Johnny Echols (born February 21, 1947 in Memphis, Tennessee) is an American singer/songwriter and guitarist. He has played in bands with performers such as Little Richard, Billy Preston and Jimi Hendrix, and was the guitarist on many recording sessions with Miles Davis. He is chiefly known as the lead guitar player of the psychedelic rock band Love, which he co-founded as a teenager with his childhood friend Arthur Lee.
The parents of Johnny Echols and Arthur Lee were school teachers in Memphis, Tennessee, where the boys were born. Both families moved to Los Angeles where Echols received guitar lessons from a neighbour who happened to be the guitar player of The Coasters. At Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, he teamed up with basketball star Arthur Lee (who had become an excellent organ player), Allan Talbert who played saxophone, and Roland Davis on drums. Soon, another classmate, who also played keyboards, Billy Preston, joined the group and Lee moved to lead singer. This group, called the LAGs, which is short for L.A. Group, had more talent than most of the adult bands playing around town.
The LAGs wore false mustaches to look as if they were of legal age. They were playing at local Los Angeles clubs when they were approached by an aggressive manager who began booking them under the names of various groups who were well known for hit records. Once, they were playing a dance under the name of The Coasters when a teacher from Dorsey High came up and said something to the effect of: “I know you John Echols. You boys aren’t The Coasters, but you’re doing such a terrific job that I’m not going to mention it to anyone.”
By 1963, Echols, lying about his age, had already obtained his family’s permission and travelled to England with Little Richard’s band. Thereafter, he and Arthur Lee played with Billy Preston and Jimmy James (the future Jimi Hendrix) as the house band at LA’s California Club.
Johnny Echols, along with Arthur Lee and rhythm guitar player Bryan Maclean, assisted in writing and arranging several of the songs for the band Love, and was crucial in their guitar driven sound. He was on their first three albums before Arthur Lee disbanded the line-up after poor sales in the US. Unknown to Lee, who disdained performing outside the Los Angeles area, the quality of the first three albums, especially that of Forever Changes, had already garnered a substantial fan base throughout Europe. In 2005, the association of European disc jockeys voted Forever Changes the number one rock album of all time.
Echols lived in Sedona, Arizona for 15 years and continues to play and write music.
While in Los Angeles for a performance in 2011, he contacted an old friend, Georgiana Steele-Waller. Johnny now resides in Glendale, CA. with Georgiana and is performing occasionally with Arthur's back-up band Baby Lemonade. He has recently joined up with another former bass player from Love in the early days, John Fleckenstein, and is playing some gigs with The Standells.