The club of African-American psychedelic rockers is pretty small, with Jimi Hendrix and Arthur Lee serving as two charter members. Hendrix, as everyone knows, rose to great fame. Lee had a brief spell of celebrity with his group Love and his 1967 album Forever Changes, kept on making music but never broke through again, served six years in jail on firearm-related charges and died of leukemia in 2006 at age 61.
In 1973, while still in his prime, Lee recorded an album called Black Beauty that was never released. Now, the music has been freed from the vaults, and it reveals an Arthur Lee who could not only rock hard, but also had other offbeat musical personalities. Consider “Beep, Beep” — psychedelic rock it is not. The rhythm veers between reggae and calypso, while a neighborhood guy contributes a lilting steel-drum line. Lee is on the harpsichord and at the mic, singing in a faux island accent and offering the kind of homespun advice you’d expect to hear from a back-porch philosopher: “Slow down, man, ’cause you’re going too fast.” Later in this cheery and charming song, Lee declares, “I’m going to be what I want,” and it’s clear that what he wanted to be was a musician who could break down barriers — and who was perfectly at ease stretching the boundaries of his music to encompass the sounds of the world at large.