Leslie West: A Mountain amongst guitarists

Leslie West: A Mountain amongst guitarists

Leslie West: A Mountain amongst guitarists - Legacy a fitting tribute to a great talent who is sorely missed: they may never replace the originals but they will always be welcome on ‘shuffle’.

Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a fitting tribute to a great talent who is sorely missed: they may never replace the originals but they will always be welcome on ‘shuffle’.

Like many people of my age, the music of Leslie West, Corky Laing and Felix Pappalardi (otherwise known as Mountain) came to my attention courtesy of Brain Walden and the news magazine programme, Weekend World. Back in 1972, there were only three TV channels (yes, kiddies, three) and so I had to watch some things I wouldn’t normally entertain at such a young age…plus it was a case of watch what Dad wanted, apart from at teatime. The signature tune to Weekend World was significantly different to anything else and captured my attention: so much so that I scoured the closing titles to find the source, and so Mountain became a favourite band alongside Purple, Heep, Gallagher, Free and so on. Although Mountain often disbanded and reformed, there was the short-lived West, Bruce and Laing and his solo albums to keep me happy. So many to choose from but, if you want to access his solo stuff, the simply brilliant 1999 album, As Phat As it Gets is a good starting point.

Born Leslie Abel Weinstein on October 22nd 1945, Leslie made an impact in his early band, The Vagrants who Pappalardi produced before they joined together in 1969. Later in life he suffered complications from diabetes and had to have his lower right leg amputated, and yet he continued performing and making great music. Sadly he died on December 23rd 2020, after suffering a heart attack. He was 75.

Originally intended as a celebration of Leslies’ work, with him playing alongside invited guests, when he died two weeks before the scheduled recording was due to start, his wife Jenni decided to put together a tribute to this wonderful musician. It’s called Legacy: A tribute to Leslie West and features some well known and some not so well known songs from across his career. It does favour his first solo album (called Mountain) and the simply superb Climbing! the album more than any others, but the guests apparently chose the tracks themselves and so it’s no major surprise to see those significant albums to the fore…even if, as a major Leslie fan, I’d have loved to have heard some tracks from The Great Fatsby or the underrated Alligator albums.

Jenni sums it all up: “Nobody in this world has ever made me feel loved as much as Leslie, and I feel so honored and grateful that I could give him this gift.

“He would often say, ‘If it doesn’t make my balls rumble, it’s not right.’ And I think there’s some balls-rumbling tones on this record! When you’re listening to it, you might even think it’s Leslie playing – and that’s a good thing. He really believed that adage of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.  Even when some of the players do their own twists on the music, they’re still doing it in a way that’s authentic and respectful, and Leslie would have appreciated that.”

The tribute begins, fittingly, with a track from what was essentially a solo album called Mountain. From that Zakk Wylde has chosen Blood of the Sun and does a fine job of staying faithful but keeping a Zakk essence running through…he has tailored his vocal and heavy guitar by tuning into the original with total success. Next is that Weekend World song: I’d love to know why the producer (I assume) chose it for a political tv show, and I’d like to thank him too. Nantucket Sleighride (To Owen Coffin) has Joe Lynn Turner handling the vocals and Marty Friedman bravely taking on the guitar duties. Perhaps because it’s so well known this doesn’t quite work for me…it is very good, but there’s an almost intangible “something’s missing” feeling.

Theme for an Imaginary Western has Dee Snider on vocals and Mike Portnoy drumming as only he can on the song that first appeared on Jack Bruce’s debut solo album, Songs for a Tailor in 1969, although the Mountain version is probably the best known. The outstanding performance here is from Dee Snider: his Twisted Sister snarl is kept in check and he delivers an exceptionally tasteful, respectful and emotional performance and the guitar solo by his bandmate, Eddie Ojeda and bassist Rudy Sarzo are brilliant too. For Yasgur’s Farm sees Joe Lynn Turner returning and the sensitive guitar of Tull man, Martin Barre. JLT’s AOR vocal credentials shine but don’t quite fit…to my ear at least. Barre, on the other hand does a great job. If Joe had done the song from As Phat as it Gets that he actually appeared on, it would have been a masterstroke in my humble.

The track in question is the shiver-inducing The Cell. (Altogether now, “My name is 86530-11, I live in cell 65”) Why Dontcha from the album of that name features Steve Morse and sometime Rainbow vocalist Ronnie Romero. Morse brings his usual effortless genius to bear and plays some clever phrases around the original melodies. Romero, as he does on the next track, delivers his Dio meets Coverdale vocals on point. Sittin’ On a Rainbow has Cars’ guitarist Elliot Easton on very fine form as he gives the riff a fresh feel while sticking with the essence…and a bouncy, irresistible song like this cannot fail.

Never in My Life sees Dee Snider reappearing but with the formidable George Lynch on guitar. Both do a very good job with this complex, gritty song. Romero’s back again alongside the exceptional Robby Krieger (yes, The Doors man) for Why Dontcha’s The Doctor. It works well and the slide guitar is a treat…as is the bass ‘soloing’. Silver Paper is the choice of Blackberry Smoke’s Charlie Starr and Mike DiMeo adding keyboards. This is a nice, faithful yet fresh reading of the original. From the Leslie West Band album comes the father and son interpretation of two songs: Money (Whatcha Gonna Do)/By the River is a neat medley featuring Randy and Tal Bachman. They interpret imaginatively and the segue is seamless and is perhaps the best track here because of this approach.

Next up on my copy, is a track that is apparently destined to be a Japanese bonus track…Long Red has Yngwe Malmsteen shredding the melody to within an inch of its life and Teddy Rondinelli doing a great job with the vocals. When Yngwe reins it in, it is very, very good but his incessant arpeggios get a bit wearing and detract a bit from the original.

The final, and I guess, the inevitable track is the now immortal Mississippi Queen. It keeps the cowbell and none other than Slash interprets the classic riff with his trademark attack whilst keeping the essence and Dirty Honey man, Marc Labelle does a fine job on the vocals. The guitar solo is clever, faithful but full of Slash. A word for the rhythm section of bassist Rev Jones and Bobby Rondinelli who provided the backing tracks for the guests to perform over: it is obvious that their time with Leslie meant they nailed every track perfectly and it’s worth listening to them both in isolation as they make most of these songs work.
Tribute albums are always difficult: if you love the originals, it is doubtful that these will replace those in your heart…I will choose the Leslie originals over these very worthy versions every time but, having said that, I will enjoy them when they appear on my shuffled playlists.

Leslie West: A Mountain amongst guitarists

Track listing: (‘main’ guest) – album source:
Blood of the Sun (feat. Zakk Wylde) – Mountain
Nantucket Sleighride (To Owen Coffin) (feat. Joe Lynn Turner, Marty Friedman) – Nantucket Sleighride
Theme for an Imaginary Western (feat. Dee Snider, Mike Portnoy) – Climbing!
For Yasgur’s Farm (feat. Joe Lynn Turner, Martin Barre) – Climbing!
Why Dontcha (feat. Steve Morse, Ronnie Romero – West, Bruce and Laing) – Why Dontcha
Sittin’ On a Rainbow (feat. Elliot Easton, Ronnie Romero) – Cimbing!
Never in My Life (feat. Dee Snider, George Lynch) – Climbing!
The Doctor (feat. Robby Krieger, Ronnie Romero) – Why Dontcha
Silver Paper (feat. Charlie Starr) – Climbing!
Money (Whatcha Gonna Do)/By the River – medley (feat. Randy Bachman & Tal Bachman) – Leslie West Band
Long Red (feat. Yngwie Malmsteen & Teddy Rondinelli) – Mountain
Mississippi Queen (feat. Slash, Marc Labelle) – Climbing!

(As iTunes lists this under ‘Leslie West’ and not ‘various’, I was treated to lots and lots of lovely Leslie before I let it run on to a little known bluesman called Lewis Black and his 1927 delight called Rock Island Blues…yes, it’s about a train, but not the better known Rock Island Line.)

Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below to subscribe to our newsletter

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.