Bernie Marsden
Bernie Marsden and his 1959 “Beast” and #001 of 2013’s Gibson Collector’s Choice™ #8

With the Collector’s Choice™ #8 Les Paul “The Beast” selling like hot cakes, Bernie Marsden has had a fine 2013 already. But there’s more to come from the veteran BritBlues-rocker...

Gibson’s Collector’s Choice™ #8 Les Paul “The Beast” is the replica of the fabled ’59 LP Marsden used throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, from bands Wild Turkey to Cozy Powell’s Hammer to hit days with Whitesnake. Marsden still plays it now, of course. But he couldn’t be happier than having a Collector’s Choice #8 to also choose from.

“My Beast ’59 has always been my talisman,” Marsden says. But after a number of months with the Collector’s Choice™ #8 LP, he says, “It’s simply a great reproduction. It’s an incredible job by Gibson.”

Bernie Marsden

You’ve been guesting live with Joe Bonamassa on recent dates, and he’s played your original Beast too?

Yes, and it’s been great fun. Joe loves that Les Paul. I know Joe told Gibson: “I’ve played the best Les Paul I’ve ever played.” And Joe’s not only one of the great players, he’s one of the nicest guys. He’s confident too. At one [London] Royal Albert Hall show, he brought out Eric Clapton after three or four songs - he didn’t save him until the end of the show. Brilliant. And Joe has a brilliant band as well – I’ll be playing with him again when he next plays the U.K.

You’re also working on a new solo album?

Yes, and it’s partly through Joe. I met with Joe’s record company, Mascot/Provogue. After a few meetings, they asked: “do you want to make a new album?” I haven’t made a “proper” album with a worldwide release since Green and Blues [Marsden’s 1995 tribute to Peter Green]. But I wanted to do it properly, so I booked Abbey Road Studios in London.

Is Joe appearing on the album?

Hopefully. We need to find the time to properly record.

Who else is on the album?

David Coverdale has graciously sung a song for me, which is, of course, fantastic. We’ve re-recorded “Trouble” from our Whitesnake days – it was one of the first songs we ever wrote together, and it’s the first time we’ve recorded together in 30-odd years. David is singing as well as ever. Obviously, I’ve guested on some Whitesnake shows in the last few years too, so we’re like an old couple now. It’s just nice to be able to talk and play together as friends again.

Do you have good memories of Whitesnake?

My whole Whitesnake era was fantastic, when I look back. Even though David went off and formed the “American” Whitesnake, they re-recorded “Here I Go Again” [a Marsden co-write] which went to Number 1, so I can’t complain. I don’t have any resentment about that at all.

And I can still go out and play with Whitesnake. The U.K tour [May 2013] with Journey was fantastic fun. Getting to hang out with David Coverdale and Neal Schon on the same gig: how bad is that?

Is the album finished?

Nearly. Joe Bonamassa and Steve Lukather have still got to complete their guitar parts for my album. But Ian Paice [Deep Purple, Whitesnake drummer] and Don Airey [Rainbow, Whitesnake keyboardist] are also playing on it. And the harmonica player Mark Feltham [Nine Below Zero, Oasis, Gary Moore, many others]. So I’ve pulled in a few favors. But it’s sounding great. It harks back to Whitesnake, but with a contemporary feel.

Please tell about the blues documentary you are also working on…

This is interesting, I think. I met David “Honeyboy” Edwards years ago – he was only 83 when I met him. He was such a lovely guy, and we ended up being close friends. It just always struck me: this guy played with Robert Johnson! [Editor’s Note - Honeyboy played with Johnson on RJ’s last ever gig.]

But before then, I’d been recording in Nashville, and to break it went on trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi. I just rented a car, and drove. I didn’t really know anyone down there. A few years later, probably 1999, that I was back in America and called David. I said, “I’m coming back to Mississippi.” He just said, “what you doin’ that for? I’ve spent my whole life trying to get out of Mississippi!”

It was strange, as Honeyboy never played around the South at that point in his life. He said there were very few blues gigs there anymore. And yet my whole career has been based on blues music, really. And I wanted to go back.

So, fast-forward 10 years, and I met more people. I got a film crew together, and we went out and shot film of some of these places associated with the blues. I’ve been back again this year, to the Dockery Plantation where Charlie Patton was.

We ended up at a place called Ground Zero in Clarksdale, which is owned by Morgan Freeman, the actor. And he was there at the time. We ended up getting on great, and we are now friends, too.

Clarksdale is such an interesting place. The old town must be pretty-much the same as when Honeyboy was playing in the 1930s. He told me the places to go… even though a lot is falling down now.

Can you describe what the program is really about?

Well, it’s probably the most expensive home movie ever made! I just hope I have captured some of that Mississippi spirit. Me fronting a TV show is bizarre, as I definitely have a face for radio [laughs].

It’s about the influence of the place. What draws a young English man – as I once was – to Mississippi and the blues? Myself and many others. It’s not just another history of the blues, it’s about my fascination with the place. We try and examine some of the myths, but keep it fun.

The film is being edited right now. And it will probably be titled A Day in the Delta. And, no, there are no Les Pauls in it!

Bernie Marsden talks more in detail about his love of Les Pauls and The Beast in November 2013’s Guitar And Bass Magazine , published October 4.

Photo credit: Mike Prior