Personalities | Leslie West | Mountain Maestro | Guitar Heroes

A pioneering hard-rock guitarist with a tone as big as his waistline, Leslie West (b. 1945) is one of the most underrated guitar heroes in rock history.

Best known as the leader of the hard-rock trio Mountain, which was named by VH1 as one of the Top 100 Hard Rock Bands of All Time, West’s monster guitar sound was made immortal on the group’s timeless hit ‘Mississippi Queen’.

Born in New York City, West first made a name for himself in the mid-1960s with The Vagrants, an East-Coast powerhouse band that had a minor hit with a cover of Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’ in 1967. After leaving The Vagrants, West teamed up with bassist Felix Pappalardi, who also produced The Vagrants and Cream, and his debut album, Mountain, was released in 1969. Soon after, they recruited drummer Corky Laing to complete the band and called themselves Mountain, a name reportedly referring to West’s rather rotund figure. The group debuted at the Fillmore in 1969 and went on to play at the Woodstock festival. Although Mountain’s existence was relatively brief, the band racked up two gold albums and a handful of hit singles, including ‘Never In My Life’, ‘Theme From An Imaginary Western’ and, of course, ‘Mississippi Queen’.

It’s rare that a single song can launch an enduring legacy, but that’s exactly what the giant riff and fat intro solo to ‘Mississippi Queen’ did for West. He possessed a rare gift of a signature guitar sound that would influence a new generation of rock guitar icons, including Michael Schenker, Richie Sambora and even tone-god Eddie Van Halen. Key to his monster tone, aside from his special touch, was the Gibson Les Paul Jr, which he paired with Sunn amplifiers. Though West these days favours his Dean Soltero signature-model guitar along with Marshall amplifiers to churn out fat blues lines for his solo works (Got Blooze, 2005; Blue Me, 2006; Unusual Suspects, 2011; Still Climbing, 2013), his greatest legacy is that magical guitar tone of 1970 that set the standard for hard rock and heavy metal to come.

Essential Recordings

Solo: Mountain

Mountain: Climbing

Mountain: Nantucket Sleighride

West, Bruce & Laing: Why Dontcha

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