Mountain

TrackAlbum
Blood Of The SunWoodstock Two (V/A)
Don't Look AroundNantucket Sleighride
Dreams Of Milk & HoneyFlowers Of Evil
For Yasgur's FarmClimbing!
Long RedMountain Live
Mississippi QueenClimbing!
Never In My LifeClimbing!
Taunta (Sammy's Tune)Nantucket Sleighride
Nantucket Sleighride (To Owen Coffin)Nantucket Sleighride
The Animal Trainer And The ToadNantucket Sleighride
Theme For An Imaginary WesternWoodstock Two (V/A)

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Contributor: Rob Millis

It’s been a while since I’ve championed anything quite as riff-tastic and “raawwwk!” as this, but as Toppermost diversifies, so must I. Either that, or I am having a budget-conscious mid life crisis as I edge within three months of my dratted 40th birthday. I don’t have the money for a Porsche 911, nor know any nubile Russian au-pairs; let my mid life crisis therefore take the form of loud rock music. You’d never get a Hammond A100 in a Porsche, anyway. And these svelte Slavic lovelies are no good at carrying a Fender Twin Reverb. Pah. In any case, though I near abandoned the harder end of rock after being seduced by the likes of The Band, two acts still get a regular airing on the Rega Planar 3 at Millis Towers. One is ZZ Top, whose first and third (Tres Hombres, natch) platters remain favourite. But there – I toyed with the idea of writing a Topper 10 for ZZ Top, but realised my advice to the uninitiated would simply be to buy Tres Hombres. And I mean that.

So, why Mountain? That fat, greasy Leslie West guitar tone (meaning the tone not Leslie, although his gargantuan frame was anything but unrelated to the band’s name. Of late Les has become much slimmer, sadly due to diabetes, and more recently lost a leg. The old trouper still keeps on though). The “Les Paul Junior” was a low-cost student instrument made by the Gibson guitar company, back in the days before every American and European company of quality had far-eastern factories to cater for lower budget customers. Back then, if you were on a budget, you still got the full quality of the native products, but no frills. The Les Paul Junior was a very basic guitar with minimal decoration and just one pickup. And that one pickup was the single-coil P90, considered a step-down to the dual coil “humbucker” that Gibson was equipping its senior models with. Thanks mainly to Leslie West, the original Les Paul Juniors became “go to” no-nonsense rock guitars, prized for their simplicity rather than being considered cheap. And regular Les Pauls weigh an effing ton – fine for Les playing How High The Moon, but a bit cumbersome for the late sixties heroic axe-slinger trying to throw a few shapes.

I first became aware of Leslie West on that Miles Copeland “Night of the Guitar” documentary made from the concert tour of the same name that he ran a few times. With Leslie on that show was Randy California – sadly gone – who I liked a lot; Pete Haycock (bloody hell, another one sadly gone) who was very impressive. Alvin Lee (a third gone!) did Alvin Lee as he always did and for the first time in a while Wishbone Ash’s Powell and Turner were reunited. Robbie Krieger put in a good showing, Steve Howe played “The Clap” on his acoustic guitar and Steve Hunter played that fluid, session quality style. A fine selection of prized guitarists, many of whom had not been seen in a while. But many of them took it soooo seriously…

Not Les. Came on to a huge dirty grinding chord and proceeded to make an unholy racket, punctuated with funny comments and even making time for a dig at Barry Manilow. I liked him immediately. More noises, and – with former Climax Blues Band bassist Derek Holt handling vocals – straight into the old Jack Bruce/Pete Brown song Theme For An Imaginary Western that Mountain had covered on Climbing! back in 1970.

In fact the Mountain story starts an album earlier than that; after Leslie West split from his Long Island band The Vagrants, who’d not amounted to much aside from a few local 45 sides but he came to the attention of ex-Cream producer (his old pals’ influence on Mountain is indisputable) Felix Pappalardi, who decided the guitarist was worth recording as a solo act.

Leslie West’s first solo LP but titled “Mountain” duly appeared with Pappalardi himself on bass and from West’s current live outfit of the same name, Norman Landsberg on organ and N.D.Smart on drums. I shan’t represent that album in my Topper 10, but will take both Theme For An Imaginary Western and Blood Of The Sun (a rendition of a track from the solo LP) from the second volume of the Woodstock festival OST albums. By this time Mountain was a band to watch: Landsberg had been replaced on keys by Steve Knight and shortly after the fiery Corky Laing replaced Smart on the tubs, and thus the classic line-up was born, West’s wild roar serving the vocals on the rockier stuff and Pappalardi taking the more sensitive leads.

As well as appearing on the Woodstock Two LP (not the film as released, although footage of them doing the bluesy Southbound Train has appeared in the extended editions), Mountain eulogised the festival on their first “proper group” LP – Climbing! – in 1970. For Yasgur’s Farm was melodic and thus sung by Pappalardi, but some sterling guitar from West earns it the third place in the Topper 10. We’ll play it safe and have perennial riffster favourites Mississipi Queen and Never In My Life from Climbing!, then move on.

Mississippi Queen is in fact arguably the best known Mountain song within the rock world and still remains a standard setter for burgeoning guitarists; quite rightly so. But in the UK, they are inevitably best remembered for contributing the theme tune to TV show “Weekend World”, by way of an excerpt from the lengthy piece Nantucket Sleighride, the title track of their first 1971 release. Dreamy keyboards and vocals with shimmering Leslie-treated guitars (meaning the organ speaker, not West) alternated with faster passages building up to climaxes that then took the band back to the mellower section again. I’ve picked this track for the ten choices, along with the prelude Taunta, an achingly beautiful harmonica-led piece.

The inner sleeve of the LP depicted a Nantucket Sleighride – a whaling boat pulled along by the whale they have speared, via a rope around the spear. You didn’t worry about animal rights people throwing the fruits of their bodily functions through your letterbox in those days. The cover art was by Pappalardi’s loving wife Gail Collins who went on to shoot him dead in 1983. I always thought her work had a generous whiff of the style that Prof. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien displayed in his own colour illustrations.

Don’t Look Around took the band back into no-nonsense guitar rock again (albeit with some lovely Mellotron from Knight). The piano and vocals of The Animal Trainer And The Toad lent the song a bar-room feel with West telling the story of the band in the lyrics. We’re up to eight songs now so sadly must resist The Great Train Robbery despite the infectious slide guitar. It is rumoured about this time that Leslie West was asked to augment the Who, Townshend feeling the more ambitious seventies direction needed a proper lead guitarist. Proof of Townshend’s impeccable taste, I feel.

Flowers Of Evil followed later in 1971 and was half-live and half studio in origins. I’m not going to bugger about and with head held high will opt for Dreams Of Milk & Honey from the live side, an extended and slowed version of a cut from West’s original solo LP.

The band folded in 1972 – Pappalardi’s hearing was starting to suffer and West & Laing went on to form a trio with Jack Bruce. But not before Mountain Live: The Road Goes Ever On (J.R.R.T. again!) was released – a full live Mountain album from which I’ll take opener Long Red, another song dating from 1969 but rocked up accordingly. The lengthy drum pattern that opens isn’t quite up there in the sampling charts with Bonham’s infamous Ludwig snare from When The Levee Breaks but isn’t doing badly.

And that’s our ten. After West, Bruce & Laing, Mountain did reform with varying lineups but soon featured West, Laing and Pappalardi (but not Knight; the group instead opting for a rhythm guitarist to complement West; Knight passed away in 2013) and released Twin Peaks, a double live in Japan LP (prior to the return of Laing) as well as the studio LP Avalanche but for many, well OK, for me at least – the magic had gone and the mood had passed.

From the eighties through to more recent years, West & Laing have reformed Mountain several times. With Pappalardi dead, the bass slot has been held by a few, most notably by the now-equally-late Noel Redding and (Colosseum/Uriah Heep bassist) Mark Clarke. Though having had health issues, Leslie West remains one of rock’s most admired – but seldom successfully imitated – guitarists. Long may his Les Paul Junior ring out like billy-o.

RIP Steve Knight; and also Randy California, Pete Haycock and Alvin Lee. Never thought that so many of those giants who made such an impact in my late teens would be gone, and it is only in writing this piece that it hits home what unique and varied talents are now gone forever.

 

Leslie West – Mountain facebook

Mountain biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #302

6 Comments

  1. Calvin Rydbom
    Jun 18, 2014

    Several years back, I’ll go with 10, I received free tickets to a Mountain show at a venue that held maybe 500 people and has no seats (And remains my favorite place in Cleveland, Ohio).

    I was unfamiliar with Mountain with the exception of 2-3 hits and was blown away by the diehard cheers by the 300 or so faithful that erupted into wild cheers at every song. I figured any band that had that kind of loyalty had something going for them-I bought Nantucket Sleighride and Climbing the next day. Enjoyed them ever since.

  2. Merric Davidson
    Jun 18, 2014

    Rob may have run out of numbers or may not care for Travelling in the Dark off Nantucket Sleighride so I’m slipping it in there. What great guitar!

    • Rob Millis
      Jun 18, 2014

      Travelling in the Dark, Great Train Robbery, Tired Angels would all have gone on if I had more slots!

  3. Rob Millis
    Jun 20, 2014

    Good lord. Leslie West has seen the article and posted a link on his Facebook page. I hope he enjoyed it, and that I didn’t get much wrong!
    (He re-tweeted it too! Ed.)

    • Rob Millis
      Jun 23, 2014

      Come on Leslie, put that new Electro Harmonix pedal down for five minutes and come and say hello!

  4. Chipper
    Aug 3, 2014

    Can’t argue with your choices, but from the later Mountain CDs I’d add SISTER JUSTICE, LAST OF THE SUNSHINE DAYS (amazing how Leslie’s guitar work would fit into this old jazz/blues style), and BARDOT DAMAGE.

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