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August Issue
more... ArtistsJune 2008Leslie West

Hail to the Mountain King: an interview with Leslie West

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Now in his early sixties, a diabetes and cancer survivor who also experienced firsthand the substance abuse that killed some of his contemporaries and friends, West is enjoying a prolific and revitalized career. Mountain’s latest recording, Masters of War, is a collection of Dylan covers arranged in the West tradition. He also has a pending amp endorsement, handsome royalties and platinum records, the result of Kanye West and Jay-Z’s use of samples from his tunes “Dreams of Milk & Honey” and “Long Red.” Best of all, West has a hot new signature guitar, the Dean Leslie West model.

Hail to the Mountain King: an interview with Leslie West


Now in his early sixties, a diabetes and cancer survivor who also experienced firsthand the substance abuse that killed some of his contemporaries and friends, West is enjoying a prolific and revitalized career. Mountain’s latest recording, Masters of War, is a collection of Dylan covers arranged in the West tradition. He also has a pending amp endorsement, handsome royalties and platinum records, the result of Kanye West and Jay-Z’s use of samples from his tunes “Dreams of Milk & Honey” and “Long Red.” Best of all, West has a hot new signature guitar, the Dean Leslie West model.

West’s style combines his famously saturated tone with clean technique and execution. He couples that with taste, effective use of light and shade, dynamics, drama, and melodic licks that go straight to the heart. Never a speed demon, West has always known how to make just a few notes count. Mix that with a rough-assandpaper- and-cigarettes voice that has improved over the years and you have a lethal combination.

Hail to the Mountain King: an interview with Leslie West
“I have a Planet Waves tuner, a Morley A/B box, a Zoom 9000, a Boss Blues Driver, a Fulltone OCD box, a TS-9 Tube Screamer, a Boss Chorus and a Line 6 delay.”
Armed with a vintage Les Paul Junior, his soloing on Mountain’s classic “Theme For An Imaginary Western,” is a perfect example of West’s ability to galvanize human emotion. Despite an outwardly tough exterior and streetwise Noo-Yawk attitude, West clearly wears his heart on his sleeve. Radio shock jock Howard Stern, who befriended West in the nineties and often featured him on his radio show, publicly admitted that West’s solos on “Theme” brought him to tears as a teenager, a confession to which this journalist can easily understand. And yet, West can rock your socks with thunderous, bluesy riffs on tracks like “Everything Is Broken,” “Never In My Life” and “Serve Somebody.” At the same time, he’ll make you think long and hard about the United States’ protracted involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan with a sensitive rendition of “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

Born Leslie Weinstein in Forest Hills, Queens, New York, West quit school after his parents’z divorce, worked for a jeweler in the diamond district of Manhattan and spent his lunch hours staring at guitars in the store windows of Manny’s Music and We Buy Guitars, two famous music shops on 48th Street – New York City’s Music Row. With his bassist brother Larry and some friends from Queens, West put together the Vagrants, a blue-eyed rock and soul garage band that became a huge local attraction but failed to score a hit record, despite a few valiant attempts. There’s currently an old film clip of the Vagrants, circa 1965, lip-synching their first single, “Oh, Those Eyes,” on YouTube. A young Leslie stands to the right, playing a Danelectro model 7020 Bellzouki 12-string.

Hail to the Mountain King: an interview with Leslie West
Felix Pappalardi & Leslie
After recording his first solo album entitled Mountain, West formed a band of the same name with bassist/vocalist/producer Felix Pappalardi and enjoyed great success for several years until a culmination of factors broke the band up. A short stint as a member of West, Bruce & Laing and a solo career followed, along with a period of relative inactivity, before a 1990s resurgence that continues to this day. But enough of this; let’s talk guitars, tone and more with Leslie West.

Tell us about your new signature guitar.

Dean Zelinsky called and said he wanted to do a signature guitar for me. I’ve never really had a signature guitar and I didn’t want to put my name on a model that was already out there, like the “Leslie West Les Paul Junior” by Gibson. I wanted something new. Dean sent me a prototype and we went back and forth a few times and came up with the Leslie West Signature guitar, which is basically an update of the Les Paul Junior. I think Dean did a hell of a job.

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