The roots of the band known as Mountain sprang from a Long Island band called The Vagrants, who played mostly cover tunes in bars and clubs in the New York area in the late 1960s. Lead by guitarist Leslie West, the group got its first break when they were booked into a Manhattan club called The Rolling Stone. From there, they went on to record a handful of singles, first for Vanguard, then Atco Records, where they were teamed with producer Felix Pappalardi. After a series of 45s had failed to find success, The Vagrants split, but were told by Pappalardi "...if you guys get something together, give me a call." When Pappalardi returned from England, where he had produced Eric Clapton and Cream, West contacted him about a project he wanted to record. After some initial time in the studio, the drummer and bass player weren't working out and West suggested that Pappalardi take over on bass. The session was now a Leslie West solo project.
The studio lineup of West on guitar, Pappalardi on bass, N.D. Smart on drums and Steve Knight on keyboards became a vehicle for West's solo career and debuted at San Francisco's Fillmore West in July of 1969. After a couple of other appearances and by virtue of the fact that they shared their management with Jimi Hendrix, they were booked to play at the now famous Woodstock Festival on Saturday, August 16th at 9 PM. That legendary show was just the band's fourth engagement. Unfortunately for their bank accounts, they were not included on the original Woodstock soundtrack, which sold millions of copies. Their performance would however appear on subsequent re-issues.
After Woodstock, drummer N.D. Smart had a falling out with the others and was replaced by Montreal native, Corky Laing, who had been a drum technician for the band. Choosing the name Mountain, which no doubt was influenced by the line-backer size of Leslie West, their first album as a group, "Mountain Climbing", was released in early 1970. The LP received widespread praise from Rock critics and by August, had climbed into the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 200 chart, eventually becoming a million seller. Their first single, "Mississippi Queen", reached #21 during a nine week run on the US singles chart.
Their second album, "Nantucket Sleighride", released in 1971 also reached the Top 20 on the US album chart and although it did not yield a hit single, the title track was used as the theme to the UK political and current affairs television program Weekend World, which was aired between 1972 and 1986. The tracks "For Yasgur's Farm", "Never In My Life" and "Theme From an Imaginary Western" received moderate FM radio play, but Mountain never achieved another commercial success. Later in 1971, the band followed with a third album, "Flowers of Evil", which contained a live version of "Mississippi Queen", but failed to sell nearly as well as it predecessors. Following a live album titled "Mountain Live" in 1972, the band split up.
West and Laing remained friends and teamed up with Paul Rodgers of Free and Mick Ralphs and Overend Watts of Mott The Hoople to form a new band. The quintet was at Island Studios in London, laying down tracks for an LP, when former Cream bassist Jack Bruce stopped by to jam. Leslie West had long dreamed of working with Bruce and the original project was soon scrapped in favor of a trio called West, Bruce and Laing. Ralphs and Rodgers went on to form Bad Company. West, Bruce and Laing recorded "Why Dontcha" in 1972 and "Whatever Turns You On" in 1973 before Bruce left the group that Summer. A live album, "Live And Kickin'" was released shortly after the trio's break-up.
Laing and West continued to work together as Leslie West's Wild West Show before hooking up again with Pappalardi and rhythm guitarist David Perry in the Winter of 1974. The reformed Mountain, minus keyboards, recorded one album, 1974's "Avalanche", before breaking up again later that year. Still working with Laing, West recorded two solo albums, "The Great Fatsby" and The Leslie West Band's "Phantom" in 1975 before taking a break from recording. Laing moved on to various projects, including a 1977 solo album "Makin' It On The Street", on which he played guitar and sang. He was joined by the likes of Eric Clapton, Dickie Betts, Pete Carr and Clyde King. Other projects were attempted, but never saw release.
Forced into retirement by partial deafness, ostensibly from his high-volume shows with Mountain, Felix Pappalardi continued producing throughout the decade and released a solo album and recorded with Japanese Hard Rock outfit Blues Creation. Sadly, he was shot and killed by his wife, Gail Collins Pappalardi, on April 17th, 1983 in their East Side Manhattan apartment. Gail was subsequently charged with second-degree murder, but claimed the shooting was an accident. She was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to a term of sixteen months to four years in prison and was released on parole in April, 1985.
Leslie West returned in 1985 with a new version of Mountain that included Corky Laing and bassist Mike Clarke. The following year, they recorded the album "Go for Your Life". West's solo album "Theme" was issued in 1988 and "Alligator" arrived in 1989, while Laing led a Blues band that featured former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor. 1993 brought "Leslie West Live" and "Dodgin' The Dirt", which was West's interpretation of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind", complete with extended guitar solos. That same year, Joel recruited West to play on his "River of Dreams" album, which sold a million copies and earned Leslie a Platinum CD award. For the rest of '93 and most of '94, West worked with executives at Sony Music to put together the package that made up the two compact disc Mountain anthology, "Over The Top".
Throughout the '90s, West continued to make solo albums and even shed some of his famous poundage. He remained active as a musician and also appeared as a frequent guest on Howard Stern's syndicated radio show. Laing became an executive for the Canadian branch of Polygram Records between 1989 and 1995. Mountain continued to tour occasionally and lineups in the mid-'90s often included former Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Noel Redding. "Needless to say, Mountain without Felix is not the original Mountain," Laing said. "It's the other two guys, it's two-thirds, and we don't try to fool anybody by that." In 1996, West, Laing and Clarke recorded a new Mountain album, "Man's World". When they took some more time off, Laing formed the band Cork, featuring former Spin Doctors guitarist Eric Schenkman. Their album "Speed of Thought" was released in 1999. West and Laing teamed up again as Mountain in 2002 for another CD, "Mystic Fire".
Mountain has been credited with forging a style and sound that would forever change the face of Rock music. In 2006, they were still touring the UK and the US and enjoying a dedicated following of loyal fans. VH1 placed them at number 98 in their five-night, five-part series, 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. A Mountain video game came out in 2007 on RedOctane's Guitar Hero III, featuring "Mississippi Queen". The band's most recent album is '07's "Masters Of War", featuring twelve Bob Dylan covers and a special appearance by Ozzy Osbourne. The band headed out on a North American tour in October and November, 2008, opening for Joe Satriani, and with former Michael Schenker Group member Rev Jones on bass. By 2012 however, the band was no longer touring as each member was involved with solo projects. Leslie West began performing and recording under his own name, playing many Mountain songs during his live shows. Corky Laing started a new project, Corky Laing Plays Mountain, in 2015. This ensemble included bassist/vocalist Joe Venti and guitarist/vocalist Phil Baker. For their 2016 United States tour, Laing and Venti were joined by guitarist Richie Scarlet and keyboardist Ken Sidotti. They often performed Mountain music in addition to songs by West, Bruce and Laing and Cream.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' interview with Corky Laing.