Climbing, Nantucket Sleighride, Best of Mountain

One of hard rock’s pioneering bands gets a reissue facelift courtesy of Columbia /Legacy Records. The New York-based band Mountain defined the term “power chord” with the 1970 release of the bombastic “Climbing.” A five star record by many accounts, revealed to the world a thunderous combination of freightrain riffs, Neanderthal drumming and bone-crushing bass all bundled into melodic TNT kegs. Leslie West was a rising star with the Long Islands R&B band the Vagrants. It was his thick, heavy-handed playing that won the attention of Cream producer (and bassist) Felix Pappalardi. Deciding to concentrate on West harder edge, the two set about recording West’s solo effort “Mountain” (1969).

The results were satisfying enough for the two to form a partnership. They stuck with the name Mountain not only representing their gargantuan sound but the size and personality of their guitarist. The first lineup included drummer N.D. Smart and keyboardist Steve Knight. The group played its fourth live performance ever at Woodstock, after which Smart was replaced by Canadian Corky Laing. Their debut album, 1970's “Climbing,” went gold, thanks in part to the hard rock classic “Mississippi Queen.” Says West in the reissued liner notes, “When I started to play guitar all I wanted to do was play well and not embarrass myself. There have been times when I did, but not this time. I was very proud of ‘Climbing’.

Climbing celebrated West’s weight as a guitarist. Ted Nugent would, in 1975 hail the album as a major force in centering his own focus and direction. Aside from Mississippi Queen the record boasted the climactic “Theme From An Imaginary Western”, the keyboard laced “Silver Paper” and the ferociously crunching “Never In My Life.” The record benefited from Pappalardi’s skill as a producer and, because of his association with Cream, actually gave the band a European reputation. Many in the music press compared them the Free, Humble Pie and Deep Purple. Yet, Mountain’s relentless touring schedule was all about proving they were New York, born and bred. “We con sidered ourselves the quintessential heavy-rock New York band,” says Laing. “Since we were from the concrete jungle, we’d be considered concrete blues – a hard-rock/blues band.”

Nantucket Sleighride, the band’s second outing was equally as successful as their first. Released in 1971, the record continued the trend of heavy metal guitar built over an acid wash of haunting keyboard and a throbbing bottom end. Again Pappalardi was at the helm guiding and pulling some of the greatest moments the band would ever have. One of those moments was the frantic build of the records title track. “Nantucket Sleighride” the song, swirled in a sea of layered balladry before finding its voice in a sharp, Celtic hook. The song went on to become another significant hit mostly in England where it was used in the weekly TV show “Weekend World” and especially on the island of Nantucket itself where the band still sells out every time they play there.

What is a Nantucket Sleighride? “A ‘Nantucket Sleighride, ’” says West “as it turns out, is in the days of whaling ships they would go out looking for a whale. When they would see one they would throw harpoons into the whale and the whale would go down in the ocean and come up in full breach, all the way out of the water and take the long boat on a “Nantucket Sleighride’ until he was tired and finally harpooned to death.” This explains the illustration by Roy Bailey depicting such a scene that graced the records gatefold and is handsomely reproduced in the reissue.

Mountain’s next record “Flowers Of Evil,” released in 1971 as well, lacked a solid radio hit so after the lackluster “Mountain Live” in 1972, the group broke up. Pappalardi, whose hearing had been damaged by Mountain's excessive in-concert volume, returned to production, while West and Laing teamed up with ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce under the name West, Bruce & Laing. In 1974 Columbia stepped in and released the much better live set “Twin Peaks” which included the Chuck Berry cover “Roll Over Beethoven.” A brief reunion featuring West and Pappalardi from the group's original lineup took place the same year yielded the stellar “Avalanche”

The Best Of Mountain was originally released in 1971 and included songs from all three of the group’s studio recordings. It was a collection of hits and misses but did have a strong running order putting “Mississippi Queen” dead center instead of at the beginning or the end. A smart move by Pappalardi. The reissue goes one better including four bonus tracks “Long Red,” “Dreams Of Milk & Honey,” “Silver Paper” which should have been on the original and “Travelin’ In The Dark.” All three reissues feature bonus tracks, mostly live as well as extended liner notes by both Laing and West as well as detailed art and nostalgic photos.

In subsequent years, West and Laing revived the group for live shows, sometimes joined by Pappalardi; West also performed with his own Leslie West Band. Pappalardi was shot and killed by his wife in 1983. Two years later, West and Laing regrouped with Mark Clarke on bass and recorded an album before once again calling it quits. Laing served as PolyGram's A&R vice president in Canada between 1989 and 1995. In 1996, he reunited with West and Clarke for a new Mountain album, “Man's World.” West and Laing teamed up as Mountain again in 2002 for another album and DVD calling it “Mystic Fire.”