1970 Mountain – Mississippi Queen
Felix Pappalardi played bass on folk records in the mid-sixties. He also made a name for himself as an arranger and worked on records by Tom Paxton and Fred Neil. He is probably best known for his work as the producer of several albums by the rock group Cream, including Disraeli Gears. He also produced the Youngbloods album that contained the hit Get Together.
Leslie Weinstein grew up in New York and New Jersey. He changed his last name to West when he joined a Long Island group, The Vagrants, for whom he began singing and playing guitar. Felix helped the group get signed with ATCO Records. Felix produced several records for the Vagrants, but they never achieved more than a few regional hits. He then produced Leslie’s first solo album, Mountain. Felix also played bass on the album and used N. D. Smart on drums, giving fans a preview of what was to come next.
In 1969, Leslie and Felix also recruited keyboard player Steve Knight into their lineup and named their new band after Leslie’s first album, Mountain. The group began playing concerts, and their third appearance was a one hour performance at Woodstock. While neither the film nor the first soundtrack album included the group’s performances, two of their songs finally got included on The 40th Anniversary Edition of Woodstock on DVD. Laurence “Corky” Laing became the group’s new keyboard player shortly after Woodstock.
One song the group recorded for their first album was Mississippi Queen. Corky had written some lyrics and the drum part even before joining the band, and Leslie and Felix helped finish the music. Felix had produced an album for singer/songwriter David Rea, and David helped finish the lyrics for the song.
Felix produced the recording and kept the group recording multiple takes because none of the takes satisfied him. Out of frustration, Corky began counting off the start of the song using a cowbell instead of his drums; Felix liked the feel of the cowbell enough to keep it on the start of the final version of the song.
The single is clearly one of the earliest records that can qualify as heavy metal music. Mississippi Queen peaked at #21 on the Hot 100 in 1970. The group reached #76 with another single in 1971, but that was their last appearance on the Hot 100. Felix had to stop touring because of hearing problems that resulted from sustained exposure to loud music, and he went back to doing studio work.
The group recorded two more albums in 1971 and then disbanded in 1972 when Felix had to stop touring because of hearing problems. Felix returned to doing studio work.
The group released an album that collected assorted live performances in 1972. One of the songs on the album was a new live version of Long Red, a song from their first album. The drum solo at the start of the song has become one of the most sampled pieces of music in history; it has been sampled by well over 500 other records.
Corky and Leslie recruited Jack Bruce from Cream and formed West, Bruce, and Laing in 1973. The group toured and recorded two albums before excessive drug abuse apparently tore the group apart in 1974. Corky and Leslie then reformed Mountain with two new members for about a year.
Felix was shot and killed by his wife in 1983.
Mountain reformed a few more times and continued to rotate members for recording sessions and touring. The group’s last new album came out in 2007. Leslie also released more than a dozen solo albums through 2015.
Leslie died just before Christmas in 2020. Corky still leads a group that performs Mountain’s music.
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