By Lorraine Kay
People seem to forget that some of the best blues and rock and roll was created by what are today’s seniors. Any one of the greats that you can think of is easily over 60, Paul McCartney, Bo Diddley, Mick Jagger, Aretha Franklin or Frankie Avalon. For anyone that has ever been a blues fan, one guitar player stands out from all the rest, Leslie West. There are a lot of great blues guitarists, but even at 60 years old, West still has a unique style all his own, that is raw and full of guts. And he proves it again with his latest Blues release, Got Blooze on Shrapnel Records.
The entire CD is a treat with covers of 12 classic hits by everyone from Willie Dixon to Elvis Presley. His vocals on this are pure blues with all the pain and misery that makes the blues the blues. And no, it ain’t pretty but if it’s pretty, it ain’t the blues.
West earned his reputation as a great player as the lead singer and guitarist for the explosive hard rock trio Mountain in the late 60s and 70s. But even before the gig at Woodstock, West was making the rounds with his band “Vagrant” and as a blues soloist. He is by far one of the most innovative and influential musicians in the history of rock music. There are many clones, but few who have a voice of their own. When West hits a note, you know it’s him and that’s what makes him one of a kind.
His bold, expressive and unique guitar style is really a mirror of his own personality. “I tried to develop my vibrato. The tone of the guitar is the most important thing to me– I worked on that daily. Just trying to improve the tone. I wanted the guitar to sound like I used to look,” he said.
After spending some time talking with this larger-than-life rock and roll icon you soon realize that his playing is every bit just that. He has a powerful presence that is echoed in his playing. But more than that, he is as charismatic without a guitar in his hands as he is with one. On stage he possesses a sharp sense of humor, that is gregarious and gruff, very much like a West guitar solo. West has been one of the main creative forces in rock and roll for over three decades and shows no sign of losing his ambition or his desire to continually reinvent himself. “They’ll have to shoot me in the head before I’ll quit.” Says West.
But playing rock and roll isn’t his only talent. In 1986, he acted alongside Tom Hanks and Shelley Long in the hit comedy film, The Money Pit. He also tried his acting talents by lending his distinctive voice to the popular animated series, Beast Wars Transformers which ran for three seasons on the WB network beginning in 1996 before going into syndication. He has also stretched his songwriting talents in many directions the latest being the theme music to the WB show, Mutant X. And for all those guitarists out there that have tried doing covers of Mountain and never getting it right, he released his own instructional guitar DVD, “Big Phat Ass Guitar”..
Over his 30-year career he has recorded with some of the biggest names in the industry including Billy Joel, Van Halen, The Who, Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix, and many more. On one recent outing he recorded one of his own greatest hits “Mississippi Queen” as a cover with Ozzy Osbourne.
West is known for giving a song his all, and he does throughout this album, putting his big sound signature to every song. When West was in Mountain, the band was always known for its big rough sound, and that was West.
West continues to tour with Mountain with original drummer Corky Laing and new member Richie Scarlet on bass, replacing the deceased Felix Pappalardi. The band continues to rock just as they always have. Their latest release is a two CD of live performances entitled “Eruption”. They are currently on tour but will be back in the studio this fall to record. “We’re working on a new album called ‘Mountain does Dylan’,” says West. “We did some arrangements of some of Dylan’s stuff. Not so much folksy but some of the lyrics I really like. We’re doing them our way. The new stuff is definitely Mountain. When I hear it, it sounds like us. I know where I came from.”
This is West’s second time out with a solo blues CD with Shrapnel Records. And the encore is even better than the first, if that is possible. The first was “Blues To Die For”, and it was just that. With 11 tracks like, “Crawlin Kingsnake”, “Boom Boom”, “Mean Mistreater”, “I’m Ready”, “Hellhound on my Trail”, “Born Under a Bad Sign”, and more, it is a must for any blues collection. Each has West’s unique signature on it and just blows any other covers of these songs away.
“Got Blooze” is still a big must for collectors. A collection of blues standards done only the way Leslie West can do it, mean, raw, loud and in-your-face blues. It contains the kind of guttural vocals and soulful bluesy guitar playing that have established West as one of the greatest talents in the history of rock and roll and delivers the kind of high-level performance, which West fans have come to expect. The twelve tracks include: “Baby, Please Don’t Go”, “Third Degree”, “Louisiana Blues”, “I Can’t Quit You”, “Riot In Cell Block #9”, “House of the Rising Sun”, “Yonder’s Wall”, “The Sky is Crying”, “Politician”, “The Thrill is Gone”, “Walk In My Shadow”, and “Heartbreak Hotel”.