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LESLIE WEST,
1945-2020

Leslie West, the guitarist who made an immediate leap from regional rock star to instant legend at Woodstock and would help shape heavy metal, died Wednesday in Florida. He was 75.

West suffered a cardiac arrest at his home near Daytona, Fla., on Monday (12/21) and was taken to a nearby hospital. He never regained consciousness.

West released his debut album, titled Mountain, a month prior to the Woodstock festival and followed it up seven months after three days of peace and music with Mountain’s debut, Climbing!

Upon its release, the song “Mississippi Queen” went to #21, but over the last 50 years, its stature as a cornerstone of classic rock has never waned. Featuring the burly West’s vocal growl and sludgy twist on the blues-rock of the previous generation while fitting within a pop framework of a mere 2 minutes, 30 seconds, “Mississippi Queen” is a triumphant mix of potent ingredients—an easily repeatable chorus, a ferocious guitar riff and solo, a fierce vocal delivery and a blood-pumping cowbell. It was a staple of the Guitar Hero computer game and among its many covers was one released last week—by Dave Grohl. It has been sampled multiple times, most famously by the Beastie Boys.

West, who was born Leslie Weinstein, grew up in Manhattan, Forest Hills, Queens, and Long Island.He dove deep into the guitar after seeing Cream in 1967 and being inspired by Eric Clapton. He left his first band, The Vagrants, to make Mountain with Cream producer Felix Pappalardi.

Mountain had a short initial run—four albums in four years with a few lineup changes—before West enlisted Cream bassist Jack Bruce and Mountain’s second drummer, Corky Laing, for West, Bruce and Laing, which released two studio albums. West and Bruce worked together again on West's 1988 album, Theme, one of his 14 solo albums released since 1975.

He famously used the Gibson Les Paul Jr. model guitar modified with P-90 pick-ups to create the tone that is unmistakably his own. West was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

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