Leslie West (October 22, 1945 – December 23, 2020) was an American rock guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, best known as a founding member and co-lead vocalist of the hard rock band Mountain.
Leslie West was born Leslie Weinstein, in New York City, and grew up in various parts of New York. He changed his surname to West after his parents divorced.
His musical career began with the Vagrants, an R&B/soul-rock band influenced by bands like the Rascals. The Vagrants had two minor hits in the Eastern United States, “I Can’t Make a Friend” in 1966, and a cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” in 1967.
Some of the Vagrants’ recordings were produced by Felix Pappalardi, who was also working with Cream on their album Disraeli Gears. In 1969, Leslie West and Pappalardi formed the pioneering hard rock band Mountain, which Rolling Stone said was a “louder version of Cream”. The band appeared on the second day of the Woodstock Festival on Saturday, August 16, 1969 playing an 11-song set from 9 pm.
The band’s original line-up saw Leslie West and Felix Pappalardi sharing the singing duties and playing guitar and bass, respectively. They had success with “Mississippi Queen”, which reached No. 21 on the Billboard charts and No. 4 in Canada, and this was followed by “Theme For an Imaginary Western”, written by Cream bassist Jack Bruce.
Mountain is one of the bands considered to be a forerunner of heavy metal.
After Pappalardi left Mountain to concentrate on various production projects, West and drummer Corky Laing produced two studio albums and a live release with Jack Bruce under the name West, Bruce and Laing.
Leslie West, along with keyboard player Al Kooper of Blood, Sweat & Tears, also recorded with The Who on the “Who’s Next” New York sessions in March 1971. Tracks from the sesssions 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 classic signature track “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Although the tracks were not originally included on the album (recording restarted in England a few months later without West or Kooper), they appeared as bonus tracks on the 1995 and 2003 reissues of “Who’s Next” and on the 1998 reissue of “Odds & Sods”.
Mountain reformed in 1973 only to break up again in late 1974.
Leslie West 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.
Leslie West teamed up with Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, to co-write and play guitar on the song “Hang Me Out To Dry” from the Gillan album ToolBox, which was released in Europe in 1991. West also recorded Warren Haynes’ “If Heartaches Were Nickels” with Joe Bonamassa. West released it on “Guitarded” in 2005, and Joe Bonamassa released it on “A New Day Yesterday” in 2000. In May 1987, Leslie West played the band leader in a series of late night pilot shows for Howard Stern on the FOX network, taping a total of five shows, which never aired. Stern went on to create a new show dubbed the Channel 9 show, without West, but West continued to make occasional appearances on radio.
Leslie 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 which was called “Mountain”. In 2005 he worked on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Under Cover” album, performing guitar on a remake of “Mississippi Queen”.
As well as 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. 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.
Leslie West married Jenni Maurer on stage after Mountain’s performance at the Woodstock 40th anniversary concert in Bethel, New York on August 15, 2009 with crowd of over 15,000 people present, as West and Maurer were wed under a very cool canopy of upraised electric guitars.
In 2014, Leslie West was a guest performer on Eli Cook’s album, “Primitive Son”, and his 2015 album, “Soundcheck”, reached number 2 on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart.
By the late 1970s, Leslie West was recovering from addiction to heroin, morphine, and cocaine, and said in various interviews that his drug problems and similar drug abuse problems of other bandmates, had interfered with the success of Mountain, and West, Bruce and Laing. In the mid 1980s, just as he was overcoming the drug problems, Leslie West was diagnosed with diabetes and his weight fluctuated over the years as he struggled with the disease. In the early 2000s he also survived a short bout with bladder cancer, and in 2011, his right leg had to be amputated, due to complications from his diabetes.
Leslie West went into cardiac arrest on Monday, December 21, 2020 and was rushed to a hospital in nearby Palm Coast where he never regained consciousness. He died on Wednesday, December 23, 2020, aged 75.
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