Mountain Drummer Corky Laing’s Inside Look at the Thunderous Band and Beyond
Mountain is considered the forerunner of the heavy metal bands that followed. Guitarist Leslie West, bassist Felix Pappalardi, keyboardist Steve Knight, and drummer Corky Laing roared through songs like the 1970 classic, “Mississippi Queen.” Laing, who co-wrote the track, had the task of cutting through the band’s stacks of Marshall amps with his drum kit—and provided the song’s iconic cowbell.
Laing takes us through the first 50 years of his life in Letters to Sarah, his 2019 autobiography written with Tuija Takala. As much of that half-century was spent on the road, Laing intersperses letters he wrote to his mother Sarah from 1963–1997. Writing the letters, only recently discovered, helped Laing remained grounded through the highs and lows of his career.
It was not all sonic booms. Mountain had a softer side, as we hear on “Nantucket Sleighride.”
Laing was born in Montreal, Canada but some of his most creative and turbulent years were spent in New York City. Laing describes a backstage moment after Mountain’s first show at Fillmore East.
“I’d gone up to my private dressing room to get away from all the promotion commotion. To my surprise, I noticed a figure with a large feathered hat sitting quietly in the corner. It turned out to be Jimi Hendrix himself. He walked over to me and apologized for the intrusion and complimented me on our show. Then he pulled out a small vial and offered me something he called “magic dust.” This was Jimi Hendrix offering me something magical. How could I refuse?”
The book is packed with personal stories about Mick Jagger, Keith Moon, Levon Helm, and of course Leslie West, the larger-than-life guitarist who died in December 2020. Laing also provides a look back at the musicianship and death of Pappalardi, who was shot and killed by his wife Gail in 1983. We follow Laing through his years with West, Bruce & Laing, the supergroup formed in the ashes of Mountain with bassist Jack Bruce of Cream. The band recorded three studio albums from 1972–1974.
The trio pulled from the rich catalogs of Cream and Mountain during their short tenure. One notable track is “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” written by Bruce and Pete Brown and recorded on Bruce’s Songs for a Tailor and Mountain’s Climbing! LPs. Bruce died in 2014.
Laing offers a thoughtful take on the music of perhaps rock’s greatest era. Here he explains a secret of the British Invasion’s hits:
“50 years later, the bass drums and the tom-toms of these recordings still cut themselves to get you in the gut. Not to mention the snare sounds that let you know in no uncertain terms that the British are coming. Think of the Kinks! You don’t only hear it—you feel it! The crash cymbals have a crispier attack as they swirl around the top end of the tunes and the sounds of the rides are darker and longer.”
In all, a must-read for musicians and fans. The book ends in 1998 with his mother’s death in a Montreal hospital. Laing has remained an in-demand drummer ever since. We hope a sequel is in the works.