Leslie West was born Leslie Weinstein on Oct. 22, 1945, in New York City to Bill and Rita Weinstein. His mother was a hair model, his father the vice president of a rug shampoo company. He grew up in the suburbs.
When Leslie was 8, his mother bought him his first instrument, a ukulele, but he became entranced with the guitar after seeing Elvis Presley play one on television. He bought his first guitar with the money given to him for his bar mitzvah.
After his parents divorced, he changed his name to West, and upon graduating high school he decided to go directly into the music business. “I went to N.Y.U. — New York Unemployment,” he jokingly told The News-Times of Danbury, Conn., in 2005.
His professional career began in a band he formed in the mid-1960s with his brother Larry, who played bass. The band, the Vagrants, was a blue-eyed soul group inspired by a hit act from Long Island, the Rascals. The two bands played the same local clubs, as did Billy Joel’s early group, the Hassles.
Improbably, Vanguard Records, better known for folk, jazz and classical artists, signed the Vagrants. Their first single, “I Can’t Make a Friend,” a garage rocker, became a minor hit in 1966. Mr. Pappalardi, who produced some of the Vagrants’ songs, helped them obtain a new contract with Atco Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic, for which they cut a cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” that earned East Coast airplay in 1967.
But Mr. West yearned to record something heavier, so he left to make a solo album in 1969 whose title, “Mountain,” was a reference to his imposing size. Produced by Mr. Pappalardi, it featured many songs co-written by the two, including “Long Red,” which, in a live version backed by the drummer N.D. Smart, featured a drum break that inspired one of the most popular samples in hip-hop history, heard on more than 700 recordings, including ones by Public Enemy, Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar.