After having the promotion of his 2011’s “Usual Suspects” curtailed by a right leg amputation, Mountain frontman Leslie West wanted to come out roaring with its follow-up, “Still Climbing.”
“My brother (Larry) came up with the name. I think we asked people on my Facebook to come up with ideas, but he’s claiming responsibility for it,” the singer-guitarist tells Billboard. “Listen, everybody gets knocked down in life, but how you choose to get up is totally up to you. I see soldiers, man, double amputees; they’ve got it a lot worse than me. It’s just a good thing it wasn’t my hand, you know? But it’s not a pity party for me here, believe me. I’ve gone through some life-changing things, but I just wanted to make an album that continued on sound-wise, production-wise, song-wise, from the last one. I’m really happy with the way it came out. The songs seem better, and I’m really proud of it.”
The 11-track “Still Climbing,” which comes out Oct. 29, includes a cover of the Percy Sledge classic “When a Man Loves a Woman,” as well as guest appearances from Johnny Winter, Mark Tremonti of Creed and Alter Bridge, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider and Jonny Lang. West also co-wrote several of the album’s songs with his wife, Jenni, a creative relationship that began on “Usual Suspects” — much to the guitarist’s surprise.
“I never wanted to get involved with my wife writing the songs; my ex-partner Felix Pappalardi did and his wife ended up shooting him, so it’s not always a good thing when you’re in business together,” West explains. But I’d wake up in the morning and I’d look at my iPad and I’d see these lyrics waiting for me on iCloud. I’m not good at lyrics at all. So for ‘Hatfield or McCoy,’ everybody in America knows who the Hatfields and the McCoys were, but Jenni wrote a lyric about, ‘Hey, either you’re in or you’re out. Are you with us? Against us? Are you Democrat? Republican?’ I couldn’t have done that, and I thought it was really great, so it really worked out well here.”
Another intriguing inclusion on “Still Climbing” is “Long Red,” a song that first appeared on his 1969 solo album “Mountain.” It’s gone on to become one of the most sampled songs by hip-hop artists — in Nas’ “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” Jay Z’s “99 Problems,” A$AP Rocky’s “Ghetto Symphony” and tracks by Common, De La Soul, The Game, A Tribe Called Quest and others, as well as for Lana Del Rey’s “Born To Die.”
“I can’t believe how many people sampled that song,” says West, whose brother plays bass on the “Still Climbing” version of the tune. “When I wrote it in ’69, there was no hip-hop. So I wanted to do it ’cause we do it live and we do it a little heavier than the original recording, and I just figured it was time I sampled my own song — although it’s not really sampled, of course. But everybody requests it as the shows we do, so why not put it on the album the way we do it now?”
West has one show scheduled to support “Still Climbing” — Nov. 13 at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City — but full-scale touring remains a challenge for him at this point.
“The problem is there’s no tour buses that work for me,” he says. “I haven’t really gotten used to the (leg) prosthetic. My balance is really off, and I don’t want to have to play on stage and worry about, ‘Oh, shit, I’m gonna fall.’ So I do perform in the electronic wheelchair, which is a little restricting ’cause I can’t move around on stage like I used to. But it’s working out. We have a vehicle we use that has ramps and everything, so we’re doing the best we can and hopefully somebody’ll come up with a bus so we can get out and play more ’cause that’s what I really want to do — especially with this new music.”