#983: Stephanie Knows Who by Love
Arthur Lee was born in 1945 in Memphis, Tennessee. His dad was a local jazz cornet player Chester Taylor. In 1950 his parents separated and he moved with his mom to Los Angeles when he was five. His mother remarried to Clinton Lee and Arthur, as was the custom, also took on a new surname. In 1963 he began recording with his bands the LAG’s and Lee’s American Four. In 1964 Lee wrote a minor hit called “My Diary” for Rosa Lee Brooks. The tune featured Jimi Hendrix on guitar. When Lee attended a concert given by the Byrds, he made up his mind to form a group that joined the newly minted folk-rock sound of the Byrds to his primarily rhythm and blues style. His new band was initially called The Grass Roots. However, the band changed their name to Love when they discovered another group of called The Grass Roots appeared on Top 40 radio in the spring of 1966. The name was chosen by a live audience at a club one night over other suggestions including Poetic Justice and Asylum Choir and Dr. Strangelove. Other members of Love included Singer and guitarist Bryan MacLean, Lee’s elementary school chum and lead guitarist Johnny Echols, Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer on drums and organ, Ken Forssi on bass, Tjay Contrelli on sax and flute and Michael Stuart on drums and percussion.
Love’s first single release was a cover of a Burt Bacharach-Hal David composition called “My Little Red Book“. With a spot on American Bandstand, the tune climbed to #3 in Detroit and Santa Barbara, #4 in Phoenix and suburban Chicago radio markets and #28 in Vancouver in June 1966. On the Billboard Hot 100 the song climbed to #52. Next up, Love released their second studio album, De Capo. From this album they released three singles. These were “7 And 7 Is“, “Stephanie Knows Who/She Comes In Colors“, and “Que Vida“. The first of these was a hit in September 1966 that climbed to #2 in Santa Barbara, #4 in San Bernardino, #5 in San Jose and #6 in Los Angeles. It reached #33 on the Billboard Hot 100. Next up, “She Comes In Colors” was the B-side to “Stephanie Knows Who”, which charted on Top 40 radio formats in nine states across the USA while the A-side only got initial airplay in two markets in California. Neither the A-side or B-side of this single charted on the Billboard Hot 100. Music critics then and over the years have described Love’s music as a fusion of folk-rock, psychedelic rock, baroque pop, Spanish-tinged pop, R&B, garage rock, and even proto-punk.
“Stephanie Knows Who” is a song written by Arthur Lee who sometimes collaborated with Jimi Hendrix in 1964-65. The song was first released by Lee’s band, Love, on their 1966 album Da Capo. The song was inspired by a woman about 18 years old named Stephanie who both Lee and Love’s guitarist Bryan MacLean had affections for. Love drummer Michael Stuart-Ware claims that when Lee wrote the song, Stephanie was with him but by the time the band recorded the song she was with MacLean. Stuart also believes that the romantic triangle helped lead to the deterioration of the friendship between Lee and MacLean, to the point where Lee tried to expel MacLean from the band. The song’s music contains jazz elements. Music critic Matthew Greenwald described the song as “a combination of hard, psychedelic rock with a free jazz interlude.” For the guitar and saxophone interlude, the time signature shifts from 3/4 to 5/4. This gives the song a kind of a jazz waltz feel without any danceable quality. Although Lee’s singing on Love’s debut album uses a softer style, “Stephanie Knows Who” has a harsher vocal sound.
“Stephanie Knows Who” is a chaotic musical composition reflecting a complicated relationship: “What am I now dear Stephanie, am I you in disguise?” Stephanie is full of aches and pains, love and poetry. It isn’t clear that Stephanie has space in her life for the ardent boyfriend who saves all his words for her. He asks “What’s in your life, dear Stephanie…for me?”
Love’s final appearance on the Top 30 in Vancouver was with “Alone Again Or“. It featured an exceptional trumpet solo. The song peaked on CKLG at #28 and #7 in San Diego and Los Angeles in March 1968. Two years later it made the Top Ten in Norfolk, Virginia. The song was the opening track on Love’s third studio album, Forever Changes. The album has been hailed by critics and fans as Love’s finest recording, and one of the best rock records of not just the 1960s but of all time. Despite this praise, the album was a modest success spending only ten weeks on the Billboard Top 200 album chart and only reaching #154 although it peaked at #24 in the UK. Over the years the album’s cult status grew. In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked Forever Changes 40th in its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Forever Changes was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.
Love released four more studio albums until they disbanded in 1974. Arthur Lee had a solo career and released two solo albums over the next several decades as well as an Arthur Lee and Love album in 1992. In late 1996, Lee was sentenced to 12 years for the negligent discharge of a firearm. On December 12, 2001, Lee was released from prison, having served 5½ years of his original sentence. A federal appeals court in California reversed the charge of negligent discharge of a firearm, as it found that the prosecutor at Lee’s trial was guilty of misconduct. While he was in prison both former Love bandmates, Bryan McLean and Ken Forssi died.
Once out of prison, Arthur Lee formed Arthur Lee and Love. Johnny Echols joined the new group for a special Forever Changes 35th Anniversary Tour performance at Royce Hall, UCLA, in the spring of 2003. Lee and the band continued to tour throughout 2003 and 2004, including many concerts in and around hometown Los Angeles, notably a show at the outdoor Sunset Junction festival, the San Diego Street Scene, and a headlining date with The Zombies at the Ebell Theatre. Echols occasionally joined Lee and the group on the continuing and final tours of 2004 to 2005. They played a well received date at the Fillmore in San Francisco with the full string and horn section. By the summer of 2005 Arthur Lee was diagnosed with leukemia. He died in 2006 at the age of 61.
June 22, 2017
Love bio, Rolling Stone Magazine
Einarson, John. Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love: The Authorized Biography of Arthur Lee. Jawbone, London, 2010.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.