INTERACT LIVE with the legendary Leslie West as he discusses his music and career. Talk about writing the hit song Mississippi Queen and about Mountain, credited as having influenced the development of heavy metal music in the 1970s. Directly ask him a question you’ve wondered about!
Leslie West is best known as a founding member and co-lead vocalist of the hard rock band Mountain.
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 US: 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". 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 the Jack Bruce-penned "Theme For an Imaginary Western". Mountain is one of the bands considered to be forerunners of heavy metal.
After Pappalardi left Mountain to concentrate on various production projects, West and Laing produced two studio albums and a live release with Cream bassist 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 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.
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, the group Mountain has continued to reform, tour and record on a regular basis. Leslie West teamed up with Ian Gillan of Deep Purple fame, to co-write and play guitar on the song "Hang Me Out To Dry" from the Gillan album ToolBox, released in Europe in 1991. Leslie 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 form a new show dubbed the Channel 9 show without Leslie. West continues to make occasional appearances on radio, notably on Howard Stern's radio show.
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. In 2007, Mountain released Masters of War on Big Rack Records, an album featuring 12 Bob Dylan covers that saw Ozzy Osbourne providing guest vocals on a rendition of the title track.