The Vagrants (with Roger Mansour, Peter Sabatino, Jerry (Jeremy) Stroch, Larry West and Leslie West): At The Golden Pheasant Inn, they destroyed their instruments during their finale, the “Theme From Exodus.” They did this long before The Who discovered the technique.
Like fellow New Yorkers the Rascals, the Vagrants prominently featured a Hammond organ, and often played soul-influenced rock. The Vagrants were far more guitar-based than the Rascals, however, as well as projecting a more garagey, less mature outlook; their later material lands somewhere between the Rascals and Vanilla Fudge.
The First Known LIVE Recording of Leslie West, courtesy of the Great Fatsbies’ Leslie West & Mountain Fan Club!!!. This took place at the legendary Action House, located at 50 Austin Boulevard, Island Park, New York. in 1966. Even as a very young man, you can see this kid from Long Island was oozing TALENT. NOBODY played a guitar like Leslie West, even in the beginning.
Although they never charted, several singles are now choice collectibles. Their recording of “Respect” (Atco 6473,1967) caught the ear of Jerry Wexler, who passed it along to Aretha Franklin.
Today, it’s big Leslie West who remains a rock’n’roll legend (or “Fats” as his buddy, Howard Stern, calls him.) In fact, the term “legend” is no exaggeration. Leslie’s exploits include rare demo “jam” sessions with John Lennon and Eric Clapton. His creative partner, the late Felix Papparlardi, took Leslie into the deep space that is “superstardom.” Mountain’s “Rising” and “Nantucket Sheighride” are staples in any classic rock collection. Later, as “West, Bruce and Laing,” Leslie filled stadiums. (Of course, he’s a big guy but I am referring to the amount of fans present when Leslie wrenched the sound out his tiny Les Paul!)
Leslie is always in the thick of it. Through the 90’s, he and morning-man, Howard Stern, yuk it up with tales of Leslies’s adventures. Even now (November, 1995), the release of the classic album by The Who, “Who’s Next” features big Leslie on “Baby, Don’t You Do It” , a previously unreleased single from 1974…and it’s a killer. Leave it to Leslie!
- SoSound 204 Oh Those Eyes/ You’re Too Young 1966
- Vanguard VRS35038 I Can’t Make A Friend/ Young Blues 1966
- Atco 45-6473 Respect/ I Love,Love You (Yes I Do) 1967
- Atco 45-6513 A Sunny Summer Rain/ Beside The Sea 1967
- Atco 45-6552 And When It’s Over/ I Don’t Need Your Lovin’ 1968
Johnny Ramone on the Vagrants — An Interview by Mike Stax
Mike Stax: Well, everyone goes through their first bad bands! What other bands were in your school? There must’ve probably been several.
Johnny Ramone: Yeah, I don’t remember their names, but the main thing that was around was the Vagrants, and they were in Forest Hills. First I knew Roger Mansour, who was the drummer, and me and him used to be friends. He used to call for me in the morning and we used to go to school together. He was a great drummer, and I’d hear from him how he was going to get into the Vagrants. And Larry West — whose real name was Larry Weinstein, who was Leslie’s brother — he was the bass player. He’d be sitting there in the study hall ‘cos he’d be on permanent suspension for having his hair too long. He’d be saying he was starting a band with his brother and how his brother’s a great guitar player. And I’d ask other kids in the school about if they knew the good guitar player, and they’d go, “No, he’s just a fat kid. He’s no good.” But Larry would always be saying how great his brother was. His brother was older, and he was just a dropout. Larry at this point was about 15, I was about 16, and Leslie was about 18. Larry just sat there suspended the whole year ‘cos all that mattered was the Vagrants and growing his hair — that was the important thing in his life. So they were starting, and as soon as I saw Leslie play I said, “Wow, this guy’s great!” He didn’t play like he played later on, but he was able to play whatever cover he was doing and do it exact – from Beatles stuff to “You Really Got Me.” “Whatever he would figure out, he would play just like the record.”
Mike Stax: So this is well before they released any singles, right?
Johnny Ramone: I think the first one, “I Can’t Make A Friend,” came out January ’66, so this has gotta be in ’65.
Mike Stax: So at this point were they kinda different from their records? Because they became more like a Young Rascals-type soul band.
Johnny Ramone: They went through so many different evolutions throughout the band. They would start out as a straight cover band — doing very straight covers from Beatles to Rolling Stones. Leslie would get to sing one song, “Roll Over Beethoven,” and they would switch off on the vocals between Larry and Pete Sabatino, who was the singer.
Mike Stax: Did they have an organ all the time?
Johnny Ramone: Yeah, they had the organ, but it would just be a portable one at that point – a Farfisa. And that eventually tuned into a Hammond. Somewhere along the way they went away to Long Island to play some places, and that’s when they came back and we started hearing more about the Rascals and Vanilla Fudge. The Vagrants came back and they were different. They were into more like the Rascals – type thing with the songs slowed down and doing sort of a soul type of thing – like “Mustang Sally” type stuff. They were doing “Good Lovin” stuff too. They kept doing covers of other people’s songs, but they would be better than the Rascals and better than the Vanilla Fudge at doing the stuff. They just looked better, and Leslie’s guitar playing was far superior to Gene Comish of the Rascals or Vince Martell, the guitar player in the Vanilla Fudge. Larry West was really becoming a star at that point. It was weird, ‘cos they would play, I think, the Rolling Stone Club in the city, and they played there for six straight months, like five, six nights a week.
Mike Stax: What kind of places would you usually see them play?
Johnny Ramone: I would try and get into wherever I could.Sometimes you could get into certain clubs who wouldn’t get so heavy with the proofing. There’d be a place in the city. I saw them at the Manhattan Center, Action House on Long Island – places like that. I must’ve seen them dozens of times.
Mike Stax: Generally at these shows would it be a bill with several bands?
Johnny Ramone: No, later on it got that way. Probably around ’67 you’d go to shows a lot at the Fillmore, and the Fillmore would have these multiple group shows, and the Vagrants would get onto shows like that, probably lower down the bill. I remember going to a WMCA Good Guys show here in the city which had a whole bunch of acts. Everybody would come on and play like three songs, and the Vagrants had a fairly good bill on that. The Cream were on it, the Who were on it, and Mitch Ryder – when he went sok – was the headliner.
Mike Stax: That must’ve been a phenomenal show! How did the Vagrants match up to those other acts?
Johnny Ramone: Oh, I thought they matched up. I didn’t see no problem, y’know? (laughs) The band looked so good, and Larry was becoming like a Jim Morrison. (laughs) It’s hard to imagine, but he must have been modelling himself after Jim Morrison at that point – just like permanently f—-d-up with the leather pants and the long, wavy hair.
Mike Stax: What was their stage act like? Would there be a lot of movement?
Johnny Ramone: Yeah, a lot of movement. Leslie would become more and more flashy with the outfits he would be getting into. They’d just go through so many phases where everything would come in with the really loud coloured clothes with these boas – these feathered things around him, y’know? Weird seeing some 350-pound guy looking like this. y’know? (laughter)
Mike Stax: Were you like part of a Vagrants “following” that would go to all their shows?
Johnny Ramone: I was a fan like everybody was a fan. I would not be bothered talkin’ to people. I would just go with my friends and watch the show. I would be going to all concerts, I’d be trying to see all the concerts I could. I saw the Stones like five times with Brian Jones; I’ve seen the Who ten times; the Doors probably seven, eight times. Every band. I don’t know if there’s anybody I didn’t see.