Leslie West, the burly musician with a distinct guitar sound, gravelly voice and big personality, passed away today in Florida from cardiac arrest. He was 75 and had been in ill health, including losing a leg due to diabetes complications while on tour in 2011.
Born Leslie Weinstein in New York City, West gained notoriety in the city’s music scene as a member of the Vagrants before forming Mountain with Felix Pappalardi in the late ‘60s. Adding drummer Corky Laing solidified their heavy sound. Driven by West’s aggressive guitar playing and signature vibrato accents, the band achieved worldwide success with rock radio staples “Mississippi Queen,” “Nantucket Sleighride” and “Theme From An Imaginary Western.”
West was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2006. Norm Prusslin, co-founder of the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (LIMHOF), said:
“He’s been a great friend to LIMHoF and participated in our May ’20 TV broadcast with fellow inductees supporting the United Way of LI health care workers program. He brought Long Island attitude to the world! Mountain’s performance at our inaugural induction/gala in ’06 kicked off the night with a high-level dose of classic Mountain. Leslie, Corky and bassist Richie Scarlett appeared as the curtain rose after a short video montage underscored by…the cowbell and 1,110 people were taken on a ‘Long Island Sleighride”…”
Prusslin and Ernie Canadeo, Long Island Music Hall of Fame Chairman, announced plans to dedicate their upcoming December 31 show to West.
The guitarist is renowned for helping popularize the Gibson Les Paul Jr. model with P-90 pick-ups to create a tone that is undisputedly his own. More recently, West enjoyed a long relationship with Dean Guitars, releasing several signature models.
He went on to form the trio West, Bruce and Laing with Mountain drummer Corky Laing and Cream’s Jack Bruce. He was also a regular guest on the Howard Stern Show, and enjoyed a decades-long friendship with the talk show host.
Leslie West is survived by his wife Jenni, whom he married on stage after Mountain’s performance at the Woodstock 40th Anniversary concert in Bethel, NY on August 15, 2009, his brother Larry and nephew Max.
Other artists and industry veterans also reacted to the news:
Leslie West God I loved that tone. It just HAD to be in the guitar! When I finally got a Les Paul Jr myself I was just…Posted by Dan Baird on Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Dean Guitars CEO Evan Rubinson:
Eddie Trunk (host of That Metal Show):
RIP Leslie West. A massive guitar influence on so many & always a blast to speak with. I knew him well. We had Leslie as the announcer on @ThatMetalShow a few seasons. He also gave me this awesome guitar. RIP to a legend & friend who will be missed. pic.twitter.com/h11n69QXz7— Eddie Trunk (@EddieTrunk) December 23, 2020
R.I.P. Leslie West. We had some great times together onstage and some legendary laughs everyday on tour. Thank you for all the great music. My deepest condolences to the West family. @lwestmountain pic.twitter.com/7zDljGMRk1— Joe Satriani (@chickenfootjoe) December 23, 2020
Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath):
Sad to hear of Leslie West’s passing. Such a lovely bloke. He was fantastic to us when Sabbath supported Mountain on our first US tour. He came to see us at Mohegan Sun, even though he was wheelchair bound. Mississippi Queen one of, if not the, greatest riff of all time. RIP pic.twitter.com/DZ3FLWeGpQ— Geezer Butler (@geezerbutler) December 23, 2020
Leslie West has moved on to go jam with EVH. As a fellow Queens N. Y. kid Leslie was our guy. From the days playing the Action House in Long Island with the Vagrants, Leslie was the best of the best. Do yourself a favor… take a trip back to 1971….. https://t.co/QRgVzfRHQo pic.twitter.com/bWERIjMqny— Steve Stevens (@Stevestevens) December 23, 2020