ARTHUR-DREAMS AND IMAGES.

ARTHUR-DREAMS AND IMAGES.

The story of Arthur Lee Harper is a familiar one. He was a talented singer-songwriter who looked as if he was destined for great things. Sadly, that proved not to be the case. Arthur only ever released one album, Dreams and Images which was released on Lee Hazelwood’s LHI Records 1968. 

Dreams and Images which was recently rereleased by Light In The Attic Records, could’ve and should’ve been the first of many successful albums from Arthur. That wasn’t case. Arthur’s recording career was over before it could start. Things could’ve been very different though.

When Arthur was about to sign to LHI Records, Arthur got the opportunity to sign to the  same company as The Beach Boys. This was a very tempting offer. However, that deal was only for a single. LHI Records were offering an album deal. That seemed a better offer to Arthur. Sadly, Arthur had backed the wrong horse. His recording career was over. For the rest of Arthur’s life, it was a case of what might have been? 

Arthur Lee Harper was born in Melbourne, Florida. That’s where he spent his early years. Then just before his teenage years, Arthur’s parent’s marriage broke down. It was a tough time for Arthur. So, Arthur went to live with his grandmother. She decided to move to California. 

The move to California was a fresh start for Arthur. He and his grandmother’s two sons settled into life in California. One of the main attractions for Arthur was Hollywood’s music scene. It was like a beacon, constantly trying to catch Arthur’s attention. Eventually, it succeeded. 

When he was old enough, Arthur made the move to Los Angeles. Once there, Arthur witnessed the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. Quickly, though, Arthur decided it wasn’t for him. He shied away from the drugs that fuelled Tinseltown. However, what interested and inspired Arthur was the music.

Arthur decided to make a living in L.A. as a singer-songwriter. That, he soon realised, wasn’t going to be easy. He was living in the Y.M.C.A. That’s where he met poets Mark Lindsey Buckingham and Stephen John Kalininch. They all had one thing in common, they dreamed of making it big in Tinseltown.

Before long, things were looking good for the three friends. Mark and Stephen were offered a deal with The Beach Boys’ Brother Records as songwriters. Not long after this, Arthur signed to Lee Hazelwood’s LHI Records.

Back then, it didn’t take much to get an audition at LHI Records. It was a case of ring the bell, and then audition. For the lucky few, including Arthur, it was a case of signing on the dotted line. Now, he was on his way to releasing his debut album.

During his time in L.A., Arthur had been writing songs. This included the ten tracks that would become Dreams and Images. Arthur laid down his vocal and played acoustic guitar at the sessions on the 21st and 22nd November 1967. After that, Arthur described how he envisaged, and “heard,” the arrangements. Only then, did producer Lee Hazelwood bring onboard his tried and trusted musical lieutenants. 

This included arranger Don Randi and some of Lee’s favourite session musicians. He used them on many of his recordings, and knew what to expect from them. They added colour to Dreams and Images. Only then, was Dreams and Images ready to be released.

Dreams and Images was released on Lee Hazelwood’s LHI Records in 1968. Dreams and Images epitomised the the psychedelic folk sound that  by 1967, was proving popular. Arthur seemed to be in the right place, with the right album. Surely, things couldn’t go wrong?

Especially with Lee Hazelwood’s LHI Records just having received several hundred thousand dollars from ABC Records. This was part of a distribution deal between the two labels. It gave ABC Records the right to distribute LHI Records’ releases. With LHI Records apparently cash rich, they’d go all out to promote Dreams and Images?

For some reason, that proved not to be the case. As is often the case when working with small, independent labels Dreams and Images wasn’t heavily promoted. Instead, it was a low key release. In one fell swoop, Arthur’s hope of a successful album were crushed.

Dreams and Images didn’t sell well. It had nothing to do with the music. Instead, it was down to the lack of promotion. Sadly, it’s an all too familiar story. Especially where independent labels are concerned. Sadly, forty-seven years after the release of Dreams and Images, that’s the case to this day. 

Apart from selling a few thousand copies in Denver, Colorado, Dreams and Images passed most people by. It was a case of what might have been? How successful would’ve Dreams and Images been in it had been released on Elektra Records? Sadly, Arthur and ABC Records had backed the wrong horse.

Later in 1968, ABC Records dissolved their partnership with LHI Records. It had been an expensive lesson, one that cost ABC Records several hundred thousand dollars. The upside was it yielded three albums, including Arthur’s Dreams and Images, which I’ll tell you about.

Blue Museum opens Dreams and Images. Just a lone acoustic guitar is panned left. It sets the scene, adding a wistful backdrop. That suits Arthur’s slow, deliberate and reflective vocal. Quite rightly, it takes centre-stage. Soon, it becomes apparent that Arthur’s lyrics are beautiful, haunting and otherworldly. Especially with subtle strings adding to what’s already a wistful, haunting song tinged with beauty.

As Children Once Were You unfolds, it looks like the song is heading in the same direction. Arthur, accompanied by his acoustic guitar, delivers a vocal that’s tinged with sadness. Especially, when he sings: “but children once were you, once were you, the years slip quickly past.” With stabs of hurting horns, it’s as if Arthur is mourning his childhood.

The lyrics to Sunshine Soldier epitomise the mid-to-late sixties. Flower power was at its height. Lyrics like: “walking down the street is a sunshine soldier,” epitomise this era. So, do a child walks by and hands him a flower…brothers and sisters embrace each other.” In the lyrics, there’s a sense of hope, hope for the future, and that anything is possible. As tenderly, and hopefully, Arthur delivers the lyrics, a psychedelic arrangement unfolds. A Leslie organ unleashes its lysergic sound, medieval horns sound and Arthur plays his trusty acoustic guitar. For little over two minutes, you’re transported back to L.A. in ’67, courtesy of Sunshine Soldier, Arthur.

Just like the previous songs, Arthur’s guitar sets the scene on A Friend of Mine. It’s setting the scene for a vocal that’s tinged with emotion. Everything from anger, bitterness, frustration and hurt shines through. All the time lush strings sweep, adding a baroque backdrop. Occasional pizzicato strings and acoustic guitar are added. So, are occasional effects. Together, they play their part in a soul-baring slice of baroque folk, where Arthur has the last word, “girl you’ll never be a friend of mine.”

At first glance, Open Up the Door could be construed as song about opening the doors to perception. That’s not the case. Arthur wasn’t into drugs. Instead, he’s asking his girlfriend to open up her emotions, and let him into her life. Sonically, there’s a stylistic departure. Washes of a Leslie organ are deployed. So, are Arthur’s acoustic guitar and a harpsichord. They accompany Arthur’s deliberate, needy, and hopeful vocal.

On Dreams and Images, Arthur asks: “Blind man, blind man, blind as can be, ask me why my eyes can see, he touches his cape and puts a spell on me.”  From there, Arthur sings of a parallel universe, where one side offers plenty and perfection. The other is reality. A woman is caught in between, and becomes: “a free spirit.” Dream like, full of imagery and more than a little lysergic, it’s an enchanting and captivating tale. Especially, with an arrangement that’s understated. Ethereal, fragile flutes, wistful strings and Arthur’s plucked guitar provide an accompaniment to Arthur’s thoughtful, deliberate vocal.

Slowly, Pandora opens her musical box. Within, are a bewitching combination of instruments. A plucked bass and a slow, deliberate, droning string are joined by sci-fi sounds and subdued horns. They’re the perfect backdrop for Arthur’s whispery vocal as Pandora: “gently dies, gently dies.”

Memories come flooding back to Arthur as Wintertime unfolds. Strings are plucked, quiver and sweep. Arthur, meanwhile, strums his guitar and lays bare his hurt on this tale of love lost. As the song unfolds, it’s more a tale of unrequited love. Once time has passed Arthur realises this; “I was wasting my time, love was making me blind.” 

Not for the first time, Arthur on Living Circa 1920 reminds me of Al Stewart. Both were young, aspiring and promising folk singers in the late-sixties. While Al enjoyed a long and successful career, Arthur’s career was over before it began. That’s a great shame, given the quality of songs like Living Circa 1920. Arthur literally paints pictures with his lyrics, in what’s the poppiest of songs. Just an acoustic guitar and subtle, braying horn accompany Arthur on what’s a quite joyous track. Especially, with lyrics like: “the best things in life are free, living kind of casually.”

Valentine Gray closes Dreams and Images. It’s a homecoming song, where Arthur delivers a vocal that’s needy and hopeful. Accompanying him are his guitar and swathes of strings. Just like Artthur’s vocal, the strings sure to tug at your heartstrings on this beautiful ballad.

Dreams and Images, which was released in 1968, by Lee Hazelwood’s LKI Records, is yet another hidden gem that, could’ve and should’ve transformed Arthur’s career. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Arthur backed the wrong horse.

Two record companies wanted to sign Arthur. The first was LHI Records and releasing an album. They offered Arthur the chance to release Dreams and Images. At the same time, Arthur had the opportunity to sign to the same label as The Beach Boys. However, they were offering a one-off single deal. Once they saw how the single went, the label would take it from there. To Arthur, who was still a young man, the prospect of an album seemed too good an offer to refuse. Especially, when LHI Records were cash rich.

Lee Hazelwood’s LHI Records had just received several hundred thousand dollars from ABC Records. This was part of a distribution deal between the two labels. It gave ABC Records the right to distribute LHI Records’ releases. Arthur must have though that the cash rich LHI Records would go all out to promote Dreams and Images. That wasn’t the case.

LHI Records were reticent to spent large sums of money on any of the three albums they released during 1967 and 1968. As is often the case when working with small, independent labels Dreams and Images wasn’t heavily promoted. Instead, it was a low key release. In one fell swoop, Arthur’s hope of a successful album were crushed.

Dreams and Images didn’t sell well. It had nothing to do with the music. Instead, it was down to the lack of promotion. Sadly, it’s an all too familiar story. Especially where independent labels are concerned. All too often they’re desperate to sign an artist, but unwilling to promote them properly. That appears to be the case with Arthur’s debut album Dreams and Images. Without the necessary promotion, Dreams and Images passed most record buyers by.

That’s apart from  in Denver, Colorado, where Dreams and Images sold a few thousand copies. They were the lucky ones, and heard what’s without doubt a lost psychedelic folk album. Sadly, most people never heard Dreams and Images. The failure of Dreams and Images impacted upon Arthur’s recording career.

Later in 1968, ABC Records decided to dissolve their partnership with LHI Records. It had been an expensive lesson, one that cost ABC Records several hundred thousand dollars. The upside was it yielded three albums, including Arthur’s Dreams and Images, which was recently reissued by Light In The Attic. However, with the partnership dissolved, Arthur’s time at LHI Records was over. He never released another album for LHI Records.

Sadly, Dreams and Images was the only album Arthur recorded. Not long after leaving LHI Records Arthur turned his back on the music industry.

Arthur became a Christian, and took to writing religious songs. He worked as an engineer, and then as a special education teacher. However, Arthur still played and wrote music as a hobby. His shot at fame and fortune was long gone. Sadly, tragedy struck for Arthur in 2002.

On the 10th of January 2002, Arthur’s wife Lori tragically, died in a car crash. That night, Arthur died of a heart attack. Arthur Harper Lee, the man who could’ve and should’ve been a star was forever lost to music. However, Arthur left behind a quite beautiful, captivating, haunting and mesmeric musical legacy, Dreams and Images, a lost psychedelic folk classic.

ARTHUR-DREAMS AND IMAGES.

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