Brownstein: Drummer Corky Laing reports back from Mountain’s peaks in memoir

The Montrealer’s cowbell was heard world wide on the hard-rock traditional Mississippi Queen. Laing will likely be at Musique-Disque Sonik on Saturday to advertise his autobiography Letters to Sarah.

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He’s banging away feverishly within the drum division at Steve’s Music Retailer downtown. His shaggy hair is flying. His eyes have a near-demonic look. Nevertheless it’s all about these lightning-fast fingers.

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Montreal drumming legend Corky Laing has come house once more, this time to advertise his autobiography Letters to Sarah at Musique-Disque Sonik on Saturday.

Laing bought his first drum equipment on the unique Steve’s location in Previous Montreal 57 years in the past. On a far superior set of drums this time, he lets unfastened on the tune that catapulted him and the band Mountain to fame in 1970: the rock ‘n‘ roll traditional Mississippi Queen, whose lyrics had been written by then-21-year-old Laing throughout a blackout in Nantucket.

A bystander within the fast-forming crowd at Steve’s acknowledges the drum groove, and bellows: “Extra cowbell!”

Making the request is a beaming Graham Chambers, one other native drumming veteran.

Ah, the cowbell.

Laing is usually credited — generally discredited — for bringing the cowbell to arduous rock in Mississippi Queen. Christopher Walken is remembered by many not a lot for his Oscar-winning function in The Deer Hunter and different dramatic work, however for his 2000 Saturday Evening Stay routine asking Will Ferrell for “extra cowbell” for the recording of Blue Öyster Cult’s (Don’t Concern) The Reaper. And a pop-culture catchphrase was born.

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Laing explains his use of the cowbell to Chambers: “(Mountain bandmates) Leslie West and Felix Pappalardi had been enjoying so bloody loud that the one approach I may get them to come back in on time was to smash the cowbell.”

For the file, that cowbell value him $2.49. He’s since been supplied greater than $3,000 for it.

If you want more cowbell, Corky Laing can oblige.
If you need extra cowbell, Corky Laing can oblige. Photograph by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Within the curiosity of full disclosure, Laing is considered one of my oldest mates, with whom I could have been suspended from faculty for allegedly chucking the principal’s desk out a window, and who later did the rating for my documentary on former Expo Invoice Lee.

In his quest for consideration in a household of older triplet brothers and a sister, Laing was pushed to make noise. He recollects smashing away on pots and pans within the household’s N.D.G. kitchen when he was seven and telling his dad: “I wish to be a drummer after I develop up.” To which his dad responded: “Son, you possibly can’t do each.”

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True sufficient.

When he was 14, Laing obtained a gig as a stagehand at a membership. Whereas assembling a drum equipment for the present’s predominant attraction, he did some mild tapping on the set. As destiny would have it, the guy who was purported to drum had simply taken sick, so the then-leader of the famend Ink Spots, who watched Laing do his bit on drums, conscripted him to fill in.

Laing had by no means taken a drum lesson, not to mention owned a drum set aside from some bongos his dad purchased him. He would later try the visiting American drummers on the outdated Esquire Present Bar for model pointers.

And a profession was born.

Corky Laing purchased his first drum kit at the original Steve’s Music Store location in Old Montreal 57 years ago.
Corky Laing bought his first drum equipment on the unique Steve’s Music Retailer location in Previous Montreal 57 years in the past. Photograph by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Laing went on to change into a star on Montreal’s sock-hop circuit within the Nineteen Sixties with Bartholomew Plus Three, then Vitality. He was barely shaving when the latter opened for the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and the Who right here within the mid-’60s.

Simply after his twentieth birthday and receiving a name from Pappalardi, who had been producing Vitality, Laing obtained a proposal he couldn’t refuse. He left for New York and ended up singing and drumming in 1969 with Mountain, based by Pappalardi. Their discs struck gold, however Mountain would all the time be remembered for the head-banging anthem Mississippi Queen, with a famed, fiery intro by Laing.

Laing has misplaced observe of what number of data Mountain bought, however he does permit that it was “a monetary pleasure.” Mississippi Queen was later named forty ninth finest all-time traditional rock track by Rolling Stone.

And no, Laing had by no means been to Mississippi, not to mention Vicksburg, though he penned these phrases within the track.

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After Pappalardi was killed by his partner in 1983, West, Bruce (that’s Jack, of Cream notoriety) and Laing was shaped. Extra teams ensued, that includes Laing with ex-Hendrix bassist Noel Redding, West and others.

West handed away in 2020, however Laing continues to tour with Corky Laing’s Mountain. He begins a European tour within the fall, accompanied by the discharge of a brand new disc.

Laing concedes life was just about a blur for a few years. However he does recall singing backup on John Lennon’s model of Stand by Me, partying with Mick Jagger and Keef, enjoying with Meat Loaf and Peter Frampton and hanging out together with his drummer hero Keith Moon.

All of which brings up Letters to Sarah, which Laing co-wrote together with his associate Tuija Takala. Sarah, Laing’s late mom, stored all of the letters he had despatched her over time.

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“The ebook is my reminiscing of the final 55 years, from the start of my music in Montreal as much as doing Carnegie Corridor and arenas everywhere in the world,” says Laing, who splits his time between New York and Finland. “These are letters I wrote to my mom in lodges after the reveals in several cities. Tuija discovered them and urged we use them as a time-clock for the ebook.

“I had virtually no reminiscence of a lot of my life on the highway. I used to be all the time a handful as a child, however was actually uncontrolled later, caught up in all of the excesses of these occasions. But writing these letters gave me somewhat steadiness and helped me be in contact with my roots.

“My mom had all the time been so supportive. She had sufficient on her plate, caring for the household after my father had died.”

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He credit the cowbell to Sarah. “She liked to hearken to Cuban music with a number of cowbells within the background, so I began enjoying them in my first band.”

Laing has no plans to decelerate.

“That is actually all I understand how to do. It’s about having the eye-to-hand co-ordination. It nonetheless feels good, even when a few of my physique elements are barely hanging collectively. I handle to play day-after-day, it doesn’t matter what. I assume I’ll simply by no means develop up.”


Corky Laing will likely be at Musique-Disque Sonik, 4050 Berri St., Saturday from 3 to five p.m. to advertise his autobiography Letters to Sarah. The ebook can be out there at Amazon.

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