Leslie West, Mountain Guitarist Who Belted ‘Mississippi Queen,’ Dead at 75
Leslie West, the towering guitarist who created the hard rock milestone "Mississippi Queen" with his band Mountain, died Wednesday morning. West's brother Larry West Weinstein confirmed the musician's death to Rolling Stone. He was 75 years old. The cause of death was cardiac arrest. On Monday, West was rushed to hospital after suffering cardiac arrest at his home near Daytona, where he never regained consciousness.
Released on Mountain's debut album, Climbing !, in 1970, "Mississippi Queen" was two and a half minutes of boisterous bliss that revolved around West's burly whine and guitar explosion and drummer Corky Laing's utterly unironic cowbell. "Mississippi Queen", one of those never-to-say songs from the classic rock era, has been featured in countless soundtracks, TV shows (The Americans, The Simpsons) and in Guitar Hero III. In an interview with Guitar Player earlier this year, West said that the song “has exactly what it takes to be a winner. You got the cowbell, the reef is damn good and it sounds amazing. It feels like it is about to jump out of your car radio. To me it sounds like a big, fat milkshake. It's rich and chocolatey. Who doesn't love this "
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A contemporary of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jimi Hendrix, West was respected for his versatile playing (from fingerpicking to metallic power chords) and adored by a new generation of guitarists who followed. In 2011, Eddie Van Halen told Rolling Stone that West and Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore were among his greatest influences: "Leslie West has this 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 a founding member of the Vagrants, a blue-eyed soul garage band of the mid-1960s. The group (which included his brother Larry on bass) had two minor hits, "I Can't Make a Friend" and a cover of Otis Reddings "Respect" (released shortly before Aretha Franklin's Titanic version), before West the Band left. A turning point, he once said, was Cream's visit to the Village Theater (later Fillmore East) in 1967. "My brother said to me, 'Let's get some acid before we go,'" West told Blues Rock Review in 2015 . “So we took LSD and suddenly the curtain goes up and I hear them play 'Sunshine of Your Love' and I see Eric Clapton and his suede jacket. I said, "Oh my god, we really suck." After that, I started really practicing and practicing. "
With the help of Cream producer and bassist Felix Pappalardi, who West met while producing the Vagrants, West made a solo album, Mountain. Mountain also became the name of the band the two men formed - "because I was so fat!" West later joked.
West was known for electro-shocking white blues riffing, but could also play more fluid melodies (as heard in Mountain's "Nantucket Sleighride" and his solo in their "Theme from an Imaginary Western"). "The thing that struck me the most when I started was how you could identify your sound like a signature with Clapton," West told the LA Times in 1990. "I wanted a sound that could be identified." I've never been a speed player. I tried to use my vibrato. I hope I'm seen as a melodic guitarist, not someone who plays "weie, weep" all night. "
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