Interview with Leslie West
As the frontman of Mountain, Leslie West has seen it all. At 66, he’s happily married to his wife Jenni (They married at Woodstock 2009—video available on You Tube), lives in New Jersey and is still out rocking and rolling. West is one of the headliners at the Rock and Blues Fest at the Westchester County Center in White Plains on August 12. He will be joined by Rick Derringer, brothers Edgar and Johnny Winter, and Kim Simmonds of the British rock band, Savoy Brown.
Leslie was very open and candid with me in a phone interview from his home in New Jersey. He discussed not only the Rock and Blues Fest, but other events in his life and upcoming projects moving forward. He was a pleasure to speak with. He doesn’t let his disability (loss of his leg) get him down.
“I’ve had a traumatic year when I lost my leg (amputation due to a blood clot) and getting back to playing it was a task but so far even with my prosthetic it’s very difficult to balance and stand up so I have an electronic wheelchair. it’s a life-changing thing when you lose a leg learning how to walk again I haven’t mastered playing on stage with a prosthetic because I’m worried about my balance. The idea came up, they asked if I wanted to do this tour with Johnny, Edgar and Rick Derringer; I said, Yeah, I’d love to do it if I can and if it’s feasible for me to travel. I’m not doing the whole tour I’m doing mostly East Coast I thought it was a great ‘guitar bill’ and it was up my alley,” Leslie explained in a telephone interview. “I’m going to start at the South Street Seaport in New York City and then I’m doing 11 shows I’m very excited about it been to Westchester County Center numerous times it’s a very good gig and I’m thrilled!”
Leslie will be taking his drummer and bass player with him on the tour.
“Originally they wanted me to play with Edgar’s group but I decided to play with mine so that’s what we’re doing.”
Leslie enjoys performing despite his handicap.
“I had to cancel the last tour because I had no transportation. It’s great because I have this chair that this company Quantum gave me. I was given an MV-1 vehicle by the former owner of The Daily News. It’s distributed by Rolls Royce and Bentley. I had to get the vehicle because I lost my leg. Don’t get my wrong, I should be grateful that somebody came up with a solution but it’s a b*tch!”
West lost his leg last year in June due to a blood clot during the time he was scheduled to play Mountain’s last show at the Biloxi Hard Rock Casino.
“I’m diabetic and I had stents put in both legs for circulation and flying down to Biloxi I had this incredible pain in the back of my calf I went to the emergency room and I had a gigantic blood clot and it became toxic and my leg was dying. My wife had to wait and they put me in a coma for four days to try to bust the clot up and they told Jenni (my wife) that they have to amputate the leg. And my wife wanted them to wake me up out of a coma and when I awoke I was medicated and didn’t understand what they were saying. So of all places I lost my leg in Missisippi. So it was traumatic and I had no choice and my wife saved my life because she had to make that decision all by herself,” confessed West. I’m dealing with this now and I just came back from Milan and did some shows there.”
West discussed some upcoming projects.
“I just finished a song on Bret Michael’s new CD, ‘Driven’ and I just finished doing a cut for the Black Keys tribute album where I actually sang and Johnny Winter played on the track and I’m working on my new album right now. Unusual Suspects was my album released last year.”
Leslie wears many hats, and is a regular on-air personality on The Howard Stern Show on Sirius XM.
“I talk to Howard all the time he’s so great to me especially now that he’s on America’s Got Talent. I do have ‘Leslie West String Benda’ on ITunes it’s a game like Rock Band with my game you can actually bend two notes together it’s a fun game believe it or not even though I’m terrible at it it’s a great idea and as long as you can make it different than Guitar Hero or Rock Band it would be great. My music has been sampled by Jay-Z and several rap artists.”
He also released his first guitar instruction DVD entitled, ‘Big Phat Ass Guitar’ and his new one is called, ‘The Sound and the Story.’
“And what’s good about it is I show how I wrote the songs, how I get my sound how they make my guitars now the fact that I have my own Leslie West signature series with Dean Guitars—it’s amusing as well as informative. The guy that produced it is the brother of the guy from Creed and he did such a marvelous job on the production of it and it was filmed on Hi-Def. This is funny, informative and the book that comes along with it shows you how I actually wrote the songs,” said West.
He played a cross-dresser named, Lana in the Steven Spielberg movie, The Money Pit.
“When we got to filming, they wanted me to look at a wall and roll my eyes and Richard Benjamin said, “Ok, put it in the can!” I wore a poodle skirt in the movie and had a couple of lines in it. How I got the part was Martha Quinn who used to be an MTV VJ and they had Meat Loaf up for the part and I read it and Richard Benjamin heard the sound of my voice and all I said to him was, ‘Only a Bride, Never a Bridesmaid!’ and that’s how I got the part! I still get residual checks for it!”
Leslie played a show once at the Yorktown Grange Fair. He used to live in Ossining. He said he would play fairs again but traveling is the issue.
“I hate flying now but if it’s within 50 miles than I can handle that. I don’t need to do it for any other reason other than if I want to do it.”
He looks forward to the Rock and Blues Fest.
“I think everyone will really enjoy it because we each get to do our own set (not a long set because we obviously have four or five groups) It’s a really great show and nowadays people want bang for their buck.”