Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mountain - Heavy Metal Pioneers

I was just a young teenage boy when I first picked up a guitar and learned to play it. It was frustrating at times, my fingers would not go where they were supposed to and the right hand did not coordinate with the left hand for quite awhile. My pick often ended up inside the guitar as it kept falling out of my hand due to a bad picking technique. I persevered and learned the chords G, C, and D, managing to play a song that my sister had in her music book. She gave me my first, and only, guitar lesson.

I was listening to the Beeker Street radio program, broadcasting from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. from KAAY in Little Rock, Arkansas.The number of new groups I heard for the first time was staggering. It seem like every other song introduced me to music I had never heard, as long as I could stay up to listen. I kept a cassette recorder by my bedside with a microphone attached so I could record a song that I liked, write that artist down, and hopefully buy the album. I had lots of albums at the end of my 6th grade year, thanks to my mom, who never really questioned what I was listening to.

One of the many bands I heard for the first time was Mountain, playing their huge hit, Mississippi Queen.
Leslie West, from Long Island, New York formed Mountain after recording a record called Mountain. Felix Pappalardi produced the album and played bass. West and Pappalardi worked well together and along with drummer N.D. Smart, went on the road.They called themselves Mountain and after their fourth gig they performed at the 1969 Woodstock Festival in Bethel, New York.

Mountains went over well at Woodstock, but were left off the film, Woodstock, nor did they make it onto the first soundtrack album. However, they did appear on the second soundtrack album with the song Blood of the Sun and Theme for an Imaginary Western.

Corky Laing replaced Smart, and the band recorded the album, Climbing, which included the hit Mississippi Queen. I remember watching the movie Vanishing Point and hearing this song played. This album reached the Billboard charts, starting at #21 and going to #17 after the film was released.

Mountain toured constantly, releasing Nantucket Sleighride in January 1971. It reached #16, but did not have any hit singles, almost a necessity back then.

This was the most commercial success Mountain achieved, and they released Flowers of Evil, which had a mix of live and recorded material. Catchy title for an album, too. The band hit the wall that year, with drug problems, hearing issues and the endless touring causing the band to break up.

Felix Pappalardi was murdered on April 17, 1983 by his wife Gail Collins Pappalardi. She was charged with second-degree murder. The charges were dropped to negligent homicide. After her 16 years in jail, she has all but disappeared.

West and Laing reunited Mountain in 1985 and have been touring ever since. Leslie’s recent health problems have put touring on hold.

Perhaps you have seen Leslie as an actor, as a member of the band that Tom Hanks manages in the film, The Money Pit. He is dressed as a woman and says “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride."

Mississippi Queen
Here is the story about how their biggest hit, Mississippi Queen, was written:

“When Corky (Laing, drummer) brought me the idea, it was a one-chord dance song. I came up with the main riff and the chords. Then we fit the words over the sound. I was madly in love with The Band, and I decided to put a 'Cripple Creek' feel behind it. Later on, I told Levon Helm that I felt bad about ripping him off, but he said that he didn't hear any similarity between the 2 songs, and that we didn't owe them any money!"

The song is about a woman who teaches the singer about the ways of love, which was always my interpretation. However with Proud Mary released a year earlier, one might think it was another song about a riverboat.
Leslie West explains the famous cowbell in the song: "The cowbell in the beginning was just in there because Felix wanted Corky to count the song off. So we used the cowbell to count it off - it wasn't put in there on purpose. And it became the quintessential cowbell song."

You may not hear it in Randy Rhoads’ guitar style, but Leslie West a big influence on Randy when he was just starting out on guitar.

When I was playing guitar in a band years ago, I loved playing Mississippi Queen. The power of those opening chords were a joy to play.

Mountain's albums were:

Climbing! (1970)

Nantucket Sleighride (1971)

Flowers of Evil (1971)

Avalanche (1974)

Go for Your Life (1985)

Man's World (1996)

Mystic Fire (2002)

Masters of War (2007)

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