Whether it came from his soul or his fingertips when he played his Les Paul Junior, Leslie West was a passionate guitarist with an electric energy about him. Playing alongside a crowded field of guitar greats like Clapton, Hendrix, Page, and Townshend among others, West managed to carve out his own style and sound. A balls to the wall guitarist with a lot of feel, he influenced countless guitarists that came after him. Never one to shy away from collaboration, he worked with the likes of The Who, Bo Diddley, Ozzy Osbourne, and many others throughout the course of his career. Originally, this new release from Mascot Label Group was supposed to feature West playing his favorites from his catalog along with others in the industry. After he passed away two weeks before recording was set to begin, musicians who were fans (and peers of his) got together to make this album, Legacy: A Tribute To Leslie West, a reality.
Zakk Wylde opens the album with a hellraising, raucous take of “Blood On The Sun”. With blaring guitar licks and vocals to match, this song kicks off the album with a take no prisoners approach that is the theme of the album. “Nantucket Sleighride (To Owen Coffin)” opens with that familiar shrieking guitar courtesy of Marty Friedman, well known for his decade stint in Megadeth. A tale of cannibalism with haunting opening vocals, Joe Lynn Turner matches the intensity of the original and said topic with his soaring vocals throughout. The drums are the supporting cast on this track, unlike “Blood On The Sun” where they are heard much more prominently. You will see that shift throughout the album. “Theme For an Imaginary Western” is a song that has appeared on multiple Leslie West releases and was even performed on the Howard Stern show during one of his infamous appearances. An often covered song, this version features a metal supergroup of sorts: Dee Snider, Eddie Ojeda, Rudy Sarzo, and Mike Portnoy. One of West’s favorites, each hold their own on this track with Ojeda hitting the chords with ease. Snider has range and full control of his voice throughout to complement the guitar well. Should we have expected any less from this group of guys? “For Yasgur’s Farm” was a song first performed at Woodstock. When it was initially performed, it was untitled. After it was performed, the band decided to name it after the owner of the farm where Woodstock was held, Max Yasgur. Fifty plus years later, this take is not any less rowdy, loud, or powerful. Known for West’s live guitar solo, Martin Barre contributes his own searing solo while Joe Lynn Turner makes another appearance contributing his distinctive vocals. The drums and bass guitar add substance. Throughout this album, you will hear the rhythm section of Rev Jones and Bobby Rondinelli, who were members of West’s band that played with him for years. Laying down basic tracks, they built the foundation for others to contribute to this project.
The album goes full steam ahead with a cover of West, Bruce, and Laing original “Why Dontcha?”. After a Steve Morse guitar run to start the song, Ronnie Romero’s vocals come in howling, unapologetic, and full force. Accompanied by guitar licks and booming drums throughout, this is a noisy collaboration. Romero and Morse do the original justice with their respective contributions and the song is blaring with bluesy undertones. Romero stays on handling vocal duties for “Sittin’ On A Rainbow”, a cut from Mountain’s debut album, Climbing! While Romero matches the growl of West’s vocals, this version features a much deeper bass pedal than the original. Elliot Easton contributes solid guitar playing throughout but one that gets lost in the song, with the drum and rhythm section carrying the song in general. In the original, it feels like West’s guitar takes center stage, unlike this take. “Never In My Life” comes in hard and heavy. Dee Snider makes another appearance tackling the vocals, which he does with tenacity. A tenacity that matches George Lynch guitar, which comes in boisterous and full of rage. While the drums and rhythm section help drive the song, Lynch does a good job of sticking out with his roaring licks, runs, and playing throughout. Making his third appearance doing vocals, Ronnie Romero takes on “The Doctor” alongside Robby Kreiger. Once described by Ritchie Blackmore as having a vocal style that was “a cross between Ronnie James Dio and Freddie Mercury”, Romero’s talent and range shine throughout his multiple appearances on this album. Krieger does a good job of bouncing off Romero’s vocals and contributes rip-roaring guitar sounds all through this bluesy track.
On “Silver Paper”, Charlie Starr covers the dual task of vocals and guitar. Starr is a member of Blackberry Smoke, a Southern rock band who were the first independently released artists to hit #1 on the Billboard Country album charts in modern history. You might have not heard of him before, but this guy is no amateur. Being apart of a jam band with bluesy-country tones serves him well as this song features all those elements. Starr’s vocals and guitar sound almost the same as the original, which brings a nostalgic feeling to the song. He balances the dual task well and has a good feel in general for what the tone and sound of the song should be. He does not overdo it but does not let the rhythm section or his own guitar playing overshadow his vocals. Bachman & Bachman (a duo featuring Randy Bachman and his son) come through to play on the track “Money (Whatcha Gonna Do)/By The River)”. A medley featuring two songs from the 1976 The Leslie West Band album, this duo weaves these songs together to make something that is harmonious, hard hitting, and fiery. The vocals and guitar compliment each other well on this track with Rondinelli’s drums aiding throughout. “Long Red” is a song that was first featured on West’s debut album, Mountain but appeared on later releases. It has been sampled over 600 times for various hip-hop tracks and has grown in popularity over the years. Teddy Rondinelli, Bobby’s brother, supplied vocals but Yngwie Johan Malmsteenreally shredded this track from start to finish. He turned a bare bones rock song into a blues driven tune. He gives us some of the best guitar playing on the entire album with his contribution. You can’t have a Leslie West tribute without his most famous song, “Mississippi Queen”. This version is sung by Marc Labelle, relative newcomer and lead singer of Dirty Honey, a hard rock group from Los Angeles. Who better for Labelle to collab with than the guitar great who Dirty Honey opened for numerous times, Slash. Labelle handles the vocals with flashes of West’s original but not quite the enthusiasm needed throughout. But, as expected, Slash brings the grit and hard hitting, clean guitar tones to ensure the album goes out with a bang.
Leslie West was a loud, raging, pedal to the metal player. In an era of classic rock, his guitar shredding ushered in what would become known as heavy metal. The riffs, tone, and sounds he coaxed from his Junior were mind boggling. As someone whose career spanned multiple eras of rock, it was only right to have a who’s who of classic rock, hard rock, & metal greats (along with a few newcomers) come together to pay tribute to the man known as “The Great Fatsby”. Leaving behind an expansive catalog meant that there was no shortage of songs to choose from. Jenni West and the others at Mascot Label Group involved in putting this album together did a great job of picking songs from not just Mountain or West, Bruce, and Laing, but his solo work and other side projects too. You can hear Leslie’s style in his peers’ interpretations of his work. The effort, passion, and no holds barred approach is evident throughout the album. This tribute is uncompromising yet cohesive, full of ear splitters, and showcases the arc of West’s career. It is a fitting sendoff to a trailblazer.
Legacy: A Tribute To Leslie West is available now on all major streaming platforms. CD/Vinyl preorders are available now at: https://smarturl.it/LeslieWestMLG