Leslie West, the mammoth guitarist whose jingling guitar tones and gritty voice drove the rock band Mountain, died at the age of 75. His death was confirmed by Dean Guitars. His family later confirmed that he had died of a heart attack.
“With a heavy heart we are saddened by the death of #Dean Artist and part of the Dean family, Leslie West. Legendary and unique. Rest in peace. “Evan Rubinson, CEO of Dean Guitars, shared his personal condolences on Twitter, writing,” A man I really loved more than most – the funniest and most honest man I have met. “
West suffered cardiac arrest at his Florida home. He was taken to a hospital but never regained consciousness.
West will forever be known as the roaring voice behind the bar band classic Mississippi Queen, a cut from Mountain’s debut album. Years before Blue Oyster Cult made the cowbell a cultural joke, drummer Corky Laing of Mountain used the instrument to start the song. It became a staple of rock canon and has been used in countless movie and television shows over the years.
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West told Guitar Player magazine that the song “contains exactly what it takes to be a winner. You got the cowbell, the reef is damn good and it sounds amazing. It feels like it is about to jump out of your car radio. To me it sounds like a big, fat milkshake. It’s rich and chocolatey. Who doesn’t love this “
But West was more than a song. He was considered one of the best guitarists at a time when Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page were created. His talent overshadowed a physical appearance different from the usual skinny rocker of the era, and West’s frizzy hair and imposing presence matched a sometimes graceful, melodic style of play that earned him a wide following.
West was born Leslie Weinstein in New York in October 1945 and began his career as a member of the Vagrants, a blue-eyed soul band in the mid-1960s. The group had two minor hits, I Can’t Make a Friend and a cover of Otis Reddings Respect, which was soon eclipsed by Aretha Franklin’s version.
Cream producer and bassist Felix Pappalardi West when he was producing the Vagrants, and the two soon formed the band jokingly named for West’s greatness.
Mountain performed at the Woodstock Festival on the second day between Canned Heat and the Grateful Dead. That put her straight into the pantheon of big rock acts and cemented West as a first-rate guitar superstar.
West struggled with health problems and a heroin habit over the years, but kept working and even started a small acting career. His legend grew over time, and his 2011 album The Unusual Suspects included contributions from Slash, Billy Gibbons and Zakk Wylde. His last album, Soundcheck, featured Peter Frampton.
West is survived by his wife Jenni Maurer, whom he married on stage in 2009 at a Woodstock 40th anniversary concert.