, it's an extremely long album, as albums from that period go. Because he just had a ton of material. I think we used it all. Everything we recorded, I put on the album. I think that's one of the reasons it's so long.
What did you think was most unique about Love's material and Lee's songwriting?
I think the message. His lyrics, where he was coming from, what he was talking about. His descriptions -- "the snot has caked against my pants, it's turned to crystal" -- some very funny observations. I thought Arthur was one of the funniest people I'd ever met. His sense of humor in his lyrics was unbelievable. And he didn't talk about "girl, I'm gonna love you," or "you're the coolest thing that's ever happened in my life." That wasn't his thing. He didn't use the word baby. He came from a different place. Like [Jim] Morrison did.
I think the two American quintessential bands that really had something to say from that period were Love and the Doors. Arthur was very anti-war -- that's what "7 and 7 Is" is all about.
Love were one of Jim Morrison's favorite bands, and Lee helped get the Doors signed to Elektra. Did you think Love was a big influence on the Doors?
I wouldn't say that he really influenced the Doors that much. They were competitive bands on the scene at the time. Arthur came before the Doors. But I don't -- as far as long cuts are concerned, you gotta remember that the second [album] Da Capo, that whole side, "Revelation," came out after we had already recorded the Doors' first album. I do believe, because I know when I go to England, the kind of response that I get from people about Love, that -- especially Forever Changes -- it was a seminal influence on a lot of bands over there.
You can listen to all kinds of music. It doesn't necessarily mean that that's what your music becomes. Like Morrison's big influence as a singer was Frank Sinatra -- it's true! And I have to believe that Arthur...he and I never talked about what his influences are, were, and where it came from. But it was definitely R&B and some white acts -- I think it was music in general. But he wasn't a crooner. I think Arthur was a really good singer.
At the time that I was doing Love, I was also doing the Doors, I was doing Beefheart, I was doing the Beach Boys, and Buffalo Springfield. It was a great time. I never got out to the parks for the love-ins or any of that, 'cause I was busy making the music that people were listening to at the love-ins.
I remember when I was at Columbia Records. I thin I was in New York for an A&R meeting, when I was a staff producer there. The Clash were there, and the producer. They came up to me, when I was introduced to them, and they were just over the top about Forever Changes and about the Doors. It was such a big influence for them.
Forever Changes has very interesting horn and string arrangements, especially since they're combined with folk-rock and psychedelic rock.
That's my fault, 'cause I...you gotta look at music in that period. I brought the stuff in, the strings and horns. At the time, radio wasn't narrow casting like it is today. Where today you have a rap station, you have an R&B station, you have a rock station, you have an oldies station, you have a news station. In those days, you'd have KFWB or KSJ, and they would play everything. You would hear Love followed by Frank Sinatra, going into "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window." It was totally a mixture of music. So everybody that was making records at the time was competing on the same field. And then it would go into Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. So there was an amalgamation, a synergy actually, between all the different music styles.
What I did is, I brought in this arranger [David Angel]. I don't know exactly how I found him. I don't remember how it happened. I think I might have found him through my mother, who was a music copyist working for Sinatra and Nelson Riddle at the time. I brought him in, and he sat down with Arthur, and Arthur really warmed to it. And he sang all the lines to David Angel -- all the string lines and all the brass lines, everything. It's a really weird mix of Tijuana Brass and the rock'n'roll he was coming from. And at that time, it was the thing to do, to legitimize yourself in some respects, to have strings on your record -- that you'd grown up, and to make rock'n'roll legal in some respects. But I always liked the way they worked. Some of it is a little dated, but I really enjoy it.
Did Arthur like the idea of those horns and strings as well?
That was very much Arthur, 'cause he liked it.
Had Arthur Lee and Bryan MacLean managed to continue to work together in Love, how do you think the group might have developed in subsequent albums?
It's kind of hard to...I think there would have been some growth, naturally, because every album had some growth, and it was obvious where they were going. But at the time that we finished that album, the way music was going -- especially Jimi Hendrix -- there hasn't been...if you look at al the albums that Arthur did after Forever Changes, when he went on his own, when Love really wasn't a part of the thing anymore, he was just using the title. There isn't the kind of growth that there was, explosively, on the first three albums. It's kind of hard to say where they would have gone. But the band had gotten to the end of the road. Forever Changes was really Arthur's record, Arthur and Bryan's record. The guys were just sidemen.
They had the same personalities for three albums, for the most part, it was the same guys. Depending on who could keep up with Arthur is who was there.
Was it surprising to you that Love had such a short peak, and nothing after Forever Changes that Arthur did was in the same league?
Some of us have a short run, some of us have a long run. Some of us have something to say in a very short period of time. Some of us are able to say it over a longer period of time, and maintain some kind of balance and creativity. No, I'm not surprised, and yes I am.
It was a good time for all. I know Arthur had a good time the whole time. The other guys didn't as much. Whatever happened caused Bryan to go find himself in religion. I'm not saying that was a bad thing. It was a good thing for him -- he's a happy man.
Did you have any contact with Lee after the '60s?
I was going to the Roxy, and coming out
-- I think I went to see the B-52's or someone like that -- and this
came up to me. It was a bum. And it was Arthur.
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