Bernie Marsden: the soundtrack of my life

Bernie Marsden
(Image credit: Conquest Music)

Bernie Marsden has seen a lot over the past half-century, be it as one of Britain’s most lauded singer-guitarists or as member of bands such as UFO, Cozy Powell’s Hammer, Paice Ashton Lord and, most memorably, Whitesnake

His latest solo album, Chess, revisits the music that shaped him, as first recorded by blues greats on the legendary Chess label. 

“I could’ve recorded all of these songs thirty-odd years ago,” he explains, “but I think you have to have been around life. Now just feels like the right time to do them.”


The first music I remember hearing

My mother used to play Nat King Cole and Shirley Bassey around the house, but it was hearing Buddy Holly on the radio – That’ll Be The Day and Rave On – that really started me off. Then it was Little Richard and The Shadows.

The greatest rock album

I loved the energy of the first Led Zeppelin album, but Led Zeppelin II is just incredible. Robert’s voice is what really grabbed me, hearing him alongside Jimmy’s power guitar. I still never fail to get star-struck. Even today, if I get together with Robert I’m thinking: “Robert Plant! Robert Plant!”

The live album

When it comes to BB King, everybody always says Live At The Regal, but when I met him I was feisty enough to say I prefer Blues Is King. And he said: “So do I!” He was gracious enough to say nice things about me as a musician. He told me: “Playing the blues is one thing, feeling the blues is another."

The guitar hero

Initially, for anybody my age Hank Marvin was the man. But then Eric Clapton came in through John Mayall’s band, which was the standard path in those days. The Bluesbreakers album [1966] is seminal for everybody, really. If I had to save one album from the proverbial fire, I would hate to choose between that and the Peter Green one [Mayall’s A Hard Road]. Those guys were so influential.

The songwriter

A little left-field, but Don Nix always impressed me. He started off in the Mar-Keys, the house band at Stax. Then I kept hearing great blues songs and realised they were all written by the same guy.

The singer

My favourite British singer is Joe Cocker. From day one I thought he stood out. I saw him a couple of times with the Grease Band, probably just before Woodstock, and it was like: “Wow!” There’s Robert Plant too. Paul Rodgers has still got it in spades. And Coverdale in his prime. When we were making records together there weren’t many people who came that close.

The band I wish I'd seen

The Allman Brothers. Although I did actually play with them a few years ago at the Beacon [in New York]. Steely Dan as well, but I probably would never have been proficient enough on the jazz side. As a kid I always thought that maybe I’d play with John Lennon one day. I remember being about twenty four or twenty-five and thinking: “Yeah, if John Lennon’s putting a band together, I could be in there.”

The song I wish I'd written

I’m very close to some of the Bobby Bland material. I took Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City into the Whitesnake sessions and the stuff before that is pretty sensational. But I would’ve loved to have written Ain’t No Sunshine. Bill Withers wasn’t a bad songwriter, was he?

The best record I've made

I’ve got great affection for all the Whitesnake stuff, but one of the best things I’ve been involved in was the Paice Ashton Lord album, Malice In Wonderland

Tony Ashton was a one-off. [Producer] Martin Birch made me double-track him, so if you listen to the album you’ll hear this other voice underneath Tony’s, enhancing his delivery. He’d say: “I’m not a lead singer!” And Jon Lord would go: “Well you are in this band, dear boy.”

The worst record I've made

I used to do a lot of sessions for Mickie Most in the early seventies. I’d be given sheet music that I couldn’t read and would usually bluff my way through it. I won’t name names – because the album did come out – but I got involved in a session where I was terrified, because I just didn’t feel I belonged. I was ten years younger than everybody else and I could feel twenty pairs of eyes burning into me. It wasn’t a bad record, but it was a bad afternoon.

The song that makes me cry

James Taylor’s Shower The People will get me every time. He’s such a great, earthy singer and also a spectacular guitar player. I first met him at Apple Records when I was seventeen or eighteen, when I took my demo tape over there. Years later I met him backstage at the NEC in Birmingham and he got me a cup of tea from catering. He signed a copy of his book for me: “To Bernie, lies, all lies.” Really sweet guy.

My Saturday might/party song

Elton John’s Take Me To The Pilot is a big favourite. That’ll get me going. Benny And The Jets is another one that’ll embarrass the kids when I dance in the kitchen.

The song I want played at my funeral

I haven’t really thought about one. I wouldn’t want anything maudlin. Maybe Dance To The Music [Sly And The Family Stone].

Chess is out now via Conquest Music.

Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.