Leslie West: The Immovable Mountain (22nd October 1945 – 22nd December 2020)

WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATES - 2007/07/30: Leslie West(guitar, vocals) and Corky Laing (drums) of Mountain, perform during Hippifest in Vienna, Virginia. (Photo by Stephen J. Boitano/LightRocket via Getty Images)

We thought we were on the home straight, but yet again, 2020 had one more kick in the knackers for music fans when Leslie West, the monumental guitarist and vocalist of Mountain passed away at the age of 75 following heart failure.

                For regular readers of these anecdotes, they usually begin with a story regarding a birthday or Christmas and receiving an album from my uncle. However, this story begins with my mother (of all people) regaling me of Knebworth 1985 and in amongst stories of it being wetter than an otter’s pocket, quagmires of mud, Deep Purple’s quadrophonic sound and Meat Loaf having a broken leg and getting bottles of piss launched at him, there was this band called Mountain. In the modern rock and metal world, Mountain are often forgotten in the mists of time of the 60’s and 70’s; so, to have Mountain play at one of the UK’s then premier music festival was relatively strange, but as a young teenager, I decided to hoover up everything that I could to do with this newly discovered band. Saving every scrap of money, I ventured down to the local music place and grabbed myself a copy of ‘Climbing!’ and ‘Nantucket Sleighride’ and trotted home.

This was heavy blues, hard rock, proto-metal; whatever you want to call, Mountain played it. Along with Corky Laing and Felix Pappalardi, Leslie West took the blueprint that Cream had laid down to the next level. West had a colossal guitar sound that made tracks such as ‘Mississippi Queen’, ‘Crossroader’ and the monstrous ‘Nantucket Sleighride’ which was often stretched to monumental proportions during live shows, as something to behold. Yet, the fact of the matter is this, Mountain may have been born from the British Blues Invasion of America, but Leslie West engineered it into something else; the man took it beyond and laid the foundations for what was to come Stateside with the likes of Grand Funk Railroad, Amboy Dukes, Cactus, Montrose and James Gang all owing Leslie West a huge debt. However, for West, it was not all about living in the past, Mountain became accessible to the digital generation in 2007 with the release of ‘Guitar Hero’ and ‘Rock Band’ turning many young rock and metal fans onto Mountain’s massive sound and in particular, West’s blistering blues guitar causing many of these young people to graduate from thjeir plastic bedroom guitars and onto the real thing, cranking their guitars up to 11 and playing that sweet, short and rockin’ riff to ‘Mississippi Queen’. Not only that, but drummers also got the bug and were influenced from ‘Rock Band’ getting to join in the fun by adding “more cowbell” to drumbeat behind that famous riff.

                The death of Leslie West is a monumental loss to the rock music scene, the man was a pioneer that never quite got the accolades he truly deserved in life, but his music will live on as a testament to the career that West forged. It is at this very sombre moment that we are reminded that although life is short and finite, mountains are forever; so raise a toast and crank them tunes because Heaven just got a fuck ton louder!

Leslie West (1945-2020)

Adam McCann