With a new album ‘Shine’ released and live dates planned, Just Listen To This catches up with the versatile musician and singer to talk all things musical…
JLTT: Hi Bernie, I’ve been listening to this Provogue promo of ‘Shine’…did they ask for a blues album? It’s turned out very wide-ranging!
BM: They didn’t ask for a blues album, as such. They wanted a Bernie Marsden record. Now I’ve never really done just blues of course – so I suppose I went back and wrote some songs and it came out as it did. But I think they were very pleased because they were surprised at the variants of the styles ..I think !.
To me, you’re a guy who can play blues..more akin to a Joe Walsh or Steve Miller ….where blues is part of what you do.
Yeah, Pete it’s part of your make-up. I was lucky enough to be around people and involved with people who could turn it into an art form really. Playing rock music and being able to be exposed to what you do within the genre is good. It gives you your own style to me and the people you mentioned there, well if I’ve gotta be pigeon-holed then those are the kind of guys I’d like to be pigeon-holed with.
Yeah. I consider in essence, certainly Captain Beefheart was a blues man, I think John Kay of Steppenwolf has got a real fantastic blues feel but these guys, you and me we don’t wanna be playing straight twelve-bars all night because it’s a bit like eating the same meal over isn’t it?
It is. B.B. King who I met when I was fairly young said a few things and we played together in dress rehearsal and stuff. He heard a few things that I’d done and we kept in touch. He did an interview (unknown to me) in the late nineties on the radio in Germany and the guy said to him ‘Can white guys play the blues?’ and he said ‘Yeah sure they can, but not many can feel the blues.’ He listed a few people and then he said ‘Don’t forget Bernie from Whitesnake.’
Cool… Now that’s the kind of thing… you can’t buy that can you?
The thing is, it is the great I mean Page calls it a battery, the blues. You come back to it, to recharge. There will never be day, when I don’t come in from the day job and sometimes want to put on a John Lee Hooker record.
That’s why you’ve got stuff like ‘Linin’ Track’ and then a couple of tracks later you’ve got ‘Walk Away’. It’s what I do.
Exactly right. Let’s run through the tracks. ‘Linin’ Track’ has got a real Lonnie Donnegan intro hasn’t it really?
Then the band kicks in with Feltham-. What I love about that is you yelling out the instructions
(Laughs) I know! On the first track, I don’t play a guitar solo which is like ‘Hold On’. What’s going on here?’
It’s great because it makes you think ‘This isn’t some ponced up five years in the studio job.’
As much as I love Steely Dan, by the time the music comes out it’s so refined.
All the shouts and calls in ‘Linin’ Track’, as far as I was concerned they weren’t meant to stay obviously. The more we got into it, the producer said to me ‘I love this. They’ve gotta stay’. I said ‘No they’ve gotta go.’ The more we listened to it and finished it he said ‘This captures the whole vibe of the session.’ I said ‘Yeah, but in three months’ time I’ll hate it.’ I don’t… he was right.
My vote’s going with it staying. ‘Wedding Day’ is a bit of a stomper isn’t it ? Would that be a Whitesnake number if you were still with the band?
I don’t know really. ‘Wedding Day’ was an idea I put together and I wrote the words afterwards. In my head, ‘ What would Big Bill Broonzy have done with a Stratocaster ? if he were able?’ I tried to get that picking thing in and I got it all finished. Then I thought ‘What’s it all about?’ I had no idea.
So a couple of drives between the studio and my house, I came up with this idea of a guy who almost let the girl get away because he saw his friends at a wedding. I’m really pleased with the result as it took me a while
Yeah. To me, it’s a distant echo of ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’?.. that kind of thing.
Yeah exactly -that’s a nice story isn’t it?
Yeah. Wilko (Johnson) and I love The Coasters because they had lots of stories in there.
Autobiographical and telling a story – and that’s what ‘Hoxie Rollin’ Time’ is all about
‘Walk Away’ has this fresh bursting intro and it’s a song of regret isn’t it? I wondered if it was written for somebody else. You’ll laugh at this but I could see someone like Lulu doing it.
(Laughs) Well I laughed but she’s not a bad artist! It’s an up-tempo, in your face in a major key and yet it is quite sad. You get to a certain age and you think back at relationships and maybe it’s about one person or maybe it’s a summation of over the years how you’ve thought about other things.In every good marriage, both partners have someone in their past and they say ‘I wonder what happened to them?’ That’s what ‘Walk Away’ is all about really…
It’s got some linear guitar lines which are pure Marsden aren’t they?
(Laughs) I think so yeah! I like that kind of thing.
You’ve got this thing where you do legato melodies and the person who gets closest to it was a bloke called Les Dudek…
Yeah!! That’s a compliment so thank you for that. Even though you didn’t mean it! (Laughs)
Well I do, probably – there’s a track that I’ve always wondered why you haven’t done called ‘Old Judge Jones’…
Yeah that’s a very good comparison Pete, Dudek – so. I really concur. I hadn’t thought about til you mentioned it but you are right on there
‘Kinda Wish She Would’ has a nice fuzz Joe Walsh sort of tone happening in that one
With that song, I kind of hear a bit of early Mott the Hoople. I don’t know why
Well the thing is, you’ve travelled around, you’ve met all these people and you hear all this stuff
I mean a lot of post-production was done on this. The track that I recorded and comment was ‘This has got a bit of a ZZ Top vibe about it’. I said ‘Yeah I think it has.’ I think they enhance that as well. I thought ‘Yeah that was fine’.
I think we’ll mention Rob Cass at this point, mate
Very positive kind of character isn’t he?
He is. He knows what he wants and he has a nice way of getting it, even if you don’t think he’s right at first. He’s very clever.
I think Bonamassa has the same relationship with Kevin Shirley.
Yeah absolutely. Rob did this album at the same time he was doing Jack Bruce’s album which I participated in as well. Jack loved him to bits and I think he said it was some of his best work in years or something. Rob Cass is a happening guy and he’s got a nice approach
Now ‘LadyFriend’ has a great moody harp interlude in there. I thought this would be the David Crosby song ‘LadyFriend’ that I do but it’s not the same one
No, that’s about an old manager of mine.(Laughs) ‘Drivin’ round town in a black limousine!’
‘Trouble’ now Coverdale comes in on this. It’s got the down home slide intro but it so suits his pipes doesn’t it?
Yeah so powerful and the same key we did it in thirty years ago! So all that ‘He ain’t got it anymore’ wait till they hear this…When we recorded ‘Trouble’ the first time we did it live for a couple of years and it was always popular and we always thought it could have been a bit tougher. So when we did it this time I wanted to approach it a bit different. I just got the idea – Paul Kossoff walks on and I said ‘How would Free have done this?’ So that’s why there’s a bit of Free in there as well. When you’ve got him singing like that,– I’m really pleased with a) the way it turned out but also b) to have him involved together again was teriffic. We were to blokes together again like we were twenty five and that’s how it should be
Absolutely right. It’s class. ‘Who Do We Think We Are’ is great as it’s reflective. So this is your moment where it’s not a road story or a love story you’re in a different territory with your head, aren’t you?
Yeah it’s unusual and it’s the one that’s kind of left-field isn’t? Whether I’m talking to someone like you over here or a guy in Spain or whatever, they’ve picked it out. This song fits in with the rest you know? I must have watched a few documentaries so I wrote the whole thing before I even picked the guitar up. Except for a couple of lines, which were Abbey Road Studios inspired. The whole Lennon line came from working in Studio 3 where they did ‘Revolver’ so some of that came in like ‘All we need is love’. I cheated on that I suppose but the rest of it…it’s heartfelt and old-fashioned but I do think about and I do believe what I wrote down about that.I’m very pleased with the end song.
Ok. ‘Bad Blood’ you’ve got this Cherry Lee Mewis lass on there. Great voice and great bridge in that, too
Yeah I wrote that song about four years ago I think and it’s a nasty song. The guy in the song is a nasty piece of work and is quite sleazy. I thought how can I really twist this so I put a girl on it ! Cherry did a great job on it and she’s a really good singer. She’s nothing like the character in the song I might add. (Laughs) I like that line ‘A pocket full of money don’t make a bad thing good!’
She does it justice. ‘Shine’ has got this itchy, busy tempo and Joe sounds very distinctive on it. I can look in print and I can see other writers winding him up and sniping and I think he handles it pretty well
I did a thing the other day with someone and I said ‘If people are going to need a leader of a new movement of blues-based guitar music, they couldn’t have anyone better than Joe Bonamassa’. He’s a young guy and he’s doing everything his own way. Despite being kind of messed around to start with he went ‘That’s ok I’ll do it myself.’ He did and I think that’s why a couple of people will have a pop at him. As a guitar player and performer, I’ve seen a few people over the years and there aren’t many people better than him. I was with him on Saturday night in Germany and I got up with him at the end. I watched the show before and it was just a joy to watch and the most important thing is the people buying tickets they LOVE him….Joe has been influential in me doing this record. He didn’t mean to be, but for the last two years he’s been inviting me up to play with him on many occasions. I always got a great reception and he would always say nice things about me during the gigs and post-gig. What I didn’t realise was that at every one of those gigs where there were three or four thousand people there was someone from his record company. Someone must have gone back and said ‘This guy keep getting up and playing with him. The people seem to love him’. So they go ‘Who is it?’ and they reply ‘It’s Bernie Marsden.’ The younger guys at the record company they didn’t know who I was, but the older guys did. Then the boss came and said ‘I wanna make a record’. So I said ‘What do you want?’ and he replied ‘I want a Bernie Marsden record.’ (Laughs) Joe has helped instrumentally and our relationship is very close. We can ball for England and America in guitar….
Pete, there will be another version of ‘Shine’ where Joe plays all the way through it an instrumental track. He played the guitar solo which is sensational but I didn’t wanna change the feel of the track on the album just for the sake of putting in Joe Bonamassa. That wouldn’t have been fair to him and it certainly wouldn’t have been fair to Don.
No. Alright, now ‘Dragonfly’ is the great overlooked gem in the Fleetwood Mac canon
I love that bloody song! And of course it’s only about two minutes long the original version isn’t it?
Yeah that’s not long enough for me
It’s Danny Kirwan.
There’s a story about this, I’d been quite close to Peter (Green) since The Splinter Group thing. As close as anyone can be in a way without being in his band. And a couple years ago I went to see him and I always do when he’s on the road and we sat next to each other at The Stables in Milton Keynes and I said to him ‘Peter, I’m going to make a record next year and I’d like you to play with me.’ He just looked at me and said ‘Oh yeah?’ I said ‘if I record a Fleetwood Mac song, which one would you choose?’ I thought with it being Peter he’d take twenty minutes to decide, within five seconds he said ‘Dragonfly’ and I laughed. He then said ‘What are you laughing at?’ and I replied ‘You said that because Danny wrote that right?’ He said ‘Yes’.
It never came to pass that he got play on it because of various reasons which we don’t need to get into but when I was doing the guitars I thought of another gone mate of mine Gary (Moore) and I’d have probably invited him on the track. I thought about ‘If they were left and right in the speakers what would we have done?’ I’m really pleased with the result and I love the song
It’s a wonderful song. It’s pure poetry. Anyway ‘Dragonfly’ is great. ‘You Better Run’ is great… see major sevenths I use all the bloody time!
(Laughs) Yeah it’s unusual isn’t it? (We talk about major seventh chords – PS) ‘You Better Run’ is me going back in time and doing a Whitesnake and thinking about what I did at the time. If you are gonna do the harmonies go for it big time… (Laughs) ‘No more nights out with a dirty rock and roll band!’
I’ve written down here ‘Wishbone Ash?’ and ‘Trail of Tears’. Is touring really a trail of tears?
I think it is yeah. It can be. For every person who will tell you that a positive outcome of a three-month tour to America, I can name you the other nine who came back broke and disillusioned. Rather than go down that whole thing of having everything simple and positive and as soon as you turn pro everything is like The Beatles jumping up in the air. It isn’t like that
The USA smacked The Kinks in the mouth. You know the story
Exactly. The first Whitesnake tours of America we couldn’t get arrested. They were good tours and the people who came were fabulous but relatively no one came. Then suddenly in ’87 ‘Have you heard this new band Whitesnake. They’re brilliant.’ Well actually, they’ve been around for nine years! (Laughs)
Isn’t that the way it goes? Now you can laugh at me here, I was looking at the promo and track thirteen and I thought ‘NWS? What’s this about?’
(Laughing) It is ‘NW8’ yeah. I had a Dobro set up in the studio and the guys went downstairs to get a cup of tea and they said ‘Do you wanna come?’ and I said ‘No thanks I’ll just sit here’. We had such a great sound coming out of the desk and the monitors and I sat on my own with the Dobro. When they came back up ten minutes later I said ‘Don’t talk. Press record.’ So I did that track and we built it up after I did the melody so that’s a one-off really. It just sums up the whole session, and I thought instead of calling it Abbey Road I thought I’d go a bit smaller and call it ‘NW8.’
My notes say ‘Acoustic slide Dobro, synth wash, and ‘Local Hero.’
Well Pete – I’m going for the film thing these days! Thanks for the chat, it was great and get along to one of the gigs!
Bernie Marsden’s new album ‘Shine’ is released on the Mascot Label Group/Provogue and is out now. In addition, Bernie Marsden and his Band will be touring the UK in 2015 at the following venues:
Sunday 26th July- Ramblin Man Fair (The Blues Stage), Mote Park, Maidstone, Kent http://www.ramblinmanfair.com/index.html
Tuesday 22nd September- Jazz Cafe, Camden, London (Full Band Headline Show) http://thejazzcafelondon.com/
Wednesday 23rd September- The Stables, Milton Keynes (Full Band Headline Show) http://www.stables.org/
Thursday 24th September- Robin 2, Wolverhampton (Full Band Headline Show) http://www.therobin.co.uk/whats_on/giginfo.asp?gigid=4002
Saturday 26th September- Masonic Hall, Alva, Scotland (Bernie Marsden and Jim Kirkpatrick)
Sunday 27th September- South Beach Hotel, Troon, Scotland (Bernie Marsden and Jim Kirkpatrick) http://www.southbeachsessions.co.uk/en/bernie-marsden_48561/
For more information visit: http://www.berniemarsden.com/bjm/