Jeff Beck once described Mountain’s Leslie West as “the greatest living guitarist in the world”. Kiss’s Paul Stanley said that “Leslie’s tone could stop a rhino in full charge.” He jammed with Jimi Hendrix, was invited to join the Rolling Stones and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and was hired by The Who to play on Who’s Next.
“I wanted a guitar sound that sounded like three guitars,” he said of the Mountain sound – a thunderous sound that the likes of Kyuss and Monster Magnet would dig up and run with 20 years later.
Mountain bassist Felix Pappalardi was a wild card. With a background in the Greenwich Village folk scene (and credits on records by the likes of Fred Neil, Tom Paxton and Buffy Sainte-Marie) he produced Cream’s albums from Disraeli Gears onwards. Drummer Corky Laing remembers Felix and his wife Gail as “a brilliant, creative team” to begin with, but things got dark and stories abound of drugs, bullying, and domestic abuse (“Felix was not a big guy, and Gail would beat the shit out of him”).
One time Felix shot up the walls of their house after hearing continuous buzzing. “Turns out that the contractors on the house had stuffed hornets’ nests between the walls after Gail refused to pay a bill,” remember Leslie West. “So Felix was trying to shoot hornets.” It ended in tragedy. Pappalardi was shot and killed by his wife Gail on 17 April 1983.
The craziness was in his sound. Felix played both a Gibson EB-1 and EB-0 bass and he wielded them like weapons. "I think my wattage is dangerous," he said in interview in 1971. "I've got so much of it and the bass is souped up. The amps were experimental Hendrix [Sunn] amps that he originally used. I don`t know how I ended up getting them. Our guys have done some work on them and I've got a very powerful instrument, the pick-up itself is very powerful and my basic sound is always wide open on the amp. My amp's always on 10, bass is completely off and treble is always full. All the dynamics are being done from my bass, so I'm playing what I'd guess you'd call completely distorted all the time, but it's distorted with tone."
On 24 February, 1970, Mountain appeared on The Show, a kids show made by public broadcasters WITF-TV in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The performance is fierce. Laing batters his kit. Pappalardi murderizes his bass. West loads up both barrels with rhino-stopping tone. Only keyboard player Steve Knight looks like he’s remembered that he’s on a kids show. (In fact, he looks like he's in a different band altogether.)
It is heavy. It is overdriven. It is brutal. And with remastered audio, it’ll blow your socks off.
The clip is also notable for its comments. The poster comments that “All stoner and doom bands are foam in the wake of Mountain!” and then adds: "This video includes many of my personal interests: Les Paul Jrs, P-90s (especially those late 60s dog-ear output monsters), Leslie West, stacks of amplifiers that pose multiple fatality risks, teenagers that have no idea what they are witnessing, Bolivian marching powder…The 20th Century was wild."
One commenter remembers buying a Gibson Les Paul Junior after seeing West’s. “He was not getting that tone from any pedals back then,” he stresses. “He was getting it by plugging directly into Sunn Coliseum PA heads. But, more importantly, tone is in the hands. I learned this the hard way.”
He bought himself a Junior. “It was this ugly brown mess,” he says, “more of an electric turd than a guitar. But I got a good deal on it, and it had all the original electronics, which is all I cared about. I wasn't going to enter it in any beauty contests. I plugged it into my newly acquired (used) 100-watt Marshall, which isn't far in tonal capabilities from the Sunns, and thought I could make noise like Leslie. Of course, that didn't happen…”
(There's a better-quality version of the video below but the audio is a little lame and the comments just can't compete…)