Longtime Whitesnake Guitarist, Bernie Marsden, Dies

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In 2011, Bernie Marsden performed with Whitesnake for the first time since 1981

Bernie Marsden, who came to prominence as a guitarist and songwriter with Whitesnake but also performed with such English rock bands as UFO, Cozy Powell’s Hammer, Paice Ashton Lord, and others, died August 24, 2023. His death, at age 72, was announced on Aug. 25 on his Facebook page. The statement noted “Bernie never lost his passion for music, writing and recording new songs until the end.” His longtime Whitesnake bandmate, David Coverdale, led the tributes to Bernie Marsden calling him “a genuinely funny, gifted man, whom I was honored to know & share a stage with.”

Marsden was born May 7, 1951, in Buckingham, U.K. From the official biography on his website: After a couple of early teen bands Marsden formed Skinny Cat at the age of 17, acquiring a strong local following. He turned professional with UFO in 1972 but left to join Glenn Cornick’s Wild Turkey in 1973, touring the U.K. and Europe, and making his first BBC recordings. He was recruited by legendary drummer Cozy Powell to be in his new band Hammer, with a lineup that included keyboardist Don Airey. Hammer didn’t last long, and Babe Ruth was next, with two albums for Capitol Records. Powell then recommended him for the new Paice Ashton Lord group in 1977, featuring Deep Purple founding members Ian Paice and Jon Lord. One classic recording resulted, “Malice in Wonderland,” and it was over.

Marsden’s next gig was to be his career defining moment – joining and forming Whitesnake with Coverdale in 1978. Marsden played on the first EP, the first five studio albums and a live album, while co-writing such songs as “Fool For Your Loving” (a #2 U.S. rock hit) and the power ballad, “Here I Go Again.” He departed before the band’s significant breakthrough, which included a 1987 re-recording of “Here I Go Again,” that ultimately earned them their only #1 on the Hot 100.

Watch Marsden perform the song in 2021, with his own beautiful vocal

When Marsden played with Whitesnake at the 2011 Sweden Rock Festival, for the first time since 1981, he earned a rousing ovation from the audience.

After many years self producing his music, he signed a new record deal with Mascot Provogue Records in Holland, making Shine at Abbey Road Studios. The album, released in 2014, features guest appearances from Coverdale and Joe Bonamassa. He has also produced a blues documentary, A Day in the Delta, filmed in Mississippi.

Marsden had an extensive guitar collection. When one of them was put up for auction earlier this year, he wrote on his Facebook account, “I have been astonished by the reaction to the potential sale of The Beast!
As you all know, I’ve had the guitar since 1974 and technically it’s been for sale ever since… That’s what happens when you own a vintage Les Paul!

“However, I have had some constructive conversations with my family and they feel it should stay with me for a bit longer, and so I have withdrawn it from a possible sale. I hope this improves your moods.”

Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell wrote: “What a lovely man he was and his contribution to rock music was immense.”

Graham Bonnet, former lead singer for Rainbow and the Michael Schenker Group, among others, wrote a lovely note. “I was sad and shocked to learn of Bernie Marden’s passing today,” he wrote. “Bernie was such a lovely guy; a true lover of music and an absolute joy to be around. Some of you may not know this but in addition to being a top notch guitar player, he also sang very, very well. He was very much like Rory Gallagher in his abilities. I did an album with Bernie along with Cozy and Ray Fenwick a.k.a. Forcefield as well as playing with him for Don Airey’s Rock n Blues charitable events in the summertime. He really was a great musician. I paid him a compliment once about his singing and he was so pleased that I had. I was looking forward to seeing him on the road one of these days but that opportunity has now passed. We were asked to fill in for him headlining the Winter Storm Festival in Troon, Scotland this December. I know he’ll be there in spirit and I will keep him in my thoughts, particularly on that day. Rest in peace, my friend. Love you……”

Peter Frampton called Marsden “a treasure of a human and a passionate guitar player I/we have admired for so long.”

Living Colour’s Vernon Reid wrote, “Very saddened to hear of the passing of Bernie Marsden. A fantastic Blues/Rock player of extraordinary taste, feel & wily good humor. A Player’s PLAYER. The World 🌍 of Electric Guitar has lost a Gentleman & Scholar of the First Rank.😔💙🇬🇧🎸🙏🏾💐🌹”

In early 2017 Bernie self-published his autobiography, Where’s My Guitar: On the Tourbus with the Snakeman.

Related: Musicians we’ve lost in 2023

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