|Posted: Tue Aug 07, 2012 8:53 pm
|Tuesday, August 7, 2012Love Live John Sterling interview
John Sterling: For Arthur, Bryan and Love
Interview and introduction by Daniel Coston
Also will be featured soon on the Big Takeover Magazine website
In 1982, a then-relatively new label called Rhino Records released a
live album from the band, Love. Fans of the 1960s band clammored for
the album, which was released as a picture disc. However, the 1960s-
era lineup that was pictured on the Love Live disc was not the band on
Love Live was originally recorded in 1978 during two shows at the
Whisky A Go Go, in Los Angeles. What made these shows unique was the
return of Bryan MacLean to the lineup, after ten years away from the
band. MacLean’s return alongside singer, main songwriter and
bandleader Arthur Lee was an important event, and lasted just a few
shows. The recordings itself were done on a cassette recorder by the
band’s then-current guitarist, John Sterling, who played with Arthur
and Love for a number of years. The shows also proved be the last time
that Lee played with MacLean, who died in 1998, and one of the only
times that the two were ever recorded together in a live setting.
Recenty, Sterling made an agreement with Diane Lee, widow of Arthur
Lee (who passed away in 2006), to release Love Live in its complete
form for the first time ever. Available in digital format via ITunes
and Amazon, these shows are an historic document in the history of
Lee, MacLean and Love. Sterling recently talked to me about these
recordings, and about his time with Arthur Lee and Bryan MacLean.
Daniel Coston: First, let’s talk about the history of the Love Live
John Sterling: The shows were originally recorded on October 20th and
21st, 1978. We originally did five shows with Bryan. Two at the
Whisky, which is what’s recorded. We did a show in San Francisco, did
a show up there, and one in Marin County, I think. We then did a
Thanksgiving show back at the Whisky, and that was the last one we did with Bryan.
In 1982, I presented the cassette tapes to Harold Bronson, after which
he manufactured a picture disc. It’s kind of a famous picture disc, but
to be honest with you, I was a little upset about the picture disc
because the picture wasn’t the band that was on the record. It was the
Forever Changes band, because they felt that they could get mileage out of
this Forever Changes business. But it was false advertising. It didn’t
reflect the honestly of who was in the band, and what the show was really
all about.The show wasn’t all about Forever Changes, at all.
Then in 2009, I got a phone call from a friend of mine that this guy,
Joe Reagoso of Friday Music, was going to release it with a few more
tunes. I think the first picture disc was eight songs, and the Joe
Reagoso disc was ten songs. And I called Rhino, and said, “Wait a
minute. I have a contract with Harold Bronson, this is my tape, so you
have to pay me.” So they did, and they were very generous.
The bottom line is, the original picture disc was 500 copies, and all
that Joe Reagoso was allowed to print up was 3,000 copies. He also
couldn’t release it in Europe, and he couldn’t release it in digital
[form]. So this thing has been accessible, somewhat, but limited. It
hasn’t been really released to the world, yet. I talked to Diane Lee,
and we made a deal.
The big news is, you’re finally going to get to hear the whole
presentation from the Whiskey. All fifteen songs. sixteen, actually,
because the second and third songs are tied together in a medley.
It’s a good representation of what Arthur has done. It’s not just
focusing on Forever Changes. It focuses on his music, and writing, and
all the songs from different periods.
Coston: How did you first meet Arthur, and Bryan?
Sterling: I first met Arthur in 1974. The liaison between me and
Arthur was a guy named Herbie Worthington, who was a photographer. I
became a friend of his through a girl that I was dating, and Herbie
told Arthur, “You’ve got to hear this guy John Sterling. He’s a great
guitar player.” I went up to [Arthur’s] house in the Hollywood hills,
and Bryan was there. I didn’t know if he was going to be on the tour,
or if he was playing, or what he was doing there. I couldn’t figure it
out. The band that was there, was the Black Beauty band. Melvan
Whittington, Joe Blocker, Robert Rozelle.
They were set up in the living room to rehearse for this European tour
that was coming up. As I said, I met Bryan, and he was a sweet guy and
everything, but I said to Arthur, “You’ve already got a guitar player.
You’ve got Bryan MacLean. What do you need me for?” And it turned out
that Arthur had no intention of taking Bryan over to Europe. He wanted
to use me, instead.
Arthur and Bryan used to hang out. We all used to go to these matinee movies
during the daytime, and you’ve never seen two guys having so much fun.
Heckle the movies, do crazy things and it was nonstop laughter. It was
a love almost like brothers. They were complete opposites, but they
matched each other. We did the tours, and when we came back, I hung
out with Bryan. I also used to talk to Bryan on the phone a lot. In
fact, I was trying to get Bryan to do a solo record with Harold
Bronson. So I became a friend of Bryan’s, and it took two years of
talking to him, to get him to go along [for the Love shows]. Because
he was Christian, and Arthur was a wild guy. It was a mismatch, but
they had this brotherly love between them.
So finally, Bryan said “Yeah okay, we’ll do it.” So I went to Elmer
Valentine [owner of the Whisky], and said, “Can we get a night?” And
Elmer said, “We can get two nights, Friday and Saturday night.” And of
course, it was packed. You couldn’t even move in the place. It was big
news, Bryan coming back in the band. So we did these shows, did some
more shows, then it just fell off. I don’t know what happened with
Bryan. By this time, I was bouncing back and forth between working
with Arthur, and Eric Burdon. I was satisfied bringing him back in the
band. That’s what people wanted to see Arthur and Bryan together on
that stage, and I felt pretty good about that.
The thing with Arthur, he did this record called Forever Changes, and
everybody predicates “Oh, that’s such a genius record,” and this and
that. Once he did that record, he moved on. He was always writing. To
the people, it was a big record, but it was just another record to
Arthur. It wasn’t a big thing. Arthur was more rock and roll than that
record. He was a rock and roller. So he moved on to Vindicator,
and other things. He was a well-rounded writer. That record that we
did called Reel To Real, the people that put that deal together, they
were expecting that he was going to do a Forever Changes record, and
he didn’t. He did an R&B record. But he was a true artist, in the way
that you hear about. Arthur was one of those guys, he was the real deal.
Coston: How did you record those shows? What kind of tape recorder did
Sterling: Since I was a kid, I would always tape my band. Even when I
was playing in Las Vegas, I’d always have a cassette recorder going,
so we could listen to it afterwards. And it was no different here,
except I usually would have the recorder up on the stage, where the
band track would be really loud, and you couldn’t hear the vocals. But
in those cases, I didn’t care about the vocals. I wanted to hear what
the band was doing. But this time [the Love Live shows], instead of
putting the cassette player on the stage, there was a sound guy in the
balcony, and all the speakers were all pointing at him. He can hear
everything up there, so the balance was really good. It was just
sitting at the desk of the sound guy, but it got everything just
Coston: Listening to those shows now, what comes to mind?
Sterling: It’s the historical value of the shows. Getting Arthur and
Bryan together again. I was the one that did the asking, and got those
guys together again after ten years. It’s a really important document,
and I’m really glad that I was a part of it.