Monday, March 10, 2008

Matzoh & Metal

This interview with Leslie West of Mountain is about to appear at a pal's website.

Tough Questions for Tough Jews:

Clifford Meth: Tell us about the new album.

Leslie West: We’ve started working on Mountain does Dylan. We’re not quite finished with it but I’m hoping by the end of the summer. I did some arrangements of Bob Dylan’s songs that are quite different. I actually did one on my very first album This Wheel’s On Fire, then I got motivated over in Europe last year listening to some of his lyrics and I came up with some ideas.

Meth: You’ve never played with Dylan.

West: No, I haven’t had that pleasure. I wasn’t a fan of his voice but I sure am of his lyrics and songs.

Meth: So who were you a fan of when you were growing up?

West: Well, what growing up are you talking about? Ten?

Meth: When you were growing up musically.

West: When I really started to play, it was Blues Breakers and Cream. Then Hendrix and The Stones. Listening to Cream, though--that’s who I am. That’s the reason I play like I play. That probably changed and influenced me more than anything.

Meth: Who do you listen to now?

West: Believe it or not, I listen to a lot of Black Sabbath. They did their first tour with us in ’69 and I just recently did “Mississippi Queen” with Ozzy and we put it out as a single.

Meth: How did that come about?

West: I just went over to Ozzy's house and did it. I had this show called “Metal Mania Weekend” once in awhile on VH1 Classic and I dug up some really old Black Sabbath stuff. Ozzy’s always had good guitar players with him.

Meth: Gene Marchello almost went on tour as Ozzy's guitarist.

West: Gene Marchello. Yeah. He should of somehow caught a break somewhere. He's good. I like the way he plays.

Meth: Let’s get back to working with Ozzy. Was this the first time you played together?

West: I did 150 dates with Black Sabbath and we got together in England and here. We hung out together. I was with him the other day in NY City doing some press and it’s amazing how he remembers everything about all those tours and all those dates; getting snowed in in Detroit for four days when we couldn’t leave the hotel. And another time when we were going to Cleveland and they were on the bill with Johnny Winter and we couldn’t get there because our plane had to make an emergency landing and they had to do a three-hour set. He remembers everything. It’s amazing how sharp he is.

Meth: I haven’t spoken with Ozzy in years but he was fun to chat with. He’s very funny.

West: Plus he’s a really great singer. Especially when he sings Beatle songs. People don’t give him credit for really singing but he can REALLY sing. His voice reminds me of a melodic guitar, actually.

Meth: How long did this new “Mississippi Queen” session take?

West: Two hours. They had the track sort of down and I put my rhythm and lead on it and then Mark Hudson produced it. We did it at Ozzy’s studio in his house. It really sounds great.

Meth: It must be fun to hear that on the radio again.

West: Mountain does it just like that now on stage. It’s a little different--a little slower. We put a new riff in it. I love it.

Meth: What did you make of the Cream reunion?

West: We do a Cream tribute during the show. We show a film of West, Bruce and Lang and Felix and Mountain and Cream all tied together. It runs around seven minutes and then we do four Cream songs. But this tour especially is great--it ties the whole thing together.

Meth: Which musicians do you hang out with?

West: I don’t really hang out with musicians… I’m trying to think of someone I hang out with... I tell you someone who I love--it’s Eddie Van Halen.

Meth: You once told me Eddie was just about the best guitarist you’d ever heard.

West: Yeah... A couple of years ago I had this contest at The House of Blues where I had these guitar players come down in the afternoon to audition, like in American Idol. I was going to pick one to play with us that night. I got up on stage to announce the winner and I said, “The winner is, uh...Ed...Van Halen!” And Ed came out and played. I played with him at Jones Beach—he brought me out to play one night. When I heard him it just made me want to play the guitar again. He’s just incredible.

Meth: I recently bought a guitar at a shop that you frequent in Teaneck.

West: Sure--Lark Street. That’s a famous store from Albany, New York. They have good stuff there.

Meth: You were born Leslie Weinstein. Where did you grow up?

West: Forest Hills.

Meth: You had a strong Jewish identity growing up?

West: Yeah. Did you see the special for VH1 Classic with Scott Ian from Anthrax, myself and Dee Snyder called "Matzoh and Metal"? We did a real Sedar. And we around and talked about the stories and we did all the prayers and everything--had the meal there.

Meth: Whose idea was that?

West: The president of VH1 Classic, Eric Sherman came up with it. He said he got the idea from me because we were in Hawaii and I was talking to him about how many Jewish rock musicians I’d found out there are. I didn’t realize there were that many--seems like more now than ever. And he was looking for ideas and he came up with that. So we shot it the other day in New York and it was a lot of fun.

Meth: Was your family traditional?

West: No... Well, I shouldn’t say that. My father was going to be a cantor and I grew up in Boro Park but I never... I don’t know. But my mom changed our name--I didn’t change my name. When I was in sixth grade my parents divorced and she just wanted to change her name so she gave me a choice of West or Winston. And I said West. Why not? Like Jackie Mason says, you can find a homeless person in New York sleeping on a piece of cardboard and he can get a perfectly good night sleep, but a Jew with a $5 million condo in Florida, "Oi! I had such a rough night! The light in the refrigerator kept waking me up."

Meth: You didn’t run into a lot of anti-Semitism in Forest Hills and Boro Park.

West: No. Not there. I mean I have run into it a couple of times, but not there.

Meth: In the music industry?

West: No. But when I was a kid, my grandparents had this big estate in Woodstock. There had 150 acres and a big lake and everybody else had a quarter acre and they wanted to buy land from my grandfather and he didn’t want to sell it--he didn’t want to break up our place. And my grandmother kept telling me she wasn’t Jewish. And I said, "What, are you ashamed of that?" And she said, "No! I’m not Jewish!" And my grandfather said, "She’s Jewish. She just doesn’t want people to take it out on you." She was afraid that people would find out and be mad about the land. That was when I first had the notion that there was some kind of resentment about those things.

Meth: Did that bother you?West: It did that she didn’t want to admit she was Jewish! You know, with a name like Glickman, how do you pass? (laughs) But I understood she was doing it to protect me and my brother. People up there were jealous.

Meth: Tell me more about the VH1 sedar.

West: Me, Scott Ian from Anthrax, JJ French and Dee Snyder. Dee’s half Jewish. I wanted to have a shmoyal [sic] there and have him to a bris, but Dee said he was circumcised already. It was fun. We said the prayers, talked about how that might have influenced our music--just four guys sitting at the table doing the wine, the prayers, the plagues, the bitter herbs. It can’t get more bitter than having Anthrax at the table. It was really fun. I thought it was going to be stupid, but it wasn’t. It was great. Maneshevitz sponsored it.

Meth: Speaking of Dee, there was a Long Island rock fraternity going on for a while.

West: Sure. Blue Oyster Cult, The Vagrants, The Ramones. Eric Bloom from BOC is Jewish. He’s also Howard Stern’s Cousin. The Vagrants are all Jewish, except for the lead singer. Joey Ramone.

Meth: Were The Dictators part of your crowd?

West: No, they were a little younger. But it is a fraternity. I was talking about that the other day, that when you’re in a rock group it’s like a very exclusive club. You know, it’s like a family.

Meth: That’s certainly your first circle, but the circle around that is the other bands, no? They’re the only ones who can identify with what you’re going through.

West: Yeah. It’s certainly a unique situation. When you think about it, we’re pretty lucky to have made it. Even if you have talent, everything has to fall into place. I produced this group called Clutch a couple of years ago and, well, if I were starting out now I don’t know if I would start out now. It’s a different world and a different business. You could go into a record store a few years ago and find pretty much anything. Now you have to search the web for it. It’s not the same as looking through albums. Probably record stores will be nonexistent in a few years.

Meth: The business changes, but the music survives.

West: I used to think that a lot of groups sounded alike when we were coming up, but they didn’t. You know, you had Procol Harem and Jethro Tull and Ten Years After... Cream, Hendix, The Stones, The Beatles, they all had their own sounds. But if you listen to MTV now--listen to rap, I mean I like some of it, but it’s pretty much the same. There’s a kid named Gavin DeGraw who plays the piano and sings, a young kid that’s really good--I’m impressed with him. So some of it is pretty good, but most of it seems like a formula that comes out of the kitchen.

Meth: What do you read?

West: I’m reading Bob Dylan’s book now. I mean he never wanted to be this. I saw him on "60 Minutes" a while ago and Ed Bradley asked him, "Could you write these kinds of songs again?" and he laughed and said, "No." He did it. You know, how are you gonna write some of that stuff again? We did "Subteranean Homesick Blues," "Blowin’ In the Wind," and "Serve Somebody," but it doesn’t sound like the Dylan versions, believe me. It sounds like Mountain doing''em. But some of the lyrics are incredible.

Meth: Even the new albums are two steps beyond everyone else. But I think he also surprised everybody with how well written Chronicles is.

West: I think there’s going to be a couple more. I put myself in the Village because the Vagrants used to hang around the CafĂ© Wha and all these places. All Dylan wanted to do was play and sing.

Meth: Dylan is very conscious of the nexus--who and where he came from. I was trying to approach that with you earlier when you said Cream--

West: I was never really into the Blues, although I did a Blues album last year called "Blues to Die For" that went to #6 on the BBC in England. And I have another one coming out in two months called "Got Blues?" that I did with Ansley Dunbar that’s real Black Blues songs that I never got a chance to do before. Playing with Ansley was great because he played with the Blues Breakers.

Meth: I read an interesting interview that Bono did with Dylan 10 or 12 years ago. Maybe 15 years. He says to Dylan, "You know, I’m jealous of you because you have roots--you have some place you came from."

West: I guess American Blues is... when The English started doing it, they were copying Blacks, and then when it came out over here we were copying the English who were copying us. It sort of reminds me of the old Amos and Andy Show on the radio, where there were these white guys doing Black guys--then on the TV show, they’d have Blacks imitating the white guys doing the Black guys. There’s not too much original stuff. There’s only eight notes.

Meth: So we're back to the beginning. Do you think you’ll get the chance to work with Dylan?

West: We let his management know that we’re doing this album and he wanted Bob to hear it because he said he might like to write some new verses. What I really wanted to do was get him on one of the songs. I know Michael Shanker is going to play on it and Ozzy told me the other day he’d love to sing on it.

© 2008 Clifford Meth

No comments: