From The New York Times (Jim Farber):
Leslie West, whose meaty guitar riffs and snarling lead lines powered the hit band Mountain through “Mississippi Queen” and other rock anthems of the 1970s, died on Wednesday in Palm Coast, Fla. He was 75.
The cause was cardiac arrest, said a spokesman, Steve Karas.
Mr. West had battled various health problems over the years. In the early 2000s he had bladder cancer. In 2011 he had his lower right leg amputated because of complications of diabetes.
Mr. West, who struggled with his weight for most of his life, used his ample size to his advantage onstage. In an era ruled by rail-thin rock stars, his physique stood out. His guitar tone matched it in girth: It was uncommonly thick, with a vibrato that could shake with earthquake force.
“I didn’t play fast — I only used the first and the third finger on the fingering hand,” Mr. West told the website Best Classic Bands in 2011. “So I worked on my tone all the time. I wanted to have the greatest, biggest tone, and I wanted vibrato like somebody who plays violin in a hundred-piece orchestra.”
His singing style mirrored his guitar playing, marked by barking declarations that at their most stentorian could pin a listener to the wall. The weight of Mr. West’s sound has been cited as an early example of heavy metal, though Mountain offered a striking contrast to its more forceful songs with other numbers that displayed the prettier vocals and more elegant melodies of the band’s bassist, co-lead singer and producer, Felix Pappalardi…
Leslie West was born Leslie Weinstein on Oct. 22, 1945, in New York City to Bill and Rita Weinstein. His mother was a hair model, his father the vice president of a rug shampoo company. He grew up in the suburbs.
When Leslie was 8, his mother bought him his first instrument, a ukulele, but he became entranced with the guitar after seeing Elvis Presley play one on television. He bought his first guitar with the money given to him for his bar mitzvah…
His professional career began in a band he formed in the mid-1960s with his brother Larry, who played bass. The band, the Vagrants, was a blue-eyed soul group inspired by a hit act from Long Island, the Rascals. The two bands played the same local clubs, as did Billy Joel’s early group, the Hassles…
One of Mountain’s first gigs was at the Woodstock festival, a booking the band received because it shared an agent with Jimi Hendrix. The band’s debut album was released the next spring, with Steve Knight, who came aboard for the Woodstock performance, on keyboards, and Mr. Laing on drums.
The addition of Mr. Knight’s surging organ added warmth to the band’s sound and differentiated Mountain from Cream’s power-trio format. The album’s lead track, “Mississippi Queen,” had what became one of the most famous cowbell intros in rock, though it was originally used by Mr. Pappalardi simply as a way to count the band into the song. The song reached No. 21 on the Billboard singles chart and became an FM radio staple.