Lost Rock n Roll Stories: the Story of Mississippi Queen
There are some songs that manage to get in your soul the first few seconds you hear them. When it comes to rock music, “Mississippi Queen” is definitely one of those hard-driving songs you instantly fall in love with. And no matter how many years have passed when you hear it again, it’s like meeting an old friend, or the first love of your teen years coming to remind you how great life was and continued to be.
Her royal majesty is the child of Mountain, an American rock band from New York, founded in 1970 by guitarist (and Clapton’s biggest fanboy) Leslie West and bassist Felix Pappalardi. Named after West’s 1969 solo album, Mountain sounded as if the Cream and Jimmy Hendrix had a child. The childhood hero of Slash, Eddie Van Halen, and Satriani, West was Eric Clapton’s “diabolical twin”, taking inspiration from the angelic blues melodies of his idol and turning them into hard-rocking melodies, baptized in mighty electric amps.
“Mississippi Queen” isn’t the fastest or the most sophisticated song. It follows a somewhat traditional “bar blues form” in A major key which is repeated throughout the 2.31 minutes the song lasts. Its lyrics, simple and raw, stripped of any hidden meanings, were written collectively by drummer Corky Laing, Felix, and lyricist David Rea.
As with many rock and blues tunes, “Mississippi Queen” is dedicated to a woman. There is a tone of lore surrounding the mysterious royalty who “moved better on wine”. Some say that the song talks about the good times Laing had with a Southerner stripper. According to other variations, Laing’s lyrics, which made most of the song, were inspired by the drunk girlfriend of a friend of his, who joined a wild summer party wearing nothing but a see-through sunny dress.
Whatever the truth is behind the infamous lady and her “Court”, her story became known to every rock fan throughout the world. Featured in the band’s debut album, the 1970’s “Climbing!”, it reached number 21 on the “Billboard Hot 100” of the same year. To this day it remains Mountain’s top hit, Leslie’s greatest achievement, and one of rock’s most famous tunes.
The truth is that the song’s magic hides behind its simplicity. Raw yet powerful, simple yet classy, “Mississippi Queen” is the song you need to get the party started. It is what you will sing while driving with your car to the open road, or whenever you’re making a hallucinogenic hellish cocktail on Regular Show.
Starting with what appears to be the greatest cowbell use in music history by Corky Laing, it hastily runs into a magnificent blues-bombarded solo by the group’s iconic guitarist and pioneering rock legend, Leslie West. Before the solo even finishes you hear Leslie’s rusty vocals, armed with that sweet, smokey cigarete-like tone, screaming the “good ol’ poem”:
“Mississippi Queen, if you know what I mean”
All the time you can hear his guitar screaming along like being possessed by a demon, begging him to let her solo once more. Tasty blues licks merge with his electrifying rhythm creating what appears to be the epitome of hard rock sound. All the while you hear Felix’s bass growling in the back like a hungry hound. Finally, West surrenders and lets his guitar go wild for one more time, capturing the minds of the audience in awe as he bursts into another solo.
Although their song remains a hard rock epic, Mountain would break up just four years after their formation. There is a great irony regarding the song’s meaning and how it became one of the reasons that lead the band to end its most successful line-up. In its lyrics, we see that the man is attracted by the Queen like a bee to the flowers. She taught him everything, every dirty secret she knew, while slowly making him fall for her. When she finally asked him to “become her man” he accepted. Now he laments his decision, trapped in a toxic relationship. He spends his money buying her shiny dresses, while at the same time watching his friends slowly turning away from him.
“While the rest of them dudes were makin’ their friends
Boy, I beg your pardon, I was loosin’ mine
Like the protagonist, Mountain would follow a similar path, falling for the same trap. They too started to fight for that same Queen they wrote about. The song’s rights regarding the lyrical contribution sparked a beef between Laing and the rest members. He was replaced not long after, but there were already too many ongoing fights to save the situation. Throughout the next decades, they would reunite and split again and again. “Mississippi Queen” took them to the top, only to lead them to their ultimate fall in the next moment.
Turns out, even they could not resist the temptations the queen offered…
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Ling, D., (2021), A tribute to Mountain’s Leslie West, available at https://www.loudersound.com/features/a-tribute-to-mountains-leslie-west, (last access: 04/06/2022)
Ling, D., (2016), The Story Behind The Song: Mississippi Queen by Mountain, available at https://www.loudersound.com/features/the-story-behind-the-song-mississippi-queen-by-mountain, (last access: 04/06/2022)
Frost, M., (2022), Leslie West tells the the story of Mountain’s Mississippi Queen: “If only every song was that easy, man!”, available at https://www.musicradar.com/news/mountain-mississippi-queen-leslie-west-interview, (last access: 04/06/2022)