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Leslie West Discusses the Roots of Mountain in 1987 Guitar World Interview

Leslie West Discusses the Roots of Mountain in 1987 Guitar World Interview

"You gotta have the Junior to do 'em right, because of the single pickup - -see the way the string can bend down when you hit 'em? lf there was a neck pickup it'd be in the way. You bury the pick with your thumb and you have all the room you need. And the tone -- well, it was fat just like me, right? It was just two Sunn stacks with the Colisseum PA heads. They were Hendrix' old amps, re-tolexed and re-coned. See, the PA heads had those four inputs and a master volume, which started the distortion thing for me: I'd turn the mic volume all the way up and the master all the way up, and overdrive the thing like crazy."

After a debut gig at the Fillmore East -- not a bad venue for a band nobody had seen before -- he got to overdrive the thing at one of the biggest gigs ever.

"Woodstock was 17 years ago now – can you believe that?" he muses. "Man, I was so nervous that night. I remember getting in the helicopter -- we had to rent our own helicopter to get up there, with the traffic and all -- and the helicopter pilot was a wise guy, man; said he wouldn't take all of us at once 'cause I was too heavy [laughs ].

“We were getting five grand for it, which was incredible money for your third gig in '69. Our agent was Hendrix' agent too, Ron Terry; they were hiding Hendrix at Woodstock because whoever was seen went on. They told me to hide, and naturally I found where the bagels were -- they had bagels, believe it or not, except that Janis Joplin ate 'em all, so there were none left [laughs].

“Anyway, they grabbed us and we went on; Hendrix wound up closing the show and there was nobody there -- it was a damn shame, 'cause he played great."

As West got to observe close up on occasion: "I played with him the night before he died. We met at a club called Ungano's, then jumped into his limousine, went to Mountain's loft, got some Marshalls, came back to Ungano's and played until three in the morning. He played bass, and this idiot from the East Village Other [an underground newspaper of the time] who reviewed the thing complained that I played louder than Hendrix -- he didn't even see Hendrix was playing bass.

“Next day, I went to Detroit, he went to England; pulled into the Sheraton Cadillac in Detroit and the lady there said, 'Another one of you longhaired freaks kicked the bucket, black guy.' Felix and I looked at each other and knew who it was.

"Y'know, Jimi was working on Band Of Gypsys at the Record Plant when we were finishing Mountain Climbing, and he was the first guy to hear it mixed. There's a little stop in the beginning of the lick for that tune, like a horn thing, that he really liked. I've thought about it sometimes: with all the locking nuts and tremolo bars now, I don't think he'd be sounding good with 'em, 'cause his whole thing was stretching the damn strings back into tune."

For the two-and-a-half years or so after Jimi's death, Mountain burned up road and studio alike, until bassist/producer Pappalardi pulled a move of his own. "He told everyone he was deaf," is how West tells it, "and that he had to go into the hospital, but it was for drug withdrawal, really.

“So he wasn't able to go on the road any more and Corky and I weren't gonna stop; it came down to 'Who am I gonna ask?' I had two choices: I was gonna ask Joe Cocker for a bass player and a keyboard player, or else ask Jack Bruce and have one guy who could do the whole trip. He was the greatest, man.


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