Leslie West

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Leslie West
West live at the Florida Theatre in 2008.
West live at the Florida Theatre in 2008.
Background information
Birth nameLeslie Abel Weinstein[1]
Born(1945-10-22)October 22, 1945
New York, New York, U.S.
DiedDecember 23, 2020(2020-12-23) (aged 75)
Palm Coast, Florida, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Musician
  • songwriter
Instruments
  • Guitar
  • vocals
Years active1964–2020
Labels
Associated acts

Leslie West (born Leslie Abel Weinstein; October 22, 1945 – December 23, 2020)[2] was an American rock guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. He was best known as a founding member and co-lead vocalist of the hard rock band Mountain.

Life and career[edit]

Early years: 1945–1973[edit]

West was born on October 22, 1945 in New York City to Jewish parents,[1][3] but grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey, and in East Meadow, New York, Forest Hills, New York, and Lawrence, New York.[4] After his parents divorced, he changed his surname to West.[1] His musical career began with the Vagrants, an R&B/blue-eyed soul-rock band influenced by the likes of the Rascals that was one of the few teenage garage rock acts to come out of the New York metropolitan area itself (as opposed to the Bohemian Greenwich Village scene of artists, poets, and affiliates of the Beat Generation, which produced bands like The Fugs and The Velvet Underground). The Vagrants had two minor hits in the Eastern United States; 1966's "I Can't Make a Friend" and a cover of Otis Redding's "Respect" the following year.

Some of the Vagrants' recordings were produced by Felix Pappalardi, who was also working with Cream on their album Disraeli Gears. In 1969, West and Pappalardi formed the pioneering hard rock act Mountain, which was also the title of West's debut solo album. Rolling Stone identified the band as a "louder version of Cream".[5] With Steve Knight on keyboards and original drummer N. D. Smart, the band appeared on the second day of the Woodstock Festival on Saturday, August 16, 1969 starting an 11-song set at 9 pm.

The band's original incarnation saw West and Pappalardi sharing vocal duties and playing guitar and bass, respectively. New drummer Corky Laing joined the band shortly after Woodstock. They had success with "Mississippi Queen", which reached No. 21 on the Billboard charts and No. 4 in Canada. It was followed by "Theme For an Imaginary Western", written by Cream bassist Jack Bruce. Mountain is one of the bands considered to be forerunners of heavy metal.[6]

After Pappalardi left Mountain to concentrate on various production projects, West and Laing produced two studio albums and a live release with Jack Bruce under the name West, Bruce and Laing. West, along with keyboard player Al Kooper of Blood, Sweat & Tears, recorded with The Who during the March 1971 Who's Next New York sessions. Tracks from the sessions included a cover of Marvin Gaye's "Baby Don't You Do It," and early versions of "Love Ain't For Keepin'" and The Who's signature track "Won't Get Fooled Again". Though the tracks were not originally included on the album (recording restarted in England a few months later without West or Kooper), they appear as bonus tracks on the 1995 and 2003 reissues of Who's Next and on the 1998 reissue of Odds & Sods.

Reforming Mountain: 1973–2000[edit]

Mountain reformed in 1973 only to break up again in late 1974. West had acting roles in Family Honor (1973) and The Money Pit (1986).

West also played guitar for the track "Bo Diddley Jam" on Bo Diddley's 1976 20th Anniversary of Rock 'n' Roll all-star album. Since 1981, Mountain has continued to reform, tour. and record on a regular basis. West teamed up with Ian Gillan of Deep Purple renown, to co-write and play guitar on the song "Hang Me Out To Dry" from the Gillan album ToolBox, released in Europe in 1991. West and Joe Bonamassa recorded Warren Haynes' "If Heartaches Were Nickels" together. West released it on Guitarded (2005), and Bonamassa on A New Day Yesterday (2000). In May 1987, West played the band leader in a series of late night pilot shows for Howard Stern on the FOX network. He taped a total of five shows with Stern, which never aired. Stern went on to create a new show dubbed the Channel 9 show without West. West continued to make occasional appearances on radio, notably on Stern's radio show.[5]

21st century[edit]

West contributed the music and co-wrote the lyrics to the song "Immortal" on Clutch's 2001 album Pure Rock Fury, which was a reworked cover of the song "Baby I'm Down" from West's first album. In 2005 he contributed to Ozzy Osbourne's Under Cover album, performing guitar on a remake of "Mississippi Queen". In addition to fronting Mountain, West continued to record and perform on his own. His solo album, entitled Blue Me, was released in 2006 on the Blues Bureau International label. West was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame on October 15, 2006.[7] In 2007, Mountain released Masters of War on Big Rack Records, an album featuring 12 Bob Dylan covers that saw Osbourne providing guest vocals on a rendition of the title track.

West married his fiancée Jenni Maurer on stage after Mountain's performance at the Woodstock 40th anniversary concert in Bethel, New York (August 15, 2009). A concert crowd of over 15,000 people was present, as West and Maurer were wed under a canopy of upraised electric guitars.[8] On June 20, 2011, West had his right leg amputated as a result of complications from diabetes.[9] West made his first public appearance after his surgery on August 13, 2011.[10] In 2014, West was a guest performer on Eli Cook's album, Primitive Son.[11] His 2015 album, Soundcheck, peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart.[12]

Health and death[edit]

By the late 1970s, West was recovering from addiction to heroin, morphine, and cocaine. West said in various interviews that his drug problems and similar drug abuse problems of other bandmates, had interfered with the success of both Mountain, and West, Bruce and Laing.[13] In the mid 1980s, just as he was overcoming the drug problems, West was diagnosed with diabetes and his weight fluctuated over the years as he struggled with the disease.[14] In the early 2000s he also survived a short bout with bladder cancer.[3] In 2011, due to complications from his diabetes, West's right leg had to be amputated.[9] West said in a 2014 interview that he believed his past smoking also contributed to the crisis with his leg.[13]

West went into cardiac arrest on Monday, December 21, 2020[15] and was rushed to a hospital in nearby Palm Coast where he never regained consciousness. After being contacted by Rolling Stone, West's brother Larry West confirmed that Leslie West had died. A report by Variety based on social media posts made by Larry West states that Leslie West died on Wednesday, December 23, 2020.[15][14][16] He was 75.

Equipment[edit]

West was renowned for helping popularize the Gibson Les Paul Jr. guitar with P-90 pickups, along with the use of Sunn Amplifiers, to create a tone which became his trademark sound.[17]

Guitars[edit]

Photo of an Electra Plexiglass guitar of the type West used for slide guitar during the 1970s. This guitar was often mistaken for the nearly identical Dan Armstrong from which it was copied

West frequently used two Les Paul Juniors, one "TV Yellow" and the other a sunburst.[17] West also used a modified Gibson Flying V, with the neck pickup removed (he used the hole for an ashtray) and a P-90 pickup fitted at the bridge position, West also had a two-pickup Flying V which he used after the Flying V with the ash tray broke (serial number 906965). West also used a plexiglass Electra guitar, which is a Japanese copy of the better known Ampeg-made Dan Armstrong guitar, for slide.

West also played a Westone Pantera guitar. From 1977 to 1982, he used a signature on-board effects MPC model guitar, created by the Japanese company Electra.[17] He most recently used a signature model from Dean Guitars, the USA Soltero Leslie West Signature model,[17] fitted with a custom-designed Dean pickup called "Mountain of Tone." Based on an endorsing contract in the 1970s, West played British-made Burns guitars. West also long favored "headless" guitars, and can be seen playing them on some of the videos he appeared in. In an interview segment on Night of the Guitars – Live! West stated that he had narrowed his commonly played instruments down to two: an off-the-shelf Steinberger and a Kramer with DiMarzio pickups.

Amplifiers[edit]

In 2005, West received a sponsorship with Carlsbro amplifiers, and could frequently be seen playing through "Carlsbro 50 Top" valve heads. His studio amplifier was a Marshall JMP. Live, he used Marshall JCM 900s. He started endorsing and using Budda Amplification in 2008.[17] He was also associated with Sunn amplifiers, and used a Sunn Coliseum PA head, when it was shipped to him by accident. He claimed that this is the amp that gave him his signature sound in a Gibson interview with West.

The Sunn amplifiers that West used were of the late 1960s era and were not factory stock. The four-channel amplifier heads' preamps were wired as cascading preamps to channel one, out to the amp's power section. This is what produced the long compressed sustain and distorted overdrive of the great Mountain sound that he is well known for.

West used Blackstar amps. West also used Budda amplifiers, with a Budda backline visible on stage footage of West's appearances.

Effects[edit]

West employed octaver, chorus, and delay effects.

Discography[edit]

For his work with Mountain and West, Bruce and Laing, see their pages.

Year Album Peak chart positions
US US
Blues
UK
1969 Mountain 72
1975 The Great Fatsby 168
1976 The Leslie West Band
1988 Theme
1989 Alligator
1989 Night of the Guitar- Live!
1993 Leslie West Live!
1994 Dodgin' the Dirt
1999 As Phat as it Gets
2003 Blues to Die For
2005 Guitarded
2005 Got Blooze
2006 Blue Me
2011 Unusual Suspects[18][19][20] 4 153
2013 Still Climbing 198 1
2015 Soundcheck 2

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Laney, Karen 'Gilly' (December 20, 2011). "Top 10 Jewish Rock Stars". UltimateClassicRock.com. Townsquare Media, Inc. Retrieved December 23, 2020.
  2. ^ "In loving memory of Leslie Abel Weinstein a.k.a. Leslie West October 22, 1945 - December 23, 2020". baldwincremation.com. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
  3. ^ a b Farber, Jim (December 23, 2020). "Leslie West, 'Mississippi Queen' Rocker, Is Dead at 75". The New York Times. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
  4. ^ Fischler, Marcelle S. "Nascent Hall of Fame to Welcome First Honorees"., The New York Times, October 15, 2006. Retrieved November 26, 2007. "Dee Snider of Stony Brook, the shock-rocker from the 1980s heavy metal band Twisted Sister, known for his defiant metal anthem We're Not Gonna Take It, and Leslie West of the band Mountain, who grew up in East Meadow, Lawrence and Forest Hills, are also being inducted..."
  5. ^ a b Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, p. 674, Mountain, Rolling Stone Press, U.S., 2001. The group's name is widely believed to have been inspired by West's then-considerable physical bulk, although he subsequently lost a lot of weight. Initially the group did not feature a keyboardist, but one was later added to the band to keep them from seeming like a Cream imitation.
  6. ^ Ingham, Chris (2002). The Book of Metal. Thunder's Mouth Press. p. 204. ISBN 978-1-56025-419-5.
  7. ^ "Leslie West". Long Island Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
  8. ^ Pareles, Jon (August 16, 2009). "Back to the Garden, Without the Shock, or All That Mud". The New York Times. Retrieved December 23, 2020.
  9. ^ a b "Rock guitarist Leslie West's lower leg amputated". Reuters. June 20, 2011. Retrieved December 23, 2020.
  10. ^ "Bman's Blues Report: Leslie West is Back – 1st Public Appearance". Bmansbluesreport.com. November 6, 2011. Retrieved July 17, 2014.
  11. ^ "Primitive Son - Eli Cook | Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved January 4, 2016.
  12. ^ "Blues Albums Chart". Billboard. December 12, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
  13. ^ a b Hamilton, Anita (December 24, 2020). "Farewell to Mountain's Leslie West". 50+ World. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
  14. ^ a b Browne, David (December 23, 2020). "Leslie West, Mountain Guitarist Who Belted 'Mississippi Queen,' Dead at 75". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 23, 2020.
  15. ^ a b Willman, Chris (December 23, 2020). "Leslie West, Frontman for 'Mississippi Queen' Band Mountain, Dies at 75". Variety. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
  16. ^ Kohn, Daniel (December 22, 2020). "Leslie West, Mountain Guitarist and Co-Vocalist, Dies at 75". Spin. Retrieved December 23, 2020.
  17. ^ a b c d e Gress, Jesse (July 2009). "10 Things You Gotta Do To Play Like Leslie West". Guitar Player. 43 (7): 78–86.
  18. ^ "Chart Log UK : Chart Date : 08.10.2011". Zobbel.de. Retrieved July 17, 2014.
  19. ^ "Bman's Blues Report: Unusual Suspects – Leslie West – New release review". Bmansbluesreport.com. September 22, 2011. Retrieved July 17, 2014.
  20. ^ "Here Comes The Flood: Leslie West: Unusual Suspects". herecomestheflood.com. September 13, 2011. Retrieved December 24, 2020.

External links[edit]