Leslie West, pioneering hard rock musician who fronted Mountain, dies at 75

A hero of heavy rock.

Leslie West onstage

Image: Bill Tompkins / Getty

Leslie West, frontman of the pioneering hard rock band Mountain, has died. A statement issued by West’s management confirmed the cause of death as cardiac arrest. He was 75.

“From 1964 through today, few artists have left a more significant mark on music as we know it,” the statement read. “Guitarists across the globe together will unite in sadness as The World says goodbye to a true original.”

West was a formidable guitar player whose raw approach to the instrument has inspired scores of players including Van Halen and Randy Rhoads. He was also known for his songwriting sensibilities which allowed him to pen heavy rock songs with immense heart and soul.

His work with Mountain bridged the gap between the blues-based hard rock of the late 60s and the emerging metal acts of the 70s, such as Judas Priest. The band’s roaring hit, Mississippi Queen released in 1970, was their breakthrough track and most successful single.

Before forming Mountain, West was a member of the blue-eyed soul group The Vagrants, which enjoyed two minor hits, I Can’t Make a Friend and a cover of Respect by Otis Redding.

Finding great inspiration in the blues rock stylings of Cream, West left Long Island’s R&B scene in search of heavier pastures. In 1969, after linking up with bassist Felix Pappalardi (who produced Cream’s second album, Disraeli Gears), drummer Corky Laing and keyboardist Steve Knight, Mountain were formed.

That same year, the band delivered an intense and acclaimed performance at Woodstock; the gig was only the band’s fourth, yet hundreds of thousands attended.

Mountain’s music also had an impact on hip-hop. Jay-Z and Kanye West sampled the drums from the live take of the song Long Red, while The Beastie Boys sampled Mississippi Queen on their 1989 album Paul’s Boutique.

Decades after the band’s early days, West spoke about the passion he still felt for doing things his way.

“I’ve noticed a lot of guys from the 70s are now trying to play stuff that they never played in the first place, and their credibility goes out the window,” he told The LA Times in a 1990 interview. “I’m not having to force anything or pretend.

“I just do what comes naturally.”

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