Leslie WestRock | 2006
Born in Forest Hills, Leslie West was sparked with the desire to play guitar when he saw Elvis Presley’s notorious appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in the mid-1950s. After learning three chords, he played “Heartbreak Hotel” in a seventh-grade talent show and, with the proceeds from his bar mitzvah, bought his first electric guitar. Seeing the Beatles in New York on their first tour inspired West to form the Vagrants, his first professional undertaking. During a stretch playing in a New York club, the band met the Rascals, who introduced West to an agent who helped the Vagrants put together a demo and, ultimately, negotiate a contract with Atlantic Records. Bassist and Cream producer Felix Pappalardi was called in to produce a single. West soon left the Vagrants and made arrangements for a solo album, titled Mountain, working with Pappalardi, and later formed the rock band Mountain in late 1969 with Pappalardi—a collaboration that lasted until 1974. West and drummer Corky Laing soon formed a partnership with British powerhouse bassist Jack Bruce dubbed West, Bruce and Laing. The rock media pegged them as the next supergroup, but the distance between England and New York City proved too great, and after two studio efforts and a live album, the band dissolved. One of the most influential guitarists in music, West continued performing as a soloist and with the current incarnation of Mountain until his passing in December of 2020.