Leslie West – Mountain

Big loud brash debut by hard-rock pioneer

After several years as a member of The Vagrants, a rock, blue-eyed soul band from Long Island, guitarist Leslie West decided that the time was right to form his own outfit. And so in 1969, with Rock Producer Felix Pappalardi (bass, keyboards), ND Smart (drums) and help from Norman Landsberg (Hammond organ), West’s solo debut Mountain was recorded (not to be confused with the band of the same name just a year later), an album fraught with heavy-rock riffs, psychedelic pondering, and pounding instrumentation (think Ian Gillan era Deep Purple).

Though despite such hard-rock tendencies (opener “Blood Of The Sun” and “Southbound Train”) the record has its fair share of tender, more reflective moments (the contemplative “Long Red” and the jaunty “Storyteller Man” in particular). But it’s the heavier material which unsurprisingly dominates.

On the bluesy Cream-sounding “Blind Man,” West’s gruff, coal-power-fired vocals are put to fine affect, as they are on every other track here. Another cut, “Baby, I’m Down,” betrays West’s debt to Eric Clapton, like an American East Coast equivalent to Cream.

“Dreams Of Milk And Honey” is so reminiscent of solo Jack Bruce, that it isn’t surprising that both he and West would go on to form a supergroup of their own in later years (West, Bruce & Laing). Bob Dylan gets an airing via a unique hard-rock interpretation of “This Wheels On Fire,” one guaranteed to get every late ‘60s teenage male reaching for the nearest tennis racket, while “Look To The Wind” is Beatles meets Black Sabbath, the former thanks to some trippy string arrangements which fortunately compliment rather than dominate the other musicians.

The blistering blues of “Southbound Train” (why are trains always southband in these songs?) has Leslie, Felix and Smart turn up the tempo (as well as the amps), before turning things down on the gentle, folkish “Because You Are My Friend,” and is a lovely clement way to conclude what is an exceptional document indeed.

For fans of Cream, Black Sabbath, and other late ‘60s, early ‘70s hard-rock pioneers, Mountain is another important piece of that era’s musical puzzle, and an album that would quietly prove to be quite influential in the decades that followed. Leslie West may not have been too far ahead of his time, in the way Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Tony Iommi, Ritchie Blackmore and Randy California were (there are plenty more names to add to the list to be sure), however West had a style and tone all his own, and when it came to ‘let’s crank this mother up and roar it out,’ few other guitarists of the period could match him.