Leslie West: Mountain guitarist and 'Mississippi Queen' hitmaker dead at 75, what is the cause of his death?
In the mid-eighties, he was diagnosed with diabetes and later, his lower right leg was amputated due to complications
American rock guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Leslie West, whose sound, both on the guitar and his voice, created the unique identity of the rock band Mountain, died on Tuesday, December 22. West was 75. His death was confirmed by Dean Guitars. “With a heavy heart, we are saddened to hear about the passing of #Dean Artist and part of the Dean family, Leslie West. Legendary and one of a kind. Rest In Peace,” said the official page of the company, which was quoted by Dean Guitars CEO Evan Rubinson, who shared his personal condolences, writing, “To a man that I truly loved more than most — the funniest, most honest guy I’ve met.”
The cause of death was not immediately available. But The Rolling Stone magazine reported that West suffered a cardiac arrest at his home near Daytona, Florida. He was rushed to a hospital but never regained consciousness. As per Variety, in a Facebook post on Sunday, December 20, West’s brother had alerted fans to the musician’s declining health, writing, “I am asking for all your prayers. Jenni [Leslie’s wife] is by his side in Florida but it’s not looking good. Thanks, Jenni, he wouldn’t have made it this far without you. His heart gave out and he’s on a ventilator. May not make it through the night.”
According to Rolling Stone, West’s health had been an issue for many years. In the mid-seventies, he moved to Milwaukee to kick a heroin habit. In a 1990 interview, he said it had been ten years since he had “stopped fooling with narcotics.” In the mid-eighties, he was diagnosed with diabetes. Later, his lower right leg was amputated due to complications from the disease.
Born in New York City on October 22, 1945, as Leslie Weinstein, West grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey, and in East Meadow, New York, Forest Hills, New York and Lawrence, New York. After his parents divorced, he changed his surname to West. In early 1969, West put together a band called Leslie West Mountain, with Norman Landsberg on keyboards and bass, and Ken Janick on the drums.
Soon, former Cream collaborator/producer Felix Pappalardi, who had previously produced the Vagrants (with whom West played prior to this), expressed an interest in producing West's work. Pappalardi rejected the demos by the trio, but decided to play bass on West's solo album, ‘Mountain’. And that was the beginning of this iconic band.
The group’s heavy sound has often been cited as a landmark in the development of hard rock in the ’70s, blurring the lines between blues-rock and metal. Their song, ‘Mississippi Queen’, perhaps remains the most famous one in the band’s legacy. The song has been featured in several soundtracks and TV shows — ‘The Americans’ and ‘The Simpsons’ being prominent ones — and in ‘Guitar Hero III’. In an interview earlier this year, West said the song “has just everything you need to make it a winner. You’ve got the cowbell, the riff is pretty damn good, and it sounds incredible. It feels like it wants to jump out of your car radio. To me, it sounds like a big, thick milkshake. It’s rich and chocolatey. Who doesn’t love that?”
Another one of West’s songs that have been part of his lasting legacy is ‘Long Red’ from his album ‘Mountain’. The song has been sampled by numerous rap acts, including De La Soul, the Game, ASAP Rocky, among others. Kanye West sampled it in ‘The Glory’ and Jay-Z in ‘99 Problems’. West told Blues Blast magazine in 2015, “There was something about that song that appealed to rappers. I’ve got six different platinum albums on my wall from all these different guys sampling my stuff. When I wrote that song in 1969, there was no hip-hop. It just so happens that song has a hip-hop beat.”
In 2011, Eddie Van Halen told Rolling Stone that West and Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore were among his biggest influences: “Leslie West has this incredible tone in Mountain,” Van Halen said.