Bernie Marsden, English rock and blues guitarist and singer songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about his relationship with Micky Moody, that infamous B.B. King quote, his latest album Shine and his appearance at the 2016 Rhythm and Blues Festival in Colne
Bernard “Bernie” Marsden is an English rock and blues guitarist and singer songwriter. He is primarily known for his work with Whitesnake, having written or co-written with David Coverdale many of the group’s hit songs, such as Fool For Your Loving and Here I Go Again.
Following his departure from Whitesnake, Marsden formed a new band, initially called Bernie Marsden’s SOS, which featured Marsden (guitar), Tommy Jackson (vocals), Brian Badham (bass), Richard Bailey (keyboards) and John Marter (drums). Shortly after, Jackson was replaced by Rob Hawthorn and the band was renamed Bernie Marsden’s Alaska. They released two melodic rock albums, Heart of the Storm and The Pack, before splitting.
Since 1979 he has released a number of solo albums; the last one being Shine in 2014, a project which included a great many of his good friends. These included Joe Bonamassa, Ian Paice, David Coverdale and Don Airey to name just a few.
He is currently planning a rescheduled tour at the end of October and has been invited to play at various festivals throughout the summer, including The Loreley in Germany with both Joe Bonamassa and Joe Satriani, before he plays with Joanne Shaw Taylor at the end of the year.
Whilst having a well earned rest at home, he took the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what he had to say.
Mr Marsden how are you?
Hello Kevin I’m alright thanks how are you?
I’m very well thank you and thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
That’s alright it’s my pleasure. You are welcome.
How’s life treating you?
I have to say that life is very good, very good indeed. I am currently in the middle of putting the follow-up album to Shine together. As usual I am taking my time with the project, not because I am working on the album to the minutest detail, it’s simply because I am also working on other projects at the same time. I try not to get too precious with albums nowadays. Whenever I have the time I try to get into the studio; get the songs done and get on with things. I will probably get the album finished towards the end of the year over in America. Well that’s the plan at the moment but who knows (laughter).
On the subject of your last studio album Shine I have to say that I think it’s great. Were you happy with how it was received?
Yes I was, I truly was and to be honest with you I was more surprised than anything that I was making an album for a major label. I had thought that those days for people like me were in the past, which is a fact of life. It never really bugged me as I was still making albums but to find myself working with a record company that was basically being run by young people has really opened my eyes once again. I found myself on a very interesting and fast learning curve. It has been very good and I have enjoyed it immensely. So for me to be working on the follow-up album is all good fun.
I have to say that my favourite track on the album is Walk Away.
That’s kind of you to say, in fact that is one of my favourite tracks on there too. People say to me if Whitesnake had recorded that track you would have sold millions (laughter). I just say well there you go, that’s what happens (laughter). Somebody will find that song at some point; somebody will hear it and try to find out who it is by. I just need Taylor Swift to discover the track and I will become a hero to a whole new generation (laughter).
Perhaps Justin Bieber might stumble across the track.
Yes Justin Bieber, that’s even better, there you go. Why didn’t I think of that (laughter).
On the subject of Whitesnake was it nice to have David (Coverdale) contributing once again?
Well of course, it was great. People see that David is on the album and think how the hell did he do that. The answer is very simple, I rang him up (laughter). David simply asked me what I wanted him to do and I said that I wanted him to sing Trouble. It was as easy as that (laughter). David recorded his part within a week, it was that simple. We got the track done, and I sent it over to David and he recorded his vocals in his studio just like that. And I have to say that he did a really great job on it. That really was the completion of us getting back together on a one to one basis, which completed the circle.
As well as David there are some other big names on the album. Tell me about a certain Joe Bonamassa and his involvement?
With Joe it was slightly different. Joe was actually with me in the Abbey Road studios and that was all done live. I’ve got some film of that which I have never put up on the internet; perhaps I should look into doing that. That would go down well with the guitar police (laughter). I love Joe and feel fortunate enough to be able to call him a mate. I have never felt nothing but at ease with him. He is a really nice guy.
I recently photographed Joe’s concert at Newark Castle and I had heard a rumour that you were backstage with him?
(Laughter) who told you that (laughter). I have to say that’s right, I was there and in fact stood with Joe as we both listened to Joanne Shaw Taylors set. Joe looked at me and said “Bernie, why are you not doing this gig as well” (laughter). I had to laugh because I was thinking the same thing myself. It was such a lovely setting with that fantastic backdrop. I am quietly hoping that he will do the same thing again next year and that someone will invite me along. Normally I wouldn’t even dream of playing with Joe but with him doing the new show it would be nice at some time to join him on stage. I really did enjoy being up there in Newark; it was such a fantastic setting and I truly would love to do it.
They actually hold the annual Newark Blues Festival in the castle grounds and it is a lovely setting; perfect for an evening of the blues.
Oh right. Well you have my number now; please tell them to call me (laughter).
They always say that you should never believe your own publicity but when someone like B.B. King is reported as having said “there are only two men can play the blues, Eric Clapton and that bloke from Whitesnake”, it must make you feel rather special.
(Hysterical laughter) let me tell you Kevin that has been misquoted so let me just take this opportunity to put things straight as that is a very big thing to happen. What happened was that B.B. King was talking about white people and what he said was “sure white people can play the blues but a lot of them don’t feel the blues”. And that is when he came up with that quote; he didn’t say that only they can play it, he actually said that Eric and I were the only two white players who naturally felt the blues, which was indeed a great honour to me. The funny thing is that I got brought onto stage over the weekend with that very quote that you have just used and I thought at that point that this has been turned around far too much, and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if someone had turned it around deliberately because it sounded better; but I had to be honest with you (laughter).
B.B. King spoke about it on a radio station in Germany back in the 90s and it was lovely. I honestly didn’t know about it for ten years until someone asked me if I knew that I had a fan in the greatest blues man that had ever lived. I told him that I had no idea what he was talking about so he transcribe the recording for me and sent me the words. All that I can say is that I was blown away. It is a difficult thing for me to look back on now because whilst it was such a wonderful thing for someone like him to say, we had spent some time together in the late 70s, and I would always go over and say hello whenever we found ourselves in the same place at the same time. All of these things start to add up and at that point the quotes begin to come to the surface and then people say that they didn’t know that I knew him that well.
The truth of the matter is that I didn’t really know him that well. I knew him through his music that’s for sure, just like the rest of us. So there you go, I really do hope that answers your question and I just wanted to make sure that you got the true story about the quote.
You have briefly mentioned the follow-up album to Shine. What can you tell me about it?
I have to say that I think that it will be more song orientated than guitar playing orientated. As well as a few new songs I also have songs that were left over from previous recording sessions which a whole generation of fans wouldn’t even know that they exist. There are some pretty good songs in there and people have been asking me why I don’t give them another go. I have found myself going back to Alaska albums;, looking for pretty good songs that weren’t particularly well produced at the time and when I have listened to them they are pretty good songs. There is also a lot of stuff that I didn’t use at the time and they are still new songs to me. So I would say that the next album will lean towards a song driven album performance wise rather than guitar, guitar, guitar.
Are you always writing?
Yes pretty much. I am always writing ideas and stuff down. I will write down an idea and go back to it sometime later. I never try to finish a song based on the idea that I have just had. I tend to leave them and then go back to them at a later stage. Having said that, you can sometimes spend an hour on an idea and come up with something from start to finish and pretty much have the song done. So you never know, I just wish that it was that easy all of the time (laughter).
You will be playing on two different days at the forthcoming Rhythm and Blues Festival in Colne; on Friday it is Green and Blues with the full band and on the Saturday it is an acoustic set. What can we expect?
Well, with regard to Fridays Green and Blues I have only found out about it since I have been doing some interviews (laughter). That was never going to be the case but now, as it happens; I do play a couple of Peter Green numbers in the set. However, looking at the PR for the Festival I will just have to put a couple more in there (laughter). It will be half of Shine, a bit of Whitesnake and some stuff that I have grown to like over the years. People who come to watch pretty much know what to expect.
And then you are playing an acoustic set on Saturday. Is that something that you like to do?
That will be different. It will just be me stripped back with an acoustic guitar which normally turns into a Q&A session. I open it up to the fans to ask me whatever they want to ask me. It very soon becomes intimate and funny. That is always good fun and I tend to do it when I give my guitar classes. It really goes down well and I enjoy it. It also gives me a chance to plug my book as well (laughter). My book should be out in October and I am pretty sure that I will tour with that. I may even go into some bookshops, who knows. I don’t care if it is me and just fifteen people; it doesn’t make any difference. It is nice to sit down with people and they can ask me when did I write Here I Go Again and I can then answer them one to one which is really nice. Or I can just say read the book and you will find out (laughter).
Will we be seeing a full blown Bernie Marsden tour at any time soon?
I will probably do some shows towards the end of the year which will most probably coincide with the release of the book. I have to be honest and say that I haven’t done that many shows this year but I do have a couple of shows coming up in Scotland towards the end of next month and that’s about it really. I have to find the time to go back over to India as I have been working on a project there for the past eighteen months now. I am playing as the special guest with some Indian musicians. Going out there has opened up a whole different can of worms for me. It is really good and very, very interesting. We will wait to see what happens on that but hopefully Bollywood beckons.
Out of all of the bands and projects that you have been involved with, which has given you the most pleasure?
Oh, the next one. Writing the book has made me realise that you can never go back. However, they were great times spent with great musicians and great people. If we had done this interview two years ago and you had asked me who it would have been great for me to play with, then I would have said The Ringo Starr Band. Well that happened to me fifteen months ago now in New York. Standing on a stage in New York playing behind Ringo Starr who was singing With A Little Help From My Friends, let me tell you, that was quite a trip (laughter). So for me it is always what’s next really. For example, I met Tom Jones last week and to be honest that was a big thrill for me. He’s a blues man and he opened his set with two John Lee Hooker numbers.
If we had been doing this interview thirty years ago and you had told me that I would be doing all of these things I would have laughed my head off (laughter). When you are thirty years old and you have gone through a big band like Whitesnake you don’t look at your audience and say “I’m thirty now”. That’s because the thing is that your fans grow old with you. That’s what the great thing is; you don’t think about that when you are thirty. I think about it now and I am grateful for it, and I am grateful for that proportion of the people who have stayed with me. It’s fantastic.
If I had to push you, could you pick out a highlight of your career so far?
For me just to be on Top Of The Pops was a big deal. I first went on Top Of The Pops in 1974 with Cozy Powell and that was a huge thing mentally. All the people who knew me had seen me on the television. Nowadays it is no big deal but back then it meant something. After that I guess it was getting the first silver disc. I thought that if I only ever get this one then at least I have got something really good to show for it. Then of course you get a gold one and then a platinum one which is great and I was fortunate enough to get to play with both Jack Bruce and Jon Lord.
Jon Lord did as much for me outside of music as he did musically. Jon was an older person out on the road with me who was constantly telling me to look after myself and what not to do because he was older than me and he had done it himself and so he knew that it was no good for you. The times that he got me out of trouble I can’t tell you. Working on the book is also quite sad because it reminds me of all of the guys who are no longer with us. But that’s life in general and you have just got to get on with it. Here we are talking to each other in 2016 and that’s a positive, so that’s good.
Who has inspired you along the way?
Overall I think that the biggest inspiration to me has got to be The Beatles. They are the reason that I started in music. When you saw them on the old black and white television as a twelve year old you automatically thought that was what you wanted to do (laughter).
Taking you back to your Babe Ruth days, were you aware of the Northern Soul Scene here in the UK?
Not really, but you are going to talk about Elusive aren’t you (laughter).
Yes I am, it was massive on the scene here in the UK.
I didn’t write that song by the way, but I did okay out of it because I wrote the B Side (laughter). Artistically, I first heard the song when the guys who wrote it played it to me and I just threw a few ideas into it. All of the attention towards the song really happened after I had left the band. I know that it was massive and it has been sampled umpteen times. It is a very good song.
There are two version aren’t there?
Yes that’s right, there are two versions of the song (at this point Bernie breaks out into an impromptu performance of the song) it’s all coming back to me now (laughter). There is one with Ellie Hopes singing and one with Jennie Haan doing the vocals. We recorded it and released the single with Jennie doing the vocals and then by the time that the album came out Jenny had been replaced and we had a new singer Ellie, and so we put her on the single too. I don’t have copies of both so if you ever get a hold of one keep hold of it for me please (laughter).
There are lots of rumours around, some saying one thing whilst others saying another. So I will ask you, just how are things between you and Micky Moody?
I actually saw Micky up in Sheffield some three months ago now and we were fine. There never was a big deal; we just stopped working together after a lot of years. I think that people read into it a bit more than there was really. We just wanted to do different things musically. The time was right for us to get out there and do something on our own and since then, to be honest with you I haven’t stopped working. It just goes to show you that sometimes you think that you are taking a step back but actually its three steps forward.
On that note Bernie let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been an absolute pleasure and I hope to see you up in Colne.
Cheers Kevin and make sure that you come and say hello if you manage to get to the gig.