Frank Marino Interview - Still Grinding The Axe
Francesco Antonio Marino was born on November 20, 1954 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. One of five children (Frank is number three, right in the middle) Frank left formal education behind after the 7th grade and a very short stint in military school. “Those years were the middle to late sixties and everyone was into the hippie peace movement and we were so busy getting stoned that we certainly didn’t want to attend school.
All we did besides getting stoned was listen to Hendrix, The Doors, The Beatles and a few others as well as getting involved in movements such as peace, love, anti-war etc. Those were definitely the days, not like now where many young people seem to be into negativism and hate”.
Very young experimentation with various drugs and in particular with LSD would lead him to the defining moment that became his muse and charted his musical career. One particular trip in 1968 had such a profound effect on his mind that as Frank says himself, ‘it left me a basket case’ and resulted in a protracted hospitalization and recuperation. ‘This experience became the basis of everything that I was to do in music, including the name Mahogany Rush, which was a description I would use to describe a certain sensation that I was having on the trip. The artwork on the albums, Child of the Novelty and Strange Universe are an artist’s rendition of my trip as told by me to the artist, Ivan Schwartz, who has since passed away”.
This whole episode in his life was common local knowledge in the Montreal scene and an article by a local music beat reporter was picked up later by the national and international press and since very early on in his musical career he played much in the style of Jimi Hendrix who had recently died, these sensationalists created stories that Frank has worked very hard to, and continues to work hard to dismiss. “The most often heard story is that I took an overdose and woke up from a coma in the hospital and somehow became the spirit of Hendrix, or that I met this spirit and it entered me, endowing me with this amazing ability to play a guitar and magically know everything about it. Later on the story changed into a version that said I was in a car accident, died and came back as Jimi Hendrix in my body. They never ask me the truth and when I told them, they wouldn’t listen. The short truth about it is that I learned how to play guitar while recuperating from my trip. The guitar became a soothing help for me because of my great fear of letting my mind wander back into the trip if I wasn’t occupied and besides it was the only thing in the hospital relaxation room. I never even thought about the guitar before since I played the drums quite well anyway. I had this trip while Hendrix was still alive and began to play his music because it matched perfectly to what I was going through at the time”.
Within two years of first picking up the guitar and playing his ‘mahogany rush’ music with several different band configurations and members, Frank was a serious gigging musician on the local scene and throughout the province of Quebec. “In the early years I played in a church and even on a float in a parade. I did mostly cover songs by The Doors, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Cream, Johnny Winter, The Beatles and even The Grateful Dead as well as a few originals that I had written”. Based on this growing local fame and because of his obvious vast musical potential, Frank was literally coerced into recording his first album, remarkably with full production responsibility, in 1972 at the tender age of 16! The rest is history.
Frank Marino’s music never unfortunately reached the mainstream of popularity, but has always enjoyed a devoted fan base that has grown over the years. That fan base has included many well known guitarists including Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, Zakk Wylde and Marty Friedman in particular who frequently make the effort to mention Frank and his enormous influence. Late 2005 saw the release of the album ‘Secondhand Smoke’ A Tribute To Frank Marino, with stellar contributions from respected luminaries such as George Lynch, John Norum, Jennifer Batten, Ronnie Montrose and James Byrd. It is a tribute to Frank indeed that several others wanted to participate but unfortunately could not due to scheduling issues. Perhaps there will be a Volume 2!
Frank has now been a sober and spiritual individual for over 35 years, and is settled down with a loving family back home in Montreal. He still loves to tour, and would welcome the opportunity to continue to play for and meet more of his worldwide fan base. Frank typically puts on a 3 hour plus non-stop roller coaster ride of the most hypnotic and mesmerizing solo guitar based instrumental jam music (Frank himself calls Mahogany Rush a three/four piece instrumental jam band for ‘Grateful Dead fans on steroids’ with a vocal line thrown in here and there). Frank has always been more about the music itself than the business side of things despite always having been totally responsible for creating and producing his own albums. See, it’s that old hippie thing. One of Frank’s greatest gifts as you will discover is having always been blessed with a burning desire to know more about all and everything Do yourself the grand favour and get out to see this man play while you still can. You will cherish the experience forever. I was fortunate to see just such a show last year and even more fortunate to sit down and chat with this supremely underrated musician.
During the general preamble to the interview I mention to Frank the probability of me coughing or clearing my throat often during the course of the interview. Frank, quick and witty character that he is says: ‘Don’t worry it happens to the best of us. I opened the door and in-flu-enza! get it?’ I counter by suggesting that the gallons of espresso Frank is undoubtedly consuming (see he got himself a brand new espresso machine, possibly a present to himself for another tour well done or in fact a birthday present as Frank had just turned 52 on November 20th! Happy birthday Frank!) is actually getting to him. Those who take the time to get to know Frank by reading his postings and interactions with his fans and friends (and Frank does interact more than any other artist I have personally ever seen both on his site and around his gigs) will immediately realize that he is blessed with a wicked sense of humour. See, I think his humour is a creature born of necessity. You’d need to have a sense of humour to be Frank Marino – more on that later.
Part I 35th anniversary tour:
Recount yet again how and when the name of the band came about and why 2006 is considered the 35th anniversary of ‘Mahogany Rush’?
I can absolutely remember when the name was born because it had absolutely nothing to do with the band. The term ‘mahogany rush’ was not a band name in it’s inception it was a description given by me, in 1968, to a psychiatrist to try to explain what I was feeling on an overdose of LSD and that’s basically how the band name was born. Later on when I started playing music, a couple of years after that, it was psychedelic music it was basically music that tried to express those same ideas and feelings I had on that trip so I called my music ‘mahogany rush’ music.
But it was not really the name of the band in the bands inception and it was just one of those things that stuck. People would say ‘There’s that crazy kid that plays his ‘mahogany rush’ music!’ because I was in fact pretty basket case after that LSD trip you know and it was common knowledge that I was. So that is in fact how Mahogany Rush became known as the name of my group, not in any way hey lets start a band and call it that it was kind of like by osmosis.
In the beginning I was playing with a lot of different people before the guys that most people think are the original members (and who were on the first record Paul Harwood bass and Jimmy Ayoub drums). I had quite a few drummers and many bass players. I even had a keyboard player and all of those inceptions were Mahogany Rush groups. When we finally got known as Mahogany Rush, it was because we had made a record and by that time there were the three of us so most people think those guys are the originals but they’re not.
So why is this tour then called the 35th?
Well that’s the thing, the agent said to me it is your 35th anniversary because it is 2006 and basically it was around 1971 that we became actually known, reasonably well known in the public sphere. I mean my goodness, how old was I?
16 or 17. I was born in 1954 like you and am in fact an ex Montrealer and grew up hearing all those old stories and reading the local music beat writers in the french and english press.
Interesting that you mention the local press cause there is a gripe I have always had. Because you see it was one of those local writers that was mostly I would say indirectly responsible for the ‘He woke up as the spirit of Jimi Hendrix’ story. Ridiculous cause the press knows or knew that I was in the hospital in 1968 and came out of the hospital at the end of 1968 going into ’69 and Hendrix did not die until September 1970. So in the beginning as much as I would say listen it’s interesting for you to do a tongue in cheek article like that but people are going to sort of take this the wrong way and of course you know that writer never corrected that and Bill (Mann) actually tried to correct that, because Bill actually became a friend of mine and wrote the liner notes for my second album. It was that singular tongue in cheek article that got noticed and picked up by a rock magazine, I believe it was either Creem or Circus, and suddenly it was an international rock story.
Serious music fans have never subscribed to all that nonsense.
No matter what I would say no one would listen. Well there I was this 16 year old kid saying basically hey what is all this but who could I talk to? It was not like I was this famous 16 year old kid who could call up say Entertainment Tonight; no one knew who the hell I was or where I was coming from. I didn’t have real big management or a big record company and of course no one ever called me from those American magazines and said hey would you like to comment on this Jimi Hendrix thing? It has taken me thirty years to put all that straight!
Do you ever think things may have been somewhat different if four words had never been included on the cover of that very first record (‘Maxoom’: ‘Dedicated to Jimi Hendrix’)?
No. Not at all! Because it was perfectly ok, if you do remember back in the late 60’s there was absolutely nothing wrong with bands doing covers and dedicating their music to other artists. That’s the way it worked at Woodstock and that’s the way it worked in the 60’s. People don’t get that today.
But it was something else for the press to grab on to no?
Well listen, I mean no, the idea at the time that the music at the time did sound Hendrixish, and looked Hendriixish and was dedicated to be Hendrixish for ‘Maxoom’ from a 16 year old’s perspective and it’s done quite amateurishly when you look at it today. But I think from the perspective of that particular album I mean for sure it was very Hendrix influenced and it was dedicated to Hendrix for that very reason. But when you start getting into all of the subsequent records when they (the press) kept this whole thing going it was absurd. I daresay if you were to take all of the works of all of the artists who are ostensibly influenced by Hendrix, the guitar players and line it all up I mean the three most people generally consider say me, Trower and Stevie Ray Vaughanâ€¦.
Your total body of work is far less influenced by Hendrix?
Exactly! That’s my whole point you would have to make Say more of that Hendrix clone accusation or what’s the word: ‘Hendrix obsession’ accusation to the music of the other two because my records are so full of so many different types of music. But of course it is very easy to latch onto the maybe three songs of mine that are Hendrix influenced and forget all the other stuff that is jazz influenced and blues influenced and pop influenced and Beatles influencedâ€¦of course they(the press) were not listening to that and that was mostly of course because of that story. If that tongue in cheek article and the subsequent national story had never happened heck I never would have been accused of being the Hendrix rip-off guy. That’s just the way it all came out. But it took me the next 20 to 30 years to finally get people to hear the true story about that hospital and it is now amazing that somehow everyone suddenly knows the true story.
The only guys who don’t now are guys of 58 or 59 years old who still believe the story from back then and who refuse to believe the true story. One thing I was very happy about is that there were 3, 4 or maybe 5 people back then who did write the real story that did write my rebuttal of that story and somewhere in my mother’s house I have these articles. So it is great, they are a matter of record and if someone ever says you Frank said this…
You should scan those articles and post them on your website…
I should not have to bother but maybe my kids will after I am long gone they will say ‘Look what my dad said if 1970!’ So of course you know that story has always really really bothered me. It was a two edged sword. It was probably responsible for us getting interest from music managers and record companies in the U.S. but at the same time it turned all the writers in the world against us at the time and we were at the time the band the critics loved to hate. They just hated us before they heard the record.
I gotta tell you I have always heard a lot more Johnny Winter coming thru your riffing than Jimi Hendrix.
That is very true. When you consider the bulk of the guitar playing I would actually identify much more with Johnny Winter.
Specially when considering singing and riffing simultaneously, something Johnny was an absolute master at.
Johnny did it great. And if you count the living guys, he is the only guy that I like anymore. I still like Johnny as much now as I liked Johnny then and since Hendrix is gone and hasn’t done anything new for over 35 years basically Johnny is the number one guy for me now. He has to be. But I was never enamoured of guys like Stevie Ray or Robin Trower. I mean they are great guitarists but I was never ever thinking oh wow I’d like to know what that is, how did they do that. I mean for me it was always Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix, John Cipollina, Duane Allman, Carlos Santana and later Larry Carlton. So I mean you take those guys and from a guitarist’s point of view that is the culmination of it all. It ends right there for me. There is no other guitar player that has made me say ‘Gee those are great licks, I wanna know how to play them!’ Perhaps you could add a bit of Ry Cooder. But it was always the music that more influenced me. With Hendrix it wasn’t so much the guitar playing that I liked, I mean I wasn’t even a guitar player when I started getting into his music I was a drummer. It was the music and where it was coming from. It was so much in synch with the whole atmosphere that prevailed at the time that I could really relate to that. And so my music became more of the same. I was gonna keep writing and playing that same type of music because all that music is the whole background music of my acid trip and so that is what Mahogany Rush was. I was in the hospital for quite a while I can still recall my doctor’s name
Since ‘Maxoom’ was recorded in ’72 and released in ’73 any the fans will want to know if there is any chance that what you are calling the 35th anniversary tour will be extending beyond this year?
Mike, the only reason we were able to record ‘Maxoom’ at that time was because we were already pretty well known locally and were seriously gigging at places like Lafontaine Park, Place Des Nations and lots of stuff like that long before we did ‘Maxoom’ so 35 years is in respect to when we became known.
I first saw you playing outside at the McGill University commons (maybe 1971) up on top of the steps under an overhang and it was absolutely freezing (seriously it was maybe 40 degrees F) and you guys were sweating up there.
I remember! It was freezing. That was at the Student Union building and as a matter of fact at that gig it may or may not have even been Paul and Jimmy! It may have been Andy Higgs on bass. That was one of the earlier incarnations.
Frank I am convinced you could currently sell out venues in Japan.
We did sell out in Japan in the 70’s but now I don’t think so. Could I? I should qualify that. I believe in my music. I believe if enough people heard my music I would sell out. Let’s say a million people heard ‘RealLive’ (Frank’s absolutely staggering live album recorded in 2001. If you haven’t already GET IT you will be thankful you did). I believe a great many of those would then buy it and then a great many of those would say the guy is coming so I wanna go see him. So I believe enough in the music to say yes we could sell out. But these days asking if you could sell out a certain venue assumes that you are well known and that people already know you. And there’s a lot that goes with that that has nothing to do with the band and its music. It really has to do with, is there a record label promoting it, are their big posters etc. It’s a different business today and in my business, as you recall the word of mouth is very very big. Because what they call street cred today, the young people, we had that same thing back then we called it cool. You know, this guys cool, that guys not cool.
But of any single place on earth the Japanese still seem to embrace classic rock in general and great guitar music in particular. I mean a guy like Michael Schenker despite a recent history of cancelled or bad performances can still go there and draw a crowd.
See remember the late 70’s we sort of got lumped in with these sort of hard rock bands like that whole Aerosmith, Nugent, Scorpions ACDC thing you know what I’m talking about, that late 70’s hard rock band thing. There we were playing concerts with those groups. So yes we could get up there and simply draw on the hard rock music in our catalogue, we would do the ‘Johnny B. Goode’s’ and the ‘King Bee’s’ and the stuff that went with those concerts and festivals. But I could never get up at those shows and play the ‘Strange Universe’s’ and the ‘Chains of Space’ and the stuff I am playing now because we were lumped into a certain genre and we ‘fit’ ourselves to the genre to be able to get out and do those gigs. The problem was, getting lumped in with acts that were not very much about what we did, for instance if you look at ‘RealLive’ as an example, there’s only one song on there that goes with those really sort of hard rock bands and that would be ‘Hall of Fame’.
You cannot say that ‘Voodoo Child’ and ‘Red House’, ‘Poppy’, ‘Strange Universe’, ‘Stories of a Hero’, all of that stuff doesn’t go with those hard rock bands like Michael Schenker. My point about this is that so in Japan they are into what they consider a classic hard rock thing but its more the harder edged guys that do this power chords and this whole powerful anthemic sort of rock thing. We don’t really do that. We have a much more introspective kind of music with the long jams, 30 to 40 minute songs. That is not what the Michael Schenker bands are about. So our audience is really more of a Grateful Dead audience on steroids. If you take the mentality of the hippie Grateful Dead audience, the jam band audiences, if you take them and give them a bunch of our albums, then we would probably sell out these places. Their whole vibe is much more in keeping with what we do, psychedelic music and it is still the same kind of music that is probably best enjoyed by ex acid heads or neo hippies. Most people who are into the lets say hard rock music like Foreigner or Journey or the pop rock music or even early Aerosmith, they don’t really wanna sit through a guy jamming 30 to 40 minutes on one tune and playing four hour concerts.
A colleague of mine who recently interviewed you brought it to the world’s attention (particularly the Canadian world) that CARAS (Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Science) has sanctioned what has grown to become three boxed sets, ‘What A Feeling’: 12 CD’s, maybe 14 to 15 hours of what it describes as the ‘best’ of Canadian popular music between the â€˜60’s and the present day. There is not even one Frank Marino or Mahogany Rush song included. What an absolute travesty.
And there won’t be. There won’t ever be a song included it is a whole other world. It is a travesty in a Canadian sense you know. I’m a really staunch Canadian. I am probably one of the staunchest ‘I love my country’ guys around but you can look at that as being a little bit of a sad thing that I’m not ever recognized as being Canadian but most Canadians, believe it or not, don’t know that I am Canadian because I have never really played the sort of Canadian game and there is a Canadian game in rock n roll. There’s a central hub of Canadian music, and that hub is Toronto.
Does that explain why an ex Montrealer now living in Toronto had to travel to NYC to see you last year?
Yup that hub is Toronto. That is not to say we can’t go to Toronto and do well. We played there a few years back upstairs in the club above the Hard Rock CafÃ© and we sold it out. It was great we did our long show so we do have pockets of fans in Ontario but there is a Canadian centric music scene and that Cano-centric scene contains a select group of acts will always be that select group of acts. What is the reason for that? Well those particular acts are on Canadian labels with Canadian managers and the whole label/manager thing in Canada is kind of like an old boy’s network. So if you’re with Donald K. Donald or Aquarius Records or if you’ve got Steve Propas or any of those type guys as managers you’re gonna end up at the Canadian Music Awards, hang around at the Canadian music parties, your gonna go to Much Music (Canada’s MTV) your gonna be part of that whole scene. You know who the bands are we can easily name them, its really been the same ever since the 70’s. By and large pretty much all of those bands established their careers mostly throughout Canada and a few did go and do some gigs in other countries. Like April Wine. It took a long time for them to get gigs in other countries. So April Wine is definitely one of those Canadian music scene bands and I am sure that they are on those disks you are talking about. So in a sense I think yes it would be nice if they would acknowledge that I was a Canadian and that I do sort of belong in the Canadian history of rock music, particularly since we really were the first, if not the only at the time hard rock guitar band to go and make it in America. Before we did that and for quite some time after we did that, not too many bands came out of Canada doing what we did in America.
Frank it does not matter what criteria you throw up against the wall. For you it all sticksâ€¦. sales, popularity, creativity etc. It IS a travesty.
What I find interesting is that my memory goes back to our first time in Los Angeles. So we get to Los Angeles and at the time the strip Sunset Boulevard was the really happening spot and all of the music people would hang around on Sunset strip and here we had this billboard from the record company for Mahogany Rush (Strange Universe or Child?) I mean this huge billboard for our album on Sunset strip and I remember thinking many years later wow for a Canadian band at a time when Canadian bands were not really breaking in America, to have got a huge billboard on Sunset and a major record deal with 20th Century Fox, that would probably be on the Canadian news today! Never mind in a music CD set but you know I am very very used to that because, look I understand part of it is what we do. We don’t do and never did do vocal oriented music and for the most part Canadian music that gets famous is vocal oriented music. There’s always more than one singer in the band there’s always background vocals, there’s always hook tunes with choruses. We don’t do that. What did we ever do like that 1 or 2 tunes? This is the point, so in that sense we kind of became known as a European or American group. Because it was three piece music, and even three piece bands have harmony vocals in a lot of cases, our band was a three piece jam band with one guy who sang once in a while, me. So that’s not gonna get on the radio! If it ain’t gonna get on Canadian radio it ain’t gonna get into the Canadian circle of music. It is still the same today I see all the new Canadian artists doing exactly the same thing whether its Sam Roberts, you name them its this sort of Cano centric thing and they all belong to the same kind of party and God forbid I were part of it because I don’t wanna be part of that stuff. But I do want people to know that I am a Canadian artist who respects my country and I always acknowledges I am Canadian wherever I go.
Back to the tour. Last year during one of your tour segments you experienced some hand troubles. This year, with 16 dates in 28 nights and a lot of travel, how did you prepare your hands for a nightly 3 hours plus of punishment?
Quite honestly we didn’t get ready and it showed in the first couple of dates I was sort of certainly noticing it but trying very hard to make sure no one else noticed it. It took 3 or 4 gigs before I really felt comfortable. But we should have got ready we were supposed to get ready but we had a brand new bass player (Remi-Jean Leblanc or RJ) 22 years old. We really hadn’t played together at all until we got to the first gig. We should have done a lot more but there was just no time what with going through our working paper problems and getting our gear together and everything else the fact that I have a family and do many other things. We really weren’t very ready initially but we still played good gigs. I guess it is autopilot.
So you’ve basically answered my next question which was to ask how much rehearsal time Remi got before heading out?
He got about an hour and a half. The hour and a half I spent with Remi helped from a blister point of view because seriously I never usually touch a guitar before a gig. So that helped but I do also suffer from Carpal Tunnel syndrome, you know where your hands go numb from the wrist? So I am on stage and halfway through the first song every night or up until the second or third song my hands are so numb I cant even feel the guitar let alone the strings. I had to look to make sure I was playing the strings (laughs). Forty minutes to an hour into the gig that wasn’t so much a problem anymore.
Avi (Ludmer on rhythm guitar and violin) looks a lot more rock’n‘roll this year than last year when I saw the young fellow in what would have been only his third gig I believe. How has he grown as a stage musician? The reports of his work this tour are stellar.
He grew his hair! He is a great performer and a great guy to have along with what we do. Having a young guy like that who’s doing something that is innovative you know with his violin. We do a lot with his violin, his sound textures, his pedal system and distortion. I mean he’s dealing with me and I am a guy who’s gonna push him in a direction that’s gonna make it interesting for him not just make him some guy with a violin in the band. That’s what’s good about it! It’s very experimental and he’s very into that. I think that when Mahogany Rush is no longer doing anything anymore, and I am sure that day will come, Avi will still be very young and he will be doing his own thing but it will be very much like what he is doing now but in his own group.
Fans of course are also very interested to see how he will fit into the next studio record when and if there is one.
It will definitely make it different and interesting for sure.
And Dave (Goode drums) was also back again and was rock solid as usual?
Absolutely. There are not to many guys who are gonna or who are able to just pound and go nuts like that for 3 to 4 hours every night.
One particular gig this tour was in a casino and you had to cut your usual set length by more than half. How did you deal with that?
At the casino we knew that was going to be the case in advance, and we knew we needed to route through and get that gig in that city (Potawami Casino, Milwaukee Wisconsin October 13th 2006) so it is not unheard of for me to cut my set down because I still play festivals where sometimes you are limited to 60 to 75 minutes so I am used to having to cut things out. At the casino gig rather than cut out whole songs and cutting out some long jams, we essentially did shorter versions of all the tunes. We managed to pretty much get all the stuff in. When we got to Agoura Hills in California (Canyon Club October 20th 2006, a gig attended by one Paul Gilbert!) I didn’t find out until the day of that we were only gonna get what was it 90 minutes or two hours? Not having the required mind set in place I found myself constantly behind the clock and had to cut whole songs out. It was just a sort of really uncomfortable experience to have to constantly be thinking about the clock while playing a concert. I guess it is very much like a hockey team trying to score the tying or winning goal in the last minute of play.
Knowing the way you like to work and what you like to do is there any chance you could one day fit in with the ‘casino’ tour gang? That group of 70’s rock bands that play all the casinos and trot out an hour of hits?
Well we don’t have hits but let me tell you there is something you must understand about casino gigs. If you did not know it was booked by a casino you would not know you were in a casino. It was a theatre attached to the casino.
That’s how they all are Frank they’re like Disneyworld for adults after the show the only exit funnels the fans through the gaming areas, but they are typically great no expense spared venues.
I have to tell you they put on an extremely good show. I have done a lot of shows with the biggest rock and roll promoters in the world and these casinos put on a class act in terms of the production. Proper stage proper crew sound and lights, proper dressing rooms. Everything was done well. From the point of view of the band, the staff and all of things you want to get at a gig to make the show work, they did a class A plus job at that casino and I thought, my goodness if I could ever convince these casino guys to let me play my whole show even if it means starting at 7 PM, heck I’d do them. I’d play them all over the place. It’s not like we looked out over the audience and saw all these moms and pops out for a rock show before some gambling, those audience members were fans of the band. So what difference really does it really make what venue you play? I was very surprised at the way they understood the rock scene. I thought well we are going to do a casino show and maybe they are had a Tony Bennett show the night before. When I got there the crew totally understood the whole rock and roll thing. It was great they had it down as good as any real professional rock and roll promoter.
Part II Remasters:
The first thing any newcomer to your website notices if they log in and spend any time there, particularly if they read the thoughtful and carefully worded in depth detailed answers you personally give your fans, is just what a remarkable width and breadth of knowledge you have! Not only about music, but about life in general and the world we live in. You are a self learned individual aren’t you? (Frank basically completed only the 7th grade in a formal school setting)
Totally. 100%. I never had a teacher for anything I ever did.
But to me, thankfully one of the greatest gifts you have and I’m guessing have had from a very young age is a burning curiosity and an inquisitive nature. I’m betting that as a child you used to take things apart.
Absolutely, It was a giant complaint of my mother’s. I took apart all of her lamps her radios and her television. I got in trouble more often than I can remember. Yes I took everything apart.
But I guess it was that same curiosity and fearless almost reckless experimental nature that helps explain how you got into bands like The Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service (and the drug experimentation that went along with all that) when you were so young, what 11,12 or 13? Of course your older siblings had something to do with that too right?
Yes my older sister and brother were part of the whole hippie scene and so I was a ‘mascot’ in the hippie scene. If you notice in the Woodstock film you see all these hippies hanging around and many of them had these younger kids with them maybe younger brothers and sisters 8 or 9 years old. I was one of those guys. I was the young kid with my older siblings and their even older friends all part of the wild hippie scene with everyone smoking grass and dropping acid, reading Timothy Leary and listening to the Beatles and Hendrix and all that stuff so naturally that was my milieu. And yes with the inquisitive nature, I actually used that inquisitive nature against my older brother and sister by saying to them ‘If you don’t let me try the grass I am going to tell on you!’
Although I am less than a year older than you I had to get musical feedback vicariously through older friends at high school, tales of legendary concerts by artists like Grand Funk, Johnny Winter and particularly a famous Jimi Hendrix concert at the Paul Sauve arena in Montreal. I was not allowed to but did you attend most of those concerts?
The famous Hendrix gig of 1968? I walked out of it. It is a really weird story. I left. I thought it was noise. I actually went to see The Soft Machine (openers) because I was still at that time a drummer and heard they had a great drummer. Ostensibly we went to see both because Hendrix was one of the happening things but I went when asked by my brother because of The Soft Machine. The Soft Machine played, they had a liquid light show and the drummer did a 20 minute drum solo and I was happy as hell. Then this other guy comes on the stage with red pants, I remember that and starts making what I called hellacious noise. I said to Norm my brother ‘I’m gonna go home I don’t like this it is too loud’ and I left. I was probably the only guy who left. So this guy who years later gets accused of having a Hendrix ‘obsession’ may be one of the only guys in music who walked out of a Hendrix concert which is ironic and very interesting. I saw the Grateful Dead back then and those kinds of band were what I would go to see. You would never get me to go to see a pop artist or the latest greatest radio act kind of thing I would not be interested in that. Led Zeppelin? Yes, and even Chicago (known as Chicago Transit Authority at the time) when they were not so popish with Terry Kath on guitar.
When you were thrown into the studio at all of what 16 years old, how much home recording and tinkering had you done previously? How long did the recording sessions take?
None, recording the band was not at that time a priority for me. How much time? I don’t know I mean they (the owners) left us pretty much alone and on our own. That is how they got me to go in the first place. They had pursued me for months ‘C’mon we wanna record you’ and I’d say no. You know the way I am. If you read my webpage you see I am kind of against business, commercialism etc? That is exactly what I was like then too. So I was always ‘No we don’t wanna be commercial leave us alone and find another band’. But they really wanted to get us because they saw this potential and so the way they got us to do that was by telling us ‘OK we’ll put you in this place and you can do anything you want and we’ll leave you alone’. That is why that very first album is listed as produced by Frank Marino. How many people would let a 16 year old produce his own first album. All they wanted was to get me to record and if they had to make me produce to do it they were fine with that. Once I got in there of course the inquisitive nature kicked in and I was like ‘Wow what does this do? What does this big tape machine with wide tape on it do? ‘I’d never seen that before. So we said ‘Let’s try this and let’s try that’ and so we were there for many weeks if not a couple of months just hanging out in this studio because the guys who did that album owned that studio, they didn’t pay for it from someone else they were all partners and actually owned this place.
Any particular memorable experience during those recording sessions?
I do have little images that pop into my mind but they are not storytelling things. I remember wanting to be able to make echo and not being able to so we had to do it with tape recorders. It’s like once I found out you could do something called overdubbing, because who the hell knew anything about that, to actually add to your tracks after you played them? I kept saying ‘Let’s do another one and then another one!’ but found out they only had eight tracks and so I had run out of tracks. I remember that and thinking ‘What good is this if you run out?’
What equipment did you use in those sessions?
I used the same guitars as I used all the way through the â€˜70’s, the ones you see in all the pictures. I used a Fender Twin or Super Reverb with a preamp and I had these 8 -15’ speakers. I had four cabinets each with dual 15’s in them. I just stuck them in the room and turned it all up as loud as possible. I remember the recording console in that place, I remember it said ‘Fairchild’ on it and I remember that the tape machine said ‘Scully’.
So you had a Gibson SG almost since day one. Did you get it because of how it felt under your fingers of because any particular idol had used one?
I came out of the hospital in ’68 as a basket case playing acoustic guitar. I had learned everything I knew at that point on an acoustic. So there I was with a cheapie Stella acoustic guitar, and my mother, who was trying to nurse this young basket case back to health saw that I was into guitar and that it kept me happy and quiet so she went down the street to a guy who lived down the street from us and he sold his guitar to my mother, I think she paid $75 and it was an SG. I said thanks mom and it just happened as I was playing that SG I noticed and remembered on the Quicksilver albums that John Cipollina played an SG and I thought ‘Wow this is weird my guitar is just like his guitar!’ Santana also played an SG and I think Clapton also had an SG at one point although you didn’t see many pictures of Clapton with Cream in those days and his SG. That particular SG was an SG Les Paul just like the ones I have now, but my brother got mad at me one day and broke it in a million pieces so I had to go get another one, and that one cost maybe $150 from another guy and that became my SG right through the ‘Maxoom’ days. That SG was then stolen. The band was gigging at a campsite called Graal in Quebec and it started to rain so we had to run for cover. When we got back to the stage all my gear had been stolen, including that guitar. I was pretty devastated so then I had to go down to Craig Street (which is now Ste. Antoine street in Montreal) to find a guitar walked into the very first place (Jack’s Music) and there was an SG Les Paul.
So I said to the guy please I really need that SG and the guy was really mean about it he said $500, course I had never paid more than $150 or $200 for a guitar and was just a kid and so I wanted and needed that guitar so I scraped together whatever I could and I paid on time and I bought that SG and that is the SG I basically used for the rest of my career. That particular guitar I’ve used for more than 30 years. I subsequently acquired another one just like it I call it the ‘Twin’; I got that in the late 80’s. Interesting that it was an SG Les Paul because the guy at Jack’s that made me pay the $500 should have held onto it because that particular year of that guitar (1961 Gibson SG/LP) went on to be worth a fortune. The SG Special that was stolen came back to me 12 years later. A kid brought it to me. He said he had heard the stories of that guitar, and here it is it was completely stripped did not even have strings or hardware and he gave it back to me. He was only 16 himself. I took his name and address and the next day I went to his house knocked on his door and gave him a Flying V. If he had paid for that SG and I respected his honesty, and didn’t feel he should lose out on a guitar so I gave him one. I got a letter from that guy about 6 months ago. He said ‘Remember me the kid and your Flying V? I am not a kid anymore. I don’t play guitar anymore, but still have that guitar under my bed.’ I wrote him back and said ‘If you ever want to sell it let me know first!’ He said no I am not selling it.
So now we arrive at album 2 (‘Child of the Novelty’ released in 1974) and you were by now with 20th Century Fox. Had you written or demoed any of that stuff prior to entering the studio?
No never, no practices and no demos. Every song on every album was written in the studio. Occasionally the song written in the studio might contain music we had jammed in gigs, but we would make the song in the studio.
So all of a sudden there is this big step up in terms of recording equipment and production value. You must have been like the proverbial kid in the candy store.
Yes for that album we got into, for the first time, a real studio. I freaked out! I mean Bob Segarini (from the somewhat known Canadian band the Wackers along with Randy Bishop) started hanging out with us after ‘Maxoom’, I got to meet him and he said ‘Listen I am gonna take you to a real place and you are gonna check it out!’ And he brought me to Tempo Studio and the very first thing they put on was this solo grand piano playing at 10 and I could not believe what I was hearing from those speakers and I said ‘That’s it! This is for me!’ and Bob said I’ll produce your next album if your record company will allow me and Bob did come in to help produce it but I was going so nuts introspectively with all this new gear and the new possibilities that Bob ended up not hanging around with nothing to do so although Bob and me remained friends, I ended up producing it all myself again.
So now we arrive at the piece de resistance from this era which of course is ‘Strange Universe’ (released in 1975), a considerable step up from all aspects and finding you perhaps somewhat less experimental and established in your ultimate style. Fair?
In that style and for that era yes. ‘Strange Universe’ was what I had wanted to get out on ‘Maxoom’. It was what I wanted to do on ‘Child’. I had finally figured out how to do the record I had always wanted to do at that time. Once again in the same studio where they had some new gear and of course by then I had started to seriously build my own gear.
So in retrospect how much time was spent on that album?
Hundreds and hundreds of hours. It was exponential. Way more time on ‘Child’ than on ‘Maxoom’ and way more again on ‘Strange Universe’ than on ‘Child’. Listen, we were on a label and they said go crazy and we were given what were by then huge budgets. Studio time was say $130/Hr at the time and so the record companies in those days were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for an album! The money was never going into the band’s pockets it was going to those studios.
By this time how rigorous was your gigging schedule and how difficult did that make it for spending all the time required to craft that album?
It became a routine. 3 to 4 Months in the studio recording an album and the rest of the time on the road. That is what the routine was and how it continued.
And this is the album that sparked the international interest that led to the Columbia years and the halcyon days of your career. Describe the remastering process of these three seminal recordings and tell us what was the most difficult aspect of the process?
The most difficult aspect is not having access to the multitracks. When you have that access you can almost remix the whole product. You have access to what they call stems and you can synch up original tracks with the original masters and make radical changes if necessary. All I had access to was the final mixes. So when you are mastering and your purpose is to make a bad thing good or even a good thing better, all you have available is EQ, compression and stuff like that. You can’t go in there and erase say this vocal line and change it. So it really is kind of like a big tone control you are putting things through. What I do, particularly when approaching a remastering of my own recording, and knowing a lot more now than I did back then, is let the song sink into my ears with a good set of monitors and critique the sound. So I start by considering every record a bad record and asking what is wrong with it and what would I have done other than what I did realizing I can only use equalization and compression to reshape the overall quality of it while not sounding overly fake. If you do too much tweaking particularly in today’s digital world you are definitely going to come away with something sounding fake. It was very important to me that it didn’t.
On the infamous 2 disk CD release of those three albums, how do they get away with the claim they make on the product that it is from ‘the original master tapes’ when it is so obviously transferred from vinyl?
They are awful! I know you hear vinyl pops on some of those but let’s say even if they did take those from the master tapes, they probably gave it to guy and said boost the treble boost the bass and put it out there. It is simple to mistake sounding louder with sounding better. They turn EQ on and off and think it sounds better but its just getting louder so they are not reshaping anything. To properly remaster music one has to actually look at the overall song on a verse by verse basis. What am I going to do in this verse? Oh that word has too much of an ssss sound I am going to fix that. Next verse, that guitar does not sound bright enough I am going to change the EQ to make that brighter so the EQ is constantly shifting throughout the music not just staying in one position which is unfortunately what most people do.
So now you have remastered all of your pre-Columbia product and also all of your post-Columbia product, but you like many artists from that era have no access to or rights over your Columbia catalogue.
I did actually did remaster some of the Columbia product. They got in touch and wanted to put out what they called a ‘Best Of’ and I know what they were doing they were trying to get their rights enshrined for the next 20 years know what I’m saying? But I said yeah, I’ll remaster some of the tunes for you, and I gave it to them and they never put it out! So there are 14 or 15 Columbia tunes I remastered about 5 years ago sitting in their vault.
So the master tapes and multitracks from those Columbia years are still available?
Sure, but they are not going to do anything other than sit on it.
The sales and fame you garnered over the Columbia years could have and should have made you far better known and also a wealthy man. Does that make you bitter in any way?
No. I am whimsical about it, it is all almost like comedy to me. I look at it as comical, not bitterly. I mean it’s like you looking at a picture of yourself wearing something you wouldn’t be caught dead in, you are not bitter about it you sort of laugh. Or better yet, if you had a chick you really really liked when you were really young and it was all the world to you when she left you and it really bugged you and then 20 years later you look back at that bad time and you go ‘Oh my god, how did I ever like that girl!’ It is that kind of feeling, you don’t get bitter it is sort of a comedy, more like ‘What was I thinking!’
I can’t recall exactly when during those years, but my buds and I (some of who had serious musical aspirations) used to see Paul Harwood ads for bass lessons all over town, in the papers, on lampposts, on campus bulletin boards. It cast a pall over us thinking here is this relatively famous guy and he still needs to give bass lessons to make ends meet. Was that the case or did Paul just enjoy teaching?
He may have needed it. We all needed it. One of the problems, personal problems, I had with Paul was that he could never believe that I was in just as dire straits as he was and the fact is I was. At the beginning of ‘Mahogany Rush IV’ (released 1976) Paul came to me and said ‘I want to write some songs on the record’ and I said ‘Hey sure, bring us some songs we’re gonna listen to them and if they’re good we’ll do themâ€¦ heck we cover other people’s material!’ No problem at all with that! But he went into the backroom to write this song and never came back (with a song)! By the time the album was finished he still hadn’t written one! It was never that we said no, it was like he had a half-hearted interest in it. But later on I can understand how hard it is on these guys to always hear and read Frank this Frank that, that’s all they ever see is Frank Frank Frank so now they think ‘I am in dire straits I don’t have a lot of money so maybe Frank is not actually telling us the whole truth!’; which was bullshit! We were all in exactly the same boat and we all got pretty much the exact same benefits and sufferings that went along with being in that boat. When Paul finally left the band there’s a number of things he could have done, there’s a number of things he did do. Did he pursue it the way he should of or did he pursue it the same way he pursued the songwriting episode on ‘Mahogany Rush IV’? I don’t know? I was not with him. But perhaps that also speaks to the bass lessons. I do know that he did in fact like to teach. The biggest bone of contention during the Columbia years, and the Krebs years was ‘Where is the money and where did it go?’ Well it certainly didn’t go to me.
Let’s now move to after your album ‘From the Hip’ (released 1990). In ’93 you did some recordings for Mike Varney’s Blues Bureau tribute albums and then you basically pulled away from the industry.
I pulled away totally in 1993. I left the industry.
So between then and ’98 when you chanced upon Willy’s website totally dedicated to your music, did you have any musical life at all? Were you still playing at home?
When I pulled out of the industry I still had ‘Starbase’ (Frank’s own and last ‘outside the home’ studio) and I used to still hang out there and record, that’s how I did ‘Eye Of The Storm’ (released 2000) but it wasn’t an album necessarily done under normal circumstances. It came out much later but I was in fact tinkering with that over many years. So I hung out at the studio, did some things for other people and I built computers. I really was ready to not play music I just didn’t really care anymore. I mean still played music at home with my acoustic guitar, which when you think about it is kind of full circle for me isn’t it?
So tell us about how finding that website kick started the passion to play for the fans again.
It completely surprised me that’s for sure. First of all you hear about something called the internet and you think what the hell is that? Because you’ve got to remember you did not really have a public access internet until Windows ’95 made it possible. Once Windows ’95 came along it was this whole internet thing, browsers etc. who the hell knew what that was. So that was right in the middle of my retirement, I started tinkering with the internet myself because I was building computers. One day I did a name search for my dad because my dad does not know who his grandfather was. He would like to know who his family was, so I am searching ‘Marino’ and boom Frank Marino comes up!
Right under Dan? (famous Miami Dolphins Hall of fame NFL quarterback)
I think I was actually before Dan! So I check it out and I find all these hits on my names and these fans and I went ‘What is this thing, wow this is unbelievable!’ So I wrote Willy a letter and thanked him and he asked me to participate in a chat. I didn’t even know what a chat was! So I did. I could not believe how fast and furious the questions were coming I couldn’t type near fast enough to keep up, because I can’t type. I had to have Denyse (Frank’s wife and business manager) come and type what I was saying to be able to keep up and answer the questions. The rest is history. We became closer and more friendly and Willy has done a lot for me. That is why I wrote that post yesterday. A lot of people were blaming Willy for things that are not happening good enough or fast enough and it got my dander up. It’s not Willy it’s me! He is constantly trying to get me to do things and I am going yeah whatever.
And then you participated in the ‘Legends of Rock’ tour with Uli Roth, Glenn Hughes and Jack Bruce, what year was that 2003? Did you enjoy that experience and would you participate in something similar again?
I had a great time but there were things about it I didn’t like. I didn’t like playing only 35 to 45 minutes and I didn’t like not having my whole band. But I had a lot of fun because I brought my whole family. I did not get any money for it I did it for nothing. It was for basically done for $100. It was for the family vacation thing you know. I found out later everyone else was getting money, but I did it for no money but I don’t complain about that! Hey that is par for the course I do everything for no money.
Let’s talk about the Glynn custom SG guitar (specially made for Frank by luthier Jim Glynn) you now have two and on this latest tour you used the newer one a stunning looking blue beast.
I am still working out the new one. There’s things I have to change because it doesn’t just work out of the box. I have to change the pickups and maybe thin down the neck and there are little things to make it more comfortable for me. The only problem with it now is I find the neck a bit narrow so the strings are a little closer together than on my other guitars so when I play that new one I have to think about it. Otherwise when I put my finger down the note is going to be in the wrong place under my finger. I have to crunch up my fingers a little to play it almost like playing a mandolin.
That leads right into my next question. Once again in large part due to you inquisitive nature, you have been customizing pretty much everything you own since day one. Was that born of necessity in a tone quest or just a further result of your curiosity?
They go hand in hand. First I don’t like stock stuff and I have that inquisitive nature and now I also happen to have ability so you put the three together and the first thing I’m gonna do is take it apart and change it until I do like it. I am doing the same thing right now with an espresso machine.
(Laughs) When I read about your new coffee machine I was pretty sure it was not just a standard American coffee machine but a nifty espresso machine.
I got the machine because I really like to drink espresso but then I find out there’s all kinds of rules! You can’t use this coffee with that machine, you can’t blend it this way and I go ‘Oh my God now I can’t have a good cup of coffee!’ So I’m stuck with this machine and trying to find a way to make it better.
I remember reading a quote from Tom Scholz of Boston where he said he ultimately made more money from his patents than from the music of Boston. Did you ever consider designing gear or making boutique stuff yourself?
I have considered it. People have asked me about it. Guys who sell boutique gear have asked me about putting my stuff in with their companies. You know if I did not have to sit down and do it myself I might consider it. But to make my stuff sound like it sounds I’d need to literally sit there and build it all myself. I might have four fuzz tones and they may have all started as the same brand but you don’t put the same mod in each one because they won’t sound the same. So it is somewhat like mastering a record. You have to make your modifications according to what you are seeing on your schematic, guessing that that will work and then listening to the result. And if the result disagrees with your theory, believe the result and invent a new theory. That is basically what I do. So that means sometimes going back into the same piece of gear 5, 6 or 7 times and thinking I was actually supposed to use this resistor but it is better that one. So for me to put out my gear, sounding like me, I’d literally have to slave over each piece. Otherwise its just gear with my name on it and who knows what it would sound like then.
Is it a coincidence or a necessity that most great guitarists have played drums or have at least dabbled on drums?
It is not a coincidence it is an extension. I think rhythm is the basis of all music and guitar piano and all these other things are simply rhythm with notes on them. And the rhythm as a guitarist can be much more intricate with four fingers and a thumb and a right hand and equipment than you can with four limbs on a set of drums. So it becomes like very high intricate rhythm, really another form of percussion. Everybody loves drums. Every kid loves drums. Even my young girls love drums. Everyone loves to beat on the drums.
Part III: Future Projects
At this point I had intended to press Frank (as his fans on his website do on an almost daily basis) for timeframes on the four most eagerly anticipated future projects, a concert DVD, a blues album, a release of pop material and of course the next Mahogany Rush studio album. On the day before our interview Frank had posted a large update blog, his first since returning from tour at the end of October. Part of the jist of his blog as he mentioned was for fans to stop hounding Willy his webmaster about availability of the remasters on the site store. Frank patiently explained that any delay was caused by him, not Willy (see that old anti-commercial sentiment just keeps on kicking back in). Frank went on to elaborate that all of his future endeavours are very liquid projects. They will happen when they happen not according to any specific timeframe. That is just how it is and how it will continue to be.
Is there still a possibility of that concert DVD happening?
Yes there is and I will tell you why. It is not just because the fans want it is because Jim West (owner of Justin Time Records, Frank’s current label) has been very good to me. He has been asking me for this concert DVD and for a blues album for years. I plan to fulfill that obligation I promised to do it, so I will do it. The Blues album and then the DVD. I am also doing it for the fans in a sense because they want it but it is my sense of honour and obligation to Jimmy that is going to get me off my ass to do it.
You have mentioned that the blues CD is totally different than what people will be expecting that it is in fact a jazz bar blues album.
It is totally different right now but will it be that way when it is finished? I don’t know because I am going down the path that I am building, and I am very much at the basic stage. Right now if you were to hear the bare bone structures of what is going on you would say ‘My god that really is different!’ But once I start playing guitar over it and adding vocals and getting other guys to come and play on it hmmmm maybe it is going to turn into something in between what it is now and what I really do. I can’t give you the final outcome but I am certainly trying to make it different. I want it to be different. I do not want it to be Crossroads all over again or King Bee.
How about the pop songs, like the blues album will you seek collaborators when and if you do those songs?
I have recorded 27 of those songs already as basic tracks. If not for the DVD and the blues album I would be finishing those pop tunes right now. I would first finish them myself and then when listening to them I would decide if each song suits me and if it doesn’t I will find someone to do them. A song can change man like sooo much. You know you hear ‘Dragonfly’ or you hear ‘He’s Calling’ or ‘Strange Dreams’ is a great example. If I were to play you the rhythm track from that from day one when it was going down no way would you think it’s the same tune, no way! Songs change so much they develop their own character and personality. So I have got to finish the pop tunes before I can say what they will actually be. There are as many different styles in my pop stuff as there is in my rock stuff.
I remember back in my high school days Trevor Payne playing at the dances. Trevor is now Reverend Trevor Payne and a couple of years ago, you being the very spiritual man you are yourself, recorded with him, a live with gospel choir version of U2’s ‘Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’. Once again considering your ever present inquisitive nature, has Frank Marino found what he is looking for?
Oh yeah, long ago I found God and a family. That is all I was ever really looking for. As a musician you never really find what you’re looking for and if you do you are not a musician anymore. I guess at my core I wasn’t really looking for music. The way I see it is kind of like, really needing to get to a certain place and also really needing the car to get there. Music was for me the car, the vehicle but it is not the end of the road. For me the end of the road is the things that make me up as a person, God, my family and relationships. In the end the only thing you take with you are the relationships you had.
Well you have a great relationship with your fans as well it shows up every single day on your website.
Well before being the fans favorite guitarist I am particularly on that site everyone’s friend and anyone who knows me will tell you that that (how I am on the website) is exactly how I am as a real person. I have no airs about me I am not in this to sell more records I am still in essence that little kid in the park playing my ‘mahogany rush’ music.
Main photo and second photo on page 5 taken by Sesha Evans. Second Photo on page 2 FR34K. Second photo on page 1 Tony Kunkel.