Review: Bernie Marsden – Chess
Conquest Music (November 26th 2021)
Reviewer: Chris O’Connor
‘‘I love the blues, they tell my story, if you don’t feel it, you can never understand‘’. Yes, I know, it’s probably a cliché to start a review quoting from Whitesnake, but Bernie’s heart and soul has always been as a Bluesman, so really, it’s very apt. If you know Bernie’s musical history, then you will be aware of his impeccable pedigree: UFO, Wild Turkey, Babe Ruth, Paice Ashton Lord, Cozy Powell’s Hammer, Alaska, SOS, Moody Marsden band, Company Of Snakes … and guest slots with Joe Bonamassa, Warren Haynes, Elkie Brooks, Jack Bruce, Jon Lord, Ian Gillan, and even Living Colour. Here Bernie pays a loving tribute to the wonderful Chess label, responsible for some of the most important Blues artists being signed.
There actually are moments on ‘Chess’ that evokes the early (and best) era of Whitesnake – notably ‘Grits Ain’t Groceries’ – which features a very classic ‘Snake riff and a strong Jon Lord sounding Hammond organ – though originally this was a Little Milton song, Bernie proves what a truly fine singer he is, belting out a truly impassioned vocal. ‘Back In The USA’ is of course a Chuck Berry standard, and here Bernie lays down a riff that would have done Chuck proud. I particularly love Bernie’s rendition of Howling Wolf’s stunning ‘Who’s Been Talking?’ – which is nothing short of perfection both vocally and for the guitar/organ interplay throughout … I absolutely love this.
‘Just Your Fool’ is an old Buddy Johnson number from the ‘50’s, I think I remember the ‘Stones playing it live before now … if my memory hasn’t failed completely. Bernie’s guitar is perfect – just as you would expect, he is a complete natural with the Blues. ‘I Can’t Hold Out’ features Bernie playing some exquisite slide guitar, giving the old Elmore James tune a fine workout.
The Muddy Waters classic ‘I’m Ready’ is fabulous, Bernie paying a wonderful homage to the original, while stamping it with his own mark too. Bo Diddley’s ‘You Can’t Judge A Book’ gets dusted down, with Bernie keeping it pretty true to the original, his voice is wonderful here, truly impassioned. Albert King’s ‘I won’t Be Hanging Around’ is beautifully soulful, a slow, lazy and meandering number which finds Bernie grooving in exquisite style!
‘Fattening Frogs For Snakes’ is (I’m reliably informed) by Sonny Boy Williamson – but I’ll admit I’ve not come across it before. The song features wonderful interplay between guitar and harmonica, it’s a truly great little number. Another new one (to me anyway) is Arthur Crudup’s smoky ‘That’s Alright’ a slow lament where Bernie allows himself to drift dreamily – his tone and style is nothing short of perfection.
At the end of the album, Bernie adds a couple of his own compositions – ‘Lester’ and ‘Johnny’, both are instrumentals, and allow him to lay down a series of delicious leads, again showcasing his amazing fluidity. Bernie’s band on ‘Chess’ should be noted for their uniform excellence, they are: Bob Haddrell (keyboards), Alan Glen (harmonica) John Gordon (bass guitar) and Jim Russell (drums). If this is your introduction to the Blues, you could not have found a better place to jump onboard. Can we have some more please Bernie?