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  • Leslie West

    Posted July, 2009

    westandvanhalenPhoto by Wade WeberIf you’re a middle-aged, “slightly overweight”, pasty white guy like me, you occasionally wish that you could go back in time.  You wish that you could go back to the smooth skinned, skinny person you were in high school or college.  You wish that you could go back in that time when you knew more than your parents and were fully aware of the solutions to all of the world’s problems.  In her top selling hit, Me and Bobby McGee, Janis Joplin wailed, “I’d trade all of my tomorrow’s for a single yesterday.”

    Do I have some great news for you!  You can go back in time and it won’t cost you your future.  That’s right, folks!  Coming to a city or town near  you, you can catch the tour that is getting the Baby Boomer Generation’s tongues a-waggin’ and classic rock fans salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

    That tour?  HippieFest and, this year, it has a dynamite line-up of some of the favorite artists and bands that blared from your radio while you wowed your imaginary legions of fans while you lip-synched or played the world’s best air guitar.  Artists such as Chuck Negron (the voice of Three Dog Night), and Flo and Eddie, Felix are on the line up as are Joe Molland (Bad Finger), Mitch Ryder, Brewer and Shipley, and Mountain and the surviving half of its founding duo, Leslie West.  West’s founding partner, Felix Pappalardi, was the victim of what was ruled as a negligent homicide committed by his wife, Gail Collins Pappalardi, in 1983.

    Leslie West is a man who is comfortable with where he is in life while touring with his band that enjoys an impressive 40 year legacy that still commands broad support.  While Mountain still has fans that remember when they performed at Woodstock and bought their first vinyl album, West is introducing a new generation to his signature Mountain sound.  The bands iconic hit, Mississippi Queen, has been covered by artists and bands ranging from Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top to being sampled by current Rap artists.  This new surge in popularity has, no doubt, been helped by the band’s music being featured in TV shows, movies and, more recently, in video games.

    Before the band boarded their tour bus to join the HippieFest tour, I had the privilege of chatting with Leslie West.  We started off by talking about what Mountain has been up to lately.

    “Well, we just finished two months with Joe Satriani and all over the country and had the holidays, working on my guitar DVD that should be out soon and called, ‘Sounds of the Stories’ and getting ready to go on this tour, HippieFest  . . .”.  He also mentions with pride that he and the band will performing again at Woodstock forty years and one after the band made its appearance there.  In addition to performing the set they played in 1969, there will be a new, life changing event taking place on stage:  He’s going to marry his fiancé.

    I was curious about the backstage environment between the bands on the HippeFest. “We travel with our own bus so we don’t really hang out to much.  We have a good time hanging out with Flo and Eddie and Felix Cavaliere.  I’ve known Felix for a long time – we’re old buddies.”  Later, he adds with a laugh, “Yeah, (the bands) us to talk a out buying cocaine and now they talk about buying Lipitor and Plavix and drugs like that, you know?”  This, no doubt, leads to a healthier line-up than in days gone by.

    I asked West if the inclusion of “Mississippi Queen” in Guitar Hero III was creating a larger, younger audience for Mountain.

    “Well, it’s been on Rock Band, also.  When you have a game like that, that did over a billion dollars in business, it sure does.  And, also, Kanye West and Jay-Zee used my songs for some of their songs, too.  That has helped quite a bit.   “99 problems” by Jay-Z  was my music is being sampled.  Kanye West is the same thing – the song, Long Red.  So, all of a sudden – go figure!”

    With forty years of touring under his belt, Leslie West has seen and done it all.  I asked him what the main differences are that he sees in touring today as compared to the 60’s and 70’s.

    “A better tour bus!  That makes it a lot easier because I hate to fly and it’s a pain in the *** - security and all that stuff and, uh, it takes a toll on you.  But, on the bus, you finish playing, you go relax and all of a sudden, you’re moving and in the next city and if you want to go to the hotel, you can relax.   Just to play the shows is tough enough.

    “You know, what happened, I think, after 9-11 when nobody could fly and that all happened.  Well, these corporations and everybody else started saying, “Wow!  A tour bus is the only way we can get anywhere.  And they started using them and they started making them nicer.  Everybody wants a tour bus now. “

    The Woodstock generation was one that clearly lived for the day.  I asked West, “When you were touring back in the 60’s and 70’s, what did you expect the world to be like 40 years later?”

    He bluntly states, “I didn’t expect anything.  I was lucky we made it to a month!  I was a kid and we were writing rules as we went along.”  Reflecting on the idyllic mindset of those days, he adds, “You could leave the doors to your house open and, you know, nobody had guns, really, and, if you did, you were just shooting rabbits up in the country.  But, like Dylan said, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

    This lead to talking about what he missed from those days.  He shared about missing being younger and thinking he was “bullet proof”.  “I could throw myself off a building and I wouldn’t hurt.  We’d finish – especially when we did this last tour with Satriani, I think it was 35 shows in 42 days.   But I also did the encore with him.  So, Mountain did our show then left and he did his show and I had to come back and do a half an hour with him.  So, it was, like, 70 shows in . . . 45 days.  It was a lot of work.  It was one after the other so you just keep going and don’t get a chance to exhale. “

    Conversely, he mentions what he doesn’t miss about those days.  “What I don’t miss is . . . sometimes we had to do two festivals in one day.  (We would) get on the jet and do the Cincinnati Pop Festival then fly to Atlanta at night and do the Atlanta Pop Festival.  It was really rough.  I mean, all of a sudden, the festivals would hit and – I was lucky enough to be on them but it was an awful lot of travel.  I always thought we got paid to travel, not paid to play.  That’s what it felt like.

    Still comparing the 60’s and 70’s to today, the conversation turns, naturally enough, to today’s music.  He loves Creed and says that “Mark Tremonti is a really great guitar player.”  But Creed is about the only current talent that commands his respect.  He doesn’t see anyone that offers anything new.

    I suggest American Idol’s Adam Lambert but West slaps the offering down by saying, “Yeah, but there is nobody that is totally so -  so – so unique that you think, “Wow!  I never heard anything like that before!  The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

    He also bemoans how music is made today, saying, “I tell you the truth, some of the music today, I don’t know what . . . I’m listening to.  Am I listening to machines?  Am I listening to tape of somebody?  I don’t know if somebody is really playing.  I can sometimes really tell if somebody is really playing the guitar.”

    Speaking of guitars, West lights up talking about his “baby”:  His signature line of guitars manufactured by Dean Guitars.  “.  I’m really involved with my Leslie West Signature Guitar with Dean Guitars.  It’s important to me.  We got into it, finally, and I have my own model and now we have four models.  Check out DeanGuitars.com and look at the 40th Anniversary Leslie West Guitar.  We made this great looking guitar with inlay on it and a peace sign with my initials in it for the anniversary of Woodstock.

    “ . . . they sold out of the anniversary ones they made.  They were quite expensive.  They only made 10 or 12 but the other ones are doing very well.  It took me a while to figure out what I wanted (the guitars) to look like.  I use to play a Les Paul Junior but this one is like a Ferrari version of that.  And, then, also we have my own Leslie West pick-ups – “M.O.T. “ (Mountain of Tone) pick-ups with Dean Guitars.  And, this summer, we’re coming out with the 40th Anniversary Mississippi Queen cow bells.  So, we’re doing pretty good.”

  • Leslie West Discusses Soundcheck Hendrix, and More

    Posted March 2016

    Photo by Justin Borucki

         

    One of the most talked about performances at Woodstock (but didn’t’ get to make it on the movie) is the eleven song set by Mountain. At the time, the band was mostly noted for it’s cover of the Jack Bruce tune, Theme for an Imaginary Western, as well as blistering guitar solos by the bands founder, Leslie West.

    In the years that followed, the band continued to blaze musical trails, ultimately releasing eight studio and three live albums. It’s signature hit became “Mississippi Queen” that has been heard all over the world and used in movies, TV shows and commercials. 

    Leslie West also simultaneously launched a successful solo career, marked by fifteen solo albums – sixteen when you include his new monumental effort, “Soundcheck.” It was for “Soundcheck” that I recently contacted West by phone. In fact, I called him on the 45th anniversary of the passing of Jimi Hendrix. I was curious about your thoughts about him.

    “Well, it was really sad. He died at almost 28 years old. I’ve since become friends with his sister, Janie. She came through New York recently – within the last year. They’re doing a documentary on the Atlanta Pop Festival – with Jimi there. They were interviewing people that played it. She’s such a sweetheart.”

    Circling back to Jimi himself, West continued:

    “Too bad he’s not still around. I have very fond memories. I played with him at a club in New York at, like, one in the morning. Just me and him. Him playing bass and me playing guitar. In fact, on MoutainRockBand.com – our website – there’s a picture of Hendrix playing bass and me playing guitar that night. It’s not the greatest picture but you can certainly see that it’s him and me. 

    “He went WAY before his time. Yeah, that wasn’t a happy day.”

    Bringing the conversation to Leslie’s new CD, I asked him how many solo records this mad for him.

    “I think it’s sixteen solo albums, believe it or not. I think. Somebody wrote that the other day. I started to count them but I feel really tired so I’m not going to start to count. Ha! Ha! The good thing is this one I’m really proud of. The sound is great and I’ve got some good people playing on it.”

    When he says, “some good people,” West is referring to people such as Queen’s Brian May, Peter Frampton, Bonnie Bramlett, Jack Bruce and Joe Franco (via some resurrected studio tapes). When I said that having such a stellar group of artists willing to play on his album certain said a lot about the respect he has amongst such big names, Leslie said:

    “On the ‘Going Down’ track with Brian May, a friend of mine was producing at the time and he got us all together. So, when I was doing this album, nobody had ever heard it, I don’t think. The song was written by Don Nix. Don sang it originally. But when we listened to the masters of it, he didn’t use Brian’s solo. Somebody else finished producing it even though my friend started it. 

    “So, when me and my engineer heard it, I was playing the solo on the first half of the song. There was a break and then Brian played the solo on the second half on out. We put it together and it was great! We’ve got Max Milton playing the intro on piano. I get really excited. That’s probably my favorite guitar song to jam on of all time.”

    As we talked about the songs on the album, I mentioned how unique his treatment of the old song, “You Are My Sunshine,” was in its contrary delivery.

         

    Photo by Justin Borucki

    With a chuckle, Leslie shared the background to that version.

    “I gotta give credit to Sons of Anarchy because I heard somebody doing it on there. Instead of the major key that the sounds so happy, it was in a minor key. I said, ‘Boy, I think I can really do a very, very ‘funerally’ – funeral dirge – some kind of sad version of it.’ 

    “I called Peter Frampton because I’d done something with Peter the year before. I said, ‘Peter, I’ve got a version of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ that I’d love for you to play with me.’ I sent it to him. It really came out great. I’m really proud of it. Between the two of us – I think I started out playing the first solo and he played the second one. After the break in the middle, he plays the first solo and I play the last solo and we play the last line together.

    “I’ve known Peter forty-five years – something like that. Even though we’d toured together, we’d never actually played together. He had this tour last year called ‘Frampton’s Circus’. He invited me to play a couple of shows on it. It was the first time we had ever played together. Now we’ve played together twice.”

    After working with them on this record, are there any more plans to collaborate with any of these people in the future?

    “Well, there’s a young guitar player – Jim Cook – a blues player. He’s going to be opening for me in New York when I play B.B. King’s. I play a track on his album. I think the kid’s gonna be something special. I’m looking forward to that.”

    Having worked on all of the Mountain and solo records that he has – as well as appearing on many of his friends’ projects – I asked West how “Soundcheck” was different for him.

    “It’s not so much different than the last one I did, ‘Still Climbing,” because that was only two years ago. The machines and everything else – every two weeks there are new things to try out. We’re pretty much on ProTools. The secret to making a good album is a good engineer. I can just play and Mike can edit where I need editing. Putting songs together is a lot easier now that it used to be years ago.”

    As a “calling card” for the entire record, Leslie offered his choice of song:

    “The first cut, ‘Left by The Roadside to Die’. It starts with a synthesizer. I actually played that part on the guitar and had my keyboard player start to play it. So, right off the bat, I guess you’d expect to hear a guitar from me. This, at least, you hear that synthesizer come on and then I start playing some slide and it gets heavy. It shows some different phases of what I can do in one song. I would hope that would get you to listen to the rest of the album!”

    The best of the best guitarist are sought after by the various guitar manufacturers. It’s no surprise that Leslie West has a signature line through Dean Guitars. When asked how that line was doing, he said:

    “Great. We ran about five models. From very expensive, to the middle, to very inexpensive so everybody can play it. Even the less expensive ones have great graphics on it. The newest model is the Leslie West Peace guitar. It has my logo. The logo looks like a peace sign but, if you look closely, one of the lines on the circle is left out so it looks like an LW. It’s a black guitar with a silver peace sign on it. It looks great! It’s been a lot of fun. I mean, I feel sorry for Jimi Hendrix. He’s dead and he never had a model while he was alive.”

    Photo by Justin Borucki

         

    Jimi Hendrix came up in the conversation about signature guitars when West started talking about what a Hendrix signature model might be.

    “They were upside down Stratocasters. They weren’t left-handed. He would take a regular Strat and just re-string it. A guy like Albert King, he used to turn the guitar upside down and play it backwards. I don’t know how the hell he did that! He had the big Flying V and just turned it upside down so, where the fat E string would be, he had the little, thin E, first! I wondered how he stretched the strings that far. 

    “The first gig we ever did was with Albert King. Fillmore West. Mountain’s first gig. I watched him play. I had been trying to develop my vibrato and stretch the strings. I wanted to stretch them as much as he could. When I found out that he was doing it from the opposite way, it made it a lot easier. I didn’t see that until I watched him. I wished that I had saw him before. It would’ve made my life a lot easier and simpler!”

    Circling back around to Hendrix, again, Leslie said:

    “Yeah, if Jimi was still around, I kinda know what his Strat would be like.”

    Our conversation turned to another great, legendary guitarist – one who recently passed away and who, like West, played at Woodstock: Johnny Winter.

    “I was on Johnny’s last album. ‘Long Tall Sally’. And Johnny played on my last album on the song, ‘Busted, Disgusted or Dead’. My engineer mixed Johnny’s last album and got a Grammy for it. We (Johnny) were pretty close. I actually helped Johnny get himself straightened out, drug wise. He didn’t die from drugs, man. He just died of natural causes. He wasn’t doing to well, health-wise. Neither was I, but, somehow, I’m still around!”

    That last comment gave me the opportunity to ask Leslie how he was doing. As some of you may not know, West has had some serious health problems over the last several years – including the loss of a leg - so I asked how he was doing. His initial remark blindsided me.

    “I was going to ask you, Randy: Did you find it (his leg)?” 

    Then, on a more serious note, he added:

    “My balance is terrible and I haven’t been able to use the prosthetic so I have to sit in a chair to play, unfortunately. But it hasn’t stopped me from playing. That’s a good thing. In rehab, they put me in the parallel bars with the prosthetic leg and made me put the guitar on. I put the guitar on and they wanted to see how long I could stand and play the guitar without falling. I didn’t last thirty seconds. 

         

    Photo by Justin Borucki

    “I said, ‘You know, this isn’t going to work on stage. I don’t want to be worrying about falling when I’m trying to play.’ Even though you have a prosthetic, it feels like an alien to you.”

    Then, after sharing more about his adjustment to losing his leg, he said:

    “Life is precious, Randy. Thank God for the guitar, right?”

    I know you have many more years of work left in you but when you finally do go to that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?

    “When the time comes, and they cover me with dirt and grass, to all my critics that didn’t like the way I played, they can kiss my big . . . “

    I’ll leave it to you to figure out what else he said. 

Featured Photo

Jim Keltner.Broken Glass DW

Our Featured Photo by Boomerocity friend and famed rock photographer, Rob Shanahan (robshanahan.com), is is a bit different from past featured photos. 

 

 

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