The hard rock continued on Saturday night with Leslie West’s band, Mountain, the Long Island proto-heavy metal band that was on the verge of hitting it big, and their Woodstock performance proved it.
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival, August 1969–2019
Day Two, Performer 8
Performed Saturday night, August 16, 9:00–10:00 pm
Leslie West: guitar, vocals • Felix Pappalardi: bass • Steve Knight: keyboards • Norman "N.D." Smart: drums
Woodstock set list:
- Blood of the Sun
- Stormy Monday
- Theme for An Imaginary Western
- Long Red
- Who Am I But You and the Sun (for Yasgur's Farm)
- Beside the Sea
- Waiting to Take You Away
- Dreams of Milk and Honey
- Guitar Solo
- Southbound Train
Born Leslie Weinstein in New York City, Leslie West (who changed his name after his parents divorced) was the lead guitarist of the Long Island garage band The Vagrants who, in 1966 and 1967, had a minor hit with their cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect.” Despite gaining an enthusiastic following around the New York metropolitan area, West longed to take his music into a heavier, more guitar-oriented direction, influenced by hard-rock powerhouse Cream, among others. In early 1969, West left The Vagrants to form his own band. Christening this initial ensemble Leslie West Mountain (a reference to West’s physical bulk), West was joined by Norman Landsberg on keyboards and bass, and Ken Janick on drums.
After a few months of gigging around New York, West nabbed a deal for a solo album to be produced by Felix Pappalardi, best known as Cream’s producer. The album, titled Mountain, featured Norman Lansdberg on keyboards, Felix Pappalardi on bass, and N.D. Smart on drums. Filled with crunching blues and rock propelled by West’s explosive guitar, the album immediately attracted a following far beyond West’s New York home base. When the album was released, West and Pappalardi decided to take their show on the road, replacing Landsberg with Steve Knight. They named themselves Mountain after West’s album and played three shows on the West Coast before trekking back east for their fourth gig, a prime Saturday evening slot at Woodstock.
Mountain opened their Woodstock set with “Blood Of The Sun,” a tune from Mountaindriven along by a powerful riff. A cover of T-Bone Walker’s blues standard, “Stormy Monday,” followed, after which Pappalardi graced the crowd with a beautiful vocal on a song he had co-written with Cream bassist Jack Bruce, “Theme For An Imaginary Western.” This tune would be issued on the first formal Mountain LP, Climbing!, the following year.
Following with song from Mountain, “Long Red,” Felix Pappalardi unveiled another brand-new ballad, which was untitled at the time but would come to be known (upon its release on the Climbing! album) as “For Yasgur’s Farm,” with a lyrical contribution by Felix’s wife Gail Collins. A version of a song that had been issued as a single by West’s previous group, The Vagrants, continued the proceedings: “Beside The Sea” (written by another Woodstock artist, Bert Sommer).
Up next was the Beatle-esque “Waiting To Take You Away,” a song that would go unreleased until a live version appeared on the 1972 album, Mountain Live: The Road Goes Ever On. The main set finished with another tune from Mountain, an extended version of “Dreams Of Milk And Honey” that climaxed with an extended, unaccompanied Leslie West guitar solo. Exhilarated, the crowd roared for more and the group obliged, closing with a driving version of “Southbound Train,” also from the Mountain album.
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Having blown away the mostly-unprepared Woodstock audience, Mountain were now primed for stardom. The band’s performance was, surprisingly, not included in the 1970 Woodstock documentary or soundtrack album, but that doesn’t seem to have affected their rise to stardom (versions of “Blood Of The Sun” and “Theme For An Imaginary Western,” recorded post-Woodstock, were released on the 1971 album Woodstock Two). Replacing drummer N.D. Smart with Corky Laing, Mountain released their debut group effort, Climbing! in 1970, which lead off with their now-trademark hit single, “Mississippi Queen.” This was followed by another successful album, Nantucket Sleighride, the following year. Mountain gained a large following among fellow musicians and fans and is often credited with being one of the early influencers of heavy metal. Mountain broke up in 1972, reunited briefly in 1974, and disbanded again in 1975.
West formed the supergroup West, Bruce, and Laing in 1972 with Cream bassist Jack Bruce and Mountain drummer Corky Laing. He then retired from music for a time to deal with a life-threatening drug addiction, but again reformed Mountain in 1981 with Laing and bassist Mark Clarke. That incarnation of the band dissolved in 1985, but Leslie West has remained active in music, including further stints with Mountain from 1992 through 1998 and from 2001 through 2010. In 2009, he interrupted his concert at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, at the historic Woodstock site, to take his wedding vows, launching into “Mississippi Queen” after saying “I do.” His most recent solo album, Soundcheck, was released in 2015 and peaked at #2 on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart.
After his tenure with Mountain, Felix Pappalardi was forced to retire from performing because of a partial hearing loss, a result of Mountain’s loud concerts, but he returned to producing and released a solo album in 1979. He died in 1983 when his wife and songwriting partner Gail Collins accidently shot him during an argument. N.D. Smart left the band soon after Woodstock (replaced by Corky Laing) to join The Great Speckled Bird. He also worked with Todd Rundgren, Gram Parsons, James Cotton, Jackie Lomax, and Jesse Winchester, among others, and continues to perform. After Mountain broke up in 1972, Steve Knight returned to jazz, enjoying a long career as a sound engineer, author, songwriter, and session player. He settled in Woodstock, New York and was active in local politics, serving two terms on the Woodstock Town Board. Knight died of Parkinson’s Disease in 2013.
—Wade Lawrence & Scott Parker
Next performer: Grateful Dead