On the Eve of his Tri City Performance the Iconic LESLIE WEST Talks About Dylan, Working with Ozzy, and his Bout with Cancer

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 635   By: Scott Baker

12th April, 2007     0

From Woodstock to the Fillmore, Leslie West has made a mountain of a career in music. Taking a break during the day last week to have a laugh on the phone, the legendary guitarist and vocalist was just coming down after a night of sitting in with the Allman Brother's Band on April 5, as a special guest during an evening that also included Dave Mason from Traffic jamming with the legendary group as well.

West, who befriended Allman/Gov't Mule guitarist/vocalist Warren Haynes just a few years ago, has been pushing it to the limits again on the scene, awakening the desire for his own group, Mountain once again.

On Friday, April 20, Mountain pulls their comfortable tour bus up to Sullivan's Black Forest Brew Pub in Frankenmuth to unleash some classics and even update the Bob Dylan songbook as well.

"He just played on our new Dylan album with Ozzy Osbourne, also contributing)," said West, of getting Haynes to guest on the upcoming Mountain album - a Dylan tribute.  "I love playing with Warren. I feel like he's my brother from another mother."
The making of the album which is to be released this summer, kept West busy as of late.

"The last couple of years, I spent trying to find Bob Dylan songs that we can electrify with Mountain and I got Ozzy to sing a duet with me on Masters Of War," chimed the guitarist.  "Warren played on Serve Somebody and Times They Are A Changin'. They really don't sound like Dylan songs you know. It took a long time to do this and it came out really, really good."

Last year, Mountain went out as part of a hippie-touring troupe that included many legendary rockers working together to keep the music alive. They are planning to do that again this summer.

"We're doing this big festival thing this summer with Denny Laine and Terry Anderson, Mark Farner, Felix Cavaliere, and we'll be doing amphitheaters all summer starting in July," said West.  "I think we're doing DTE too. We did it last summer so I think we're going back."

"We close the show and get to play a tiny bit longer. We get the last half hour and everybody gets three or four songs, so it's pretty good. It's a lot of fun. Between all the groups you get to hear a lot of great songs."

Having released their last studio album about five years ago, West is proud to get the new Dylan-based record out.

"We had one called Mystic Fire and then we had this live album from Belgium and Europe," said West. "Jay Z - his song 99 Problems is me. He took one of my songs, Dreams of Milk and Honey and used my guitar and re-wrote the words, so I had a big hit with that. Listen to it, you can hear my guitar. I love the song. I also did Mississippi Queen with Ozzy."

With the creative spark glowing, West was hit with some disturbing news late last year.

"This November I found out I had cancer, but I'm cured so I am very grateful for that," he shared.  "I found out I had bladder cancer from smoking and they found it by accident early enough and I was lucky. Just words to the wise, everybody should go get themselves checked when they hit a certain age. Boy, I'm really glad I'm better, because when I found that out I said, 'Oh, that's it.'

"You know I had just designed a new guitar with Dean Guitars, the Leslie West Signature Model that is coming out, all these new CDs that are coming out and I said, 'Well, this is it! Luckily we caught it by accident and it didn't go through the bladder wall. I asked the doc, 'How do you get bladder cancer? ’ And he said, 'From smoking.' There's no like maybe you get it from smoking, or you could get it from smoking. That's how you get it."

With the years of the rock and roll lifestyle along with millions of miles in cigarettes, West was faced with a dilemma.

"I started taking this drug Chantex which blocks the receptors in the brain that want you to crave the nicotine. I am diabetic, so I can't use Nicorette or any of that stuff. This Chantex is really working, if I light up a cigarette I can smell it right away and it tastes so awful and I just don't have that craving anymore. If I want to be around, I guess you got to do what you got to do." During the mid-‘90s, West also shed many of the pounds that he visibly had his entire career, much like John Popper of Blues Traveler.

"I'm diabetic and I learned how to eat better and if you stop getting high you won't be so (expletive) hungry, you know," laughed West. "That helps! The older I get the better I used to be. I'm a legend in my own lunch line! I'm in a good mood, what else can I say?"

When the cancer news struck West, he immediately put it to use to hurry up an old friend.

"Ozzy was going to sing Masters Of War and I gave it to him at Ozzfest out in New York. He was going to do it after he finished the tour and after I found out I had cancer, I just sent him an Email and said,  'By the way, if you're going to sing that (expletive) song, can you do it before I die? ’ And he thought I was kiddin', so he calls me up and he goes (mimicking Ozzy's voice),  "I thought you were (expletive) kiddin’ man! If I would have found out I had cancer I would have taken the biggest shot of somethin' and you would have never seen me again! But he sent me candy and a big gigantic fruit basket came to my house, must have been four feet tall, from Sharon and him. He sang the song. He's one of the greatest guys I've ever met."

West dug into the memory banks to share a story on Black Sabbath's inaugural visit to this side of the Atlantic.

"Black Sabbath's first tour was with Mountain when they came over here," he remembered. "Spend two months on the road with Ozzy and boy oh boy, you can have a lot of fun. I got him into a lot of trouble. Oh my god, we got snowed-in in Detroit for four days too. That was fun, man. The Sheraton Cadillac - we didn't know what to do, so, oh boy - smashing into walls, we couldn't go anywhere. The show was cancelled, so we hung out in Detroit, Motown. A lot of fun."

West wouldn't have traded many things for highlights like that.

"We were writing rules as we went along. What I would have changed? I look back now and I hated the flying. It's so much easier on a tour bus and back then, you know, only big black groups had busses. They didn't even have the bunks, living rooms, and things like they have now. And now we have the greatest bus and we can go anywhere on that thing. I hate flying. I always said we got paid to travel, not to play. Because what do you play, an hour and a half, maybe two hours a night. But all the traveling takes its toll on everybody."

West is now proud to introduce a new version of an old friend, found exclusively at http://www.deanguitars.com. "We tried to take the (Gibson Les Paul) Junior that I played years and years and years ago and update it. It's a limited edition," he said. "I made sure the volume and tone knobs go to 11. And Dimarzio made me a super pickup and the guitars' a one-cutaway, single pickup and it is the most elegant guitar. The tone of it is just incredible, man. This guitar is expensive, but it's really, really worth it."

"It took me a long time to get my model. I never really wanted to put my name on a guitar that was already a model. I didn't want to have a Leslie West Les Paul Junior. There already was that. And Hendrix is dead and he has a model now, so what good is that?"

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