HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: November 2013. We had the pleasure to talk with one of the greatest guitarists of all time: Leslie West. Leslie has a highly influential career as guitarist/singer of Mountain, West Bruce & Laing and as a solo artist as well. He performed at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, he jammed with Jimi Hendrix, he took part in The Who’s “Who’s Next” sessions and he has also played over the years with Ozzy Osbourne, Eddie Van Halen, Slash, Steve Lukather (Toto) and many others. He just released his new solo album called “Still Climbing” with Mark Tremonti (Alter Bridge), Johnny Winter, Jonny Lang and Dee Snider (Twister Sister) as special guests. Read below the very interesting things he told us:
“Still Climbing” has just been released. How the feedback has been so far?
The response for “Still Climbing” was wonderful, very wonderful. I’m very happy and entirely surprised. Everybody seems to think it’s good.
“Still Climbing” is heavier and more aggressive album than “Unusual Suspects”.
Yes, it’s much heavier and raw. We have some great new songs and some great players: Jonny Lang, Johnny Winter and Mark Tremonti (Alter Bridge). This album is an extension of “Unusual Suspects”. It’s the next step of “Unusual Suspects”.
The heavier sound of “Still Climbing” was a conscious decision or it happened spontaneously?
Well, I don’t know. It’s just the sound of these songs. I hope it sounded better, I don’t know about aggressive, but the soundboard sound it’s much better on this album. Mike Fraser, who mixed it –he mixed AC/DC, Metallica and Aerosmith- really helped with the sound. I produced it with Mike Goldberg, Mike Fraser mixed the album.
Will you tour for “Still Climbing” album?
I will do a show in New York City in a few days. Hopefully, during next year I can do more shows since as you know, two years ago I had my right leg amputated because of diabetes. Right know, we are looking higher and see whether we are getting around the world or not.
You have Mark Tremonti (Alter Bridge), Johnny Winter, Jonny Lang and Dee Snider (Twister Sister) as guests in “Still Climbing”. What different did their contribution bring to the album?
They contributed to the album and it really worked out very well. They played really well. Mark Tremonti on “Dyin’ Since the Day I Was Born”, Jonny Lang on “When A Man Loves A Woman” (Percy Sledge cover), Dee Snider on “Feeling Good” and Johnny Winter on “Busted, Disgusted or Dead”.
Why your good friend Slash didn’t participate in the album?
He is a good friend of mine. He played on the last album (ed: “Unusual Suspects). I wanted his opinion when I sent him “Dyin’ Since the Day I Was Born” and he sent to me: “Man, you can’t get any heavier than that”. He really liked it. He had his own album to do, so..
Is there any statement or any basic idea behind “Still Climbing” album? Do you want to tell to the people that you are still rocking?
Yes, you are right. I want to show here I have been in my first album (ed:“Mountain” by Leslie West) in 1969 when I first played, the year that Man went to the Moon. That’s why on my new album “Still Climbing”, on the cover there is the rocketship. I put the rocketship which was landed in the Moon, as a tribute to the men who first landed in the Moon in 1969.
Are you proud of the classic status that Mountain’s “Climbing!” album has until today?
Yes, I love “Mountain Climbing!” very much.
How important was the role of Felix Pappalardi (bassist/producer) in Mountain?
He was very important in Mountain and unfortunately he was killed by his wife. It’s very sad. Maybe he’s looking down and he’s happy with what I am doing.
Do you have any clear memories from Woodstock?
It was one of the first two shows that we did as a group. We were very happy to be on that show. I think we went on that show because of Jimi Hendrix. His agent booked us on that show as well. Jimi Hendrix and his agent used to come as guests on my shows, so this made the show very special.
Did you enjoy the West, Bruce & Laing period of your life?
Yes, I loved West, Bruce & Laing. I loved playing with Jack Bruce (Cream), one of the greatest bass players and singers of all time.
When did you first realise your talent on guitar, that you are not the average guitar player?
Uh, I don’t know. I’m still not recognizing my talent (laughs)! I can play guitar and I’m very happy to keep rocking and keep going as much as I can.
Once you received that strangest birthday present ever: John Lennon himself!! How did it happen?
Oh yeah, it was on a birthday party!! I don’t know how it happened. I think my drummer, Corky Laing (Mountain), had arranged it as a very nice birthday present. I ‘m still friend with May Pang who was John Lennon’s girlfriend at the time. I still see her quite a bit.
She’s now married to Tony Visconti (David Bowie, Lou Reed, T. Rex, Thin Lizzy producer)!!
Yes, she’s married to Tony Visconti, the great producer. Great producer indeed!!
You had the opportunity to jam with Jimi Hendrix a few times. How was Jimi Hendrix on stage and off stage?
Very quiet off stage, very good on stage. He was very quiet off stage. Wonderful, great talent. Probably the best ever.
Do you have an explanation why Jimi Hendrix always played the bass when you were jamming together?
Yes, he played the bass when he was with me on stage. This happened because he came quick and borrowed one of Felix’s basses and he turned it upside down playing leftie. Jimi Hendrix was a left-handed guitar player.
There is a photo of Keith Moon (The Who drummer) kissing you. Is there any crazy Keith Moon story behind this photo?
Yeah, it’s a very crazy one!!! He just walked up and gave me a kiss (laughs). Look on my face, I’m very shocked.
Can you tell us a few words about your good friend Levon Helm (The Band drummer/singer) who passed away some time ago?
Yes, Levon was a very close friend of mine. It’s very sad that he died. He was on my wedding on the 40-year anniversary reunion of Woodstock (ed: in 2009).
You tried to form a supergroup with Corky Laing (Mountain drummer), Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company singer), Mick Ralphs (Bad Company, Mott the Hoople guitarist) and Overend Watts (Mott the Hoople bassist). Why it didn’t happen?
Because Jack Bruce came up and we got on very well. We played with Jack Bruce and started West, Bruce & Laing.
Is there anyone you would like to play with and hasn’t happened yet?
Yes, Eric Clapton. I would love to play with him one day.
By the way, have you ever played with Steve Winwood (Traffic, Blind Faith)?
I have played with Traffic, but I have not played personally with Steve Winwood. No.
You have played with almost everyone (Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Eddie Van Halen, Slash) and also you have watched everyone playing live. Who was the most talented person that you ‘ve seen in your life?
Most talented? Jack Bruce.
Would you like to tell to our readers the story with Mick Jagger and David Bowie knocking your door one night without expecting them?
One night I opened my door in New York, I met Mick Jagger and he brought David Bowie to my house. We had a good time, a lot of drugs and had Mick Jagger playing rhythm guitar on one of my albums (ed: “The Great Fatsby”-1975).
John McLaughlin told me that he is a big fan of yours since 1971, when he opened the Mountain concerts. Are you flattered when so great musicians admire your work?
Yes, I ‘m so flattered and very humble when people like that admire my work.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Leslie West for his time and the great answers.
Official Leslie West website: http://lesliewestofficial.com
Official Leslie West Facebook page: www.facebook.com/lesliewestmountain