Each year at this time Music Connection sits down with a select crew of guitarists and bassists to present them with a series of questions focusing on topics that all players can sink their picks into. This year’s group of five acclaimed musicians are Orianthi Panagaris (Alice Cooper, Michael Jackson), P-Funk’s Lige Curry, Sevendust’s Clint Lowery, Vintage Trouble’s Nalle Colt and the legendary Mountain man, Leslie West. While each represents a different style and discipline, all are equally passionate about what they do and how they’ve worked to develop their gifts.
By Oscar Jordan
Contact: Steve Karas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Blues-rock icon Leslie West has seen it all, from jamming with Jimi Hendrix, reaching the heights of fame with his band Mountain, to losing his right leg to diabetes. Famous for his hit “Mississippi Queen,” West continues to move forward, having recorded The Usual Suspects with Slash, Zakk Wylde and Billy Gibbons in 2011. West is currently in the studio recording a new album.
What have you done in the past year to become a better musician?
I’m constantly working on my sound. If you play enough, you’re going to sound and play better. I lost my right leg about a year and a half ago. I haven’t gotten use to my prosthetic, so I can’t stand and play guitar. It’s a whole new world for me, playing and sitting.
I bring my guitar to rehab. I’ll be standing with parallel bars and wearing the guitar to see how my balance is with the prosthetic. It’s not too good. I concentrate on other things, like working on my sound and the Leslie West signature-model guitars I have with Dean Guitars.
Tell us about your gear endorsement with them.
Elliott Rubinson, the president of Dean Guitars, is a really great guy. They make a quality product and I’m really proud of the guitar they made for me. My signature model for Blackstar will be a 30-watt practice amp. It’s a great sounding smaller amp and the tone is great.
What do you notice when you hear a recording of yourself from five or 10 years ago?
I used to smoke pot, so I don’t hear that anymore in my voice. When you play it’s like talking, where you’re throwing your voice. When you hear something come back at you, your ears catch it and it sounds different. Sometimes you say, “That doesn’t sound like me.” But it is. I now try to listen to what it sounds like during playback, because that’s what really counts.
Have you added any gear that has changed your sound or style?
Since I only have a left leg now, my pedals are limited. That’s why my Blackstar Series One 100-watt amp works so good. I don’t use any distortion or overdrive pedals. The amp itself has a clean, a heavier clean, a dirty and a real dirty. It’s one pedal with four buttons. I use a TC Electronic Flashback Delay and a MXR Slash Octave Fuzz.
Tell us about your guitar roadie.
Mark Webber doesn’t play guitar but he’s good at setting them up. He’s very loyal and good at certain things, but he cannot play the damn guitar. In fact I don’t let him play guitar when he checks them out. I tell him, “Don’t play a chord. I don’t want anyone to think it’s me.” He’s a good guy and he’s honest.
Do you have a mentor?
Early on, Eric Clapton without a doubt. The tone he had was right out of the Marshall. His vibrato is what I tried to work on and still work on every day. I want it to sound like a first-chair violin in an orchestra.
What is your most underappreciated quality?
I work really hard on my tone. I want it to be velvet.
What’s your worst onstage mishap?
We were playing The Beacon Theatre with Dio. One of the idiots from the promotion department tried to come on stage. He tripped over the wiring for my amps. I had three stacks on stage and the whole rig came crashing down. Luckily it didn’t kill me. They were still on and plugged in, so I just played right through.