Arthur quickly managed to put together a new band, and "hired guns" as stated earlier, is surely an understatement as the new band is TOP-NOTCH; George Suranovich of Pittsburgh, PA is an absolute POWER-house on drums and in my opinion one of THE most underrated drummers in the history of rock music, Frank Fayad - a tall, lanky bass player with a killer tone, and on the recommendation of former Love band member Snoopy, we have Jay Donnelan on guitar providing absolutely blazing, hair-stand-up-on-your-neck, goosebump-inducing, ripping guitar leads!
The band would assemble and begin rehearsing not long after a rather disastrous east-coast tour the original Love lineup would embark on in support of "Forever Changes" in May of 1968, the tour plagued by many of the guys in the band being junkies addicted to heroin. I must point out that the date of this blog post is appropriate for a couple of different reasons and meanings; one being that August is the month this new incarnation of Love essentially formed AND the month the band would begin rehearsing the songs at Arthur's house, two - the album opens up with the song "August," we'll get much more into that song in a bit, three - the album was eventually released in AUGUST 1969.
The title of the record is a clever spin/play-on by Arthur, representing his final time with Elektra Records as well as a nod to the Beatles' "Beatles For Sale" album. The story goes that Arthur owed Elektra one final album, so THREE album's worth of material was recorded and Elektra cherry-picked the songs they wanted, with the remainder coming out on Blue Thumb Records under the album title "Out Here," after the release of Four Sail. I think Elektra, for the most part, got the picks right, but a few omissions compelled me to re-work the album for my listening pleasure - I'll delve into that in a bit....
I admit, I ignored this album for years as every time I saw it name-dropped, the comments that followed were statements like "oh it's not even the original lineup," and "completely different sound, more hard rock." A friend of mine turned me on to Four Sail, insisting I check it out, and upon hearing it, I immediately realized that the critic's comments meant nothing. Yes, a completely different lineup than the original band - BUT in my opinion, just as good, and perfect for the sound that Arthur was going for on the album. This brings me to the "different sound, more hard-rock driven" comment... Admittedly, guitarist Jay Donnelan expected something in the vein of Forever Changes as he walked in to the rehearsals holding an acoustic guitar, but Arthur told him he's not doing that anymore.. Anyway, the "hard rock" comment would lead you to believe, as it did me, that you were getting some sort of arena-rock sound/style in the vein of Journey or Foreigner! That's at least what flashed in my mind when I read comments about the album, and due to those false pre-conceptions, I avoided it for years. Those thoughts that flashed in my head couldn't be farther from the truth. The TRUTH is that you get the best of both worlds here; the delicate sensitivity & genius take on the world that Arthur had, plus moments in the record you have a killer rock band, but to me it's hard-psych rock, not standard "rock n' roll" sound. And quite frankly, there are songs on here that sound like they could've easily held a happy home alongside other songs on Forever Changes.
Arthur took the band to a 'studio' which was really a house-converted studio (Arthur even called it a garage) and recorded the album on-the-cheap, later finishing touches were added at Elektra. Ok, on to the MUSIC. The first track on the album is easily my favorite - "August," a song started the month the band got together immediately dispels any of the previous critical comments I've heard - there's a full band going, but with a delicate touch consisting of Arthur's appregiated acoustic guitar strumming, then Jay Donnelan's guitar comes in launching the song off... Then you get a beautiful contrast to the somewhat manic sound of the drums and guitar as Arthur's signature one-of-a-kind falsetto vocals come in: "I said August is all that I know, it's with me wherever I go".... Again, goes back to my "best of both worlds" comment on the sound of this record. "August" completely blew my mind when I heard it.... It was like a revelation on lost-Love that I was now being embraced with and engulfed in.... The song goes on and the lyrics in both verses end with lines that would set the tone/mood of the album in that everything's gonna be alright; "It picks me up when I'm down," and "you pick me up when I'm dowwwwn." Just listen to George Suranovich's manic, thunderous drumming - it's like an embodiment of wild August weather in a way... The frenetic acid-laden guitar solo that rides the song out to the end is one of the single most mind-blowingly psychedelic things I've ever heard in my life, a complete mind-fuck. You're sitting there listening to this mind-melting solo that is extended, but tasteful, never once giving off the feeling of being overly self-indulgent.... I sit here listening to this thinking that it gives Hendrix a run for his money, no lie.... I think a trippin' Jimi would have his mind thoroughly blown listening to Jay Donnelan rip into that blistering, frenetic, shredding into the cosmos of the unknown and dimensions beyond, strips of multi-colored perforated lysergic paper flying about the beautiful chaos. HO-LY SHIT!
WARNING: Here I'm going to do something a little different and take you on MY trip: As stated earlier, I've swapped/added a couple songs here, removing some that Elektra chose, and replacing or adding my own picks that were from the same recording sessions but later released on "Out Here" a few months later. I like to think Arthur would approve of my swaps/additions.
I replaced "Your Friend & Mine - Neil's Song" with the song "Willow Willow." "Your Friend.." is not a BAD song, but I think it's not up to par with the other material on the record... And for my own listening experience, I felt the swap necessary... Bear with me, as I believe my swaps/additions create the PERFECT album. Now you may be sitting there reading this thinking that it's sacrilege to re-create an album to your liking and change the original.. But remember, these songs I'm adding are from the same recording sessions, plus ELEKTRA are the ones that chose the songs for Four Sail, not Arthur Lee. I think Arthur's picks would likely be something different, maybe more like mine, who knows. Back to this first swap - it puzzles me why Elektra didn't choose "Willow Willow" to be included, this song, without a doubt, sounds like it could have sat right alongside the other songs on Forever Changes. And it's just a beautiful acoustic song & melody using the metaphor of a flower growing to a young girl. The brilliant poetic genius of Arthur Lee.
In my alt. version of FS I pop in the Elektra-picked "Good Times" that was on the original album, this is a good rocking song to follow up after the mellow, majestic "Willow Willow." "Good Times" starts off mellow with some palm-muted guitar from Jay Donnelan, then picks up the pace into a foot-stomping/hand-clapping anthem that really shine a spotlight on Arthur's ability to delivery some powerful, soulful vocals. I love the message of the song as Arthur explains it as well as some of his philosophy on life in general: "Yeah, it's gonna be alright - all the stuff you're going through - it's gonna be alright." "Usually I think of what other people are going through in this life. Because I know everybody goes through changes, but it's gonna be alright in the morning. Don't sweat the small things, life's too short. I think a lot of worry and stress for some reason - this is my own opinion - has something to do with cancer. I think all the greed and all the money hungry people and all the worries about the dollar bill and all that worry contributes a lot to a person having cancer. I try not to get excited. No matter what happened I tried to stay the same. I programmed myself to stay by myself, like I did in the street - I'm sort of a loner type guy." "Good Times" also starts ROCKING hard, again with Jay Donnelan just ripping heads off with his unique, fluid, shredding leads. This song is a good time indeed, it's like a party...
I pop original Elektra-picked song "Robert Montgomery" next after those mellow songs. This song is about Arthur living in South L.A. and coming back to his old neighborhood and seeing people there. It's been said to even sound like an early prog-rock song, and Jay Donnelan's guitar work is brilliantly displayed here. Again, Arthur's operatic vocal-style kicks in with "and we'll give you our best..." giving the song more depth, beauty and dimension as Arthur Lee had the ability to do. Original Elektra-picked "Nothing" follows, a great mellow song that Arthur describes the meaning of as "life is short." I keep going back to this, but again with "Nothing," like many songs on this album that have this flavor to them, this song could easily fit on something like the "Da Capo" album, just a great song. Next I decided to replace the Elektra-chosen "Talking In My Sleep," with "Gather Round." "Talking In My Sleep," while not a bad song, and it certainly has some nice guitar work by Jay that made me think more than twice about replacing it, but overall I thought "Gather Round" was a more meaningful and just better song overall. One of the only songs I've heard where Arthur gets CLOSE to "political" you could say, but Arthur does it in a much more clever way. The lyrics apply even more so today, speaking of greed and corruption: "he struts all around with his tailor made suits, but his mind is all filled up with bullshit." I love the near choir-like chants in the back of "yeah, yeah, yeah, yeaaaah."
I pop Elektra-chosen album original "Dream" next, another of the great mellow songs on here that leave me puzzled as to why some critics critique this record as "just veering into hard rock." The song is about Arthur coming back from that ill-fated tour of New York to be with his girlfriend after his bandmates succumbed to the lure of heroin. The song title itself reflects the feel of the song, it gives off a dreamlike atmosphere. I dig the contemplative question of "wonder if there's a God" in this. Next is another wisely-chosen Elektra pick with the only song that has a co-credit on it of guitarist Jay Donnelan as well as Arthur - the thunderous chug-a-chug-a-chug-a rock-out addictive "Singing Cowboy," with some of the best screaming vocals from Arthur Lee and that incredible shredding guitar from Jay Donnellan just fucking ripping. This record has been said to have a "rough mix," but I think it's perfect for the mood/feel of the album, and the loud up-front in the mix vocals especially shine for "Singing Cowboy," Arthur really lets it all out here, almost possessed by an old shaman in the vein of Jim Morrison in "The End" where Jim lets loose toward the end of the song with the "fuck, fuck yeah, baby fuck yeah." Jay Donnelan wrote the music, Arthur wrote the lyrics for this song. Arthur explains the song: "After you shoot somebody, their ghost is going to haunt you. 'look out I'm coming after you.' Not in this life, but in your conscience."
Lastly, on my alt version of FS is Elektra-pick, and really the only way to close this record. "Always See Your Face" is one of the most beautiful ballads ever written by Arthur, who also plays some lovely piano throughout. Arthur has claimed before that the song is "not complete" and that it "lacks musicianship," but man, it's just PERFECT. I think it's the simplicity of it that gives this song much of its beauty and charm. It was meant to be like this. The song was featured in the 2000 movie "High Fidelity" with John Cusack, which Arthur was happy about.
So that is my re-working of Four Sail, and in my opinion, it creates the PERFECT album and listening experience. I must say, lately I've been listening to this record more than any of the other Love albums, yes, even the masterpiece that is Forever Changes. Below is the artwork that I've created for my personal re-working of the album, CLICK HERE for full-sized versions if you choose to use them for yourself and create the same alternate Four Sail as I have.
As far as touring, the "Four Sail" tour of 1969 with the original members from the album, including the badass guitar of Jay Donnelan, consisted of the below tour itinerary:
'FOUR SAIL' TOUR 1969
February 28 – Avalon Ballroom: San Francisco, CA
March 1 - Avalon Ballroom: San Francisco, CA
March 2 - Avalon Ballroom: San Francisco, CA
April 23 - Whiskey a Go-Go: West Hollywood, CA
April 28 - Whiskey a Go-Go: West Hollywood, CA
May 30 - Rose Palace: Santa Monica, CA
May 31 - Rose Palace: Santa Monica, CA
June 21 - Newport ’69 Festival: Devonshire Downs, North Ridge, CA
July 2-July 6 - Whiskey a Go-Go: West Hollywood, CA
July 17 - Hullabaloo (Aquarius Theatre): Los Angeles, CA
August 1 - Portland Masonic Temple: Portland, Oregon
August 2 - Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum: Oakland, CA
August 15-18 - WOODSTOCK, New York-declined
August 23 - Vancouver Pop Festival: Vancouver, Canada
September 13 - Balboa Park: San Diego, CA
Summer 1969 - Shrine Auditorium, CA
Yes, you read it correctly: Arthur Lee declined the invite to play Woodstock! Arthur didn't like venturing far from Southern California. Guitarist Jay Donnelan explains further: "I don’t think Arthur liked airplanes very much. Also, with the redneck condition of the United States at that time, he didn’t like to get involved in all of that. I’m sure that was part of it. I don’t think he thought there was much money to be made out on the road. And there were so many great gigs in and around Southern California. All he had to do was get in his car and drive to the show. I was at his house and an agent phoned him. I remember hearing Arthur say, ‘Naw Fuck it, I don’t want to go to New York for one gig!’ I later found out that the 'one gig' was Woodstock."
There is rumored to be about 15-20 minutes worth of footage of the original Four Sail lineup playing at Newport Pop Festival on June 21, 1969, but the footage has never surfaced... The only thing that HAS surfaced from it is the very brief footage as seen in the screen-shot of Arthur and Jay earlier in this post, and even that footage has some other song played over top of it rather than the sound of the band playing. It's a damn shame that no video footage or even live recordings have surfaced of the Four Sail era with the magnificent JAY DONNELAN on guitar. We DO however have footage from the Four Sail era of all the original band from Four Sail EXCEPT Jay Donnelan, instead Gary Rowles fills in, and while Gary is an excellent player, I personally don't think he had the seamless fluidity that Jay had in his playing that made Four Sail a hard-psych masterpiece to me.
The Four Sail era footage I speak of is from a brilliant documentary on the band that aired on Danish TV called "A Group By The Name of LOVE." Airing on July 17, 1970, the TV special includes some really groovy interviews with Arthur Lee (Arthur is so trippy in these interviews that you can almost see the third eye on his forehead), some music videos for some songs, and BEAUTIFUL live footage of the band performing in Copenhagen, Denmark on March 12, 1970. From the start of the special, when they show the band getting off the plane as they land in Demark, walking down a corridor of the airport with the Beatles "All You Need Is Love" playing, through to the end of the doc, it's incredibly well done. Again, while not including the psych-guitar god majesty of Jay Donnelan on guitar, this well-done 38 minute TV special remains THE single best video document in existence of the early hey-day of Arthur Lee & Love - AND luckily for fans of "Four Sail," it is within that era, so we get treated to some amazing live performances of songs like "August," "Good Times," "Doggone," among others.
I whipped up some artwork for the DVD I have of this incredible Love footage, CLICK HERE for a full-sized version of the below image to use if you'd like.
The general consensus among Love fans today is that Four Sail is a great record, although most don't rate it as high as Forever Changes. I might be in the minority in thinking that this album, well... at least my re-working of it, is just as good as Forever Changes. There, I said it! Especially in this era of the United States seemingly going backward into what Jay Donnelan called Arthur's dislike of the "redneck condition" of the country, this album of looking inward, reflecting, loving and even THINKING is refreshing and good food for the soul. It's the perfect antidote as you drive around and see the worship of the American flag and law enforcement going on here in 'Murica with a complete and total incompetent buffoon at the helm of it all. Rather than displaying a massive, obnoxious American flag in front of your home in this panicked state of nauseating bloated-patriotism going on and firing up the grill to guzzle beer and fart burnt beef and cheese, throw on Four Sail this AUGUST instead and indulge in things a bit more mind-expanding - something this record even in and of itself is. This album came along at a perfect time in my life, it's like it was meant to be, I hope that you find as much joy and enlightenment in it as I have.
Below is a Four Sail poster ad that I framed and hung here in the Psych Trail Mix lair. It's a special album, so I thought this piece deserved to be framed and displayed. You wouldn't think it upon first glance, but the album cover is actually very trippy if you look at it in a certain mind-state, if you dig what I mean. It's a simple photo of the band, but it has a sort of visual distortion that's really trippy, and there appears to be a window to the band's right side, so it adds a strange element to it. Arthur seated in some sort of grand Victorian chair, it suits him well. Photo was taken by Ed Caraeff. Arthur was quiet and mellow and the photo was taken somewhere up in Laurel Canyon. That's all that's known, the mysterious aspect of it fits the album perfectly.