We conclude our exclusive interview with Johnny Echols of the iconic LA band Love, contemporaries/label-mates of The Doors and veterans of the ’60s Sunset Strip scene. You can read Part I here.
DE: Love was one of the first interracial groups. What were people’s reactions at the time? Was it something Love was very aware of?
Johnny Echols: Arthur and I were both bi-racial and we made a conscious decision to have a group that reflected who we were. We absolutely did not want to be pigeonholed as an R&B act simple because of our race. So to ensure that wouldn’t happen, we put together a racially diverse group and played Rock N’ Roll.
Most people that came to see us didn’t make a big deal of it at all… of course our racial make-up limited the places in this country where we could play. As two racially mixed young men, fronting a racially diverse group in the sixties, we faced a double whammy.
There were many places in this country we just couldn’t play, by their choice, not ours. All of the south, and most of the mid-west was off limits. With the exception of Texas, much of the country between the east and west coasts expressed the attitude “you folks need not apply.”
Our agents would secure bookings, only to have them canceled, after the venue realized the group’s racial make-up. Others insisted we play to a segregated audience (we absolutely refused to be a part of that insanity). When the group did manage to tour outside of California, the police would often monitor our hotels to find out who was visiting our rooms.
The whole scene seems so bizarre now, did this really happen in America? This was the turbulent sixties, people were being beaten and killed in the south for simply trying to exercise their right to vote. With that as a backdrop, it’s no wonder a bunch of race mixing, pot smoking California hippies were most un-welcome. Arthur and I were embarrassed, and put-off to be caught up in something so outdated and uncool. Of course, other racially mixed groups faced the same kind of animus as Love, especially Jimi Hendrix, but they were somehow able to deal with that crap… we wouldn’t even try.
DE: Jac Holzman produced “Forever Changes“. How was he as a producer?
Johnny Echols: Jac Holzman had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with producing “Forever Changes”. He was in New York during the entire creation of that Album. Arthur and Arthur alone was the producer of “Forever Changes”.
DE: Another thing Love shares in common with The Doors is Bruce Botnick as a producer, How was it working with Bruce?
Johnny Echols: Bruce Botnick was the engineer on the first Love album and parts of “Forever Changes”, he was never a producer on anything we did. Jac Holzman and Marc Abramson produced the first Love album and Paul Rothschild produced “Da Capo”, our second album. As I mentioned before… the third album, “Forever Changes” was produced by Arthur Lee, and mostly engineered by John Haney. For reasons I don’t quite understand, Bruce was given credit as co-producer simply for acting as referee between the group members who were at each others’ throats (for reasons which I will explain later).
As you may surmise from the tone of my responses, I did not care much for Bruce as an engineer. He was perfect for The Doors’ style of music… not so much for ours. Love were trying to move in a different direction and we viewed him as more of an impediment than as someone who could help us achieve our musical goals. We wanted to experiment with effects and sound manipulation (i.e., to push the envelope the way the Beatles did), and he was just not that kind of engineer. That being said… Bruce is a fine old school engineer whose body of work speaks for itself.
DE: Paul Rothchild produced “Da Capo”.
Johnny Echols: Paul was producer on “Da Capo”. The way he came to work with us was pretty funny. We had never heard of him before hiring him to produce our album. We had a meeting with Jac Holzman concerning our second album. He suggested that we work with a different producer on “Da Capo”, someone who could add a bit more polish to our sound. He mentioned that he had a friend, Paul Rothchild, who was a fantastic producer, but there may be a problem… he had recently been released from prison for dealing grass… Jac asked if we were okay with that? Arthur, Bryan and I perked up “Wow, that’s cool man… he’s got the job!” We didn’t care about Paul’s resume, or whom he had worked with in the past. Basically the thing that impressed our young minds and jump started his career, leading to him becoming Love’s producer as well as The Doors and many, many others, was the fact that he’d been in prison for dealing grass.
DE: The Doors have their biographies and Love has theirs. There are mentions in both bios of the other band but life isn’t like a biography. What is the Love-Doors story that the biographies miss?
Johnny Echols: I don’t think either of them painted a proper picture of how difficult it was for us to get Elektra to sign The Doors. We cajoled, begged, even threatened Jac to sign them. He absolutely hated them the first two times he went to hear them. Jim was drunk, he forgot the words to the songs and slurred the ones he could remember. He could not have made a worse impression if he tried.
During Jac’s first visit to see The Doors, the Whisky was almost empty. It was a disaster, he was pissed at us for wasting his valuable time. But astonishingly, he accepted our pleas that he come down to hear them one last time. And on his third and final trip to the Whisky, this time with Paul Rothschild in tow, fate chose to intervene. Jim was sober and on his best behavior. Iron Butterfly was co-billed with them and the place was packed. Group rivalry kicked in and Jim did his thing, he was absolutely perfect, he put on the show of shows… at last Jac got it. He finally saw what Arthur and I saw. The next day he spoke with Ronnie about arranging a meeting with The Doors and the rest, of course, is history!
DE: What are you doing today? Touring? Recording?
Johnny Echols: As you may or may not know, “Forever Changes” was meant to be a double album, but for reasons only known to them Elektra decided that doing a double album at that time was too expensive. So, at the last minute we were informed that Jac had reneged on his promise. We were given the devastating news as we arrived at Sunset Sound to begin recording the album. It goes without saying, we were pissed. Bryan and I had worked on original material for well over a year, we were finally going to do the album we’d dreamed of doing… a concept album that would have given us the opportunity to shine in our own right. Everyone would have their moment in the sun. This was to be Love’s Magnum Opus.
In one fell swoop everything changed. Jac’s duplicity caused resentments among people who had been best friends for years. Bryan refused to play Arthur’s songs with the same verve as before. The interplay between Bryan and I was crucial to the “Love” sound, without that we didn’t sound like us. Needless to say there was a great deal of behind the scene drama before the album was finally completed.
Elektra was frantic, they brought in studio musicians from the “Wrecking Crew,” which proved to be an absolute disaster. They sounded nothing like Love and were unceremoniously sent home with nothing to show for their efforts. After a lot of soul searching and a lot of promises from Elektra, we pulled it together and finished the album.
Unbeknownst to any of us Jac had made arrangements with Bryan, which would undercut any remaining trust between group members. In order to get Bryan on board to play Arthur’s songs the right way, Bryan would be given a separate deal with Elektra to produce and release a solo album. It was downhill from then until we went our separate ways.
Fast forward to now… I’m working on the rest of the album that didn’t get recorded back in the day. The title is “LOVE in the Garden of Gethsemane.” At some point in the not too distant future it will be completed and released. In the meantime, I am playing with a wonderful group of musicians, the very same musicians who toured with Arthur throughout the nineties and later with the two of us until Arthur’s death in 2006. We play all over the country and are in negotiations to tour the UK and Europe… we’ve recently received offers to add Australia and Japan to that tour… The group known as Love is alive and doing fine!
DE: I’ve been told that if it wasn’t for you The Doors wouldn’t have become what they were. Would you like to expound on that?
Johnny Echols: I had a long chat with Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek soon after Elektra expressed an interest in signing The Doors. So before they signed the completed deal, I explained how things worked as far as the ins and outs of publishing and copyrights. Rather than follow Love’s dubious path, which sowed the seeds for our eventual break-up. Jim and the rest of The Doors wisely chose to share writer’s credit equally, no matter who had the initial song idea. They also negotiated far better publishing royalties than most songwriters received. That one move cemented their relationship as an equal partnership, which allowed them to weather the storms created by Jim’s unpredictable stage antics and his copious drinking.
DE: Thank you Johnny for sharing your stories and insight on a very interesting time in rock and roll history.
If you would like to know more about Love, Arthur Lee and Johnny Echols there is the biography of the band “Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love”. If you would like to keep up with Johnny and upcoming shows he’ll be playing he has a Facebook page.