December 23, 2020

Leslie West, the legendary guitarist, vocalist and original founding member of MOUNTAIN, has died at the age of 75.

Leslie's brother, Larry West Weinstein, confirmed the musician's passing to Rolling Stone.

West suffered cardiac arrest at his home near Daytona, Florida on Monday (December 21) and was rushed to a hospital, where he never regained consciousness.

Earlier today, Dean Guitars, with whom West has had an endorsement deal for a number of years, issued a statement, saying: "With a heavy heart, we are saddened hear about the passing of #Dean Artist and part of the Dean family, Leslie West. Legendary and one of a kind. Rest In Peace."

Dean Guitars CEO Evan Rubinson added in a separate tweet: "To a man that I truly loved more than most — the funniest, most honest guy I've met. #RIP #LeslieWest"

The news of West's deteriorating health was first broken by his brother, who took to his Facebook page on Monday to say that Leslie was gravely ill and near death after his heart stopped, and that he was put on a ventilator.

"I am asking for all your prayers," Weinstein wrote in a since-deleted post. "[Leslie's wife] Jenni is by his side in Florida but it's not looking good. Thanks Jenni, he wouldn't have made it this far without you."

Weinstein went on to say: "His heart gave out and he's on a ventilator. May not make it through the night."

Earlier today, TWISTED SISTER singer Dee Snider, who is a friend of Leslie and Jenni, and has been in contact with the family, tweeted: "The final hours on this earth for the amazing Leslie West of MOUNTAIN. His voice and guitar will be silenced but his music will live forever. I am heartbroken. Prayers for him and his amazing wife, his rock, Jenni who is with him now. @lwestmountain".

Snider went on to acknowledge West's massive influence on rock music, writing: "Leslie West and MOUNTAIN are one of the founding fathers of heavy metal. His explosive, powerful guitar playing and seering solos helped define the genre. Attending guitarists gatherings with Leslie I saw ALL guitarists bow down before him (yes even @eddievanhalen)... And his influence on HIP HOP (You heard me!) is undeniable. His song Long Read has been sampled on over 750 hip hop tracks including Jay-Z 99 Problems. What an incredible force @lwestmountain was!"

Born Leslie Weinstein, West first gained worldwide recognition in 1969 as the guitarist and singer in the groundbreaking rock band MOUNTAIN. Included among Leslie's many fans and disciples are six-string luminaries such as Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, John McLaughlin, JETHRO TULL's Martin Barre, Warren Haynes and Ritchie Blackmore of DEEP PURPLE. Blackmore has stated that Leslie's phenomenal playing on "Mississippi Queen" served to redirect the course of DEEP PURPLE's music in an instant, ultimately resulting in the brutal hard rock intensity displayed on "Deep Purple In Rock".

For Barre, meeting Leslie in 1970 served to inspire the writing and playing on JETHRO TULL's most successful album in the band's history, "Aqualung". "Prior to going into the studio to record [1971's] 'Aqualung', I met Leslie, whose playing I absolutely loved," Barre revealed. "Leslie is well known for his association with Les Paul Juniors, and just after meeting him, I picked up a 1958 Junior because his sound was so incredible. I would say that he's the only guitarist who has ever influenced me directly."

Leslie was also influential in the development of the music for THE WHO's masterpiece, "Who's Next". In early 1971, he was invited to record with THE WHO for the band's initial New York City Record Plant sessions for the album, which sparked a close friendship with THE WHO's leader, Pete Townshend. Said Pete: "Leslie gave me a really great Les Paul Junior with one pickup on it for me to use on 'Who's Next', and Eric Clapton gave me an old Strat. They both gave me really good instruments and I still have those instruments today. Along with my Gretsch Chet Atkins, those three guitars were the only ones I used on 'Who's Next'."

Another fan of Leslie's was none other than Jimi Hendrix, with whom Leslie jammed at famed New York City clubs like Ungano's and elsewhere.

"I first met Jimi while I was recording 'Climbing!' at the Record Plant and he was in another room mixing 'Band Of Gypsys'," Leslie recalled. "Jimi came in, and after hearing the first track, 'Never in My Life', he looked over at me and said, 'That's a great riff, man.' I started shaking! There's a great picture of us playing together at Ungano's, and Jimi's playing Felix [Pappalardi's] bass. Getting to know and play with Hendrix is one of my greatest life experiences."

A life-threatening battle with diabetes cost West most of his right leg in 2011.

"I'm lucky it wasn't one of my hands or I'd be screwed," West later said. "It was a difficult struggle, and after the amputation I didn't know whether I'd ever want to or be able to perform again. But a month later I played at the Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy Camp in New York City, and I heard my guitar on stage and that was it. I knew I had to keep going."

In 2009, West married his wife Jenni. They exchanged vows on stage at the Woodstock 40th-anniversary concert. West credited her with saving his life — first with her love, and then by making the difficult decision to permit his doctors to amputate while he was in a coma.

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