Mountain came to Bakersfield in 2006

By Lorraine Kay

May 2006 – Bakersfield, CA — The legendary rock and roll band Mountain performed a whirlwind tour through Southern California this past weekend, starting Friday, May 20 in Santa Ana at the Galaxy Theatre, and Saturday, at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills and finishing up in Bakersfield, Sunday, May 22, featuring original band members Leslie West and Corky Laing and recent personnel addition, Richie Scarlet on bass. The band was in concert to support their latest Fuel 2000 CD release, “Eruption”. Opening for Mountain in Bakersfield was guitarist Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers.

Thackery did a great job as the opening act. Murmuring in the crowd suggested much of the audience members were Thackery’s fans and the crowd response concurred. The smooth blues riffs and equally grungy rock and roll licks, reminiscent of Hendrix set the band apart as not just a warm-up band but a talent to be reckoned with on its own. Thackery’s 20 plus years in the business showed as he smoothly lead his guitar from one tune to the next without hesitation. He stirred up the crowd with licks that stemmed the entire spectrum of dynamics, creating an atmosphere of anticipation while on the low dynamic side, holding back the urge to just let the notes rip and then, when the time was right, doing just that, jumping to the other end of the dynamic spectrum.

But then Mountain came to the stage and let the big guns rip, without hesitation. And no one shoots with both barrels like Leslie West. Opening with a never-before-heard rendition of Cream’s “Born Under a Bad Sign”, West took the crowd through a mini-tour down Memory Lane, with Cream, “my favorite group” he said. The excitement stirred by “Born Under a Bad Sign”, which according to Laing and Scarlet was a surprise even to them, “We never played it like that before”, was not diminished as the band followed with “Sunshine of your Love” and “Crossroad Blues.”  

According to Laing the entire show was spontaneous and at the direction of West. “Tonight we had no idea how we were going to start. We never start with Cream. The last time we did “Born Under A Bad Sign” was two years ago. But his decision to start with “Born Under A Bad Sign”: triggered the set”.

“He doesn’t tell us what he’s going to do,” continued Laing.  “So that way he keeps it very much alive. So the fact that we did covers tonight/ was a surprise, but that was all right. That’s kind of refreshing to be so spontaneous.”

Saturday’s performance was the last night of the non-stop tour, and even near exhaustion West gave his all to the show. Laing and Scarlet agreed that West’s performance of the evening was driven and “out there” on “the edge” and even kept them on “the edge” performance-wise. He was at one with the music, and it took him to some other plane of reality where the music was in control.

Laing and Scarlet discussed the Bakersfield show and how much West gave of himself to the show  – so much so that by the end of the evening he was near collapse. “He (West) wasn’t feeling well tonight, but he worked beyond that and we had a good time. It’s not like he was stoned or anything – he was just “out there.” I really think the best stuff happens when you are “out there” and you have no idea where you are. I can tell you that chaos is beautiful.  It’s a beautiful thing to live in chaos. I think the organization of life is boring, if it’s predictable it’s – well – the fact is getting “out there” is the best thing anybody can do. And Leslie was gone tonight.  He was totally gone and we had the greatest night with him tonight. He had no idea what he was doing and yet, he did everything.  It was total jazz tonight. I loved it.  And I think the audience picked up on it.  It was just one of those BarMitzvahs that worked out,’ said Laing.

In kind of a tribute to Felix Pappalardi, the band’s original bassist that was murdered in 1983, West next introduced a song normally sung by Pappalardi, “Theme From An Imaginary western”. Pappalardi’s replacement is Richie Scarlet, who admits he has some bug shoes to fill. “Richie is the greatest.  This guy is a great bass player.  He’s really a great guitar player too; my problem with Leslie over the years has always been the bass player.  I always felt that he wasn’t hiring very good bass players – but Richie is the glue. He’s filling some pretty good shoes – Felix and Jack Bruce – and he’s doing a good job.

Then West took center stage with an acoustic guitar as Laing and Scarlet left the stage, to present a version of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” like only West can do. A fan of Dylan’s songs, West has recorded other Dylan tunes including the upcoming “Mountain Does Dylan” CD, which is entirely Dylan tunes done with that Mountain flavor, “not folksy,” as West says,” but some of the lyrics I really like.” He said that even though the material is Dylan the band doesn’t disappoint true Mountain rock and roll fans, “The new stuff is still Mountain,” says West, referring to the band’s hard rock energy. “When I hear it sounds like us. I know where I came from.”

Welcoming Laing back to the stage, West stepped aside to let the legendary drummer have some fun of his own with a thundering drum solo.  As West and Scarlet eased back into the picture, the band took another trip down memory lane as they delivered another trio of Mountain classics, beginning with “Never In My Life”, followed by “Nantucket Sleighride”, and “Mississippi Queen” for an encore. Of course, West had his way with all the tunes, veering off into some of the most excellent solos and jams with his band-mates. He even took time for a couple of other side trips, “I’m going to Neverland,” he shouted, as the band eased into the signature lick from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, which was followed by a trip around the block with the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black”. “I love this!” shouted West over the music.

In an exclusive interview West talked about “Eruption”, which is a two-CD set that features live recordings from 1985 in New York City and 2003 in Europe, West said, “We do a little of everything. You’ll be hearing ‘Mississippi Queen,’ ‘For Yasgur’s Farm,’ and ‘Never In My Life,’ and more. It shows people where our roots came from.” There is even a Leslie West version of “House of the Rising Sun”, the traditional folk tune released in the 60s by Eric Burdon and the Animals, who toured with Mountain earlier this year.

Mountain is one of those rare bands in the past thirty years that can be credited with forging a style and sound that would forever change the face of Rock music. Formed in 1969 with Felix Pappalardi on bass, West, drummer N.D. Smart (replaced by Corky Laing right after Woodstock, their fourth gig) and keyboardist Steve Knight, Mountain’s innovative studio work and live music performances are what rock and roll was about in the late 60s and early 70s.   

The combination of West’s unique tone and feel, Pappalardi’s studio production skills, Laing’s powerful double bass drumming and Knight’s keyboard textures, produced some of the best and memorable rock tunes ever. After Woodstock the group signed with Windfall Records and released “Mountain Climbing” in 1970, which netted rock standards, “Mississippi Queen” and “Theme For An Imaginary Western.”  Leslie West’s guitar playing and husky vocals were front and center, with Pappalardi and Laing contributing greatly to songwriting.  The 1971 follow up album was “Nantucket Sleighride” and that featured both the song “Nantucket Sleighride” and the single  “The Animal Trainer And The Toad.” 

“Mississippi Queen,” “Nantucket Sleighride,” “Theme From an Imaginary Western,” “For Yasgur’s Farm,” “Never In My Life,” “Blood of the Sun,” and “Dreams of Milk and Honey,” all stand the test of time and are forever etched in rock history. Mountain was one of those magical music collaborations that can’t be duplicated. Just like Cream, the Beatles, Led Zepplin, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Rolling Stones, or any great band, it’s a once in a lifetime twist of fate that brings individuals together to make their mark on the history of music. In their short musical life they produced three gold albums and created one of the most recognized rock tunes “Mississippi Queen.”

A third album would only produce one side of studio material.  A 25-minute live medley of old rock and roll hits plus a live version of “Mississippi Queen” filled the second side of “Flowers of Evil”, released in December of 1971. Then in May of 1972 the band released “Mountain Live (The Road Goes Ever On),” which featured a live version of “Nantucket Sleighride”, but after only two and a half years the original Mountain called it quits, but that’s all it took to create their permanent legacy.

Pappalardi resumed his production career but West and Laing decided to form a new band with former Free vocalist Paul Rodgers, and Mott the Hoople guitarist and bassist – Mick Ralphs, and Pete “Overend” Watts. However, West had also invited Cream’s bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce to jam with the group creating an overload of talent. West decided that forming a band with Bruce (one of his idols) was the way to go, sending Rodgers and Ralphs to form Bad Company with bassist Boz Burrell and drummer Simon Kirke.

The trio West, Bruce and Laing went on to record two studio albums and a live disk.  But it was not over for Mountain. Like a story line in a soap opera, the band keeps resurrecting and in 1973 the band released “The Best of Mountain” – another gold-selling album. Determined not to stay down, the following year, West and Pappalardi joined up again as Mountain and worked on albums “Twin Peaks” (a double live collection) and “Avalanche”. But then on April 17, 1983, Pappalardi was shot and killed by his wife Gail, silencing a great musical force at the age of 44.

After the death of Pappalardi, West and Laing continued on in the music scene, including tours as Mountain.  Laing felt it was impossible to fill Pappalardi’s shoes in Mountain “Felix was the leader, the manager, the publisher, the writer, and the producer.  You name it; he did it, in Mountain. Since Leslie and I are musicians, we felt in order to get out on the road to make a living; we would just choose the best possible bass player and get on with the shows.”

So eventually the band found Scarlet and made him a permanent member of the band. Now the group continues to play festivals in Europe and club dates in the United States. According to West, the band has not mellowed over the past 35 years.  “I’m still out of my *@&%$*# mind. I’ll be playing until somebody shoots me in the head, or I shoot Corky in the head.”

West, Laing and Scarlet are proving rock lives with active tour dates and successful recordings. They received the LISA award (Long Island Sound Award) for lifetime achievement and were inducted into The Long Island Music Hall of Fame on Nov. 20th at the Patchogue Theater.

Mountain is definitely not showing any signs of slowing down or even peeking at retiring. In addition to sell-out concerts the band and its members are using time off the road to be in the studio both on projects for the band and solo projects, plus some fun time with old friends. West recently did guitar tracks on Ozzy Osbourne’s remake of “Mississippi Queen,” which is the number one requested track by Active Rock and Rock Radio. Currently it’s #10 on Rock National Airplay charts and climbing. Download at iTunes now. It’s on Ozzy’s new four- CD box set.

West says he and Ozzy go back 35 years, “Everybody thought Black Sabbath was too weird back then, but we dug ‘em. We did about 150 shows with Black Sabbath. For the first two years they opened for us. I’ve been friends with them ever since.  Ozzy asked me to do this with him and it became a hit – he’s the best.”

“I was with Ozzy three weeks ago in the city – he remembers everything about all the dates we did. He doesn’t remember yesterday but he remembers all of that.  –  probably because we had more fun then.”

The most enduring legacy any band can hope to achieve is to have other generations of musicians aspire to copy them. West’s guitar playing did that for many guitarists. He had that rare gift to have his own tone and touch that helped define the Mountain sound. When asked about his musical roots and where the signature Mountain sound came from, West explained, “I just listened to Cream and Hendrix’s stuff and I tried to play that.  I only play with two fingers on my left hand I don’t know how to use all four fingers on the fingering hand.  So I tried to develop my vibrato and 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.” (Fans might remember that West used to be a “mountain” of a man before discovering he was diabetic. He has since gotten control his weight and of the disease that he says was caused by “too many Twinkies”.)

One of the projects West has been busy with in recent years, in addition to the past four years of touring with this incarnation of Mountain, has been a couple of solo projects delivering hard core, mean, raw, and loud,  ‘in-your-face’ blues as only West can do.  The first CD  “Blues to Die For” was released on Shrapnel Records in 2003.  A 2005 release, “Got Blooze” will be released shortly. These CDs take advantage of West’s throaty vocals and stylized guitar playing to present some of the best and most exciting renditions of the classics by Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and many more in a long time. 

For information on Mountain CDs, stuff and concert schedule visit www.mountaintheband.com.