Leslie West on Playing with Zakk Wylde, Slash and Billy Gibbons – Interview

I had a good week. First I got to chat with a vocal legend in Jon Anderson from Yes, the next day I got to chat with a guitar icon in Leslie West from the band Mountain. I’m a guitar player that didn’t practice enough, so I always enjoy talking to guitar players, but it was a real honor to chat with a legend like Leslie West. As many of you know, earlier this year West had his leg amputated due to struggles with Diabetes, but that’s not holding him back, he’s got a new album coming out in a couple of weeks and he’s hitting the road with Uli Jon Roth and Michael Shenker in October. Check out my humbling interview with a guitar legend below.

Zoiks!: “The Unusual Suspects” is one of my favorite albums so far this year, how would you describe the album?

Leslie West: Sounds good to me. That’s how I would describe it. I was very very happy when it came out. Usually, I don’t do a lot of preproduction. This is the first album I did quite a bit of it because I wanted to have the tracks down in a certain way before I went out to California to finish it. I recorded the tracks on the East Coast. My producer was out in California so he had a good idea of what the songs were going to be ahead of time and it made the process really easy especially with having the guests that I had on the album. Still, I think the songs held up pretty good even if I didn’t have anybody on there.

Z!: You do have quite the cast of characters on the album, how did the special guests come together?

LW: Well it was guys I wanted to put on there. The record company, I guess they had an idea, they wanted me to use Buddy Guy and guys like that. I don’t even know Buddy Guy, but I had certain guys that I wanted to have on there. I knew I wanted Zakk Wylde on there, he’s like my, he calls me his father. We have the same manager, so I knew he was gonna be on it. Then when Slash came up, that was a really great happening. Until that song came along, after I recorded it, put the track down, I said boy this would be great if Slash and I would play a duet on guitars, and it worked out really, really, really well, really well. Joe Bonamassa, I played on Joe’s album, an early album of his. So when I asked Joe he’s on mascot too, same brand, I said I’d love you to play on the album, he says you know one of my favorite cuts of all time is my recording of Willie Dixon and Eddie Boyd’s “Third Degree,” ‘if you ever want to recut it I’d love to do it,’ he said. I said, consider it done. And so we recorded it, and when I was out in California I went to Hollywood and got a studio for us to sit in and we sat about two feet away from each other and played. It wasn’t like he would do over, I would go in, it was all at the same time. And with Billy Gibbons, on ZZ-Top’s first tour they were, I think, they played several shows with Mountain so I knew Billy for a long time. My producer had been working with them, and, I said ask Billy if he would like to play on the album, and he said that he was working on a song called “Standing on Higher Ground” for me, and when he came out to the studio, we finished writing it, he played it for me, and then we sang it and it worked out pretty smoothly. It wasn’t like how are we gonna get this done? What studio am I going to go to? So it all came together really smooth.

Z!: What does it mean to you that the guitar icons of the day like Slash, Zakk Wylde, Joe Bonamassa list you as a major influence. How important is that to you?

LW: I’m thrilled, thrilled to death. I listen to their playing and it’s very flattering. It humbles you, let’s put it that way. I’m not a humble guy, but that’s very humbling to hear that.

Z!: Your guitar tone and style is one of the most recognizable. I once read an interview with Slash that said there were a lot of great guitar players out there, but a lot of them lack an original style. Is having a style, is that something that you can develop or is that something that just comes natural?

LW: I think that early on when I realized I couldn’t play that fast, I’m not a speedy player, all I use is 2 fingers on my left hand for fingering, so when I found out that my vibrato, my tone early on, I could capitalize on that instead of trying to learn to play fast, because I can’t and I don’t want to play fast and sloppy. Basically, I want every note to count. I tried to work on that, it wasn’t something where I consciously say yeah this is what I want to do. It just sort of happened after I listened to a couple things people pointed out to me about my playing so it worked.

Z!: Who are some of your early influences?

LW: It’s funny, I don’t have roots very deep in the south. My early influences were Cream, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Henrix, and that’s who I wanted to play like. I wanted to play like Eric Clapton.

Z!: Are there artists today that influence you?

LW: Yeah I love Joe Satriani. I went on tour with him two years ago and I had the time of my life. Zakk also, in my DVD called “A Sound in a Story” I went up to Chicago to film playing with him on stage and do a couple of bits on the DVD, funny little vignettes or something like that. I love the way Slash plays, and on the new album on “Mudflap Mama,” the first solo is me playing and then Slash comes in, I swear to god it sounds like a harmonica. I don’t know how the hell he’s doing that. I watched him do it, I still couldn’t tell you how he did it. I listen to those things and I get really… Of course years ago when I stopped playing and I went to rehab in Milwaukee, drug rehab, first show I went to see when I was at least sober enough was Van Halen’s first tour. I think they were opening Journey at Montrose and I saw him play, and that made me want to start playing the guitar again.

Z!: You have a tour coming up, the Guitar Hero tour. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

LW: Uli Jon Roth, Michael Shenker and myself and I think we start in October, and hopefully we’re each gonna play about 30-40 minutes, and then at the end we’re gonna come out and play together. It’s gonna be fun and exciting. I love those guys. It’s different generations, three generations of guitarists so it should be very interesting.

Z!: Will any of the songs off the new album make the set?

LW: Yeah I’m gonna try to do “Mudflap Mama” during my show. Usually when you do that you’re gonna hear some Mountain songs also, but yeah I’m definitely gonna do that.

BYLINE:

Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at bzerull. Email Bob at bob@zoiksonline.com.

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