Leslie West (born October 22, 1945) is an American rock guitarist, singer and songwriter. West was born Leslie Weinstein in New York City, and grew up across Long Island, in East Meadow, Forest Hills and Lawrence. After his parents divorced, he changed his surname to West. His musical career began with The Vagrants, an R&B/Blue-eyed soul-rock band influenced by the likes of The Rascals that was one of the few teenage garage rock acts to come out of Manhattan itself (as opposed to the Bohemian Greenwich Village scene of artists, poets and affiliates of the Beat Generation, which produced bands like The Fugs and The Velvet Underground). The Vagrants had two minor hits in the Eastern US - 1966’s “I Can’t Make a Friend” and a cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” the following year.
Some of the Vagrants’ recordings were produced by Felix Pappalardi, who was also working with Cream (he produced the seminal Disraeli Gears). In 1969, West and Pappalardi would form the pioneering hard rock act Mountain, also the title of West’s solo debut album. Initially, Mountain did not feature a keyboardist, but one was later added to the band to keep them from seeming like a Cream imitation.
The band’s original incarnation saw West and Pappalardi sharing vocal duties and playing guitar and bass, respectively, and Corky Laing on drums with keyboardist Steve Knight. They had success with “Mississippi Queen”, which reached Number 21 on the Billboard charts and Number Four in Canada. It was followed by the Jack Bruce-penned “Theme for an Imaginary Western”. Mountain made up one of the bands considered to be a forerunner of and predecessor to heavy metal music.
After the breakup of Mountain, West and Laing would produce two studio albums and a live release with Cream bassist Jack Bruce under the name West, Bruce and Laing. Mountain reformed in 1974 only to break up a few years later, but since 1985 has continued to tour and record.
West also recorded with The Who during the 1971 Who’s Next sessions on a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Baby Don’t You Do It”. Though the track was not originally included on the album, it appeared on the 1995 and 2003 reissues. He also contributes to the demos of what became one of the group’s signature songs, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.
West also played guitar for the track “Bo Diddley Jam” on Bo Diddley’s 1976 20th Anniversary of Rock ‘n’ Roll all-star album.
West contributed the music and co-wrote the lyrics to the song “Immortal” on Clutch’s 2001 album Pure Rock Fury, which was a reworked cover of the song “Baby I’m Down” on Leslie West’s first album.
In 2005 he contributed to Ozzy Osbourne’s Under Cover album, performing guitar on a remake of “Mississippi Queen”.
In addition to fronting Mountain, West continues to record and perform on his own. His latest solo album, entitled Blue Me, was released in 2006 on the Blues Bureau International label. In 2007 Mountain released Masters of War on Big Rack Records, an album featuring twelve Bob Dylan covers that sees Ozzy Osbourne providing guest vocals on a rendition of the title track.
West was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame on October 15, 2006.
On Unusual Suspects (2011), his latest solo release, the pioneering titan of blues rock demonstrates that his name still deserves a spot among the greats; his impact on blues rock guitar (and hard rock, for that matter) can be heard in bands that range from Gov’t Mule to Motorhead to Muse.
The most exciting aspect of Unusual Suspects is the appearances made by A-listers of the guitar world. Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society), Joe Bonamassa, and session maestro Steve Lukather, best known for his role in Toto, are a crushing company that helps authenticate West’s status as a guitar legend. Despite their smoking presence, West towers above. It is also extremely noteworthy that Kenny Aronoff is by West every step of the way. With possibly the most impressive resume of any working drummer, Aronoff continues to turn standard blues beats into flawless roaring beats that fit perfectly on Unusual Suspects.
When it comes to Unusual Suspects, there are no low points. If you drop the needle on any and every point of the album you are sure to witness heavy and fun displays of blues inspired rock. Of the tracks that brandish guest stars, there isn’t one that doesn’t demand an immediate listen.
With all of the respect and admiration of the guitar playing on this album, West never asks his guests to bow to him. They are there because West clearly respects them by trusting them to help his songs and by giving them their moment. The album comes full circle by the end as you realize that all of the talent, influence, mutual respect, and fun you just witnessed is the tangled behemoth that is Leslie West’s Unusual Suspects.