Former Whitesnake guitarist and solo artist Bernie Marsden dead at 72

Bernie Marsden holding a guitar, standing in front of some amplifiers
(Image credit: Fin Costello)

Much-loved former Whitesnake guitarist and solo artist Bernie Marsden has died at the age of 72. Marsden's death was confirmed in a statement released by his publicist.

"On behalf of his family, it is with deep sadness we announce the death of Bernie Marsden," read the statement. "Bernie died peacefully on Thursday evening with his wife, Fran, and daughters, Charlotte and Olivia, by his side. 

"Bernie never lost his passion for music, writing and recording new songs until the end." 

The news had been shared earlier by Marsden's former Whitesnake colleague David Coverdale, who tweeted, "I’ve just woken up to the awful news that my old friend and former Snake Bernie Marsden has passed. My sincere thoughts and prayers to his beloved family, friends and fans. A genuinely funny, gifted man, whom I was honoured to know and share a stage with."

Marsden was best known for his time with Whitesnake, the band he co-founded with Coverdale and Micky Moody in 1978. His tenure with the band coincided with the release of classic albums such as Come An’ Get It, Saints & Sinners and Live… In The Heart Of The City. Marsden also co-wrote the band's biggest international hit, Here I Go Again, which topped the US chart in 1987, five years after he had left the band.

"It took maybe two hours," he told Classic Rock in 2020. "I wrote it in my first house and put it all together on an old Revox tape machine. 

"It was the opening sequence that grabbed me, the three opening chords. I had the melody in my head, and when I played it to Jon Lord he had a certain look in his eye. He made me play it again and then said: “You’re a clever little sod, aren’t you? That’s the hook."

Marsden was born in 1951 in Buckingham, UK, and began his career in the local club scene in the late 60s, inspired – like so many others – by the boom in blues music.

"I loved Hank Marvin in The Shadows as a kid," he told us. "But Eric Clapton was the first guitar player I really adored, because I was old enough to relate to it. George Harrison comes into this as well, then it was Peter Green. I saw Fleetwood Mac on so many occasions."

In 1972 Marsden joined UFO, but the relationship didn't last long, and he went on to play with Wild Turkey, Cozy Powell’s Hammer and Paice Ashton Lord, before successfully auditioning for David Coverdale in 1978.

"All he knew was that I’d been a session guy and had made all these records with different people," said Marsden. "The Paice Ashton Lord album is very controlled and slick. There’s no great blowing in it, it’s all about the songs and arrangements. So when I started playing freely at rehearsal, David took me to one side and said: “Erm, can I have a word? I had no idea you played like that.” That’s how it began."

After leaving Whitesnake before Here I Go Again turned them into superstars in America, he formed others bands, including Bernie Marsden's SOS, Alaska, and the Moody Marsden band, before embarking on a solo career and releasing a string of well-received albums. The work rate never slipped, and three acclaimed post-pandemic releases – Kings, Chess and Trios – paid tribute to the music he'd grown up with. 

"I think if you’ve got the talent, luck will fall your way," he told Classic Rock. "All I’ve ever tried to do is play a show with as much honesty as I can, because without the people who put their hands in their pockets and come to gigs, there’s nothing left."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 37 years in music industry, online for 24. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.