Guitarist Leslie West, heavy metal pioneer and Mountain frontman, has died at age 75. With hits including “Mississippi Queen” and “Theme From An Imaginary Western,” West established an indelible voice and guitar tone that remains legendary to this day. A press release reports the cause of death to be cardiac arrest.
West was born Leslie Weinstein in Queens, and attended Forest Hills High School, which was also attended by The Ramones, Burt Bacharach and Paul Simon. West first emerged on the scene as a member of The Vagrant, and a few years later he and Felix Pappalardi formed Mountain. The iconic guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and storyteller leaves a legacy that is celebrated by peers and fans across the world.
Mountain was one of the performers at the original Woodstock in August, 1969, and later formed West, Bruce and Laing with Mountain drummer Corky Laing and Cream’s Jack Bruce. In, 1971 West contributed to The Who’s Who’s Next sessions in NYC, performances that can be heard on the album’s 1995 and 2003 reissues.
Alongside his significant contribution to pop culture as the face of Mountain, West appeared in films Family Honor (1973) and The Money Pit (1986). He was a regular guest on the Howard Stern Show, and over the course of decades remained a periodic visitor alongside enjoying a decades-long friendship with the talk show host.
West was inducted in to the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2006, and appeared on dozens of other recordings from a vast universe of artists. Samples of his performances lived a secondary life on the masters of a who’s who of hip-hop and rap stars.
The guitarist is renowned for helping popularize the Gibson Les Paul Jr. model with P-90 pick-ups to create a tone that is undisputedly his own. More recently, he enjoyed a long relationship with Dean Guitars, releasing several signature models.
Leslie West is survived by his wife Jenni, whom he married on stage after Mountain’s performance at the Woodstock 40th Anniversary concert in Bethel, NY on August 15, 2009. He is also survived by his brother Larry and nephew Max.
From 1964 through today, few artists have left a more significant mark on music as we know it. Guitarists across the globe together will unite in sadness as the world says goodbye to a true original.