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Leslie West first gained recognition as the lead guitarist for the Vagrants, a locally popular 1960s Long Island group. One of that group’s singles was produced by Felix Pappalardi, a bass player who also produced Cream. After the Vagrants and Cream split up, Pappalardi played bass on and produced West’s debut solo album, Mountain (July 1969). Following its release, the two teamed up with drummer Norman Smart (soon replaced by Corky Laing) and keyboard player Steve Knight to form the band Mountain, which cut the albums Climbing! (February 1970; a gold-selling LP featuring the Top 40 single “Mississippi Queen”), Nantucket Sleighride (January 1971; which also went gold), and Flowers of Evil (November 1971). Mountain is one of the bands considered to be forerunners of heavy metal music.
West, along with keyboard player Al Kooper of Blood, Sweat & Tears, recorded with The Who during the March 1971 Who’s Next New York sessions. Tracks included a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Baby Don’t You Do It,” and early versions of “Love Ain’t For Keepin'” and The Who’s signature track “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Though the tracks were not originally included on the album (recording restarted in England a few months later without West or Kooper), they appear as bonus tracks on the 1995 and 2003 reissues of Who’s Next and on the 1998 reissue of Odds & Sods.
In 1972, Pappalardi left Mountain to return to being a producer. West and Laing joined with former Cream bassist Jack Bruce to form West, Bruce & Laing. The trio recorded two studio albums, Why Dontcha (October 1972) and Whatever Turns You On (July 1973). (A live album, Live ‘N’ Kickin’, was released in April 1974.)
Bedeviled by substance abuse problems, West retired from music for a time, then cleaned up and again re-formed Mountain with Laing and bassist Mark Clarke (Pappalardi had died in 1983) for Go for Your Life (March 1985). The group broke up again, and West made Theme (1988), again teaming with Jack Bruce. West then participated in the Guitar Speaks (1988) and Night of the Guitar (1989) recordings of legendary rock guitarists for IRS Records. His next solo album was Alligator (August 1989), followed by Dodgin’ the Dirt (1994).
In 1994, West and Laing teamed with ex-Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Noel Redding in another edition of Mountain, recording two tracks for the compilation Over the Top (1995). The solo As Phat as It Gets followed in 1999. After an album for Voiceprint, Guitarded, in 2004, West released two blues-inflected albums for Blues Bureau International, 2005’s Got Blooze and 2006’s Blue Me. West lost a leg due to complications from type 2 diabetes in June of 2011, but it didn’t slow him down much. He released Unusual Suspects, which featured guest spots from guitarists Billy Gibbons, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Joe Bonamassa, and Steve Lukather three months later in September, and two years later released Still Climbing.
Leslie has long been a popular personality on the Howard Stern Radio Show and was Musical Director for the shock jock’s FOX series, as well as for the late comedian Sam Kinison.
His new album, Soundcheck, was released in late 2015 to critical acclaim, and features appearances from Jack Bruce, Brian May, Peter Frampton, Bonnie Bramlett and Max Middleton.