Leslie West Puts his Dean Signature Model
to Good Use
by Tony Conley
“The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,” and across the grooves of Leslie West and Mountain’s latest disc Masters of War. When I told Leslie that this was maybe the best rock guitar album I’d heard in the last five years, he said, “Man, Tony that blows my mind. You just made my day. I’m really so happy to hear you say that. I worked my ass off for two years on this record”
Commenting on co-producing an album with someone an ocean away in England, Leslie states, “I’d be on a cross-oceanic phone call telling Chris “Hey, these guitars aren’t loud enough, push the vocal up a little here.” Man, I’m telling you it was hard work. But it was worth it. Tsangarides did a great job.”
“Masters of War” kicks off the album with an appropriate shot over the bows of evil politicians and warmongers. Where Dylan’s version sounds like a paean to Woody Guthrie’s folk-ish stylings, West’s is more of a hard rocking challenge to war profiteers. In duet with Ozzy Osbourne, the pair turn Dylan’s tome upside down in the most righteous fashion. The immense sounds that emanate from this disc literally explode out of the speakers. These guys sound closer to sixteen than sixty. West is singing and playing like a man whose soul is on fire. His voice though always strong, never sounded this powerful, tuneful, and exuberant. When the strength of his vocal chops was mentioned, West responded, “Thanks, man, glad you noticed. That’s completely because I don’t do narcotics anymore.”
“Serve Somebody” is a prime example of West’s skill at re-engineering the Dylan catalog. Laing’s military snare is commanding and propels the tune forward. Meanwhile, Haynes blisters the grooves with wildly inspired slide and lead playing. On the original version, the then recently re-born Dylan sounded somewhat tentative and unsure. West makes “Serve Somebody” sound like the eleventh commandment.
“Blowing in the Wind (Heavy)” is another old classic given a Mountainous treatment. It will be interesting to hear what Dylan says about this record. The beauty is, none of this sounds contrived. I asked what made him do a portfolio of Dylan covers and Leslie said, “I was at a Neil Young show in Belgium a few years back. Neil was doing a beautiful acoustic version of “Blowin’…” and I just started singing along. It really inspired me. Then I got the idea to re-do a few, and from there it just grew. Two years later, here we are.”
West talked about two rock guitar gods who are currently missing from the trenches, Michael Schenker and Eddie Van Halen. “Without Michael Schenker, I wouldn’t have my own Dean guitar. The idea grew out of Mike telling Dean how much I influenced his playing. We were scheduled to do two tours together in the last two years and they were both canceled at the last moment. Maybe someday…” On the topic of Eddie Van Halen, “I love that guy, I first saw him in Minneapolis when I was actually in rehab. They were playing with Montrose, and Journey. It turned my life around and made me want to play, and to live” West is grateful for where he’s at and is proving it by doing the most inspired work of his young 62 years.
I almost forgot “Highway 61.” Aggressive is an understatement. Here, West sounds absolutely belligerent. The arrangement sizzles with electricity. His playing is authoritative, perfectly matching the heart felt vocal. Scratchy guitars, thick rhythms, and searing fills and leads surround West’s impassioned vocal, making this yet another definitive reading.