The hard rock band "Mountain" came to rise in the late 60's from Long Island, New York. Guitarist Leslie West had some success with another local band "The Vagrants", but soon he left to start his own project. They were playing locally around the area when they were spotted by producer Felix Pappalardi, who had worked with the supergroup Cream. Leslie made a solo album produced by Felix called "Mountain" which had a reference to Leslies stature. This outfit played Woodstock in 1969. Shortly after that, drummer Corky Laing and bassist/singer Felix Pappalardi joined the band. The classic "Climbing" album was recorded and featured the mega FM radio heavy hit "Mississippi Queen". This line up toured and made many records until the tragic death of Felix. Corky Laing and Leslie West continued to collaborate off and on until today. I caught up with legendary hard rock drummer Corky Laing.
C.L. - Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello?
R.V.B. – Hello - Mr. Corky?
C.L. – Yes - Mr. Corky here. Who's this?
R.V.B. - This is Rob calling from long Island
C.L. - Rob, how you doing?
R.V.B. - I'm doing pretty good. How you doing?
C.L. - Everything's good. You staying warm? You staying cool? What's the deal?
R.V.B. - Ah well, I was hot about ten minutes ago but now I'm cool. I'm in the air conditioning. How about yourself?
C.L. - I'm fine. It's very lovely out here. Where are you on Long Island?
R.V.B. - I'm in Coram which is just south of Port Jeff.
C.L. - Oh ok - that is near Setauket.
R.V.B. - Yes, Setauket borders us.
C.L. – Ok - that's what I thought.
R.V.B. – I'm gonna get you that picture of the three drummers backstage at Westbury.
C.L. - I think I heard about it. Somebody may have posted it, but yeah - with Dino, myself and Carmine.
R.V.B. – Yeah, it's an excellent picture.
C.L. – If you could send it... that would be nice, yeah.
R.V.B. - Where did you grow up and how long did it take you to become interested in music enough to start playing an instrument?
C.L. - Where did I grow up? First of all, I never grew up.
C.L. - But I did get older. Let's see, I got older in Montreal back in the 60's. I actually was born in the 40's. I was born in 1948 from what I remember in Montreal, Canada. When did I first get interested in music? My mother would always play Cuban music because in Canada, Cuban music was a very big deal back in the 60's and the 50's. Even with "The Bay of Pigs" and all that. Canada wasn't part of that, so we had an open relationship with Cuba and we had a lot of Cuban records and music coming to Canada. So she would play a great deal... she played in the kitchen and she loved to dance. She would dance with my father and my triplet brothers and myself lived in the bedroom right next door, so basically at five I was listening to all kinds of Cuban and Latin music that came through to Montreal.
R.V.B. - Was that like the Tito Puente stuff and...?
C.L. - Tito was actually a baby in those days. Yeah, it would be that, and I can't... I apologize, I can't think of all the names but even to the extent of Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers were doing a lot of Cuban stuff. And yeah, just a lot of music was going down because my sister was musically oriented. In school she was a bit of a folkie and Canada had a lot of troubadours. Gordon Lightfoot, Ian and Sylvia. They had a lot of early folkies and in those days, I guess going back into the mid 60's even before the Beatles... You know Canada - let's put it this way, wasn't called the rock Mecca of the world but they had a lot of musicians coming out... Neil young, Joni Mitchell came out of Toronto. These , Montreal is the center for a lot of Indie bands. In those days, it was a lot of French Canadian stuff. What else... that's about it. Musically that's what happened.
R.V.B. - So because of the Cuban influences, is that why you leaned toward the drums?
C.L. - Yes. That's why I did the timbales and that's why I did the cowbell. I mean, I don't consider myself a Latin drummer. It was just an influence that I had because we used to play a lot of dance music. I played with dance bands... you know with brass and those kind of bands. So yeah, I had a lot of percussion effects that I used to use but basically the timbales were somehow the drums that I got known for actually, and actually not translated into a Cuba thing. I got known when I went to England with the timbales... I got known as a heavy metal drummer because the timbales are metal and they sound like nuclear warheads. Those f*cking timbales are really loud and they really cut. The only reason I kept the timbales is in those days - and I hate to refer to those days - you had two stacks. You had a stack of Marshall's and a huge stack of Sunn's and the drummers were never miked properly in those days. You didn't have all the separate mikes. It had like a drum mike here, a tom tom mike and maybe a bass drum mike and basically you had to just haul ass. You just had to play really hard. Hence, that's where they came up in my case with the Metal thing.
R.V.B. - What was your first drum set?
C.L. - My first drum set was a Rogers.
R.V.B. – Oh, it was a Rogers? What color?
C.L. – Oh, the gray pearl.
R.V.B. - How old were you when you got that?
C.L. - I can tell you I got a snare drum. I had a Ludwig. I had the classic Ludwig 14 incher. I bought that first. If you're talking about my drum set, my first real drum set was a Rogers at sixteen.
R.V.B. - How long did it take you to play in a local band? Were you playing with other guys?
C.L. - Well , I actually started with local bands about fourteen, because I used to borrow everybody's drums. I couldn't afford my drum set, so I'd make friends with other kids that had drums and I'd drag my ass to their house. I'd make friends and charm them to death... work up some sort of schmooze and get the drum set borrowed. I used to borrow lots of drum sets. Basically bass drum, snare drum and tom tom - and I'd carry them around from block to block. No, I couldn't afford drums and I lived in a very busy household. There was no room for drums at that point. I tell you, at about fourteen there's a picture of me playing with the Ink Spots who were like the Persuasions of the day back in the early 60's. I was the stage slave... I took care of the stage for this country club north of Montreal. I just kept the stage clean and I polished the drums, and as it turns out one night, these musicians were on strike and the Ink Spots came and there was no band so I played drums with the Ink Spots. That was my first performance on the drums, but I was just playing brushes. I wasn't really playing out, but it was my first exposure to performing drums on stage.
R.V.B. - Well that's a pretty good first start, playing with a national act.
C.L. - Yeah, It was amazing. I have to say that it was a very popiscious moment in my life. That was it. You know, I looked out in the audience... I was all dressed up in a bow tie and everything. I was all pouffed up and here I was... this little white kid with these four gorgeous black guys. I think one guy had a guitar. They had that big hit, you know "(Singing) If I Didn't Care". You know it was the classic hit of their time and I just did the brush work.
R.V.B. - Those guys had those really high voices. One of those guys could really get up there.
C.L. – Yeah, really crooners. Yeah, like The Persuasions, The Temptations. They were the first of just the black singers in front. Doo Wop. I think they were part of the Doo Wop thing, you know.
R.V.B. - Right, right, right. There was like a controversy? Wasn't there like two different Ink Spots? Ah, I don't even want to get into it.
C.L. - Rob - I'm sure there's about six or seven Ink Spots (hahaha) There's so much fraud going on right now with all the bands. Forget about that era, I mean that happens with all the new bands too.
R.V.B. - Right
C.L. - Whether it's Grand Funk Railroad or whatever. Everybody's gone out... if you played with the guy, you're in the band. You just name the band. There was a lot of that.
R.V.B. - Exactly. So when did you make the transition over to a harder style?
C.L. – Well, actually, I never really played hard. When I had my own band in the mid 60's, we started writing our own stuff. I was in a band called Energy. Energy wrote... the three of us wrote two or three of the more accessible Mountain songs because when I went from Energy and I hooked up with Leslie and Felix, I started to play heavy. I was in pretty good shape anyways, but I learned how to. It's basically survival - just play as hard as I could and still keep time. It was not a swing thing. It was a workout, you know it was a physical workout. So actually it started in 1968 - 69.
C.L. – Yeah, he produced Energy but the record never came out. It was one of those he was making at the same time he did Leslie's record. Leslie's record was called Mountain because Leslie's record was a solo record. It was called Mountain. He also took twelve days off to make Disraeli Gears. This is all in that summer and then he was working with us in that spring with Energy. We were in Montreal, so he would come back and forth. So I guess what happened… he had Leslie, and he had me, and this other band. I guess Felix had some sort of vision of a band. So Leslie wanted Felix to play with him in a band , and hence they went to Woodstock and they played that. I joined with them basically the day after Woodstock because he wanted to make a band. When he went to Woodstock it was Leslie with a backup band -you know.
R.V.B. - Right.
C.L. - But that's when I started playing heavy.
R.V.B. - So did you move to this area at that time because Leslie and Felix were from around the New York area?
C.L. – Yeah, well I actually... it was the summer of ‘69 when the Americans landed on the moon, I landed on the Mountain seat. Yep, I moved to New York in ‘69. During the summertime, Energy would play in the states. We would come back and forth from Montreal. We were one of the few bands that crossed the border into the states. That was just because we had some connections and we played some really good clubs in New York at the time. You know, cover songs and stuff. But yeah, I moved to New York. Greenwich Village actually. Bleeker and Macdougal.
R.V.B. - That was a good place. That was a happening spot.
R.V.B. - So I guess not soon after that you started working on Climbing correct?
C.L. - We went right into “Climbing”... “Mountain Climbing”. The first songs we started recording were “Yasgur's Farm” which was written, which was actually "Who Am I But You In The Sun", which was in my Energy. "Mississippi Queen" I wrote when I was in Energy. Energy didn't have anything to do with it because it was just drums and vocals and there was another song "Sitting on a Rainbow". There was a couple more songs that we brought in that Felix had Mountain record in “Climbing”.
R.V.B. – Right, and the rest is history because that song that you wrote "Mississippi Queen", surely went straight up the charts.
C.L. - That's right. It was great. It was very fortunate, yeah. It was a good time for it. It was lucky. It was all luck.
R.V.B. - I remember I was eleven at the time - and my brothers were five and seven years older than me - and they brought the songs into the house and I was exposed to all this stuff at an early age. I know “Mississippi Queen” was being played in our house. I also know it was on underground radio which they called it back then.
C.L. - , it was a very big FM hit. Yeah. They wouldn't play it... we were on the same label as the Partridge Family who had very poppy hits. It was Bell Records. The promotion guys couldn't get the pop stations to play "Mississippi Queen". It was too heavy. So they used to play "Mississippi Queen" at twelve o'clock or even later on radio. Many of the stations would play it very, very late. It was very hip to have your song sort of on the underground. This goes back to FM... that's where it broke from. Then it slipped over to AM out in Memphis.
R.V.B. - So you followed up “Climbing” with “Nantucket Sleighride”?
C.L. - Yes
R.V.B. - What was the inspiration for that? Did you guys go to the Island?
C.L. - Actually I used to play Nantucket every summer. I played '66, '67, '68. I used to go with Energy. We played these beach clubs in Nantucket and that's where I wrote "Mississippi Queen" on the drums. Just the drums and the power went out. It's a long story, but what happened is when “Mountain Climbing” was... we went on the road right away and we did a lot of dates. We took a break... we played Hyannis or something and we had a week off. I told Felix "I'm going to Nantucket to visit some friends" and he says "Maybe I'll come over too". I said "Sure come on over" so he came to Nantucket and woke up basically on one of these cottages on the beach and he looked around and said "This is beautiful". I said "Yeah, I've been telling you Nantucket is great". I introduced Felix to Nantucket and then his wife at the time fell in love with it and they bought a piece of property. Basically it came from... Nantucket is one of those amazing magical places and “The Nantucket Sleighride” is a metaphor on what happened with the band. It's a metaphor... when you hit the whale with the harpoon, there's a long boat that chases and goes along with the whale until the whale tires out. The boat just stays with it and that's the ride. You know when you have a hit record, you hitch and you go for it. You go into a hit making machine you know. You get into the machine... you got a tour and you go. That's what was happening in the sixties and we just used that metaphor of the whale for the hit record.
C.L. - It was all great. I mean there was a whole circuit created around the underground. There was a whole circuit that started about '67, '68 and the Fillmore kicked in on the west coast and it kicked in on the east coast. Bill Graham… and then what happened is the festivals started going. Every summer there would be three or four festivals a day. All over... you played anywhere. Rob - you played anywhere. Anyplace they could plug something in... they put the bands up and you played. Nine o'clock in the morning, you know - four o'clock in the morning. It didn't make a difference. It was all day long. So in those days, we were playing two or three festivals at a time and we had to hire a Lear jet to get around because it was the only way we could get to the destination in one day. We were playing a lot and the equipment would be there. We always had to rent of whatever. It was quite a run.
R.V.B. - In one of those albums it came with some black and white pictures.
C.L. - Yeah
R.V.B. - I never knew where those pictures were from, but I'm gonna take a guess. Were they from Long Island?
C.L. - When you talk about the pictures are you talking about the 8 X 10 glossies?
R.V.B. - Yes
C.L. – Yeah, those were taking by Gail and I don't know if they were taken in Long Island but we put the photos in “Nantucket Sleighride”. A very expensive record to press because there were all kinds of... there was a double fold out. It had the pictures. It had a booklet in it. It had everything.
R.V.B. - It looks to me like it was at Republic Airport here but that's just my guess.
R.V.B. - Oh that's Teterboro?
C.L. - In New Jersey. Now I know what you mean.
R.V.B. - I was always wondering where the hell that was from.
C.L. – Yeah, that was the Lear we were flying around in.
R.V.B. - The album following that... is that the one that had "Theme From an Imaginary Western" on it?
C.L. - Yes
R.V.B. - Is there any story behind how that story was written?
C.L. – Well, that was the breakup of Cream. "Theme From an Imaginary Western" Jack and Peter wrote that about the breakup of Cream. It's when the wagons leave the city... it's a band on the road. It's all the personification and metaphorical parts of a band breaking up - and you know - Jack did that on his solo record which Felix was producing at the same time that he was working on Leslie's record. It's a time thing... it was all '69, '70 and it was a record called "Songs For a Tailor" that Jack Bruce... it was a solo record. Blind Faith came out at the same time. So it was kinda like all this action and Felix loved that song "Theme for an Imaginary Western" so he cut it. Jack did a version and then Felix asked him and they did a version with Mountain.
R.V.B. - I see. So was it after that point. Was that when you hooked up with Jack Bruce with West, Bruce and Laing portion?
C.L. - Yeah. What had happened is ; we were touring pretty heavy right up until 1972. Ok there was a solid two and a half - three years. Leslie and I during the course would always go to England in January, just because we wanted to get away. We loved London and we could hang out. We went there in 1972 and Felix was having problems and he didn't want to hit the road that much, he was tired. He didn't need the money because he was making a fortune from Cream. He didn't have to work, so Leslie and I had the freedom to go ahead and do what we wanted. We actually got together with Paul Rodgers and over in Watts we played and Mick Ralph’s over in the studio because Free had broken up… and also Mott the Hoople had broken up. We were over at Island records just jamming and we were gonna put a band together with Paul Rodgers and those guys. We did some recording and then we got a call from Jack. I guess Leslie called Jack "You want to jam?" and we jammed and we said, "Yes... f*ck it, let's put this together". Basically they were booking the band before we even recorded. We were in the studio to jam and we all said, “ this is great, let's do this”. And the agents and Robert Stigwood and our manager immediately jumped on it. So we had no choice but to record as quickly as we could and that's why the -you know - "West, Bruce and Lange" records were just chaotically produced. There was no time and effort. We just rode on the run and we hit the road for about two years. That was pretty intense.
R.V.B. - Now with all this touring around that you did - did you get to meet and hang around with some of the other bands that you were playing with at these festivals? Did you mix it up with anybody?
C.L. - All of them. You name it. That was a time where everybody was hanging out. Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart you name it. It was like the Stones, the Allman brothers. It was all these festivals, you constantly met all the same people and it was great. It was like a rolling party. You know it's like we're all over the world because you played the same kind of venues and you ended up in the same hotels. In other words it was a circuit. It was an electronic mega f*cking music circuit that you were part of and it was just terrific. It was just like one of those eras that you think about. It was sort of reminiscent of the "Rat Pack". You know, Frank Sinatra, when you have three or four major acts and they go everywhere. We were on the road with Traffic and we hung out with a lot of those guys - yeah. Humble Pie, you name it - and it was great. Everybody has very good memories and of course there were a few casualties. Jimi Hendrix, you name it. We were on the Rock and Roll Express across Canada with every band of that era. You had The Band, Grateful Dead and yeah- so if you look at the posters you'll see. You just have to look at the posters to see, everybody was hanging out.
R.V.B. - Right, right, right. So you got back together with the regular Mountain crew after you did the West, Bruce and Lange thing and you came out with a...
C.L. - Yeah, we did a reunion for about a year or two, yeah. We got back together '74 to '75 to '76 and we did a year on the road. It was just a reunion, it wasn't a happy time because everybody was pretty burnt. Rob... you know, I mean you were talking about six/seven years of just constant being in the studio and on the road. In those days you didn't answer anything. You just did everything you were told to do. These days, a lot of the artists can call the shots. You know they're able to pace themselves. There was no pacing yourselves in those days. Not that anybody wanted to, but I mean you're rollin' and having a hell of a time. It's not like you want to pace yourself. What the hell, "Why stop?" I had to move to Nantucket myself early on because - you know - I loved it there and I had a couple of horses. It was like a tampon commercial. I'd ride the beach with my wife.
R.V.B. - (hahaha)
C.L. - It was great, but I'm saying, "That saved my life" because as a drummer, you have to stay healthy. Ginger Baker was one of the few drummers that made it through. Keith Moon didn't make it. John Bonham didn't make it... Cozy Powell. You know what I mean, you gotta stay healthy. You gotta stay on top of yourself, you know?
R.V.B. - Well that's good. I'm glad that you did because you're producing a lot of good music.
C.L. - Thank you that's very kind.
R.V.B. - No problem. So after the reunion you did some recording with a variety of people. You played with Bo Diddley right?
C.L. - Yes
R.V.B. - Now that's blues drumming right?
C.L. – Yeah, you know Rob... whatever you want to call it. I agree with you - I don't like to categorize anything. But yeah - again - I don't want to get specific, but when I think of traditional blues and I'm thinking of blues players... Buddy Guy and those guys. I highly respect their drummers for what they do. There's a tremendous amount of restraint that you have to show when you're playing the blues.
R.V.B. – Yeah, that's true.
C.L. - I'm not like that. I'm a show off.
R.V.B. - (hahaha) yeah, you toss your sticks up in the air a lot.
C.L. – Well, that's just one of the things, but what I'm getting at is I really had a great time. I wasn't about to hold back. I was lucky enough to play with musicians where everybody was going for it and they didn't say to the drummer "Now you sit back and keep it in the pocket". Nobody told me that. Most of the time I tried to anyway, but you know when you think about blues drummers, those guys are right there nice and easy. They are playing a pubic hair behind the beat keeping it nice and easy so it's sexy and it's groovy. I try to play like that when I have to, but I don't consider myself that knowledgeable. I haven't got that kind of restraint. It takes a great deal to kick back. You know the same when you got a vibrato on a blues guitar. There's a vibrato that goes with the drums. Everything is in sync but not in sync. You know what I'm saying? There's a lot of space there and you gotta give it room - and you gotta let the silence work. It's a whole zen thing that you do. I really believe that the best players, blues players, jazz guys let that happen and Rock and Roll is not a subtle thing. Rock and Roll in most cases is over the top. You push the envelope you don't sit in the envelope - and again -that's just my take. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, it's just that - umm …it's a specialty. Blues is a specialty and I highly respect it, so I'm not trying to be humble and self-defacing here. I'm just saying that I have no problem talking about music and the whole thing - and if that's the way you see it - that's fine. I'm just trying to reflect on my past part.
R.V.B. - I appreciate it and I know exactly where you’re coming from. Did you come out with a book?
C.L. - Yes. It's called “Stick It”.
R.V.B. - (haha) What is the subject on?
C.L. - The subject is about all the bullsh*t behind the scene. It was just me on the road remembering a lot of the decadent happenings before and after the shows and this and that. It was just stuff. There's no redeeming feature. You won't learn a thing from the book. It was just me venting and just having a good time. It's almost like a humorous reflection of a hybrid of a lot of incidences with different people. Like there was Kinky Friedman, Don Imus, Eric Clapton, Meatloaf, just people but it was just a fun story telling... just incidences. So that was called "Stick it" and then there was a publisher in England that wanted to put it out, but he wanted to get Leslie involved too. So Leslie said "Ok I'll throw in a couple of stories" and he threw in a couple of stories and in England they released it as "Nantucket Sleighride and other Rock and Roll Stories". It's basically Rock and Roll stories. A lot of guys now have written books. This was written twelve years ago…thirteen years ago.
R.V.B. - Do you know if we can still get a hold of it anywhere? Is it still in print?
C.L. - Totally sold out and I'm not sure what the f*ck happened. Excuse my Shakespeare, but it's kind of a sore subject with me because a lot of people would love to have it now. I got one or two copies but they're not going anywhere. I could probably make copies of the copies and stuff but I don't know if it's a time and place. You know it was a time and place the book came out. If I decide to do another book it would be one thing, but right now I'm sort of... I'm just happy. I do a show called "The Best Seat in the House" which talks about my time on the road from the drum seat. You know in life you can sit on a drum seat and travel around the world fifty times - you know the best seat in the house. It's a magical ride... so I do a show - Rob if you go to www.corkylangesbestseatshow.com
R.V.B. - Right
C.L - You get the idea. The show is derivative from the book.
R.V.B. - So you're doing this currently?
C.L. - I'm doing this currently yes. I did a show at The Bay Street Theater last May. Then I did the Montreal Jazz Festival last year and I'm going to Nantucket to do one in August. I did a couple of shows over in the U.K. It's a sentimental journey... I played the drums. I play some songs that I wrote in Mountain. So it's just basically a night with me... a humorous recollection of a lot of bullsh*t (hahaha) That's what it really is. A lot of people love it. It's a lot of fun so that's what I'm doing now.
R.V.B. - It sounds like a lot of fun and when you bring it back here we'll throw a little promotion on it. A few final things I want to ask you - you went up to Woodstock and got to play with Levon Helm, I understand.
C.L. – Yeah, I played with him many times. Go ahead.
R.V.B. - There was a bunch of people involved - was it like a big jam?
C.L. – Well, they have a thing at Woodstock. They had this barn. "The Ramble"... "The Levon Helm Ramble" where they have shows every Saturday. They bring people up. He has a studio there where they play. This is because Levon didn't want to go on the road anymore. It was with Roger from The Average White Band - musicians that wanted to play. This was going on in the 80's. You weren't born yet, you know.
R.V.B. - Yeah, I was born (hahaha)
C.L. - Well ok - Levon happened to be a huge hero of mine. One of the foremost inspirations in my life - so yeah - I was very fortunate enough to participate in that.
R.V.B. – Yeah, my wife and I just went to the village two weeks ago and we passed by Levon's studio and the pink house and all that.
C.L. – Oh, you went to Woodstock.
R.V.B. – Yeah, I've been there a few times. It's just such a nice village. We had lunch there.
C.L. – Yeah, it's beautiful. I love Woodstock, yeah. We're gonna go back and play there. I have a band that I play with here called "The Memory Thieves". We've been on the road for about two years on and off - and so yeah - we are gonna go back and probably play "The Ramble" in the fall. We're putting together some songs, but Rob, basically you go on line and check out the "Corkeylaingsbestseatshow.com" and you'll get a lot of backround on that.
R.V.B. - I will. One final question. What drum kit are you using these days?
C.L. - I'm using DDrum's. Not DW, DDrum's. They're out of Florida. I've been using them for about the last five years.
R.V.B. - Right. Corky, thank you very much for spending the time with me. I appreciate it and as soon as I find that photo I will email it to you.
C.L. - I would appreciate that. All the best. God Bless you.
R.V.B. - See you soon.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz All Rights Reserved
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