Leslie West in Mountain, Who Belted ‘Mississippi Queen,’ Dead at 75

Leslie West, the towering guitarist who created the hard rock landmark “Mississippi Queen” with his band Mountain, died on Wednesday morning. West’s brother Larry West Weinstein confirmed the musician’s death a Rolling Stone. He was 75 years old. The cause of death was cardiac arrest. On Monday, West was rushed to a hospital after suffering cardiac arrest at his home near Daytona, where he never regained consciousness.

Released in 1970 on Mountain’s debut album, Climbing!, “Mississippi Queen” was two and a half minutes of turbulent bliss built around West’s loud howling and drummer Corky Laing’s completely non-ironic guitar blasts and cow bell. One of those songs that never die from the classic rock era, “Mississippi Queen” has been featured on countless soundtracks, TV shows (The americans, The Simpsons) is on Guitar Hero III. In an interview with Guitar player earlier this year, West said the song “has everything you need to make it a winner. You have the cowbell, the riff is very good and it sounds amazing. It looks like he wants to jump off the car radio. It looks like a big, thick milkshake to me. It is rich and chocolatey. Who doesn’t love that? “

Contemporary with Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix, West was respected for his versatile playing (from strumming the metallic chords) and was revered by a new generation of guitarists who followed. In 2011, Eddie Van Halen said Rolling Stone that Deep Purple’s West and Ritchie Blackmore were among their biggest influences: “Leslie West has that incredible tone in Mountain,” said Van Halen.

Born Leslie Weinstein on October 22, 1945, West grew up in the New York area – Manhattan, Long Island and Forest Hills, Queens – and was one of the founding members of Vagrants, a blue-eyed soul garage band from the mid-sixties . The group (which also included his brother Larry on bass) had two minor hits, “I Can’t Make a Friend” and a cover of “Respect” by Otis Redding (released just before the titanic version of Aretha Franklin), before West leave the band. One twist, he once said, was to see Cream at the Village Theater (later Fillmore East) in 1967. “My brother said to me, ‘Let’s get some acid before we go,'” West told the Blues Rock Review in 2015 “So, we take LSD and suddenly the curtain opens and I hear them playing ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ and I see Eric Clapton and his leather jacket. I said, ‘Oh my God, we really suck.’ After that, I really started to practice and practice. “

With the help of Cream producer and bassist Felix Pappalardi, who met West when he was producing Vagrants, West made a solo album, Mountain. Mountain also became the name of the band that the two men formed – “because I was too fat!” West later joked.

West was known for white electric shock blues riffs, but he could also play more fluid melodic lines (as heard on Mountain’s “Nantucket Sleighride” and his solo on “Theme from an Imaginary Western”). “What impressed me the most when I started was how, with Clapton, you could identify your sound as a signature,” West said. LA Times in 1990. “I wanted to have a sound that you could identify like that. I was never a speed player. I tried to capitalize on my vibrato. I hope to be considered a melodic guitarist, not someone up there doing ‘weinie, weinie’ all night. “

When Cream split up in 1968, a new generation of even more muscular guitar bands was ready to start where they left off. The mountain looked particularly large, and not just because of West’s bulky size and curly hair head. Reviewing an old mountain show, a critic described him as a “300-pound man dressed in blue velvet, suede and snake skin”

Mountain’s original incarnation had a high profile participation at the Woodstock festival – on the second day, between Canned Heat and the Grateful Dead. “I think there were more amplifiers than everyone there,” said West Rolling Stone in 1989. “It was paralyzing because that stage, that setting, was a kind of natural amphitheater. The sound was so loud and shocking that I was afraid. But after I started playing, I continued because I was afraid to stop. ”West also contributed some unreleased parts to Who’s Who is next.

Although Mountain gained a large following, the group broke up in 1972. Taking its roots in Cream to a new level, West formed a Cream-style power trio with Mountain drummer Corky Laing and Jack Bruce of Cream. The group released three albums and sold out Carnegie Hall in New York, but in 1974, West reformed Mountain for two more albums.

The following year, West formally left on his own with his album The Great Fatsby, a musically varied album that featured softer sides of his style and also, in the title, mocked his weight problems. The album featured “High Roller”, co-written by West with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards; Jagger also played guitar on the track. The album failed to elevate West to a solo star act, and in the decades that followed, he switched between solo albums and tours and recordings with different versions of Mountain.

West’s health has been a problem for many years. In the mid-1970s, he moved to Milwaukee to quit heroin addiction. In a 1990 interview, he said 10 years have passed since he “stopped playing with narcotics”. In the mid-1980s, he was diagnosed with diabetes – his right leg was amputated due to complications from the disease – and promptly lost 35 pounds, dropping to 200. But his weight has fluctuated over the years.

In the years that followed, West continued to work: he was a regular on Howard Stern’s radio show, recorded solo albums and made some acting attempts, including in 1986 The money pit. Mountain continued in and out with different backgrounds, and the band released a cover album by Bob Dylan, War masters, in 2007; Ozzy Osbourne sang in the title remake. Attesting to the stature of West, his 2011 album The unusual suspects included contributions from Slash, Billy Gibbons and Zakk Wylde, and West’s latest album, Sound check, featured Peter Frampton.

In addition to “Mississippi Queen”, “Long Red”, a psychedelic blues piece from her album Mountain, remains one of West’s enduring legacies. The music was sampled by several raps, including De La Soul, the Game, ASAP Rocky and, most notably, Kanye West in “The Glory” and Jay-Z in “99 Problems”. “There was something about that song that rappers liked,” the guitarist told Blues Blast magazine in 2015. “I have six different platinum albums on the wall of all these different guys trying on my stuff. When I wrote this song in 1969, there was no hip-hop. It turns out that this song has a hip-hop beat. ”West’s legacy goes far beyond hip-hop; several bands covered their material, most recently Dave Grohl and Greg Kurstin remaking “Mississippi Queen” earlier this month for their “Hanukkah Sessions”.

West, who moved to Florida last month, leaves his wife Jenni Maurer; the couple married on stage at a 2009 Woodstock 40th anniversary concert in 2009. About his own mix of blues and metal, West told The Morning Call in 2000: “It’s like being a chef. You can use the same ingredients as everyone else, but that’s how you put them together. You end up with your own style. “