Remembering Leslie West
Guitar World|April 2021
THE BIG MAN WHOSE BIG GUITAR SOUND HELPED LAUNCH HEAVY METAL
Alan di Perna

LESLIE WEST WAS always an unlikely guitar hero. His massive physical presence — he weighed 300 pounds at the dawn of the Seventies — defied the longstanding vogue for undernourished-looking, rail-thin rock guitar slingers. And he never cultivated dazzling fretboard techniques, relying instead on pure soul, a powerhouse singing voice, and one of the meatiest electric guitar tones ever to burst from a speaker cabinet.

“I didn’t play fast,” West said in 2011. “I only used the first and third finger on the fingering hand. So I worked on my tone all the time. I wanted to have the greatest, biggest tone, and I wanted vibrato like somebody who plays violin in a hundred-piece orchestra.”

West, who died of a heart attack on December 22, 2020, at age 75, was a key architect of the heavy guitar aesthetic that coalesced in the late Sixties/early Seventies and has been a staple of rock music ever since. He was born Leslie Weinstein on October 22, 1945, in Forest Hills, Queens, and grew up in the suburbs of Long Island and New Jersey. He bought his first guitar with money from his bar mitzvah at age 13. With his brother Larry on bass, he formed the Vagrants in the mid-Sixties.

The Vagrants were a soul-inflected rock band in very much the same vein as the Young Rascals — major hitmakers in that era — and the Hassles, the band in which Billy Joel started out, playing Hammond B3 organ. The three groups worked the same club circuit in the metro New York area, and all drew extensively from the soul and R&B repertoire that record labels like Stax and Atlantic had brought to the fore at that time. The Vagrants scored a regional hit in 1967 with their version of the Otis Redding classic “Respect.”

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM GUITAR WORLDView All

MIDNIGHT MADNESS

Foo Fighters’ guitar triumvirate DAVE GROHL, CHRIS SHIFLETT & PAT SMEAR unleash their inner early-Eighties David Bowie (and SRV), bust out the ABBA beats and get decidedly “weird” — just in time for their 10th album, Medicine at Midnight

10+ mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

Remembering Leslie West

THE BIG MAN WHOSE BIG GUITAR SOUND HELPED LAUNCH HEAVY METAL

5 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

Intervals

WHY NO PEDALS OR AMPS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF CANADIAN PROG-METALLER AARON MARSHALL’S AGGRESSIVE NEW RECORD

2 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

The Commander in Chief

THIS SEDULOUS SEVEN-STRINGER PUTS A COMPLETELY NEW SPIN ON CLASSICAL-INSPIRED GUITAR MUSIC

2 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

Relentless Reckless Forever

GW PAYS TRIBUTE TO ALEXI LAIHO, THE LONG-TIME CHILDREN OF BODOM GUITARIST WHO REVOLUTIONIZED DEMONIC SHRED IN THE NINETIES AND 2000S AND EMBRACED A HARD-PARTYING LIFESTYLE WORTHY OF HIS “WILDCHILD” NICKNAME

9 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

LARKIN POE

Six-string sisters REBECCA and MEGAN LOVELL talk us through the tones that grace their new covers record — Kindred SpiritS — and the musical telepathy that comes with growing up together OVER THE LAST 10 or so years, sibling duo Larkin Poe have become one of the most exciting prospects in guitar music, thanks to their tasteful musicianship and heavenly harmonies. Latest release Kindred Spirits sees them return to the “covers” format that originally got them noticed, giving us their take on classic hits by Elton John, Neil Young and Elvis Presley, as well as more contemporary cuts by Lenny Kravitz and Post Malone.

10+ mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

Fleshgod Apocalypse

Francesco Paoli lifts the lid on the symphonic death metal masters’ most vicious and vivacious cycle of songs thus far

3 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

Meet Me @ The Altar

Guitarist Téa Campbell marries her pop-punk and emo influences

2 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

Jan Akkerman – “Hocus Pocus”

Focus | Moving Waves, 1971 | Guitarist: Jan Akkerman

3 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

Plini – Voices in The Sky

PLINI — the guy Steve Vai once called “the future of exceptional guitar playing” — discusses the perils of “guitar fame,” the challenges of a modern prog-rocker and his breathtaking new album, Impulse Voices

9 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021