Bernie Marsden's tribute to Chess crackles with youthful energy

Veteran guitarist Bernie Marsden revisits tracks released on Chicago’s famous Chess label

Bernie Marsden cover art
(Image: © Conquest Music)

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In July 2021, inspired by a conversation with Billy Gibbons, original Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden began his Inspirations series by releasing the well-received Kings, covers of songs by bluesmen Albert, BB and Freddie King. Now comes this similarly packaged second volume of songs once recorded for Chess, revisiting the musicians and records that helped shape Marsden’s life.

The album was recorded in the old- school way: live in one room, minimum overdubs, simply wringing the best out of a lifetime’s experience on vintage instruments. The result is akin to the Rolling Stones’ 2016 album Blue & Lonesome – a mixture of reverential re-tread and contemporary revamp. 

It brings great credit not only to Marsden (who sings as wonderfully as he plays), but also to his seasoned band: John Gordon on bass, drummer Jim Russell, Bob Haddrell on keyboards, Alan Glen on harmonica.

It opens with a song that puts Glen’s blazing harmonica in the spotlight: Little Walter’s Just Your Fool (also first on Blue & Lonesome). After that, riffs by legendary bluesmen motor by, among them Back In The USA (Chuck Berry), I Can’t Hold Out (Elmore James), Fattening Frogs For Snakes (Sonny Boy Williamson) and I’m Ready (Willie Dixon). 

Any one of these could stand alone as a great recording by Marsden, and collectively they crackle with the energy of a man clearly thrilled to repay perceived debts to the musicians he first heard as a teenager. 

Another Dixon song, You Can’t Judge A Book (a hit for Bo Diddley in 1962), is a highlight, as is Grits Ain’t Groceries (by Titus Turner, who wrote the song as All Around The World in 1955) done here in the style of Little Milton’s re-titled hit of 1969. 

To slow things down, Marsden revisits the canon of Albert King for Won’t Be Hanging Around, here featuring a heartfelt vocal that perfectly matches the sweet notes of his guitar. 

Two fine Marsden-written instrumentals close the set as bonus tracks – Lester (named for Les Paul) and Johnny (as in Winter, because Marsden recorded the track using his 1964 Gibson Firebird, Winter’s weapon of choice) – but the album peaks with Who’s Been Talking (by Chester Burnett, aka Howlin’ Wolf). It’s delivered in the style of Fleetwood Mac’s Otis Rush-inspired Black Magic Woman, with a stunning solo that matches the tone and feel of Peter Green. The track is truly beautiful, and cements Chess as a work of both entertainment and education. 

A 24-carat cut above. 

Neil Jeffries

Freelance contributor to Classic Rock and several of its offshoots since 2006. In the 1980s he began a 15-year spell working for Kerrang! intially as a cub reviewer and later as Geoff Barton’s deputy and then pouring precious metal into test tubes as editor of its Special Projects division. Has spent quality time with Robert Plant, Keith Richards, Ritchie Blackmore, Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore – and also spent time in a maximum security prison alongside Love/Hate. Loves Rush, Aerosmith and beer. Will work for food.