Photo by Justin Borucki
Leslie West, who led Mountain to fame on the original Woodstock stage, is back with a new album, Soundcheck, out on November 20. Despite health setbacks in recent years, West’s girthy guitar tone and roaring, soul-fired voice are intact. That’s obvious on this scalding take on Don Nix’s song “Going Down,” which was popularized by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Freddie King, one of West’s many blues heroes. The tune was also recorded by Jeff Beck on 1972’s Jeff Beck Group album, and was a springboard for some serious jamming between Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughan on their 1989 double-bill concert tour.
And speaking of Beck’s version, ex-Jeff Beck Group keyboardist Max Middleton reprises his role on West’s howling new take on the song, and is joined by two other distinguished guests, Queen’s guitarist Brian May—who dives in on the second solo and plays through the cut’s end—and singer Bonnie Bramlett of Delaney & Bonnie fame, who harmonizes with West.
“I’ve been playing this song onstage for a long time, slow and quiet,” West explains, “and then I build up the volume and use the volume knob to create violin-like swells. I love the way my bass player Rev [Jones] plays it with me, so I wanted to get it on the album. Incredible words. Also, Jeff Beck had done such a great version of the song, so I took the opportunity to play some different melodies over the chord progression.”
West revisits Beck’s soul-blues catalog a second time on Soundcheck, recording a version of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” which Beck recorded with guest vocalist Rod Stewart in 1985. West superbly handles both roles for his new rendition. Other guests on Soundcheck include Peter Frampton and the late Jack Bruce. The latter is featured in a live recording of the Willie Dixon/Cream classic “Spoonful” that he and West performed in 1988, when Bruce appeared on West’s Theme solo album.
Soundcheck is West’s 16th solo album, in addition to his catalog with Mountain—which includes such influential tracks as “Mississippi Queen,” “Nantucket Sleighride,” and “Theme For an Imaginary Western”—and West, Bruce and Laing.