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Two of the most idiosyncratic African-American musicians to ever play have died in the last few days. On Wednesday, August 2 Rufus Harley, a Philadelphia legend who started out as a saxophonist but soon found a way to play the bagpipes in a jazz context, died from prostate cancer at the age of 70. He made a number of peculiar jazz recordings for Atlantic, he also worked briefly as a sideman for hard-boppers like Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins, and he appeared on a pair of late Albert Ayler recordings, New Grass and Music is the Healing Force of the Universe [editor's note: see Comments for a correction]. Despite the freakish quality of his work, Harley managed to transcend its oddness much of the time. He’s perhaps best-known for some of his cameos—he played on “Sweaters” on Laurie Anderson’s classic Big Science, and on the title track of the Roots album Do You Want More?!!!??!
Yesterday Arthur Lee, the visionary behind the great psychedelic pop band Love, passed away at the age of 61; he had been suffering from leukemia. During the late 60s his band delivered a natural-sounding mix of sweet, gorgeously orchestrated pop gems and nasty garage rockers. The band’s 1967 album Forever Changes was their masterpiece, but all of the group’s four albums for Elektra were strong. He broke the band up in 1968 and never came close to matching its artistic heights. For most of the 70s and 80s he struggled to regain his form and popularity without much luck and spent time in jail during the 90s for firearm possession. After his release in 2001 he cobbled together numerous line-ups to play the classic Love material.