Bernie Marsden

Bernie Marsden
Bernie Marsden: David Plues

Bernie Marsden, one of the founding guitarists of Whitesnake, co-writer of the band’s massive hit “Here I Go Again,” and noted guitar collector, died August 24. He was 72, and while no cause of death was given in the weeks after, a statement from the family said he died peacefully with his wife and daughters at his side.

Many musicians who worked with or knew Marsden released statements after his passing, praising him and his talent.

Born in Buckingham, England, Marsden (featured with his guitar collection in the December ’16 issue of VG) played in several bands as a teenager before joining UFO in 1972. He served only briefly before being replaced by Michael Schenker, then joined former Jethro Tull bassist Glenn Cornick’s group Wild Turkey. Drummer Cozy Powell recruited him for his new band, Cozy Powell’s Hammer, which proved to be a short-lived project.

Marsden then joined British prog rockers Babe Ruth for two albums in 1975 and ’76. The following year, he joined Paice Ashton Lord, which featured Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice and keyboardist Jon Lord. After just one album, Malice in Wonderland, it disbanded.

Fortunately, Marsden was on the verge of his big break, when he and fellow guitarist Micky Moody met former Deep Purple vocalist David Coverdale as he was forming the blues-based rock band Whitesnake in ’78.

“Bernie was in his prime as a fiery blues rocker with an ear for melodic rock solos,” Moody said. “He loved Cream, Mountain, and Johnny Winter amongst many others. My own style initiated from the blues rock of the ’60s – Beck, Clapton and Page – but by the time I worked alongside Bernie, artists like Ry Cooder, Little Feat, and the Allman Brothers had changed my vision forever. So, we were quite different players when we merged as a twin-guitar feature – and merge we did, developing our own thing with a natural, symbiotic ease and great respect for each other. His style definitely influenced my playing, and I like to think mine touched him, too.”

Marsden played on the 1978 debut EP Snakebite, followed over the next four years by Trouble, Lovehunter, Ready an’ Willing, Live… In the Heart of the City, Come an’ Get It, and Saints & Sinners.

Marsden and Coverdale wrote “Here I Go Again,” an earthy, soulful song that first appeared on 1982’s Saints & Sinners before a slicker version was recorded for 1987’s Whitesnake featuring guitarists John Sykes and Adrian Vandenberg (who played the solo). Thanks to radio and MTV, it became a hit, and the even-sleeker Top 40 remix reached #1 in the U.S. Repeating the pattern, a glossier take on “Fool for Your Loving,” co-written by Coverdale, Marsden, and Moody for 1980’s Ready an’ Willing, was re-recorded for ’89’s Slip of the Tongue, with Steve Vai on guitar. The original reached #53 on Billboard while the updated version cracked the Top 40.

Coinciding with his Whitesnake tenure, Marsden issued two solo albums, And About Time Too! (’79) and Look at Me Now (’81). After leaving the band, he was involved in countless musical projects, including writing music for film and television. He produced a blues documentary called “A Day in the Delta,” filmed in Mississippi. Periodically, he released solo albums until 2022, most notably, his “Inspirations” series; 2021’s Kings featured songs by Albert King, B.B. King, and Freddie King, while Chess was songs by Chess Records artists including Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry. 2022’s Trios covered songs by three-piece bands like the Jimi Hendrix Experience and James Gang.

His autobiography, Where’s My Guitar? was self-published in 2017, and his guitar collection was photographed for his 2018 book Tales of Tone and Volume, which discussed how he acquired each guitar and where/when it was played.

In 2012, PRS released a Marsden signature version of its 245, and in ’13, Gibson did a signature reissue of his ’59 Les Paul Standard known as “The Beast,” which he got in 1974, while a member of Wild Turkey, and used on sessions with Ringo Starr, PAL, Cozy Powell, Whitesnake, and at Abbey Road with Jack Bruce. Martin Henderson, a musician friend of Marsden’s, told him that he had once bought the guitar from Free bassist Andy Fraser, who bought it from Paul Kossoff, who had bought or traded with Eric Clapton for it.

“Bernie was incredibly kind-hearted,” said Joe Bonamassa, who enjoyed a close relationship with Marsden after the former played Royal Albert Hall in May of 2009. “Afterward, he was the first to come up and say, ‘Great gig.’ It was a significant occasion for me, and over the past 14 years, as our friendship deepened, I discovered Bernie to be an incredible supporter, a trusted advisor, an exceptional writer, and above all, a dear friend. He was truly the best of the best – modest, generous, and larger than life. I will forever value the moments spent with him. His passing is not only a profound personal loss, but a significant loss to the music community. He was a superstar in every conceivable way.”

This article originally appeared in VG’s November 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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