Leslie West

A Rainbow of BluesRock

One of our favourite artists Leslie West has a new album ‘ Soundcheck’ out on Provogue Records/ Mascot Label Group. Pete called him in New Jersey to catch up and talk about the content. As ever, Leslie is dry, direct and informative…

JLTT: Are you in New Jersey right now, Leslie?

LW: Yeah, in Englewood..right over the bridge

How’s your health ? How are you doing?

I’m OK, Pete. (Pause) My leg hasn’t grown back

A Mr West classic answer! I want to thank you, by the way Leslie for putting me on to the version of ‘Who’s Next’ that you play on, I did find it and yes it was a gas

That’s fine, I thought you would enjoy it….it gives you the rest of the story

Now I’ve been listening to your new album..it’s not really a compilation..it’s actually What Leslie West Can Do, isn’t it?

Well that’s what I wanted to create, yes – the new songs I had worked on and the extra stuff I chose that you might call uncovered or new to listeners..material others may have done like Goin’ Down but with people got in to play with..Don Nix wrote Goin’ Down

Yes, I have that Alabama State Troupers album

And here, we use Brian May’s tracks, on this version..so you hear me and then Brian plays, we put that together to include here..it was great having Max Middleton (J Beck keys man – PS) and Bonnie Bramlett

Max is on that Jeff Beck Group album version, with Cozy Powell – he did that Beiderbecke style piano intro

He sure did! I had to re-sing my part to try to match with Bonnie’s… also we have Bobby Whitlock..Layla ! on the organ

And David Hood on bass, the Muscle Shoals man. His son Paterson is in Drive By Truckers, of course

A magical family! Very creative, real feel players..the kind you like, especially

I call these things not covers, but versions

Better word, man…I’ll take that

Leslie West


So it’s Leslie West colours put on the templates?

That is exactly what I wanted to do. See, even on ‘You Are My Sunshine’ which I do with Peter Frampton. I changed it from a major key to minor. I was watching this TV series called Sons of Anarchy, about a motorcycle gang and it was playing in the background and I thought I could really do a great job on that song. I had never played with Peter even though we have known each other for many years. Coupla years ago he was doing a tour called Frampton’s Circus and he invited me to come along and do a couple of songs with him..Mountain songs that he was going to sing. I think we did Mississippi Queen, I’m not sure. But that led to Peter playing on my album. What the two of us played on that, I get a chill when I listen to it…

Well Albert King didn’t record much outside the blues format BUT he did a lovely take on ‘The Very Thought Of You’

Yeah, that’s true – and with Sunshine I wanted to maybe bring out a sad side to the song, re-interpret on the delivery. The first song on the new set..

‘Left By The Roadside to Die’?

I felt a bit that way when I lost my leg, y’know – life leaving me on the roadside. The guitar riff, it’s kinda like a keyboard playing at the beginning. And the words are by my wife who knows better than anybody what I went through then

It seems like Life is lurking around, sometimes, just waiting for a chance to give us a kicking

When friends die, especially Jack Bruce…

What a great guy he was! Knew so much about jazz

Jack as you well know was a wonderful person and so great to be with whatever you were doing. He didn’t stand still, he kept creating. Makes you realise just how precious life is. How you can get knocked down. I had this track from years ago, of Jack and I doing the song here.

Spoonful..isn’t Joe on that, too?

Yeah – Joe Franco on the drums. (Laughs) I tried to be Eric Clapton on that..

But as we have discussed before, you do mix Anglo and American much better than most! And what about Eleanor Rigby, here?

That’s my bass player Rev Jones and he does do that as a solo when we play live…there’s no overdubs on that, by the way

‘Now People Get Ready’, I love that song and do it live when it’s requested..but it’s so tempting to use Beck’s motif

Oh I stay away from that! I love the way he did it with Rod, that melody..I’m thinking, what can I put in that song, of mine. Curtis Mayfield’s words, man –you just picture the train pulling in slowly.

Leslie West

You watch Sky News or CNN here and you see those refugees…

(Sighs) Oh My God! We see these poor folk every night on the news, just wanting to be somewhere peaceful. This was happening 50, 60 years ago and here it is now, still going on

Did you know Ben E King?

I didn’t know him but he lived in the town next to me. On ‘Stand By Me’ I had my 16 year old niece singing on that. I thought it might be interesting to have that sweet voice featured. I have that gravelly voice. It’s funny, I listen to much wider range of music now than I did, say 20 years ago.

I was talking to Dave Davies about the pastoral feel of some of his solo songs and he happily owned up to liking Vaughan Williams

Well there was a poll in a magazine on the best guitarists and it was Dave Davies strangely enough who said some very complimentary things about my playing style. I haven’t met him.

May I ask you about Stern Warning? Was it triggered by Howard, I wonder?

Y’know that is exactly how it came about – Howard called me one day and talked about a Guild 12 string that Felix said I could have if I recorded with it. I thought I’d use it again. It’s a phrase my Father used to say when admonishing me!

I think it’s my favourite on the album, although I do like this ‘Here For the Party’…

You know whose song that is? Gretschen Wilson. Country rock biker chick. I came up with a new riff and changed the gender and now it feels like it’s my song! Worked out well and was the first new song we recorded for this.

Hearing so much as I do, I am not so much interested in the notes and the technique but the heart, with a song

Yeah, I got it. My roots weren’t so much from Alabama or Mississippi, more 60’s rock’n’roll. So that is the basis of what I do but not all of it by any means.

With the latest albums, I like the range and that you’re brave on the choices

Me too. I have ended up liking and doing and reshaping music that I didn’t think I ever would. Thanks for catching up, man, always good to talk.

Pete Sargeant

Leslie West’s latest album ‘Soundcheck’ is out now on Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group. You can read our review of the album here: http://bit.ly/1lDi81f For more information visit Leslie West’s website: http://bit.ly/1lM0kRz

(Feature Image is credited to Justin Borucki. Thanks Lee and Steve for help on this one)