Bernie Marsden has seen a lot over the past half century, whether as one of Britain’s most beloved singer-guitarists or as a member of bands such as UFO, Cozy Powell’s Hammer, Paice Ashton Lord and, most memorable, Whitesnake.
His last solo album, kings, revisits the music that shaped it, recorded for the first time by blues greats Albert, BB and Freddie King.
“I could have recorded all these songs about 30 years ago,” he explains, “but I think you have to have lived in life. Now I just feel like the right time to do them.
The first music that I remember hearing
My mom played Nat King Cole and Shirley Bassey in the house, but she could hear Buddy Holly on the radio – This will be the day and Rave on – that really got me started. Then it was Little Richard and the Shadows.
The greatest rock album
I loved the energy of Led Zeppelin’s debut album, but Led Zeppelin II is just amazing. Robert’s voice is what really grabbed me, hearing it alongside Jimmy’s electric guitar. I still never fail to be struck by the stars. Even today, if I find myself with Robert, I say to myself: “Robert Plant! Robert Plant!
When it comes to BB King everyone always says Living at Regal, but when I met him I was fiery enough to say that I prefer The blues is king. And he said, “Me too!” He was kind enough to say great things about me as a musician. He said to me, “Playing the blues is one thing, feeling the blues is another.”
The hero of the guitar
Initially, for anyone my age, Hank Marvin was the man. But then Eric Clapton came through through John Mayall’s band, which was the standard route back then. The Bluesbreakers album  is fundamental for everyone, really. If I had to save an album from the proverbial fire, I would hate to choose between that and Peter Green’s [Mayall’s A Hard Road]. These guys were so influential.
A little to the left, but Don Nix has always impressed me. He made his debut in the Mar-Keys, the house group of Stax. Then I kept hearing some great blues songs and realized they were all written by the same guy.
My favorite British singer is Joe Cocker. From day one I thought he stood out. I saw it a few times with the Grease Band, probably right before Woodstock, and it was like, “Wow! There is also Robert Plant. Paul Rodgers has always had it in spades. And Coverdale in his prime. When we were making records together, there weren’t many people who got that close.
The group that I would have liked to see
The Allman brothers. Although I played with them a few years ago at the Beacon [in New York]. Steely Dan too, but I probably never would have been good enough on the jazz side. As a kid I always thought I might play with John Lennon someday. I remember being about twenty-four or twenty-five and thinking, “Yeah, if John Lennon got a band going, I could be in there. “
The song that I would have liked to write
I am very close to certain pieces of Bobby Bland. I took There is no love in the heart of the city in the Whitesnake sessions and all of the above is pretty sensational. But I would have loved to write There’s no sun. Bill Withers wasn’t a bad songwriter, was he?
The best record I made
I have a great affection for all of the Whitesnake stuff, but one of the best things I was involved in was Paice Ashton Lord’s album, Malice in Wonderland.
Tony Ashton was unique. [Producer] Martin Birch had me dub it, so if you listen to the album you’ll hear that other voice underneath Tony’s, enhancing his performance. He said, “I’m not a lead singer! And Jon Lord would say, “Well, you’re in that group, my dear.”
The worst record I made
I used to do a lot of sessions for Mickie Most in the early ’70s. I was given sheet music that I couldn’t read and usually bluffed. I won’t name names – because the album came out – but I got involved in a session where I was terrified, because I just didn’t feel out of place. I was ten years younger than everyone else and I could feel twenty pairs of eyes burning me. It wasn’t a bad record, but it was a bad afternoon.
The song that makes me cry
that of James Taylor Shower people will get me every time. He’s such a good earthy singer and also a spectacular guitarist. I first met him at Apple Records when I was seventeen or eighteen, when I took my demo there. Years later I met him backstage at the NEC Birmingham and he offered me a cup of tea in catering. He signed a copy of his book for me: “To Bernie, Lies, All Lies.” Really nice guy.
My song of strength / Saturday party
Elton John’s Take me to the pilot is a big favorite. It will keep me going. Benny and the jets is another one that will embarrass the kids when I dance in the kitchen.
The song I wanna play at my funeral
I haven’t really thought about it. I wouldn’t want anything tearful. Maybe dance to the music [Sly And The Family Stone].
Kings is now available via Conquest Music.