Legacy: A Tribute to Leslie West Review

When I think of Leslie West, I instantly hear his guitar sound. And when I imagine that sound, which is very easy to conjure, I remember this quote, from West himself, about it:”And the [guitar] tone – well, it was fat just like me, right?”

West, the legendary guitarist—and a big guy—best known for his work with Mountain, died in December 2020. His career was fascinating. His time with Mountain helped to shape heavy metal, but also created some huge hits, including “Mississippi Queen,” a classic rock staple. But despite that outsize influence and his morbidly obese tone, Mountain was never a big mainstream band (although they did play Woodstock), nor did West break out as a solo artist.

Mountain formed when West heard Cream and decided he wanted his next band to be a similarly daring power trio. He connected with American bassist Felix Pappalardi, who had written with and produced Cream. Together, with drummer Corky Laing, and eventually keyboardist Steve Knight, to flesh out their sound a little more, West built simple, heavy, riff-based rock and roll that leaned on his gorgeous tone.

West’s guitar was thick, but never sloppy; at least not on the record. His solos used his vibrato, so he wasn’t playing a waterfall of notes, so much as he was releasing beautiful stings, like B.B. King meets Woodstock.

Legacy: A Tribute to Leslie West features singers and guitarists, mostly from the metal world. The project began as a chance for West to reimagine some of his best-known songs with guest artists, but sadly, after he died, it became a tribute album. There are some incredible names here, from Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Slash, to Deep Purple/Dixie Dregs’ Steve Morse, to Ozzy Osbourne’s Zakk Wylde, to the Doors’ Robbie Krieger. And while West’s rhythm section of Rev Jones and Bobby Rondinelli handle most of the album’s work, “Theme for an Imaginary Western” features former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy and legendary hard rock bassist Rudy Sarzo.

The songs are great, as they were when West created them. It’s interesting to hear the tunes with so much guitar, though, because while live, Mountain and West would often jam out, West was always about that sweet vibrato and impeccable tone. Hearing a track like “Long Red,” where the original has a mellow Traffic kind of feel, reworked into ’80s metal, by no less than neo-classical metal guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, with Teddy Rondinelli on vocals, is an adjustment.

Which is why there’s something comforting about Slash’s take on “Mississippi Queen,” which is faithful to the original, although Slash stays away from West’s solo style in a move that feels more respectful than anything. And Dee Snider’s version of “Theme for an Imaginary Western” similarly uses the original as a serious point of departure.

Another way to think of the tribute is that it’s not so much about West, but about the music his work inspired. So many of these rock and metal artists heard Mountain and wanted to take West’s style a step further. And they did. The album’s artists tacitly acknowledge they can’t play the way West did, because so few could, but that they can play the way he taught them to play. The intensity. The fearlessness. The willingness to let the guitar momentarily overpower a song. In that sense, and as the title says, the album is about West’s legacy more than his actual songs.

The legacy is important, but make sure you go back and check out the original material, too.

The Review: 8/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Why Dontcha (Steve Morse & Ronnie Romero)
– Blood of the Sun (Zakk Wylde)
– Theme for an Imaginary Western (Dee Snider, Eddie Ojeda, Rudy Sarzo, Mike Portnoy, and Francesco Saglietti)
– Mississippi Queen (Slash & Marc Labelle)

The Big Hit

– Mississippi Queen (Slash & Marc Labelle)

Buy the album: Amazon

Steven Ovadia

Steven Ovadia interviews blues artists about their songwriting process for Working Mojo.

One thought on “Legacy: A Tribute to Leslie West Review

  • April 21, 2022 at 10:58 pm
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    Glad to see a tribute album to Leslie West.

    For reasons I can’t put my finger on, I was drawn to Leslie West’s guitar tone, his playing style, maybe his anti-idol persona, but I have been a fan since “Nantucket Sleighride” and “Flowers of Evil”, through West, Bruce, and Laing, well to his solo career, until his untimely passing.

    Glad to see that his acolytes are keeping the torch lit, and burning bright.

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