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Leslie West on Leg Amputation: 'I Cried a Couple F--kin' Times'
Leslie West says that a looming new album in September and concert tour this fall have given him incentive to recover from having the bottom half of his right leg amputated last month.
"I don't think there is another attitude," the former Mountain man tells Billboard.com from the New Jersey rehabilitation facility where he's being taught how to live without the leg after it was removed just above the knee on June 20 in Memphis, due to complications from diabetes. "I cried a couple fuckin' times. I look down -- 'Where is it?!' You still feel the nerves and stuff like that. I had to make a decision -- lose my leg or lose my life. What are you gonna do?
"But I'll tell you," the guitarist adds, "it's a good thing it wasn't one of my arms. Then I'd be really fucked."
West, who's slated to return to his New Jersey apartment later this week, is going through two therapy sessions a day to help him develop upper body strength as well as more strength in his left leg. He's also being taught how to move himself from one point to another and is being trained to use both manual and motorized wheelchairs. He's also being fitted for a prosthetic, which he'll start using "down the road" and will require more instruction.
Meanwhile, West is taking a "one day at a time attitude" and is looking forward to the Sept. 20 release of "Unusual Suspects," a 12-song set that features guest appearances by Slash, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Zakk Wylde, Toto's Steve Lukather and Joe Bonamassa, with Kenny Aronoff playing drums. Most of the songs are West originals, and the album also includes a bluesy cover of the Beatles' "I Feel Fine" and a rendition of the Eddie Boyd-Willie Dixon "Third Degree" with Bonamassa that was on the first West, Bruce and Laing album, "Why Dontcha'," in 1972.
"I'm glad the album was all done before (the leg amputation) happened, because...there's now way I would even care about doing an album if it wasn't," West says. "But I'm glad it's all done and it came out great and I'm really proud of it. Everybody on there is a top-flight guitar player. Each guy was an experience in itself...It was only up to me to fuck it up!"
West plans to support "Unusual Suspects" by returning to the road "by any means necessary." His first scheduled public appearance will be on release date, Aug. 13, at the Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp in New York City. Meanwhile he's planning to tour in the fall with "two other guitar heroes;" details and dates are expected to be revealed soon.
"I'm hoping I'll have my prosthetic by then," West says, "but we'll see. Even with Mountain shows I did, I would stand and sit for the ballads and so on and so forth. But I could (stand) up. Now I have no idea what it's like because I haven't gotten that far yet. So we'll see what happens and just hope for the best."