The 100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers limited series podcast gives music fans a front-row seat for conversations with songwriters behind some of the biggest hits of yesterday and today. You’ll learn the stories behind the songs from the people who wrote them. Each episode will focus on one writer: sometimes, they’ll just talk about one song, other times, they’ll talk about a number of hits.
New episodes will be released each Monday through November of 2020.
100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers special podcast series is produced in partnership with Beasley Media Group, XPERI (HD Radio), and BMI in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the first commercial radio broadcast.
Bernie Marsden co-founded Whitesnake in the late ’70s with former Deep Purple members David Coverdale (vocals) and Jon Lord (keyboards), and the band had a solid following with hard rock fans through the early ’80s. He co-wrote a number of the band’s best songs, including “Fool for Your Loving” and “Walking in the Shadow of the Blues” before leaving the band in 1982. In 1987, the band — which featured Coverdale leading a completely different lineup — decided to re-record another song that Marsden co-wrote. That was “Here I Go Again.” We talked with the guitarist, a blues aficionado who refers to himself as “a Freddie King guy” about his biggest hit.
Tell me about writing “Here I Go Again.”
The song was written quite late on when we were doing Saints and Sinners, I think it was the last thing we recorded, actually. And it was the last thing I personally recorded with the band, which is kind of ironic in a way. Not that it bothers me. I knew that we had something good and I knew that it was a very decent song and. it was a hit over here [in the U.K.] just after the band split. Whitesnake was still purporting to be a working band at the time by the record company. But it wasn’t. And so the record went into the charts. And I think it was a top 30 hit. I don’t think that it was a big hit. It was a long time ago.
The song came together fairly quickly. I had a finished demo, which I then told David about, and then we worked on it together and we changed a few things here and there. But the song was pretty much in shape. Lyrically, he changed [some of it]which was cool, because he’s the guy who’s gonna sing the song. But it didn’t take long to come together. And we went to the studio and presented it. The rest of the guys — it was [keyboardist] Jon Lord and [drummer] Ian Paice and they just said, “This is kind of cool.” And Jon Lord loved the intro and said, “I’ll be playing that on the Hammond organ.”
When you hear that organ, it’s like, “That’s Jon Lord.”
When I first played it to him, he said, “Play that again.” So I played it again. And he looked at me with a kind of a smile and those lovely eyes Jon had said. He said, “You’re a clever little thing, aren’t you? You’ve got a hook there straight away with that intro, and that’s why I want to be the one who plays it on the record.”
I never argued with the great Jon Lord, I can assure you!
You and that version of the band wrote a lot of great rock songs. But that’s a song that transcended rock to become a pop hit. With pop hits, people don’t even necessarily know who did this song. They just know the song.
In North America, I suppose, including Canada, where it was number one as well, I think… quite rightly there’s probably ninety-five percent or ninety percent of people who just think of me as, “Oh, he’s a songwriter.” My name is not associated with Whitesnake the band, because by the time it was big in North America, I was long out of the band. And there’s no reason why anybody should’ve thought differently. And that never bothered me. I just found it ironic that at Whitesnake’s peak in America, the record company had chosen a song from the last lineup of the band to rework, and I thought they did a really good job of it. I think [producer] Mike Stone did a great job in the studio. I think the band were really good at the time. I think Dan Huff put a great guitar solo on it
People say, “Does it annoy you to hear it?” No, it doesn’t annoy me at all. And although it was Whitesnake, I could [hear it and] think, “Well, this is Journey.” Or, “This is Foreigner.” Or, “This is Toto.”
It was just a band that I happened to be in, with the same name. As I heard the way that they had approached it, I thought, “This could be very, very successful.” I had no idea how [successful]. Of course. But there were a few indications, indicators of how it would go because Geffen records of the time and [Geffen executive] John Kalodner, in particular, were very, very positive about it.
Most bands don’t record a song and then have a hit with it the second time they record it. As you said, you’d been out of the band for a while. When was the idea introduced to you that, “Hey, we’re gonna redo this song for the next Whitesnake album?”
It was never “introduced” to me. Oh, I heard a few rumors, but nothing tangible. And then I started getting phone calls about a video. Which was the video with the Jaguars and with Tawny [Kitaen, who starred in the video]. Doing her thing, so to speak up. But the big thing, obviously, was MTV.
So I got more calls about, “Have you seen ‘Here I Go Again?'” long before I’d heard it. And I remember I was doing a gig in Liverpool, I think it was. And there was one of these TV screens up on the bar. And one of the guys in the bar said, “Your song’s on the TV.” That was the first time I saw and heard it, at the same time. I was pretty impressed with it, to be honest with you. It was great.
I was listening to them back to back before talking to you. I think it’s Don Airey who plays keyboards on the 1987 version. As you mentioned, it’s a band with the same name, but it’s a completely different band [from the one you were in] other than David.
Yeah. It never bothered me, Brian. I was never an issue. I mean, Don Airey and I went back to 1974; Don Airey and I were in a band with Cozy Powell [Cozy Powell’s Hammer]. And Cozy had been in a lineup of Whitesnake. But that was after I was in the band. But Don did a great job on it. It’s that kind of symphonic thing is something he’s very good at. I think he was a hired musician for that record, like I think most of the guys were. It’s very much a David Coverdale [solo] album, although it’s called “Whitesnake.”
But when I get to quite get up and play with them these days, it’s really cool.
So you and David are still in touch?
Oh, yeah, we’re good. We’re good.
Have you ever discussed rejoining?
Oh, no, no. I know I was never really interested in that either. I mean, maybe a one-off gig at some point in the last 20 years with the original lineup would have been pretty cool. But I have no wishes or illusions of being involved in Whitesnake as it is today. No, I’m much different. You know, whether it’s a physical thing or an age thing, whatever. Now, that’s not my bag, really. You know, I’m a [blues legend] Freddie King guy, you know.
The band I was in was great. We put some fantastic music together. It was a wonderful band to be in. And it was a great live band. And then when that came to an end for me in ’82, ’83, I was 30 years old or whatever it was. And it was like, “What am I going to do now?” And I’ve been saying that ever since. And there was always something to do. And then after ’87, with the success of “Here I Go Again.” I became strangely connected again to Whitesnake. And that’s that’s never gone away.
I imagine it must have changed your lifestyle as well, getting publishing [royalties] on a song like that.
I guess it must have! [laughs]
I’m not trying to spy on your bank account or anything!
[Laughs] Obviously, as a writer of a huge, huge song there’s benefits, but the benefits work both ways. You know, Whitesnake became a very, very huge live band in North America long after the guys that put the band together did all the groundwork. And the biggest success of that was because of “Here I Go Again.” So, you know, I feel part of it. And without “Here I Go Again,” would Whitesnake have continued or or would I have had the remuneration? Obviously I wouldn’t. But would Whitesnake have had the long career that they did without “Here I Go Again?”
In the original version, the lyrics were, “Like a hobo, I was born to walk alone.” They changed it to “Like a drifter.” Did you ever ask why they changed the words?
No, I was told why, but I didn’t ask. I was told the reason for it. And it made me laugh. But “drifter” in America is a kind of a cool word.
I’m sure you’ve seen the Geico commercial that’s always on, with a guy using the lyrics for his wedding vows.
Yeah, the Geico thing has that’s been quite a big thing, Joe Bonamassa calls me constantly and sends me texts every hour, saying “You’ve been on twelve times this hour!” And Steve Lukather. So I’m not trying to namedrop here! These are friends of mine. The Geico thing is really big. But there was a Wal-Mart commercial before that. For that, I’m very thankful. But all I can say is the Americans have very good taste!
So obviously right now is a very, very weird time for everybody, particularly musicians. I know you were playing [Whitesnake’s 1980 album] Ready An’ Willing on tour. What are you planning to do if touring comes back.. which it hopefully will.
Yeah, hopefully. I’m sure it will at some point. The Ready An’ Willing thing was looking very cool. I was not trying to recreate Whitesnake, but what we’d done was recreate a period of music from that time and it was looking likely it was going to be very, very popular. We did four sold-out shows and we were ready to roll this year with it. And that’s not going to happen now. So by the time things come back, we might I might think about [1981’s] Come An’ Get It, [because it’ll be the 40th anniversary]. But there’s still a lot of mileage left in Rady An’ Willing. So you know, doing an evening of Whitesnake music is still like a popular thing with promoters and stuff. And if I do my own shows, you know, with my current material and stuff, obviously I’m going to still put those songs in because without those songs, people wouldn’t still be buying a ticket to come and see me play.
I think that anything that was kind of popular before the pandemic if there’s a vaccine and people feel comfortable with going out, it’s going to be even more popular after. Because people now are dying to see new music.
And the musicians are, you know, just chomping at the bit to say, I have 25 dates in the book. So it works both ways, you know, and there’s not a monetary thing, We’re all sitting there with books with no gigs in.
I’ve done a lot of interviews with people like yourself; people have taken the opportunity with the lockdown’s to talk to people, which has been great. But there’s no substitute for walking out on those boards and saying, “Good evening. we’re going to have a good time tonight.”
A guy like Bonamassa, he’s always touring. And he’s probably okay to sit out a year or two. And, he probably doesn’t have to worry about the money, but his bass player may not be able to look at it that way. His bass tech might not be a look at it like that.
Exactly. That’s the problem.
It’s like the guy who prints the tickets for the gigs and the people that work for him and the guys that work for that, the effect is enormous. And, you know, the vaccine is obviously the thing that we’re all waiting for and hoping for, so that things can get back to whatever is going to become normal.
Here in America, I’m sure in England as well, the arenas are not going anywhere. They’re not going to get knocked down. Sports teams are still going to exist. But the smaller clubs, that’s the problem. If they haven’t been able to pay their rent in months and pay their, people, it’s like they may not be able to reopen.
I had I think about 20 shows in the book for the last couple of months and I think at least five of those [vanues] have closed. So that’s the tip of the iceberg. Maybe there’s some way of bringing them back. But the moment the club owners say, “Look, we just cannot keep paying these rents because we have no gig.”
I’ve talked to John Fogerty about this and he mentioned that he has been in a situation where they’re playing a Creedence Clearwater Revival song, but he doesn’t really look like a rock star, he doesn’t make a big deal out of himself. He just acts like a regular guy. So he’ll be around people singing along to songs. They have no idea that he’s the guy who wrote it and they may be standing next to him online at the supermarket or something. Have you had situations like that?
I’ve been in that very situation and I’m very honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as John Fogerty, believe me. One of my great heroes, to be honest. Now, I’ve been in places where they’ve been playing the song and they have no idea that the guy wrote the song is sitting at the next table; that’s kind of amusing in a way, guy. And especially when you see people singing the song and the enjoyment they get from it. And, you know, that’s kind of cool. And I’ll never stop enjoying that.
I went to see John Mayer a couple of years ago, in London. And, you know, I went to the gig with my daughter, who’s a Big John fan. And I must have signed more autographs that afternoon than I had in probably the previous year because the place was full of guitar players and other musicians. And it was like a big queue and I was laughing my head off and my daughter was saying, “This is crazy!” I was just a guy going into the gig, the same as them, which is how it should be.