He may not be a household name but Bernie Marsden is part of the rock aristocracy.
In a 40-year career he’s played guitar for a host of important outfits, including UFO, Wild Turkey, Babe Ruth and most famously of all, Whitesnake.
He even turned down the offer to join Paul McCartney’s Wings and his CV is full of collaborations with the likes of Robert Plant, Paul Weller and George Harrison.
In early 2017 Bernie released his autobiography, Where’s My Guitar – on the Tourbus with the Snakeman, with the book covering Bernie’s musical journey with humour and honesty, while next month sees him appear at Buckley Tivoli for a rare solo show.
“I don’t do that many shows so to get back to Buckley is really nice,” says Bernie.
“I work quite a lot in America now and play festivals in the summer so it’s good to remind people I’m still around!”
Legendary guitarist BB King once said, “Only two white men could play the blues. Eric Clapton and Bernie Marsden,” so it’s hardly surprisingly that it’s the blues that still dominates his sets.
“I do all the Whitesnake stuff and apart from that it’s just very bluesey, but I like to have a rapport with the crowd and just ask them what they want to hear,” he says.
“I don’t claim to be the greatest blues player ever, but it’s the music that I like and still play to this day – whatever I do will always have a tinge of the blues about it.”
Over his long career, Bernie has come into contact with many of rock’s greatest artists and it’s these anecdotes which fill his book and make for some great stories.
“I’ve been around a long time and I’m lucky that I’ve got to know some of the people who were my guitar heroes, like Peter Green, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck.
“All of a sudden they are names in your phone, but I still get that kick when any of them acknowledge me – I think if I ever lost that I’d be worried.
“I usually play one or two songs by Peter and it’s a way of saying that without this guy I wouldn’t be standing up here now.”
Writing his autobiography was a labour of love for Bernie and it’s provided him with the chance to collect over 40 years of memories of touring alongside around 64 pages of photos from his archive.
“It takes you from growing up in a small country town in the south east of England that was a long way from Chicago or Mississippi to seeing The Beatles on TV and deciding that was for me,” he laughs.
“I’ve written tales of my first guitar, the first groups I found myself in, touring straight from the school gate at age 16, playing gigs and earning more money than I should have, for a boy who spent more time playing the guitar than doing his homework.
“I go through all the bands and tours I’ve been on but there’s no really nasty stuff in there – it’s just the truth.
“It takes a lot of effort to be nasty and I’ve been lucky with the people I’ve worked with – if they were nasty I just don’t mention them!”
Bernie’s career really took off when he landed a spot in David Coverdale’s Whitesnake in 1977 around the same time his name came up on a shortlist of guitarists Paul McCartney was seeking for Wings.
The band grew in popularity throughout the early 1980s with albums including Ready an’ Willing and Slide It In, but really hit pay dirt with 1987’s self-titled album which contained the huge hits Is This Love and Here I Go Again which was written by Bernie five years previously when he was still in the band.
“It was a long time ago and the original band really broke up due to bad management,” he says.
“We should have had a bloody big row or a fight because we were all young blokes, but it really ended because we wanted to get away from the management.
“We walked away and then never walked back – that’s the long and short of it.”
How did it feel when they had a massive hit with a song you’d written but without you playing on it?
“They were such a different group by that point that I would see them on the TV or hear them on the radio and they may as well have been Journey or Foreigner,” says Bernie.
“The only thing that was the same was the name and the singer but when Here I Go I Again went to number one in the USA and just about everywhere else it certainly sweetened the pill.
“Only this week I’ve signed off its use in a movie and it’s the song that keeps on going.
“It’s a joy now when David asks me to come on stage and perform it as a guest and I’ll continue to do that as long as he wants me to.
“I play it every time I play and if I’m on the road in America the longest you go without hearing it is about an hour – it’s the epitome of the classic rock song and figures-wise it’s up there with the likes of Stairway to Heaven and We Will Rock You.”
l Bernie Marsden plays Buckley Tivoli on Friday, May 5. Call 01244 546 201 or visit www.tivolivenue.com for tickets
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