Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Climbing Mountain

Sometimes, when delving into the history of something one finds that there are more questions than there are answers. How does a band that is considered to be influential in the creation of the hard rock genre get to be a one hit wonder? How does a one hit wonder get listed on VH1's 100 Greatist Artists of Hard Rock even as far down as number 98? Since they played their fourth live concert at Woodstock in 1969, how did they get totally omitted from both the movie and volume 1 of the soundtrack? Why did Guitar Hero III chose their one hit as a playable recording in 2007? Why are they a one hit wonder? Where do you go to find the answers to these questions? After days of research, I'd say apparently nowhere. I could not find a single answer to any of my questions.

So, who or what exactly is Mountain? Originally Leslie West recorded a solo R&B album with bassist and former Cream collaborator Felix Pappalardi and drummer ND Smart. The name of the album was Mountain. They liked what they'd done together and decided to form a group. Since Leslie West was a big man with a big voice, they decided to call themselves "Mountain". They didn't want to be considered Cream wannabees so they added a keyboardist by the name of Steve Knight, acquired Ginger Baker as manager(THAT Ginger Baker) and set about making history. Unfortunately I suspect the kind of history they made wasn't exactly what they planned on.

Their first album, released in 1970 "Climbing" did that much. It climbed the charts until it broke the top twenty, producing their one and only hit single "Mississippi Queen". Their second album "Nantucket Sleighride" also made the top 20, but never produced a hit single. Every one of their albums achieved critical acclaim without ever finding that needed popularity that would have placed Mountain among the widely remembered much revered music icons of my generation. They certainly had the talent and the drive to succeed, but why they didn't really get anywhere is anyones guess.

I can speculate that since they broke up in 1972 that the problem was internal strife or maybe even mishandling by their producers and record label. Quite common problems throughout the history of recorded music as I've found through my research into all the other bands I've had the pleasure of writing about. It appears that record labels wanted, or at least knew how to market the wannabee Creams, Beatles or Rolling Stones that they were making so much money off of to start out with. Music labels are industries, not philanthropic organizations. They also, much like the movie studios before 1960, tried to exercise tremendous control over their product. Control that sometimes just didn't work.

In 1973 Leslie West and Felix Pappalardi reformed Mountain with new people. That version produced a double album "Twin Peaks" and a studio album "Avalanche" which again didn't take them anywhere. They broke up again due to Felix's concerns that he was going deaf. The band became another one of those long forgotten or "never heard of them" groups for the next decade.

In 1983 Felix Pappalardi was shot in the neck by his wife. He was pronounced dead at the scene and his wife was charged with second degree murder. Charges were eventually reduced and she was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to 16 months to 4 years in prison. After her release she disappeared into private life.

In 1985 Leslie West again formed another version of Mountain which still exists to this day. They appeared at the Heroes of Woodstock anniversary concert on August 15 of this year. Leslie said it was 40 years to the exact day of their original appearance at Woodstock in 1969.


  1. Thanks very much for an insightful look into a band I knew very little about. As you say, if one has "Mississippi Queen" in their collection, that's as good as most.

    Rolling Stone had an excellent article recently about Ginger Baker, and it wouldn't surprise me if his touch had something to do with the strange way Mountain was handled...

    Nice job....the pieces that have very little research mines often have the best outcomes


  2. Sometimes the best way to handle the lack of info is to find a creative way to admit that. LOL. I also had info that Leslie West planned on marrying his long time girlfriend on the stage during the Heroes of Woodstock Concert. Couldn't find any report that he did it so I didn't include it.