As a Whitesnake fan, it was really a great honor to meet one of the band's original members, to whom we owe the creation of some of the greatest rock n roll anthems ever. Bernie Marsden made us feel at ease since the very first chat, during the opening acts, when he most graciously asked if we had something to let him sign...and holy cow we had!!! Enjoy this interview with an immensely talented musician and true rock legend!
Interview by Fabrizio Tasso
RRM: The last time we saw you a few years ago you played with Ian Paice in Piacenza, do you remember that show?
BM: Sure! The outdoor festival! It was really good. I like playing in Italy, good wine, good food, good people! And now you have a good Prime Minister too haha! But I won’t talk about politics…
RRM: How did you meet the band you’re playing with tonight, Purplesnake?
BM: Through another guy I know who invited me, they made a really good impression to me, I could tell they were okay, they’re the third or fourth Italian cover band I have. I also met Ranfa, Chris Catena, they’re all really good guys.
RRM: Your new album will be released in August, is there anything you would like to anticipate about the songs and the many special guests featured?
BM: They’re very special people to me. It was great to have David on vocals, I just wanted to record Trouble again and I thought “who can sing this?...oh, I know!!”. In the last two or three years we’ve been close again and so I called him and told him “I would like you to sing on my new record” and he said okay. He did a great job. Joe Bonamassa also came in on a day off, he's been very nice as well. Ian Paice is also on Trouble, so this track is Whitesnake, because I play guitar, Neil Murray is not there, I also played bass, Ian on drums, and David, so it’s Whitesnake! I’m really happy with this job.
The other guys that play on the album are very important to me but they are not so big names. The harmonica player is the best in the country, maybe the best in Europe, also working at Abbey Road studios was very special.
RRM: The opening track on the album has no guitar solo, which is rather surprising for a guitarist!
BM: I never think about the guitar solo, to me it is all about the song and the performance, this is a song about people who laid tracks in America. It was backbreaking, stupid hard work; it’s always about the blues, so I wanted to do my own version of a song that i lived with since i was 16. It has taken me a long time and I think it turned out great. It’s got that Led Zeppelin feeling, which is alright.
RRM: You played with countless artists and bands, if you had to mention some of your favorite works what would they be?
BM: One of my favorite is an album that sold very small numbers. That was Paice Ashton & Lord, the studio album, Malice in Wonderland. I still think it is a really good piece of work. I know that Jon and Ian were very happy with it. I was really happy to be working with these guys. I could tell the difference from my previous experiences. That really was what I wanted to do. This relationship lasted until these days. There’s many other albums I love, but this is the one I measure my enjoyment with. Then of course, I love Ready & Willing. I like the whole Whitesnake output. For me personally I think this was my cross over record. Working with these guys in a studio was amazing. I worked with Martin Birch, I relocated to Germany, everything was BIG. I thought “what next?” and then nothing happened! (laughs) So this is what the rock business is like, nothing can be predicted, even less nowadays.
RRM: Kinda wish she would is a ZZ Top-inspired song. What other influences can we find in the album?
BM: When the producer heard the demo he said it sounded like ZZ Top and I said that was strange because I had worked with ZZ Top a week earlier. So we went for it, but they actually made all that ZZ Top kind of thing after I left the studio! And then they asked if I liked it and I said yes, that’s great! That’s what producers do!
RRM: When did you decide you would become a professional musician?
BM: I guess I wanted to be a professional musician because I couldn’t do anything else! I wasn’t that clever at school (we don’t believe that!) I was only interested in playing the guitar. When I was 14 years old I was playing with guys that I thought were really old. At 22 they were married, had children, so they looked really old to me! I didn’t turn professional until I turned 21, I could have turned professional before, I had made auditions with professional bands, but every time they said they would like me to join the band I said ”naah it’s not for me”. Then UFO came. I didn’t want to do that either but I did! But that’s another story. When I look back at it they were actually good guys to me, because they gave me the opportunity to turn from a semi-professional environment to a professional one. I went from playing in front of 200 people to playing in front of 500 people seeing UFO, and I was the guitar player. So they gave me and incredible opportunity, unluckily music wise we weren’t on the same playing field, they didn’t like the blues enough!! But we had a very good time.
RRM: Your career spans through 4 decades, which period would you consider to be the golden age of rock?
BM: The next decade. (laughs)
If we made this interview 10 or 20 years ago and you asked “what do you think you are going to do next?” I would answer “not this!”. But things go on, it goes on. I never expected to make another record. In 2013 this guy came and asked if I wanted to make a record for his label (Mascot-Provogue), and I asked what kind of record he wanted me to do. He said “do a Bernie Marsden record!” I never liked to think about the past.
RRM: Can you tell us how “the Snakes” and “The Company of Snakes” projects came about?
BM: I was working in Norway with some Norwegian musicians, the drummer gave me a tape, I listened to it and I thought it was a Whitesnake bootleg, I asked “where’s that recorded?” and they mentioned a place where Whitesnake had never played so I thought they couldn’t be Whitesnake. I was truly amazed by Jorn Lande’s voice. He sounded just like him. So I thought we had to do something with this guy, he sings more like David than David himself! That’s how it began. It’s been difficult for two Englishmen and three Norwegians to be away so long, it didn’t work on the road, but the record was great. So eventually we quit. But we had this WS thing back in our heads and we tried again with a singer who was in Bad Company (Robert Hart), so we invented the name “Company of Snakes”, a stupid name! But it made sense at the time, the problem was when the record came out he wasn’t the singer! So it was like “the company of who???”. And that’s how we found Stefan Berggren. He came in very late and he put his voice in the live recording. He’s a good singer and a really good guy. I think Burst the Bubble is a good album, but nobody actually heard it. When we play live we do a couple of songs out of Burst the Bubble and then we do Walking in the Shadow of the Blues! So that’s where M3 began, and that’s when I did my biggest ever mistake. I had Tony Martin singing and he was completely wrong. My fault! He wasn’t the right guy, he never really learned the songs, he wasn’t really interested, he only wanted to promote himself.
The thing with these Company of Snakes/ M3 projects is that promoters advertise gigs putting “Whitesnake” on posters in bigger letters, and it’s a stupid thing to do because David Coverdale would never play in a place like this. So I became a little bored. The M3 live album is really good though, it features one of the best ever versions of ready & willing. But David is not there. It’s like the Eric Clapton band with me playing guitar!! Whitesnake without David is not Whitesnake. Some of my former colleagues said “let’s call it Whitesnake!”. I said no, I would never do it. I’ve always been proud of my work with Whitesnake, the writing and everything. But Whitesnake is David Coverdale and whoever is there. Whitesnake will go on, if I’m there I’m there. A year ago I was on stage with them! Whitesnake to me is like a football team of the 80s, Liverpool or Manchester United, they win and win. They have great players, than these players get older and can’t play anymore but it’s still Manchester United. With David it’s still Whitesnake. He keeps the flag flying.
RRM: would you ever consider rejoining the band?
BM: Well, I have rejoined, as I said we played together last year. If you mean touring all the time, it’s up to him. But I don’t think so, I’m too old. The night I played with them in London I went to bed and woke up at 11 in the morning to have some breakfast. They instead were leaving at 6.30 in the morning! I can’t do that anymore. David keeps very fit, he really maintains a very good condition. I’m okay, but I’m not interested in touring the world all the time like that. My kids would like me to be on the big stage!!
RRM: One last question. This is actually a little game we also played with Don Airey in a recent interview, would you describe the following artists with one adjective?
Micky Moody- Moody!
Neil Murray- Solid
Don Airey- Enthusiastic
Mel Galley- Missed
Ian Paice- Genius
Jon lord- two words: The Best
Cozy Powell- Friend
Jorn Lande- Talented
David Coverdale- Strong
Thank you so much for everything Mr. Marsden!
Stay tuned for the upcoming new album “Shine” to be released in August, which will be reviewed on Rock Rebel Magazine!!