"Sixx Sense" staffer Kyle Chrise spoke with Leslie West, the legendary guitarist, vocalist and original founding member of MOUNTAIN, about West's new album, "Still Climbing"; the guest stars Leslie enlisted for the album; and the future of the guitar solo in music. You can now listen to the chat in the YouTube clip below.
"Still Climbing" was released on October 28 via Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group. The CD is a testimonial to the strength and durability of West's artistry. Born October 22, 1945, as he approached his 68th birthday, West packed some of the most soulful and searing vocal performances of his half-century career into these 11 tracks. His guitar has never sounded more massive or riff-orientated.
West, who ascended rock's Mt. Olympus with Mountain in a historic performance at 1969's Woodstock festival, accomplished all of that despite a life-threatening battle with diabetes that cost him most of his right leg in 2011, just after his previous Mascot Label Group release, "Unusual Suspects", was recorded.
"I'm lucky it wasn't one of my hands or I'd be screwed," says West. "It was a difficult struggle, and after the amputation I didn't know whether I'd ever want to or be able to perform again. But a month later I played at the Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy Camp in New York City, and I heard my guitar on stage and that was it. I knew I had to keep going."
Following the success of "Unusual Suspects", West approached the new release with vision of tying the albums together. "The new album is a sequel to 'Unusual Suspects', where I had friends of mine that include Slash, Zakk Wylde, Steve Lukather, Joe Bonamassa and Billy Gibbons come to the studio and play," West explains.
This time Jonny Lang, Johnny Winter, TWISTED SISTER's Dee Snider and Mark Tremonti do the honors. "What's different on 'Still Climbing' is that I wanted my guitars to sound as big as I look," Leslie says. "So I used four of my Dean Signature model guitars with my Mountain of Tone humbucking pickups. I plugged them into my Blackstar amps — no pedals — and turned them up loud and raw, and what you hear is exactly what I did in the studio. These Blackstar amps deliver everything I need without 'confidence' pedals. I played one of the early tracks we recorded for Slash, and he said, 'That is as heavy as it gets.'"
"Still Climbing" track listing
01. Dyin' Since The Day I Was Born (feat. Mark Tremonti)
02. Busted, Disgusted or Dead (feat. Johnny Winter)
03. Fade Into You
04. Not Over You At All
05. Tales Of Woe
06. Feeling Good (feat. Dee Snider)
07. Hatfield or McCoy
08. When A Man Loves A Woman (feat. Jonny Lang)
09. Long Red
10. Don't Ever Let Me Go (feat. Dylan Rose)
11. Rev Jones Time (Somewhere Over The Rainbow)
"Still Climbing" is co-produced by West and Mike "Metal" Goldberg, who engineered all of the sessions. Songs like "Dyin' Since The Day I Was Born", "Hatfield or McCoy" and "Busted, Disgusted or Dead" establish a new litmus test for "heavy." The latter features West and Johnny Winter on duelling slide guitars. West also gave up smoking cigarettes and pot after a bout with bladder cancer, so it's no wonder many of "Still Climbing"'s numbers explore the theme of survival and, ultimately, triumph. To that end, West avows, "Not only am I lucky to be here, but because I stopped smoking my voice is now stronger than it's ever been — as strong as my guitar playing."
His inclusion of "Feeling Good", a song by British actor-musician Anthony Newley that was made famous by Steve Winwood's group TRAFFIC, is a testimonial to all of that. Its lyrics celebrate a "new dawn for me" as West and his long-time buddy Dee Snider (TWISTED SISTER) trade vocal lines.
"When A Man Loves A Woman", "Never Let Me Go" and "Fade Into You" explore a romantic theme. In 2009, West married his wife Jenni, who co-wrote many of "Still Climbing"'s songs with the guitar giant.
They exchanged vows on stage at the Woodstock 40th-anniversary concert. West credits her with saving his life — first with her love, and then by making the difficult decision to permit his doctors to amputate while he was in a coma.