Bernie Marsden Interview - Blues Rock Survivor - Pt 2

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Part One of ‘Bernie Marsden – Blues Rock Survivor’ looked at the teenage years and Bernie’s first musical exploits, his first steps as a professional guitarist, touring Europe in the early 70’s and left things just as Bernie arrived back in London in 1974 to find a rather attractive new job maybe on the horizon for him…

Shades Of Purple

After three years or so as a busy jobbing guitarist Bernie now had the opportunity to work with some real rock royalty Deep Purple legends (even then) – Jon Lord and Ian Paice – in the new band Paice, Ashton, Lord. First of all though, was the little matter of auditioning…

I’d missed the first auditions for this, but when I phoned they said to come down anyway. I went down to Manticore studio in Fulham – Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s flagship place – and arrived about 6 in the evening. When I walked in there were about 18 or 20 guitarists waiting to audition, but the first person I notice is my old mate Cosmo, who used to play in The Heavy Metal Kids (Ed Note: an early 70’s London based band today chiefly remembered for having the future ‘Auf Weidersen, Pet’ TV star Gary Holton as vocalist). Cosmo started laughing, stood up, and in his broad accent said “Gentlemen, I suggest you all put your guitars away because this man will get the job”! I was “Oh, shut up Cosmo….” but he said “No, you will mate” – and about 7 of the other blokes left! As it turned out Cosmo was right, but I got the job almost by default.

When I went downstairs to the rehearsal room one of the band members says “Oh, you’re Cozy’s mate – where have you been?” to which I reply “I’ve been in Sweden” and they say “We’ve been trying to get you in for weeks now.” So we started and it was “Here we go, big stars now”; but the thing was that I didn’t know anything about Deep Purple – and to this day they laugh about it!

Bernie Marsden

At the beginning it was “Do you know ‘Child In Time’?” or “Do you know ‘Speed King’?” and of course I didn’t know any of them! I said “But I do know ‘Dance on The Water’”..…and Jon Lord went “What?!” And I replied “You know, da da duh da da da duh” (and of course I didn’t even know that one properly!) and Jon said in his Jon Lord way “That song is called ‘Smoke On The Water”! So, we had a go at that one, and I didn’t really know any of that; so here I was thinking “This is going really well…” but what I didn’t realise is that that was exactly what they were after. They’d had about a hundred wannabe Ritchie Blackmore clones and were sick of that, so when I came in without any of that it got their interest. Then they asked what I wanted to play; now, one of my favourite songs of all time is Paul Carrack’s ‘How Long’, so I said, “Shall we do ‘How Long’ by Ace?” Paicey said, “I know that one, it’s great”.
We started playing the song and when we got to the lovely passing chords in the middle, Jon stopped the band. At this point I thought “That’s it, I’m outta here” but he came up to me and in his very posh tones asked me to show him the chords!

When this happened all the ex-Purple crew (who’d been running a book on who would get the gig) put all their money on me. “Anyone who can stop Jon Lord in his tracks and have him ask for help has got to get the gig!”

Tony Ashton, God rest his soul, came running over half a number in and said “Bloody great, mate – right breath of fresh air!” I got the call that night saying “You’re in!” – and that was it. I became part of that whole extended Deep Purple crowd.

I remember seeing Tony Ashton on a programme he co-hosted with Rick Wakeman – ‘Gastank’ I think it was called – back in the early 1980’s. He has somewhat of a reputation!

We could do a whole interview all about Tony Ashton: ‘Alloutnutters’ – Tony would be the honorary president! He was the kind of person that you wanted to go in the studio with, go on the road with, have a drink with – you wanted to be around him all day in case you missed something. An absolute riot – you can’t really describe it – and he was also an absolute pleasure to work and be with.

Paice, Ashton, Lord was a strange band because we had all that going on with the Purple legacy, and yet musically we were about as far removed from Deep Purple as you could possibly get. We did a great album called ‘Malice In Wonderland’ that sold, oh, about 25 copies!

Any idea why Paice, Ashton, Lord failed to grab the public’s attention?

Well, a combination of things: we only played 5 UK shows, they all sold out and all the Purple fans came to give it a go – but I think we were a band before it’s time. The general reaction seemed to be “Been to see them, like what they do, but wouldn’t buy the album”. So, when we went into the studio to do the second album (and don’t ask me why, because by then we all knew there wasn’t really any point) Jon and Ian realised that they couldn’t afford to put any more money in – they were bankrolling the whole thing – and that was that. When we were in the studio in Munich, one day David Coverdale came in to see Jon and Ian, and we got talking; He asked me how I felt working with Jon and Ian – as we’d both been the new boy we had something in common – and we got on fine; so we left it “When you are in London give me a call”.

About a month after that I was in London and went down to The Rainbow to see Micky Moody play with Frankie Miller (who I had become close with when we were both signed to Chrysalis – I’d meet Frankie at Euston when we travelled into London) and as I walked in literally the first person I saw was David. We got talking again, and when he said that he was putting together a band with Micky…who was an old mate of mine…well, that was that! It was definitely fated to happen.

Bernie Marsden

I gather that about this time you were in the running for the role as guitarist for Paul McCartney’s Wings?

When I met David again I was waiting for a call back from McCartney’s office. Howie Casey was playing in Wings as the saxophonist, and he’d been the horn arranger with Paice, Ashton, Lord, so when Jimmy McCullough (before he suddenly died) left, Howie suggested me. I think that they’d all been arguing with Jimmy. I knew him as a mate from his time with Thunderclap Newman, and he could be difficult – he did like a drink or two, shall we say!

Howie called me up and said that Paul needed a new guitar player quick, and Paul didn’t want to go through all that auditioning everyone again, so was I up for the job? Of course it was “Yeah, I’d love to do it”. But it got really dragged out – I’d phone back and Paul would still be out in Arizona or something. This went on for weeks, and I said to them “You know, if you don’t want me you can tell me, I am a grown up!”
With that they said that he still wouldn’t be back for a while, so I had to tell them that I was about to put together a band with the guy from Deep Purple.

Then it was “Oh, so you’re not available now?”

Now, that was a tough one, I can tell you! I mean, it’s Paul McCartney, isn’t it! And, like all of us, I was a huge Beatles fan. Luckily, since then I have played live with Ringo Starr – so I have achieved my ambition to play with at least one of them. I also got play with George Harrison at his home, but I don’t think that counts!

So the ironic thing is that – apart from Lennon, obviously – the only one I haven’t played with is the only one that I’ve been linked with professionally! In retrospect I wouldn’t have changed a thing: I mean, the big thing with Wings at that time was ‘Mull of Kintyre’ – and that’s not exactly ‘Mistreated’ is it?! It was still great to have been considered though.

Snakebite and Punk

David Coverdale was a northern lad plucked from obscurity in 1972 (working in a clothes shop in Redcar, Yorkshire) who, in a matter of weeks, was fronting Deep Purple – primarily as lead vocalist (but sharing vocals on most songs with the multi talented ‘White Stevie Wonder’ bassist Glenn Hughes) replacing Ian Gillan. Incidentally, Glenn was previously with Midlands funk rock band Trapeze – also featuring Mel Galley who crops up later in Bernie’s story…This period in rock’s history was particularly incestuous! Coverdale had released the solo albums ‘David Coverdale’s Whitesnake’ and ‘Northwinds’ before assembling a band proper to go out under the ‘Whitesnake’ monicker. Thus, in mid 1977, Bernie and the new band got down to work…

We signed to EMI, but at first they weren’t really sure if we would work (it was right when Punk was the real in thing) – so we had a deal for an EP. Now I was really a bit out of the loop reading that whole Punk thing, because I’d been over in Germany with Paice Ashton Lord when Punk was right at its peak. (I think it really was a media led thing anyway – the trendy media saying, “Get rid of all those rock dinosaurs”.) It was funny because, living in a hotel in Munich that whole period, when we didn’t read the English papers regularly all we heard was from mates who’d tell us that over in London at gigs you now got spat at…so we were like “Oh, lovely…what’s all that about!”

And of course Jon Lord, being Jon – or Sir Lord Jon as we used to call him – was very disapproving: “That sounds quite disgusting to me.” We didn’t want any of that old nonsense, so we were quite happy to stay put in Germany. By the time Paice Ashton Lord had finished and I had moved back to England and was working with David, the whole Punk thing was peaking and starting its downturn: but still EMI wanted to test the water – so when ‘Snakebite’ came out and we went on the road, I think they were as surprised as anyone that we sold out absolutely everywhere.

Punk was supposed to be the death knell for all your big rock bands – your Led Zeppelins and everyone similar – but it just didn’t happen. I remember on that first Whitesnake tour, everyday at sound check the PA guy was playing this album and everyday I‘d hear a new track, and I remember asking who it was (because it sounded really good): “Oh, it’s a new band called Dire Straits”. So, the biggest new band to come out of the late 70’s was about as far removed from Punk as you can get!

In January 1978 the Whitesnake ‘Snakebite’ EP was released.

That first tour was great, as we started in the clubs and smaller theatres and then progressed to the bigger theatres – and you could feel everything building up. I think it’s ironic that that we came up and became a huge success right when all the media would have you believe that rock was dead. The thing is that the media did help break a lot of real drivel in the late 70’s and early 80’s – like The Thomson Twins – and there was a lot of crap about not having to be good player to be in a band. Well, I’m sorry, but in my book you do; and if you look at it now, in this new millennium you’ve still got old buggers like me (and a lot older!) all still playing all over the world; and, might I say – with only a couple of exceptions – where are all those trendier pop and punk lot now?

Bernie Marsden

You know, looking back, Mickie Most probably did me and Cozy a big favour by not letting us do that pop album with the Hammer group; sure the signs were all there that we would have been massive, but so much in the pop world only lasts a year or two, and then you get listed very much in the ‘Where Are They Now?’ file.
Pop music – the whole Pop Idol thing – is much more fad led than the rock world. Following a music career in the rock industry has generally always been more consistent and long lasting – that’s why many of us are still able to command respect from the punters, play concerts regularly and release new records. We may not be selling like we used to, but we are still out there doing it, and the audiences are really varied as well; there are loads that were there at the beginning and are around my age, but also lots of teenagers as well.

What happened after that first tour was over?

A month after we finished the Snakebite tour we went back into Central Studios in Denmark Street and recorded ‘Trouble’. David had a flat up in Highbury, North London and we’d meet up there for writing sessions. (I remember the smell of cat pee in the basement!) We were really on a roll and pretty much all wrote the songs together: either me and David, or Micky and David, or Micky and I – or even all three of us. It all went very smoothly and it became obvious which of us was suited for certain things – and David and I had a great understanding of each other musically straight away. I remember we wrote ‘Come On’ in one afternoon and the whole thing evolved very naturally.

We had Pete Solley on keyboards for Snakebite and the first Trouble sessions and it was sounding good; but when we bought in Jon Lord – well, when he put his mark on it (and there’s only one Jon Lord) – it really put the finishing touch on the band. We actually recorded ‘Trouble’ in something like ten days flat.

Of course, when Jon joined the band a lot of people were “It’s Deep Purple in disguise” or whatever – and it wasn’t at all. Whitesnake had its own identity straight off – Whitesnake was an out and out rock’n’roll band in its own right – and that’s why Ian Paice joined a year and a half later: because we were a great rock band, full stop. He didn’t join because he had some idea to try and reform Deep Purple and relive all of that.

I actually had some t-shirts made up with the Deep Purple logo on and ‘No I wasn’t in Deep Fucking Purple’ -as, particularly in Germany, we’d be doing these interminable interviews and it was loads of “Are you ze one from the Deep Purple?” – so to nip that in the bud I’d have on one of these! I’ve still got some actually … I imagine that they’d make a fortune if I put them on Ebay! And my daughter wears one for her drum lessons! (Although David didn’t seem to think it was very funny in an interview I read with him a few months ago: “Bernie had these ridiculous shirts made.”) Well, now you have both sides of the story, and I can tell you that a certain DC laughed the most when he saw them, the sod!

Rise of The Snake

‘Trouble’ was released quickly after ‘Snakebite’ to capitalise on the momentum gained from the successful touring. After hitting the road again Whitesnake recorded ‘Lovehunter’ which was released in 1979. Featuring such stalwart numbers as the title track itself, ‘Long Way From Home’, ‘Lovehunter’, ‘We Wish You Well’ and “Walking In The Shadow of The Blues’ it was a great album that further established Whitesnake as a force to be reckoned with in the Hard Rock music scene.

By the time we came to do ‘Lovehunter’ we’d swapped labels from United Artists and Liberty, who were subsidiary of EMI, to the parent company. A proper deal had been struck (although it didn’t really help us out financially a great deal – another story that’s all in my book!) and we were becoming a priority act. By that time we were flying; the songs were really gelling, Jon was fully established and we had a few of the real Whitesnake classics in the set: things like ‘Walking In the Shadow of The Blues’ and ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart of The City’ – the Bobby Bland number from the ‘Snakebite’ EP.

I had this already on a record, and took it to David and said “What a great track to do”. I know David has said that he always wanted to do it, but that’s, shall we say, economical…

When we came to record this I worked it out in the studio, which is why there’s a whole bridge missing: I’d simply forgotten that whole section! (My forthcoming book tells the whole story.) Chris Farlowe, who sings the ‘proper’ version, has never stopped giving me jip since! And he’s quite right, because there are thousands of musicians all over the world who play ‘Ain’t No Love…’ the ‘wrong’ way – that opening riff Micky came up with there and then in the studio. David sang it so well though, and it really is a terrific version.

AOG In 1980 Whitesnake released the seminal ‘Ready An’ Willing’ which, buoyed by the hit single ‘Fool For Your Loving’, reached no.6 in the UK album charts. For many fans the highpoint of this era, this features a superb collection of songs: from the blues-infused hard rock of ‘Fool for…’ and the serious grooves of the title track, right across the spectrum to the sprawling acoustic epic ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry No More’ and the wonderful ‘Blind Man’. David Coverdale is in amazing voice throughout and, as a collection of songs and sounds – and an evocation of the Whitesnake era – this release remains pretty much as good as it gets…

When ‘Ready an’ Willing’ was released we’d been around for a while and had built our reputation, but still sort of got lumped in with the ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ – which wasn’t really right as we were never a ‘metal’ band. I mean ‘I Wish You Well’ or ‘Help Me Through The Day’ – Iron Maiden weren’t going to be fighting us to record those songs were they?! Iron Maiden were brilliant at what they did – as were the Saxon boys – but we were very different to those bands and were essentially a hard-edged blues band. By the time we came to record ‘Ready an’ Willing’ Ian Paice had joined and the whole backline had really dropped into place; I was chuffed to be back in the studio with Paicey after the Paice Ashton Lord days. It was the same as when I worked with Cozy; with Ian the standard of playing was so high that any rhythm you could think of these guys could play!

There was a nice relaxed feel in the studio as well. We weren’t on each others toes – sometimes I would do the rhythm and leave Micky to the solos, or vice versa: whatever worked for the track. There was never any of this “Well, I wrote this so I’m going to play it” nonsense – we just crafted the record as best we could. Luckily I came up with the idea for ‘Fool For Your Loving’ and suddenly we have this massive hit single – and it took us to another level saleswise. I think ‘Ready an’ Willing’ got to number 3 in the UK, and it sold out the big tour; we went into the Hammersmith Odeon and places like that, and they’d all sold out in advance.

Bernie Marsden

After the UK tour we went to Europe to support AC/DC – and went from selling 30,000 albums in Germany to 300,000! AC/DC were fantastic! I’ve done lots of interviews over the years and been asked “What’s the best tour you’ve ever done?” Easy! AC/DC without a doubt – it was magic! Apart from the fact that it broke us in central Europe, AC/DC were so good….

I think it was their second tour with Brian and I remember that we were going down really well as the support act to 15 or 20,000 people a night. After our 45/50 minutes we always made sure that we didn’t overrun or anything, but it was always “Do another one boys”….They’d be in the middle of a darts match backstage and Angus would need a 14 or something! It was the coolest environment backstage; they treated us well with none of the normal headline/support act rubbish. The bravado was great – and of course they realised that, as good as we were, the audience knew they still had AC/DC to see!

I remember thinking that if we ever broke to that level, that we should work to the same rules as the AC/DC lads; then there can be nothing but good. – which was basically what we tried to do. I think that if you ask any of the bands that went out with us (at least when I was in the band) you won’t hear any complaints. But that AC/DC tour… I watched them every night and they always had something different to offer. I got quite pally again with Phil Rudd (I‘d known him from the earlier days when Skinny Cat had opened up for one of his earlier bands) and he always used to have this big pad on his thigh – first time I saw this I asked him what it was for and he said: “You’ll see later mate…”

It was there as protection because when he drummed, he’d be banging away and be hitting his thigh without knowing it – splitting it all open! Talk about commitment: that whole rhythm thing, with Malcolm powering the whole thing along – people talk about rhythm guitar being dead…Bullshit! Go and see AC/DC.

We were due to go to America with them as well, but David broke his leg in Hamburg so we had to cancel that stage of the tour – and until the end of my career that will remain one of my biggest regrets. I firmly believe that we would have broken America with that line-up, just like we did Europe – because it was the perfect rock’n’roll bill: there was all this guitar stuff going on and we were both great rock bands and very different – but totally compatible.

But, it was never meant to happen, and when we did go and tour the States later it was all distinctly under whelming. I mean, we played with Jethro Tull and did ok, but we weren’t for their audience; and then they put us out with Iron Maiden and Judas Priest – which was about the worst bill for us that you could imagine. David used to call it the ‘Heavy Metal Sandwich’ – but that’s management for you – and what can you do? You get a tour and you have to go out there and do your best – but we never should have been on those tours in the first place.

At that time we were doing really well in Europe – more business than all those other bands put together at that time – but it was always “You have to break America”. By the end of that it became “Bugger America!” – which is ironic if you think about what happened a few years later when David was at number 1! So, when we got back from the ‘Heavy Metal Sandwich’ tour we decided to stay in Europe and Japan.

Final Days with Mr Trousersnake

Whitesnake returned to England and released ‘Live…In The Heart of The City’ at the tail end of 1980 (pun not intended!) and further cemented their reputation by going straight into the ‘UK Top 10’ albums chart…

This was recorded as sort of a ‘thank you’ to the fans for the first two to three years – they really were magical times. And ‘Come and Get It’ (1981) of course got straight to number 1 – but after that album was released it all started to derail.

Looking back with hindsight, do you have any firm idea what really happened?

Well, there’s been a lot written over the years about all of that. It was a lot of things, but there was a lot of bad, bad management. I know that’s easy to say, and a lot of people blame career problems on management (and the guy involved has recently deceased so I don’t want to say too much) but it was very, very, poor. There was also a lot of in-fighting. David used to say “Make sure you take care of yourself, mate” – but at the time I didn’t read what he meant properly; I always thought that it was a band thing – you know, you look after each other – but it wasn’t like that.

Bernie Marsden

It got to the point that we were going to fire the management and disband whilst everything got sorted – like Queen did at the time – and then come back fighting stronger. At this time we were making the ‘Saints ’n’ Sinners’ album. Listening to that album today, it sounds remarkably good considering all the trauma that was involved in the making of it. It’s a bloody good record; there are some really good outtakes around that would make a wonderful double album if it could ever be done. It just goes to show you that the inherent band was so strong – and in that last gasp really trying.

David was really down about it at the time and was anti it being released at all; but then, when it was released, it was pushed as to be almost a David Coverdale solo album. You know, just a picture of him on the sleeve – small minded little power games like that.

Suddenly we get called to a meeting and there’s this manager looking very preened and happy with himself and he proceeds to fire me, Ian Paice and Neil Murray from the band. We were all really shocked; I mean, only five minutes ago it had been the plan to get rid of the manager – not the band!

But if I’m going to get fired, I’d rather be fired alongside Ian Paice …. after all, getting fired with the best rock drummer in the world (Bonzo had gone by then and there ain’t many more) is kind of a good thing to put on your CV!