Leslie West Pays Tribute to Jack Bruce With Willie Dixon Classic 'Spoonful': Exclusive Song Premiere

Justin Borucki
Leslie West

After friend and onetime bandmate Jack Bruce died during October 2014, there was no question Leslie West would pay tribute to him. And he found a special way to do it with a live rendition of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful," which features Bruce and which Billboard is premiering exclusively below from West's forthcoming new album Soundcheck.

"When I found out Jack died I was very sad, so I put that on there as a tribute to him because there'll never be another Jack Bruce," West tells Billboard. The two men had been friends since the mid-'60s and formed the band West, Bruce and Laing with West's Mountain mate Corky Laing in 1972, releasing two studio albums and a live set. "He was an incredible bass player and singer, and I learned so much from playing with him. He knew what I was gonna play before I played it, and sometimes I knew what he was gonna play before he played it. It was an amazing way to play."

Listen to "Spoonful" below.

West does lament that West, Bruce and Laing had such a short time together, however. "We could've gone a lot longer if it wasn't for drugs getting involved," the guitarist says. "And his manager Robert Stigwood and my manager Bud Prager, the two of them were like two women, fighting all the time over us. If they would've left us alone we could've probably done two more albums."

The performance of "Spoonful," which Bruce recorded with Cream, hails from a 1988 concert at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., during an unannounced show following the release of West's then-new album Theme, which featured Bruce. A small crowd -- West estimates 500 in a space designed for 300-- witnessed the reunion, with Joe Franco on drums, and the seven-minute version of "Spoonful" on Soundcheck was edited down from the trio`s original 15-minute workout. "It was so long, 'cause we would go back and forth and back and forth with each other, and I was trying to sound like Eric Clapton," West says with a laugh. "But we didn't add anything or mess with it like that. That's how we played it."

Soundcheck is due out Nov. 20 and also features collaborations with Queen's Brian May, Peter Frampton, Bonnie Bramlett and others, mixing originals West wrote with his wife Jennifer along with covers of Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason," Gretchen Wilson's "Here For the Party," the Impressions' "People Get Ready," Don Nix's "Going Down" and the Jimmie Davis standard "You Are My Sunshine." West also recorded Ben E. King's "Stand By me" as a tribute to the late singer, who lived near him in upstate New York, and he made room on the set for bassist Rev Jones' solo treatment of the The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby."

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"I knew exactly who I wanted on (the album), but that doesn't always work out," West says. "Someone may tell you, 'Well, yeah, I'd love to do your album,' and then when it's time to do it they may be playing in Guam or something and it doesn't work out. But I was very lucky; I got who I wanted on this album, and I couldn't have been more happy."

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West has three shows lined up in December to promote Soundcheck, including a Dec. 11 stop at Daryl Hall's Daryl's House in Pawling, N.Y. But his touring remains limited after having his lower right led amputated during June 2011 due to complications from diabetes. "There's no tour buses, believe it or not, that were made for people in wheelchairs," says West, who travels in a modified SUV outfitted with ramps that allow him to steer himself into the passenger seat area. "If we can find a bus like that we can change my touring, which is not as easy as it used to be." But he doesn't want to sound like he's complaining, either.

"I'm getting used to it, and I wish I could still walk around the stage with the guitar 'cause this way I'm sort of locked into hearing the mix the way it is," he says. "But I'm very grateful to be able to play, man. If I lost my arm instead of my leg, I wouldn't have an album to talk about, y'know?"