The GoldMine Interview
A Conversation with Leslie West and Corky Laing of Mountain
By Richard Skelley
They were one of the most appropriately named groups of their time. For although Mountain has been through numerous personnel changes over the years, always at the epicenter of this hard-rocking, raucous blues-rock group was that giant of a man, both physically and musically, Leslie West. Born and raised in Forest Hills, New York, West dropped out of the 10th grade to concentrate exclusively on his guitar playing. By the time he was in his early teens, he knew he wanted to dedicate his life to the instrument. It's what he has done ever since.
West has always served as the driving force behind Mountain, calling his fellow Mountain-mate Corky Laing out of rock 'n' roll semi-retirement several times over the years for brief road trips. Today, West continues to perform, blowing away audiences in the U.S., Canada, England and the rest of Europe with his potent, carefully crafted blend of decibels and vibrato.
Since the 1974 breakup of the legendary group that also originally included producer/ bassist Felix Pappalardi West has worked at various times in the ensuing years as a guitar teacher and guitar designer, as well as a solo performer. But it is his work with Mountain, primarily in the late '60s and '70s, that has given him his reputation as a rock giant.
West was born Leslie Weinstein on October 22,1945 in Forest Hills, while drummer Laing, whom West describes as "my best friend," was born in Montreal, Canada on January 26, 1948. The two met at a beach club in Long Island, as Laing explains here, when West was 19 and Laing was 16.
Born into a show business family, West's uncle, Will Glickman, was a writer for television's Jackie Gleason Show. One day West's grandmother took him to a taping of the show, but it was canceled. Instead, West ended up in the studio audience for Elvis Presley's first appearance on television on The Stage Show. It was West's first exposure, to the guitar.
"I've been playing guitar ever since that day," West recalled in a 1986 interview with this author.
His first band, The Vagrants, was a fairly unsophisticated bunch at first, West admits here. Popular in the New York area, particularly on Long Island, they were a major proponent of what has become known as the Long Island Sound, a soulful approach emphasizing R&B cover tunes and heavy use of the organ.
Through a fortuitous gig at a long-closed club called the Rolling Stone, on Second Avenue in lower Manhattan, West and his bandmates began to get their chops together. The group recorded a single for Vanguard Records and several for Atco before hooking up with producer Felix Pappalardi. The Vagrants released a number of singles without much success before West teamed up with Pappalardi in early 1969 to form Mountain.
"When Felix started working for me, it was like a dream come true," West recalled. Mountain tried to differentiate themselves from other budding heavy guitar-rock bands by adding a keyboardist, Steve Knight. Although the arrangement as a foursome was short-lived, and their later arrangement as a trio was equally short-lived, the group was a phenomenal success, selling a very impressive (for those days) eight million albums in five fast-paced, drug-crazed years between 1969 and 1974.
In the interim, in 1971, West and Laing teamed up with former Cream bassist Jack Bruce to form West, Bruce and Laing. That group released three albums for Windfall Columbia Records in 1972, 1973 and 1974.
Granted, Pappalardi brought several years of experience as a musician and successful record producer to the band, but as West explains here, Pappalardi created a record company to support West's guitar driven experiments in blues-rock, early heavy metal and psychedelic rock.
Pappalardi, born in the East Bronx in 1939, began learning guitar from his grandfather when he was four. By the time he was ready to enter high school, he knew what he wanted to do, so he attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. After stints at New York University, and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Pappalardi went into the army in 1962. Upon receiving his discharge, he came back to New York City and drifted into Greenwich Village's then-flowering folk and folk-rock scene. Pappalardi got to know and work with artists such as John Sebastian, Cass Elliot, Richie Havens, Joan Baez and Fred Neil Working first as an arranger for his friends, he went on to produce records for them as well.
After the Youngbloods signed with RCA Records in 1966, they brought in Pappalardi as producer on their debut album, which included the hit "Get Together." He also produced the Lovin' Spoonful, and word of his reputation spread across the Atlantic to England, where Pappalardi really made his name with Cream, working with the group as a producer/arranger at New York's Atlantic Studios on the group's critically acclaimed second album, Disraeli Gears, in 1967. Pappalardi also worked with the group on Wheels of Fire and Goodbye, in 1968 and 1969, and co-authored Cream's 1967 hit, "Strange Brew."
After producing and playing on West's 1969 solo album, Leslie West-Mountain, the group called Mountain (which included Pappalardi, drummer N.D. Smart and- keyboardist Steve Knight), made its debut at the Fillmore West in July 1969. Mountain quickly created a buzz among San Francisco rock 'n' roll aficionados hungering for something new and different since the break-up of Cream. Their fourth gig the group's first on the East Coast, was at a little gathering called Woodstock.
Mountain's first album, Mountain Climbing, was released in early 1970, to widespread praise by critics. Shortly after the album's release, Smart was replaced by drummer Corky Laing, who had been working with the band as a roadie of sorts. That summer, Mountain's debut moved into the Top 10 and went gold by August. The group's first single, "Mississippi Queen," rode the charts for four months in 1970, though it never rose above #21. Mountain's second album, Nantucket Sleighride, went gold by May 1971, having been released just a few months earlier. The group garnered other chart success and radio airplay with "Nantucket Sleighride," "For Yasgur's Farm,": and "The Animal Trainer And The Toad."
Because of Mountain's relatively impressive debuts at the Fillmore West and Woodstock, the group quickly became a favorite on the then-emerging rock festival circuit. A live version of "Stormy Monday," recorded at the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1971, was hailed by some critics as some of the best im-provisation ever recorded by a rock group, anywhere.
The band quickly followed up 1971's Nantucket Sleighride with a second album that same year, Flowers Of Evil, noted for its exciting live version of "Mississippi Queen." The group released a live album, Mountain Live, in 1972, before splitting up. West and Laing teamed up with former Cream bassist Jack Bruce to record Why Dontcha and Whatever Turns You On in 1972 and 1973 before Bruce left the group in the summer of 1973. A live album, Live And Kickin', was released shortly after the trio's break-up, in 1974
Laing and West continued to work together in Leslie West's Wild West Show before hooking up again with Pappalardi and rhythm guitarist David Perry in the winter of 1974. The reformed Mountain (minus keyboards) recorded one album, 1974's Avalanche, before breaking up again later that year.
Still working with Laing, West recorded two solo albums, The Great Fatsby (RCA) and The Leslie West Band (Phantom), both in 1975. After taking a break from recording through much of the 1980s, West recorded Theme in 1988 for Passport/Jem Records, and Alligator in 1989 for the same label, before hooking up with Blues Bureau International in 1993 for Leslie West Live and Dodgin' The Dirt. The latter, also released in 1993, includes West's interpretation of Billy Joel's "New York State Of Mind," complete with extended guitar solos.
For the rest of 1993 and most of 1994, West worked with executives at Sony Music to put together the package that makes up the two-compact disc Mountain anthology, Over The Top.
Drummer Laing has played on every re-cording with the group except its debut, Mountain Climbing, and a live recording made in Japan, Twin Peaks.
Although both Laing and West admit that drugs were often part of the friction among the group's members between 1969 and 1974, West and Laing remain good friends, and one gets the sense from talking to both of them, that were Pappalardi still alive, they'd be touring this year as a trio.
What was true in 1969, when Mountain formed, is still true in 1995: no one plays loud, raucous blues-rock quite like Leslie West and Corky Laing. For many of their road shows, they're joined by bassist Randy Coven. The latest incarnation of Mountain, the late 1994, early 1995 version, was performing some dates with former Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Noel Redding, but as West explains here, the arrangement didn't last very long.
While it may be frightening to some people to fathom that West will turn 50 in October, the ever-resourceful guitarist, song-writer, arranger, producer and teacher is always coming up with new licks and riffs and finding new equipment to play them through. Perhaps his resourcefulness and persistence stems from his tough New York City upbringing. But whatever the reason, it's easy enough to envision West making good use of his unique vibrato and his own style of loud raucous blues when he's in his 60s.
THE LESLIE WEST INTERVIEW
Goldmine: What input did you have on the new Legacy retrospective set, Over The Top?
Leslie West: We al1 put our two cents in. They approached us about it two years ago. They wanted me to go and mix the old songs and I didn't want to do that. I wanted to add me new songs. We got together with Penny Armstrong and she did most of the work on it. The whole thing came out very ; good and it looks great, too.
Goldmine: Growing up in Forest Hills, in Queens, New York, were your parents fans of music in any way?
Leslie West: Absolutely not. My mother just let me practice in the apartment. Then I quit school and hung out on 48th Street where the music stores were, and I was a jeweler for a while, which was a block away at the diamond exchange, and then I started hanging out at Manny's Music on my lunch hour. Then I just never went back to work; I looked at the guitars in the windows and hung out there.
I had a Stratocaster that I'd gotten for my Bar Mitzvah and I just couldn't take my eyes off all the guitars in the windows in those stores.
My uncle, Will Glickman, used to write for The Jackie Gleason Show, so my grandmother took me to a filming of what was supposed to be the show, live, and it was a replacement show with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and Elvis Presley was the guest. That show changed my life.
Goldmine: There was a talent show you were involved in junior high school? You performed "Heartbreak Hotel"?
Leslie West: Yeah, that was in Halsey Junior High School. I didn't get too much past 10th grade in high school. That was the last grade I remember going to before I quit. I just re-member hanging out a lot down on 48th Street, I couldn't get away from all the guitar shops.
Goldmine: Was there a point later in your career when you regretted dropping out of high school?
Leslie West: No. I regretted not going to music school, that's what I should have done. In school they just weren't teaching me anything I was interested in, and the teachers were asking me questions I already knew the answers to, and learning dates and all that stuff, it just never appealed to me.
'When I was younger I only knew a few chords. It wasnít until I was about 15 or 16 that I started really playing seriously. I don't even know if serious is the right word. The first time we played and got paid, that was something. It was a fraternity party in Brooklyn, and nobody in the Vagrants knew how to play except me and the organ player. In fact, our first record, I was the only one that actually played. The other guys sat and we had studio musicians play keyboards, bass and drums.
Goldmine: There were no other groups you were a part of, prior to the Vagrants?
Leslie West: The Vagrants was the first group. I was only in one group before Mountain. I was pretty lucky.
Goldmine: Who was around Forest Hills or 48th Street that you learned from in those days?
Leslie West: There was a kid at alot of sessions named Waddy Wachtel, and he lived in my building at the time, and he knew more chords than I did. His real name is Bob Wachtel, and he went on to become an excellent studio musician, and he played with Keith Richards the last time he went out, with the X-Pensive Winos.
Goldmine: What prompted the formation of the Vagrants?
Leslie West: I saw the Beatles at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in 1964. I remember them pulling away in a helicopter and I saw their cigarettes in the helicopter, all four of them, and it looked awfully cool, what they were doing.
So my brother and all the other guys in the Vagrants, we were a group, but we weren't really. But after that We got serious. They didn't really know how to play their instruments yet, and somehow we met Felix Pappalardi and he produced a single for us and I forget, really, what happened, exactly, but when he produced our first record, all the other guys didn't get to play and they were depressed, so they started practicing their instruments.
And then we became a group! The group also included Larry West, my brother, and Jerry Storch, and Peter Sabatino and Roger Mansour. We just did Beatles songs. We had a few originals, but we mainly copied other people's stuff.
Goldmine: What do you remember from those days, playing the Rolling Stone on Second Avenue?
Leslie West: I remember the first night we plugged in we had the power blackout [the great East Coast power blackout of 1965], just as soon as we plugged our amplifiers and the P.A. in. All of Second Avenue went black, and then the whole city went black. I thought we caused it! I only had a little hundred-dollar Bogan amp, and I thought that was the reason, but I guess not.
Scott Muni, who owned the place, was very involved in radio at the time on WMCA, I think, one of the WMCA Good Guys. Was that the one Bruce Morrow was on?; [Editor's note: Both Muni and Morrow were on WABC.] Anyway, he had this club and they just used his name, Scott Muni's Rolling Stone discotheque, and we played there for about nine months, six nights a week seven sets a night. Forty minutes on, 20 minutes off.
Goldmine: How did everybody cope with this?
Leslie West: Well, it was good practice. We had to learn a lot of songs and we expanded our repertoire a lot.
Goldmine: There were either four or five singles that the Vagrants cut and released?
Leslie West: Well, there's an album out on Arista. They put all the singles together and put out an album. It came out about a five years ago. I don't know if it's out-of-print or not. [Editor's note: The album was called The Great Lost Album and it has yet to make the transfer to CD. It is out-of-print.]
The album happened 'cause a lot of the guys that worked for Arista were Vagrants fans, and they went to Clive Davis and said, "We want to put this out."
Basically, we did one single for Vanguard and we did a couple for Atco. I don't know if we did three for Atco. Basically, "A Sunny Summer Rain," "Beside The Sea," "Respect" and "I Love Love You." I don't know if we did three, but there were a couple of other cuts they had laying around that they used for this album on Arista. I don't recall what we did for Vanguard. [Editor's note: The album includes A- and B-sides of the one Vanguard single, the three Atco singles, and two unreleased sides cut for Van-guard.]
Goldmine: Who was it at Atco that took an interest in the band?
Leslie West: Tom Dowd. He engineered our record of "Respect" and we would have put it out before Aretha Franklin but our man-ager had the publishing on the flip side and then Aretha put out her version on Atlantic. We became known for our version of "Respect," but it's unfortunate it didn't get played on the radio all that much, maybe once or twice.
Goldmine: But it led to better things for you anyway, didn't it?
Leslie West: Felix Pappalardi produced my first album, and we worked with this engi-neer, Bob D'Orleans. So Atlantic put it out for us.
Goldmine: How did you meet Felix Pappalardi?
Leslie West: Atlantic Records sent him down to produce for the Vagrants. He walked in and I think he had just met Cream. He produced our single, we broke up and then he said, "Well, if you guys get something together, give me a call."
Later he began working with Cream, and he said if I'd got something together, he would give it a listen, so I called him right away, as soon as he got back from England. He liked it. But then he went in the studio with me and he didn't like my drummer. So I had to get another drummer; I had a bass player and an organ player. Felix didn't like the bass player, so his partner suggested he play bass, so he did. That was the beginning of my solo career.
Goldmine: What were your first impressions of Felix, given that you already knew of his talents as a producer?
Leslie West: I thought he was a far out guy. He played guitar real good too. He showed me some things on guitar and I started practicing about six hours a day, seven days a week. I talked Felix into going on the road with us. That first tour, we went to the Whisky-A-Go-Go, the Fillmore West, Winterland, and then Woodstock.
Woodstock was either our fourth or fifth gig. Jimi Hendrix's agent was our agent, so we got on that show. Ron Terry hooked us up with that.
Goldmine: Didn't you also have a chance to jam with Jimi Hendrix at some point?
Leslie West: Yes, we were doing Mountain Climbing, and he was recording at the Record Plant where we were. Felix finished mixing my record and I went out in the hallway and got Jimi to come in and listen. So he listened to "Never In My Life" and he was really taken with it. It made me feel real good that Hendrix was sittin' in the control room listening to my stuff.
In the boxed set, Over The Top, there's a picture of Jimi and me playing together. We jammed together over at Ungano's [club] on 71st Street [in Manhattan]. He came in there late one night and I said hello to him, and I asked him if he wanted to play and he said yeah, but he didn't have any equipment. So we went in his limo down to our loft on 36th Street and picked up some equipment. I remember my road manager was sleeping when I woke him up, and there we were, me and Jimi Hendrix, standing right over him; when I woke him up from a deep sleep. He nearly shit. We put some amps into the limo and went back to the club and jammed. This happened two or three weeks before he died.
Goldmine: What do you recall about the days leading up to your first tour as Mountain?
Leslie West: Mostly I remember a lot of rehearsals and a lot of practice. We had a guy named N.D. Smart, on drums, Steve Knight on organ and Felix. N.D. Smart was the drummer and he did Woodstock, and after that we were kind of unhappy with him. Corky Laing was hanging around because Felix's wife had produced his group, so he ended up joining us.
As for Steve Knight, I never could stand him, and he was in the group because Felix had asked him to be part of it. He was a bass player and Felix asked him to play keyboards with us. He was only there because Felix didn't want us to look like Cream.
Goldmine: What was the first big break for Mountain?
Leslie West: Meeting Felix was my first big break. Our first big break as Mountain was playing Woodstock, without question.
The whole thing was pretty nerve-wracking, really. We had just come back from the West Coast, and all we were hearing about was this concert. We hired a helicopter because of the traffic jams on the highway. I re-member the guy had to make two trips. He said I was too heavy to fit everybody into one trip. Once we got there we just hung around backstage until Saturday night around eight o'clock or so. I remember the Grateful Dead wanted a do-over, they didn't like their sound or something. They were on before us. Everybody was moaning and screaming, "You're not going on again. It's lucky enough everybody got on once."
Goldmine: Did you get paid enough at Woodstock to justify a helicopter rental?
Leslie West: Oh, yeah. We got $5,000. That was a lot of money. I was shocked. The helicopter was $1,500, so we still made a lot of money.
I remember hanging around backstage and Janis Joplin had this gorgeous girlfriend she was hanging out with. I just was in awe of everything there. I remember Creedence Clearwater Revival went on and they did one hit after another. I couldn't believe how many hit singles they had! Our first album I think just was coming out.
Goldmine: Was it everything you had envisioned beforehand? Leslie West: I had no vision of it. I had absolutely no idea what this was. I don't think anybody had a vision, come to think of it. They were going up there to get high and hear a lot of music.
Goldmine: Given Felix Pappalardi's production credentials, it's often been said that success for you guys was nearly instantaneous because of his reputation. Is this accurate?
Leslie West: I don't think it was his reputation so much as it was the fact that he had a lot of training and I had absolutely none. And it was a great mix of that. Later on, I remember Corky and him had a tremendous fight. Felix went through the roof when Corky suggested we get another producer for Mountain. You know, "How dare you tell me to get another producer, do you know who I am?!" And that kind of talk. We were sort of saying, "Yeah, that's why we want you to get a producer." And that was sort of the beginning of the end for us.
See first, Norman (N.D.) Smart got fired. And then I couldn't stand Steve (Knight) anymore, he wasn't holding his own, and we had to beg the guy to play a solo. So finally I said, "What are we wasting our time with this guy for? I don't care if we look like Cream, the group sounds good." And then Felix brought in a black guitar player, and that was a big pain in the ass.
Then Felix was in England and he knew the group was breaking up, so we got together with Jack Bruce and that was the beginning of West, Bruce and Laing. And Felix was part manager and part publisher. He owned everything. He was a greedy guy, but unfortunately, he's not here to collect it.
Goldmine: How heavily was Mountain influenced by Cream?
Leslie West: Very heavily. I saw them at the Filmore East, and after that, all I was playing was Cream. I was just flabbergasted how the guitar sounded like a voice, and I knew that's how I wanted to play. Right then, hard rock and heavy music was coming into it own.
Goldmine: What do you recall about the sessions for your debut album? Felix was in the producer's chair?
Leslie West: Well, yes, but he wasn't really 'cause he was out there playing in the studio He'd play bass and then go in and listen. He had a good engineer he was working with a the time. The only trouble we had with the! album was we recorded it in a studio that was made for making commercials. It was put together with Scotch tape and glue. We would have liked to have used a better studio, and for Mountain Climbing we went to the Record Plant.
Goldmine: That album went gold in 1970 and "Mississippi Queen" rose to #21.
Leslie West: I don't think it ever got any higher than that. It was only played from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. That and Santana music. We were a heavy group, they hardly played us at all.
Goldmine: Tell us about Windfall Records. Who owned Windfall Records?
Leslie West: That was Bud Praeger's and Felix's company. It had nothing to do with me They could have given me a piece of the company, but they didn't. I was the reason they got the record company started, 'cause they had Mountain to put on it.
Bud merged with Columbia for West, Bruce and Laing, and he took everything he did and took it over to CBS. And he had a new company called Columbia/Windfall.
Windfall was something Felix wanted to do and they had a group, so they wanted a label to put it out on. They had a producer, a group, a writer and an artist, me. They had management, they had everything. We had to go and get our own agent.
Goldmine: The new anthology, Over The Top, has a 19-minute version of "Stormy Monday." What was the story behind that?
Leslie West: That was from the Atlanta Pop Festival. I remember after that festival, everybody started puttin' together festivals.
I arranged the song, and what we did was use that song to improvise further. We improvised the whole thing. That's what we really did best on stage, was improvise. We didn't even have to look or ask questions, it just came naturally. Sometimes it was a little boring and sometimes it was great, but it was always fun.
Goldmine: Albert King was a musician you've cited as being a big influence. Who were some other heroes of yours when you were a kid?
Leslie West: Me. I was my own hero. I said, "I am not going back to school, I'm going to learn how to play this damn instrument." I'm just kidding, I was going to make sure no matter what I didn't have to go back to school.
Albert King, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards, were certainly influences. Of the other groups that came from England, I liked the Animals. I liked all the heavier guitar players.
It was a long time ago, but I worshipped Clapton and Hendrix, and they're still the best. Even though Clapton doesn't play like he used to, doesn't use the same amps or the same guitar he used in Cream, he uses a Fender now, I was just so mesmerized by how well this guy played when I saw them at the Fillmore, I just wish I could describe it to you. It's very hard to put in words.
I saw Cream in 1968, and at that time it [Fillmore East] was actually still called the Village Theater. And I remember walking out and saying to myself, "I'd better shit or get off the pot here." I thought I was great then, and then I saw Clapton and I realized, "I ain't great at all. I'm great at bullshitting.'
I remember I tried to imitate the trend at the time of smashing the guitars and stuff. So in lieu of playing them, I was smashing them! But that got too expensive after awhile.
Goldmine: It's been said that the philosophy behind Mountain was that the band would follow what the bass and drums were putting down. In retrospect, do you agree?
Leslie West: What would happen is I would come up with a heavy figure or a lick and then the bass and drums would play around that. I created a runway for them to play off. For example, "Stormy Monday" started with this lick that I came up with. And I started singing "Stormy Monday" to it. They didn't know what they were going to do until I started playing, Then in turn I could work off what they were playing. Maybe Felix could play something I could work off of.
I'm not saying everything started with me, I'm saying it was based on the guitar. Felix had never really played hard rock up until that point. He produced the Youngbloods' song, "Smile On Your Brother." (sic West is referring to "Get Together")
That was his first production. He also used to conduct an orchestra for Dinah Shore in Las Vegas. He was a funny dude, man. He moved to the Village and that changed his life. It was a great breeding ground for heavy music, and later, punk music.
I learned a lot from Felix what not to do. What worked and what didn't, and why certain things didn't work. Toward the end he used to come in late to sessions, and in the beginning he would come in all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Drugs at the time hit us all, and since he was a producer we looked to him for leadership and I remember he was comin' in midnight every night and we'd end up sittin' there for four hours waiting for him. Finally, Corky said, "Well, why don't you just start working on your solo album, since we're paying for this studio time."
So that's what happened, and it got my own career going.
Goldmine: Where were you when you heard about his murder on April 17, 1983?
Leslie West: We were in Indiana. We were leaving for the show and Corky got a phone call at the hotel and he had to run back inside and that was his wife calling to tell us the police were going to call us. And the police were going to ask us a few questions. We were suspects, believe it or not, at first, 'cause he was suing us.* But that was quickly dismissed once they had his wife. That was really a sad day. I remember I had to call up John Johnson from Eyewitness News (in New York) and find out if it was true or not.
Goldmine: How much of the West, Bruce and Laing album Why Dontcha album was done by mail?
Leslie West: We had gotten these Sony four-track tape recorders and we'd send the ideas to each other, but we recorded the album in England. It was sort of like cover songs and stuff, and then we finally got signed to Columbia. And then we came to the Record Plant again to actually record the album. The next album, Whatever Turns You On, was recorded in England. And then the group broke up. The rehearsals we did in England and we actually did Carnegie Hall and Radio City and some other really great venues in New York without an album. I was shocked at how much success we had in England and the States without really doing too much with it.
Goldmine: More recently you've worked as a guitar designer for St. Louis Music Supply.
Leslie West: I wasn't really into playing so much, I didn't have too many new ideas and so by putting the guitar down and working in a peripheral capacity, I was able to get another wind, so to speak, and got turned on all over again.
Goldmine: What do you consider your crowning achievement?
Leslie West: My crowning achievement, to tell you the truth, was playing on Billy Joel's River Of Dreams. Or playing with the Who. Everything I did with other people was an absolute thrill for me, 'cause it showed me that other people liked what I did.
When I was in the Vagrants we used to headline over Billy Joel's group [the Hassles] in Long Island. I got a call at home two years ago, and he wanted me to help him banish some demons. I went into the studio to do one cut and I ended up on three or four. I got my platinum album for it, hanging on the wall here.
Goldmine: Various guitar experts have called your vibrato the best in the business. Did you come to this over time, or did it just hit you in the face one day?
Leslie West: It came to me over time. A lot of work. Actually, I listened to Clapton's vibrato and Hendrix's vibrato and Mick Taylor. Those guys had it. Everybody else didn't have very good vibratos. It's like a voice, you've got to have full control over it at all times, like an opera singer. Most guitar players I know just have one speed. To me that's the first sign of an excellent musician: what his vibrato is like. Once you've got that down, to me, that's the beginnings of a really great player. Eric Clapton is one of the best. I learned from Clapton and Hendrix. Keith Richards doesn't have a vibrato, but heís got other things. He doesn't claim to be a lead guitar player, he's just a guitarist, but his rhythms are so exceptional. Pete Townshend doesn't really have a vibrato. When I say they don't have one, I mean it's really not their forte. Joe Walsh has a good one. Eddie Van Halen has a good one. Steve Vai doesn't really have a good one, but he's a great guitarist.
Goldmine: Are there any of your albums you feel may have been overlooked?
Leslie West I'm extremely happy with the new Sony boxed set. But one of the best albums we ever did was the Scotti Brothers release, Go For Your Life. Corky and I did that with Mark Clarke. It came out in 198, and Scotti Brothers was a subsidiary of Epic Records, which is Sony. I thought the songs on that were really exceptional. If I'm not mis-taken, a couple of the songs from that album are on the boxed set.
Goldmine: Tell us about your method of songwriting?
Leslie West: It's basically the same as it's always been. My method is to find that hook. Find a lick and then try to write the songs around there. I'm a totally guitar-based songwriter. There's two ways I write: I write the heavy songs with the electric guitar and usually I write with the acoustic. The piano I've been getting into the last couple of years, because it forces me to write in a whole different way. A lick is like the opening of "Sunshine Of Your Love." I try to come up with things like that and base my songs around them. That's a big lick. If not, I try to pull a lick out of playing chords. That's one thing Felix taught me was to learn chords first, and then out of those chords you can pull the notes and somewhere in those chords is a lick.
Goldmine: What do you consider the highlights of some of your solo albums, like The Great Fatsby, Alligator, Theme and The Leslie West Band?
Leslie West: "I Ate It All" was a song that was on the Theme album with Jack Bruce on Passport Records. There was some really good stuff on there, but the accountants took over that label. We even offered to buy it back, and they said no, it was too much trouble for them. It's funny what a hassle some of these things are to people who don't seem to do anything all day long. I was thinking of reissuing it anyway and lettin' 'em sue me. Goldmine: Haven't you already been sued enough times over the years? Leslie West: Well, nobody's gotten anything from it! Goldmine: What happened with Noel Redding? I know you were working with him for a while last year and this year.
Leslie West: We just found we couldn't count on him too much. He's very delusional. We wrote one of these songs three years ago, and Noel started singing it, and then somehow he thought that he wrote it. I don't know what happened with Noel. It's too bad we couldn't work it out, 'cause I liked play-ing with him. We needed somebody more reliable. If we did a tour and Noel went back to Ireland or something, we'd be screwed. But the two cuts we did with him are on the album, Over The Top. Some things are better left not said.
Goldmine: You've said in one of your earlier interviews, you have to be careful what you wish for, because someday you might get it. What did you mean?
Leslie West: I just meant, "Make sure you know what you want, because someday you might get it."
Goldmine: What are you wishing for then, as we approach the new millennium?
Leslie West: I wish for my health. In the next few months, we've got a new Mountain album that we're working on now, and we've got cuts I did with the Who and Paul Rodgers and Mick Jagger and Ian Hunter. We're taking some stuff that I did with other people and putting it together with an album of new stuff, too. So that should be exciting and I'm going to work on an "Unplugged" album myself.
THE CORKY LAING INTERVIEW
Goldmine: How did you meet Leslie West?
Corky Laing: I met him when he was in the Vagrants. We go back to 1965 or so. He was in the Vagrants and I was in this local band. I happened to have gotten this gig through an American agent down in New York. We were playing the Peppermint Lounge and we wanted to get out of the city, we wanted to go to the ocean. We got booked out in Westhampton [Long Island] and the Vagrants got fired and we got hired. Our band had uniforms. We were the Beau Brummels and they were the Stones. They got fired because they grew their hair long and they weren't wearing outfits! The owner of the beach club fired them, and as Leslie was packing up, that's when I met him.
At the time, I had a record I had just finished, and this was 1965, and we had just done a record with Felix Cavaliere [of the Rascals] through another whole series of events with Atlantic Records. And Leslie couldn't believe it. He said, "Man, you got a record deal with Atlantic?!" So I showed him the single and he was really, really impressed, and he was also terribly impressed that I was Canadian and didn't have to worry about the draft. He, at that point, was going through that particular worry. He was 19, and I think I was 16 at the time.
Of course, Felix went on to work with the Vagrants. So what happened was Felix finished the Vagrants and he had also finished with the Youngbloods, "Grizzly Bear." "Get Together" wasn't big until two years later.
Anyway, at the time, Felix was producing the Vagrants, and he was producing a group I had called Energy, and when he went to form a band with Leslie and they went to look for a drummer, they auditioned me by coming down to see me with my band in one of the clubs. We were doing poetic stuff, kind of like Bread at that time, so it wasn't really a drummer's band, and we would do some things that were pretty progressive in other areas.
For some reason, they both took me in as their drummer. They had already played Ungano's and had played Woodstock, and they'd decided to get rid of Norman Smart, who I thought was a real good drummer. At the time I was almost his drum roadie, and I liked Norman a lot. They had asked me to help him out. And when they saw the kind of stuff I was bringing him, they said, "Oh, this guy's really cool." 'Cause I was bringing him all top-of-the-line stuff, a double bass drum and stuff, and he didn't want that stuff, so anyway, at some point they let him go.
The group that played at Woodstock wasn't Mountain, it was officially Leslie West-Mountain. The official Mountain name came together when Felix joined with Leslie and made a band. It was only after he played with Leslie at Woodstock that Leslie and Felix decided they wanted to get rid of the drummer and organ player. So that's when I came and they made a deal and that was the new band.
It all came right after Woodstock, and thatís when they got their contract, and it was Steve Knight, Felix, Leslie and myself, and the new band was called Mountain. Before that it was always Leslie West and Mountain, and I guess what happened was Felix said, "Hey, if we're gonna do this, we do this together, and we agree on the name and the members. That was the solid crew, and they'd played a couple of gigs before that with Norman Smart, but they never really liked him.
Goldmine: Were you involved with the new Sony anthology?
Corky Laing: We all wrote some liner notes. What happened was Felix had a friend who was a very big fan of the band, and he was the one to do our first review when we did the Fillmore, Eric Lustbader. And it was a very poetic and romantic review, a beautiful review. He later did the Ninja books, not the Mutant Ninja books, but he's had a couple of books, The Black Heart, The Ninja Soldier. These books are fiction, and he's had a couple of Top 10 bestsellers. The only two musical people he became friends with were Felix and our group and Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
I knew Eric pretty well, too, and so I finally got hold of Eric, after 20 years, through his publisher, and I said, "Eric, we're doing a boxed set, I don't think anybody can do liner notes better than you can." So he said, "I've been out of touch," and all of this. I said, "Just write up until Felix died. Write what you know and we'll continue the rest of the story." So he wrote that and we said to Bud Praeger, who was our manager, "Why don't you write the rest of it."
So then what happened was Leslie had a couple of different ideas about what Bud said, so he wrote his story. So they called me and said, "Corky, why don't you write your version of what happened," and I said, "There's three versions here." So it's an oral history, and I guess there's gonna be differences, so I just wrote about how I fell in love with drumming.
Felix never got a chance to tell his story, but we're hoping there'll be a movie. I'm writing a movie about Felix's murder and his life and death. He had a very interesting life.
I got kicked out of the band at one point for about six months after I told Felix, "You know, if you'd just concentrate on the bass and writing instead of worrying about producing." So he fired me. That was my first A&R move, and he fires me. So what does he do for the next album, he goes and gets a producer. So I took that as a compliment, realizing he finally listened to somebody.
Goldmine: Your total involvement in Mountain spanned from what year to what year, then?
Corky Laing: It started in the fall of 1969, right though to the end in 1974. Since then, I've been back with Leslie, and there's never been a Mountain without me, except for one record they did in Japan, 'cause I couldn't go over there, I was sick. And I remember Felix asked me if it was all right, and I knew at that point the band was breaking up.
Goldmine: Growing up in Montreal, how did you fall into drumming?
Corky Laing: In the liner notes to the boxed set I explain it. But basically what happened was I came from a big family, triplet brothers and sisters and an uncle and mother. There were nine of us in the house. We had just this one record player, and my mother loved Latin stuff, she was very much into it and she loved to dance and she would give my brothers dance lessons just to pass the time, because there really wasn't TV at that time. There wasn't TV up there in the mid-1950s, and she used to bring out these real hot Art Blakey and Max Roach Latin dance records.
I don't know where she got 'em, but we had this little phonograph box in the kitchen. So I would wait in line to get my dance lesson. My mother would be dancing after supper, and I just sort of tapped while everybody did that, and so my mother bought me a pair of bongos, and I started playing bongos. I'd play bongos and from there stretched into drums.
My brothers worked as bus boys at this nearby country club, and so I got a little job as the stage manager, you know, I'd run and get the musicians drinks and sweep up afterwards. I was maybe 12 at the time. They had people like Patti Page and the Ink Spots. The musician's union was on strike up there in Quebec. Everybody was always striking in Canada. So they took the musicians off and the Ink Spots were up there, and they had a guitar player in the band who wasn't a hired musician. They asked me, "Do you just wanna play a little brushes?" So I said, "Yeah." I was 12 years old and I remember how much the audience loved it, so that was really my beginning.
The first band I played with on stage was the Ink Spots and I didn't know it at the time, but they were quite a big band for the era. That was my first drumming experience. In high school, bringing the drums to high school, the chicks loved it. I mean, let's face it, drums are a physical instrument. When you're going through puberty, I don't think there's a better instrument. I mean, everybody taps something. You're gonna feel those growing pains, and I don't think there's a healthier way to direct it. My son is only six, and he doesn't understand what he's doing, he likes to play real hard, but he's doing good. Today I was showing him the tambourine and I was real happy to see him showing some restraint.
I'm not trying to make a drummer out of him, I'm just trying to bring the Zen out of him, to allow him to start focusing in on stuff. When the time comes to do homework, he can get through a lot of that by applying the same sort of approach. Sort of like the Grecian urn, if you look at one thing really well, everything comes out of it.
Goldmine: What was New York like at that point, when you first came down with your band through the American agent?
Corky Laing: It was amazing. There was a guy in Montreal who just wrote songs and he was connected with this publishing company called Koppelman and Rubin, who turned out to be Charles Koppelman of SBK Records. He was connected with this publishing company, and he loved the band. He drove us down to New York in his big Cadillac. We stayed in Queens and it was amazing; my first impression of New York at that time was very favorable.
New York at that time was going through some rough times, but I remember we stayed for awhile at the Knickerbocker Hotel on 45th Street and it was a hooker hotel. We didn't have our cabaret license but we got booked in there and we wanted to play. At the time we opened for Johnny Maestro and the Crests. This guy who took us to New York was like a daddy to us, and we ended up doing six 40-minute sets. We were exhausted but they loved us, because we all were clean-cut and wore uniforms. It was the whole Beau Brummels, Beatles thing, and we were a clean, crisp band with all the state-of-the-art equipment that we got through this guy's father.
His name was Harry Schipp, and the guy who wrote songs was Neil Schipp. And he had all these connections in studios and I remember running into Tom Dowd and the Rascals, and all these people later became heavies, or they were heavies and I just didn't know it at the time. It was amazing going to Atlantic Studios and meeting Dino Danelli [of the Rascals].
You have to understand that Montreal is like a little quaint, provincial town, so to me it was terrifically exciting to being in New York. I was totally vitalized, and we made friends and hung out with chicks and the Lovin' Spoonful were just breaking at the time, and it was really exciting. We were the youngest part of the scene, because a lot of the bands like the Rascals, Lovin' Spoonful, the New York bands were just breaking. Jimi Hendrix was just starting to kick in, and New York was just a real happening place. Greenwich Village was just cooking with gas. Richard Pryor, Tim Hardin, everybody was in the Village.
[Deejay] Murray The K was around, and this was a year or two before Cream and Hendrix and the psychedelic thing didn't kick in yet. It was a folk thing the Mugwumps, the Mamas and the Papas, and it was just a really exciting time to be in New York. This turned me totally on to music in 1964 and 1965.
It was right after my Bar Mitzvah, and boom, I'm right into this stuff!
I remember my father walked in when I was with a couple of hookers when I was at the Knickerbocker Hotel taking a break. He was surprised at me because he had driven down with my mother to Monticello to take a vacation. And he was worried about me, you know, "What the hell is Corky doing in New York?" So he just walked in the door and I was sitting there talking to these hookers. It turned out the hookers hung out with us. We were just innocent kids hanging out with hookers. And he looked at me and I'll never forget his face, he just said, "Well, I guess you're alright."
It was very innocent, but at the same time, you go down there for the summer and you play New York, six 40-minute sets a night, you really learn a lot of stuff. We did this all summer, so when we came back to Montreal, we would blow any band away. We were just starting to do original stuff and we also had a Hammond organ player, which in those days was really trendy and important In those days, that was the instrument, and a lot of bands couldn't afford it. In fact, Leslie was amazed at the equipment we carried in He saw us bring in the Traynor amps and my bass player had the twin 18 Ampeg.
I just remember bringing the kit in, and Leslie's eyes would go wide. He asked, "What are you guys, from rich families?" We weren't, we just worked really hard. We did Bar Mitzvah's, we did Sweet 16s, we did all the Italian weddings. We were really a variety act, and these people liked this stuff; these drunks would come into the club and they'd just go crazy. We were a copy band, but we were really good. When I did "Like A Rolling Stone," Leslie just flipped out. We did "Whiter Shade Of Pale," and like I was saying, we really did it up right, we rehearsed and had our act together. Later on, we started doing original stuff, and that's when Felix produced us.
That's where all the original Mountain hits came from, from that band, Energy. "Yasgur's Farm" came from Energy. "Mississippi Queen" came from Energy. "Sitting On A Rainbow," "Silver Paper," we were more of a pop band, and these were all ideas I'd bring to Leslie and Felix. Felix was amazing when it came to arranging stuff. I remember John Lennon was a big fan of the Energy band and he came to Montreal and I brought him a tape and he signed a big poster for me. And Robbie Robertson was a big fan.
When I joined Mountain, I met Robbie at Joni Mitchell's house in New York and I was so proud I said, "Robbie, you're not going to believe this, man, I just joined up with Mountain." He said, "Why'd you do that? Your band was a great band."
Goldmine: The other night at the show, Leslie was really funny when he said, "And on drums, we got Bruce Springsteen!"
Corky Laing: Yeah. Leslie got into this whole thing. A weird thing that happened was when Bruce released Greetings From Asbury Park, he was opening up the show for us on a seven-day college tour. He was really, being hyped in colleges in upstate New York. He came over to me and said, "Hey, man, everybody thinks I'm the drummer in Mountain." He had his hair the same way at that time. For some reason we both have that schnoz and that Mediterranean look. I've met him on occasion and I don't think there's any similarity at all, but Leslie seems to think so.
From 1976 to 1978 I had my own band on Elektra Records. The way I got the deal was I got a call from Booker T. and the MG's and they were re-forming because Al Jackson had gotten shot in a robbery. That was one of my favorite all-time instrumental bands. Al Jackson to me was God. When I got a call from the president of Elektra. Steve Wachs, he says, "Cork, what do you think about playing drums for Booker T. and the MG s?" I said, "Are you kidding me?" He asked, "What are you doing?" I said, "I'm just writing some songs, I just split up with Les, I've had it, and I'm into my Elton John retirement stage."
So I immediately got signed to the label, which was really premature because I didn't want to be a lead singer. But I did jump out in front and sing lead, and ultimately I was compared to Bruce Springsteen.
I love the Asbury Jukes and they played last week in Toronto and I jammed with Southside Johnny. The band I played with on the road was the Blackberry Blues Band, from New Jersey, and frankly, I realized I wasn't a lead performer. In any case, a lot of people, in the reviews, they thought I looked like him and played like him. I took that as a compliment. They described me as a cross between Joe Cocker and Bruce Springsteen. I said, "Whoa, that's nice." So between '76 and 1978 I ran my own band called Corky Laing Time.
Chronologically, it was Energy from 1965 to 1969, 1969 to 1974 or Ď75, Mountain with West, Bruce and Laing two years in the middle and then I had my own deal from 1976 to 1979, in which I did two records for Elektra/Asylum, one of which came out and the other of which was shelved. The record that was shelved was one I did with Mick Ronson, Ian Hunter and Felix, and Leslie played guitar on that. That's an amazing record that has yet to see the light of day. That's when the scene changed over to the Cars; they were going on at Elektra at that time. Then 1980 through 1983 I was with a New York band called the Mix.
I wanted to get out of the dinosaur thing. I'd heard the Sex Pistols and I loved the energy of it all. I heard "God Save The Queen" and it changed my life. Whereas a lot of people were going into their 30s and playing slower, I was going to play faster. So I cut my hair off and really got into the whole punk scene. I was playing with this band the Mix and to me, that's when my chops were at an all-time high. It was a lot of fun, and it was just a local New York band.
I think it was like an IV of energy and every musician has to get slapped in the face. You can't ask yourself to be kicked in the ass. You've got to be kicked in the ass so bad and be so embarrassed as an artist, to change or to move, especially if you've had any kind of success at all. When you've created a trend and are lucky enough to be at the forefront of a movement, in terms of chops and everything else, if you're prepared and you have the vocabulary musically, you're fortunate, and to me, that's what success is. You just sort of step in shit at the right time! And you can't take that for granted, because if you've made it, the only place you can go is off the track. And that's where you have to go, if you stay on the track for a long enough time. It's destroyed a lot of comedians because they get caught on a hook and a lot of painters because people fall into it: you don't know which comes first, your audience or your art!
In my case, I just got kicked in the rear, and I said, "I can't just keep on playing these slow fours." It was a kick in the ass, and a kick in the ass for a lot of good musicians. I think people like Elvis Costello and people like Bruce Springsteen, as the result of Elvis Costello, it kicks them in, they've got to get sharper. You don't get duller, you keep striving to get sharper. I got sharp and then I got together with Leslie again, and I played with lan Hunter when Leslie was going through a dark period.
I did some recording with some different people, but I basically went through 1985 with Leslie, and through that period we did the Go For Your Life album. We had a good thing lined up with Mark Clarke on bass and we went to Europe and did some very successful dates over there, and sold some records over there. We came back here and then Leslie fell off the track again. I just hung up my sticks for a few minutes there, and I was very much into writing at the time, so I got a job at Chappell Music in New York and I went behind the desk for about a year.
But I was working with a lot of songwriters, so I was constantly honing in on this. In 1987, I was still living in Connecticut and I just loved the gig. I was able to sit in with a lot of people around town. I was always welcomed to sit in on the drums wherever I went. I sat in with the Band with all kinds of people, and it was wonderful to go and just listen to music all day and listen to writers. At the time, Chappell had Eric Clapton, all kinds of good people. These guys were coming into the boardroom once every month, and U2 was just breaking at the time, big time, with The Joshua Tree.
I just had a chance to get on the other side of the desk for awhile and take a different point of view.
At that time I also ran into Mick Taylor and Lester Chambers and some other players from the Average White Band around Connecticut, and so we formed an all-star band. I worked that from about 1987 to 1989. In 1989 I got a call from Dick Asher, asking if I wanted to go to Montreal and run the A&R department for PolyGram. At that point I was playing in my own band and enjoying myself, but I thought, this is an opportunity to see how the rest of the business works. I took it and came up to Montreal and produced a couple of bands up here that went gold in Canada. In the same time I was still sitting in with a group called Men Without Hats. I was still in the studios and still playing out, and I never got away from the essence of it. After two years the company. moved to Toronto, and we've been in Toronto for the last four years. So here I am.
The whole time I was at PolyGram in Montreal, Leslie called me, and said, "Would you like to be together and do a show here and a show there." At the same time, I was getting ready to do Farm Aid at the Hoosier-Dome in Indiana, so the whole time I was keeping myself in shape on drums. So I'd go down in the basement and play for an hour just for therapy, it had nothing to do with having to play. So when Leslie would call me for the odd date (mimicking West's gruff voice), "Hey, they want Mountain for this date ... you want to play, yes or no?! Here's your plane ticket, I'll give you a thousand dollars." So I would jump on a plane and it was fun! I used to joke with my boss at PolyGram, he was very cool, and he'd say, "Oh, I see you're moonlighting as a has been," 'cause he always laughed at the fact that I still played with Leslie. Because at PolyGram, my agenda, my mandate, was to break new talent, not to milk the Mountain thing.
I went out and played and it was simply for fun. And that's what was so great about it, 'cause at this point it's so much fun to play again, it's not like its a heavy career move or anything like that. And it's not like we were on the road constantly. Since the original Mountain, we really haven't ever been on the road constantly. It might be constant for another six months, the way it looks now, with this boxed set out. We played the House of Blues, and a lot of other good dates. Mountain hasn't been out there with Leslie and myself for a long, long time.
Goldmine: Blues is back like never before.
Corky Laing: Yes, it is, and I think it's our music. Demographically, I think blues belongs to all of us. It's very easy to understand, and a lot of people, their heroes are into it. And blues takes on a connotation across the board ... you can have folk blues you can have country blues, you can have rock blues, you can have jazz blues.
Goldmine: You can have loud, raucous blues from Mountain!
Corky Laing: That's very good, I like that.
Goldmine: I don't understand how Leslie can hear anymore...
Corky Laing: It's really amazing. He's as sharp as a knife. In my case, I play from behind everything, and I never, ever wore earplugs, I couldn't, it was handicapping me. So I'd put my kit just beyond the front so there's no problem hearing Leslie. But he's sharp as a knife, and I just look at him sometimes and talk to him in the middle of everything, and he understands exactly what I'm saying. He's amazing that way.
I always make the connection that he never drank in his life. As much as Leslie has screwed around with a lot of things, he never was a drinker, so he's probably in a lot better shape than 90 percent of his fans. I'd imagine a lot of his fans are heavy drinkers and ex-junkies.
And you know, you can't choose your audience. That's the first thing they tell you in art school. I think a lot of artists who try to do that get themselves caught in the middle of it. The most original artists have the most original fans.
I never really thought about it seriously, but we really broke a lot of cherries. A lot of people weren't all that much into music until they got into Mountain. There were tons of ears out there that hadn't really heard anything, and we were really fortunate to be one of the first groups in there, in the sense that we broke the binaural cherry. We run into our fans and they tell us they weren't listening to music yet. I was in a hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, I had a terrible flu. I walked in and the doctor was in awe of me. He wasn't so much an old guy, but you could tell he was in the top of his field, and he just looked at me and said, "Man, when you guys played the Houston Astrodome with Chicago, you blew me away!!"
A lot of these people were just ripe for something, and that's what I'm talking about when I'm talking about stepping in shit. It was very, very new to them. Not that what we were doing was that new, it was just we caught a lot of rock music virgins at that time. It was just great to turn 'em all loose.
Goldmine: You rehashed old blues tunes and made them fresh again, but you also had some of these psychedelic-sounding tunes later on, I guess you'd call it early psychedelia.
Corky Laing: You know, Felix played with alot of classic bluesmen early on. He played with Mississippi John Hurt, he played with all of those folk-blues people in the Village. But if in doubt, just hit the blues and people would just melt, and Leslie did.
There's only one or two guitar players that play blue notes. There's a lot of players that play blues style, but the note has to be blue. Johnny Winter plays a blue note. Stevie Ray Vaughan played blue notes. Eric Clapton, of course plays blue notes. Mick Taylor is probably the least technical of guitar players, but he has four or five blue notes that he plays, and you know it's Mick Taylor. And it's amazing, and Leslie has quite a few of his own, but then he also does other things, like with his vibrato.
Goldmine: They say he's the best in the business when it comes to his vibrato.
Corky Laing: Yeah, I think so.
Goldmine: How much of Mountain's success in the early days would you attribute to Felix Pappalardi?
Corky Laing: I think what happened was a spin-off of a style of music. There's no question that Mountain spun off of the Cream thing, cause Leslie was a big Hendrix fan and a big Cream fan. I wasn't necessarily a big Cream fan; I was intimidated by Cream. But Jimi Hendrix was where it was at for me. Mitch Mitchell, to me, I spun immediately into Keith Moon, when we first met, I fell immediately in love with. A lot of the English bands would stop in Montreal on their way to the States, you see. They'd get their papers together and they'd do Montreal and Toronto and then New York, 'cause they'd not want to go into New York cold.
So they always came through and the manager I had in Montreal at the time, and this is where my connection was for all the gigs we did, our band had this rehearsal studio which was an old CBC film studio underground. At the time, we were smoking pot, and I guess this comes from my time going down to New York. we were a little bit ahead of our time in Canada. And we had our own little underground scene in Montreal, a very small one, but then we'd invite Cream back when they came to town, and when the Who came to town we'd go get backstage 'cause our manager was the promoter, he was like the Ron Delsener or John Scher (two New York concert promoters) of the city of Montreal.
We would either open the shows or we'd always get backstage passes. So I met a lot of these guys before I joined Mountain. I met Keith Richards, Keith Moon, backstage, and they always remembered us 'cause we always had hash and always had something to smoke. They were into it, they loved hash! Jimi Hendrix came down to the studio and we partied and jammed with him! This was all before Mountain. Felix was the spin-off, production-wise.
Leslie certainly was the soul of Mountain, and still is, by way of his voice and guitar playing. But in terms of thrust and commercial value, yeah, they used Felix as the market value. So I came in there and I was very helpful in getting material that everyone could work with Leslie had a great sense of writing, but he didn't have a pop sense, he was still writing the blues with the lines, which gave it a very underground feel. I brought in "Mississippi Queen" and the lyrics were already finished, and Leslie put that lick to it. In terms of the chemistry, that was the most important thing about Mountain.
Needless to say, Mountain without Felix is not the original Mountain. It's the other two guys, it's two-thirds, and we donít try to fool anybody by that. It's kind of like weird doing it, we're not trying to be relevant. Leslie and I have always played. We're like jazz rnusicians in terms of rock. We play, that's what we do, we're not trendy people, we played before we made it, and we continue to play after we made it.
A lot of people ask, "Why you putting out a record?" And I shouldn't say a lot of people, but you do get these skeptics. So the key there is, yeah, Felix is dead, but it's nice to have this retrospective out. A lot of people have come up to us over the years and said, "I can't get this record, I canít get that record." So here it is, what we consider to be the best of Mountain. The only thing I wanted was "Storyteller Man" off the first Leslie West-Mountain album, but there's only so much you can put on these things. There's only 30-odd tracks for the whole thing.
What happened was we ran into Chris Tangerites, who had just finished producing Concrete Blonde, and he asked, "Why aren't you guys doing anything?" At the time I was still working with PolyGram and I was over in England, and so I called up Leslie, and I told him, come on over. We had a festival to play. "Why don't we go in the studio with Chris?" It was all very natural, it wasn't like, "Hey, let's put a record together 'cause we got to pay a mortgage," like a lot of bands that do that. There's no suspicion in that, 'cause we don't make enough money to pay our mortgage anyway!
What I'm getting at is it was all pretty natural and spontaneous, the way it fell apart and came back together. We just needed a breathing process in a relationship. The whole thing is that when Leslie and I play, we seem to have the best time that we can have together, other than having sex!
Goldmine: I wonít even touch that. When Leslie introduced you the other night, he said, "My best friend, on drums, Corky Laing."
Corky Laing: That's the nicest thing. Because the whole time, I didn't really know Leslie that well in the early days. I was hanging with Felix and leaving with Felix, and I always considered Felix a friend, but he was the kind of guy who would say, "No, don't give me this friendship, shit. You just play your drums."
And I'd say, "No, Felix, I consider you my friend." And he was always fighting that personal thing. Felix was basically not a very warm guy. But Leslie was exactly the opposite, he's a very warm guy. When he says that, you know it's one thing for me to be his favorite drummer or favorite this or that, but for him to say "my very best friend" after all the things we been through, all the shit we been through, it's the nicest thing he could say.
If you look in the liner notes to the boxed set, he thanked his new girlfriend and then he thanks me. I said, "Why are you thanking me?" He said, "None of your fucking business!" Of course, I felt so bad, I had to thank him. Sometimes he can be so passionate about something, and it comes from left field. He's only been saying that recently, and I guess it's because he feels it. He would not say anything he did not feel.
I think after all is said and done, I've known Leslie now for 35 or 36 years. He's. probably my oldest friend! You can't get much closer. We've slept in the same bed, and after awhile it becomes almost an emotional and spiritual support system.
I was watching the Oscar's the other night and all these people were thanking their kids. And finally I realized why. That is their emotional, spiritual support system. It's the most important thing in their life at this stage. They're not doing this for money anymore, these people are loaded. Jessica Lange does not need the money. She's doing it at this point to prove it to her family, to her kids, and finally I realized I'd like my son to look around when Dad's gone down in a twin-engine plane or whatever, I want him to look around and say, "Yeah, this is my body of work. In case you wondered why your Dad was a nut case, this is what he did."
And it's the same thing with acting you know, to leave the torch inspiring other people. And that's important because Leslie doesn't have any kids, and his nephew is the kid who he loves very dearly. His brother Larry was the bass player in the Vagrants. Anyway, with everything else going on, at a certain time in your life, that you can say that.
There are people that will move you as personalities and there are people who will move you as creative forces. Leslie can be one of the most sociable people you'll ever run into, it's just there's only so much energy that he has. He's never ever, ever let me down on stage, he's never walked out there and I've seen him withdrawing, I've seen him through marriages, I've seen him through deaths, and every form of tragedy and emotionally debilitating situation, but he's never not given it everything he has.
Goldmine: Are you still working for PolyGram?
Corky Laing: No, I'm a full time has been now. I gave it up last summer, when I stepped out from behind the desk and stepped on stage at that Woodstock Bethel celebration, which was a lot of fun. And it was the real Woodstock, 'cause nobody paid! And Soul Asylum showed up right after us. It was a lot of fun. We didn't have all the sparkle we used to have, but we had a great time.
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