Mountain’s Leslie West Dies at 75
The news was initially shared by West's longtime associates at Dean Guitars, though no other details were given. The Times report mentioned heart issues, while Rolling Stone said West went into cardiac arrest on Monday at his home near Daytona, Fla., and "never regained consciousness" after being taken to the hospital.
Dean Guitars CEO Evan Rubinson also offered personal condolences, describing West as “a man that I truly loved more than most — the funniest, most honest guy I’ve met.”
He'd suffered a series of other health issues in recent years: In 2011, West's lower right leg was amputated following diabetes complications. But he continued to record and perform throughout his life.
West was born Oct. 22, 1945 in New York City and launched his career as a member of the Vagrants. The R&B/soul act earned a pair of minor regional hits in the mid- to late '60s, including a cover of Otis Redding's "Respect" — but in 1969, West left to record his debut solo LP, Mountain.
While credited to West alone, that album essentially served as a launching pad for Mountain the band. Former Vagrants producer Felix Pappalardi — who'd also helmed projects by the Youngbloods (their self-titled record) and seminal power-trio Cream (Disraeli Gears) — contributed bass, keyboards and production.
Recruiting keyboardist Steve Knight and drummer N.D. Smart, they adopted the Mountain moniker — and in August 1969 played their third show at the Woodstock Festival. Drummer Corky Laing soon replaced Smart, and the quartet released their debut LP, 1970's Climbing!, featuring the signature, cowbell-heavy single "Mississippi Queen."
Amid multiple lineup shifts, Mountain released several more albums during their prime '70s run, including 1971's Nantucket Sleighride, the part-studio/part-live Flowers of Evil from the same year and 1974's Avalanche. West and Laing also teamed with former Cream bassist Jack Bruce to form the blues-rock supergroup West, Bruce and Laing, releasing two studio LPs and one live set.
While Mountain originally disbanded in 1974, West and Laing revived the group several times over the next several decades, remaining the sole consistent members. They released four more studio albums, including the 2007 Bob Dylan covers record, Masters of War, which featured guest spots from Ozzy Osbourne and Warren Haynes.
West was productive in the new millennium, despite his health issues. He made numerous guest appearances, including a guitar cameo on a "Mississippi Queen" cover from Osbourne's 2005 covers LP, Under Cover.
He remains one of the most revered guitarists to ever play, influencing later generations of rock stars: Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl teamed with producer Greg Kurstin earlier this month for a new update of "Mississippi Queen."
"I'm no great guitarist, technically," West told Guitar World in 1987. "I only play with these two fingers [index and ring]. But you wanna know why people remember me? If you take a hundred players and put them in a room, 98 or 99 of 'em are gonna sound the same. The one who plays different, has some of his own – that's the one you're gonna remember."