Frank Marino makes music on his own terms. Along with his band Mahogany Rush, Frank came on the scene in the early 70’s with his debut album Maxoom. That decade saw him touring relentlessly and releasing stellar recordings including Child Of The Novelty, Strange Universe, Mahogany Rush IV, World Anthem and others. He has since blazed a path and raised the bar for guitarists everywhere, influencing countless musicians worldwide, this author included. His musical stew mixes elements of rock and blues with jazz, bebop, hard rock and even heavy metal. Marino is indeed undefinable! The music business is filled with artists who are more concerned with chasing the golden carrot than they are about artistic expression. Frank Marino swims against that tide in the strongest possible way. I spoke with Frank recently and it was very refreshing to find a honest, genuine artist who cares about the music and his fans first and foremost and avoids the trappings of promised riches. Frank has a great respect for the blues and a very refreshing outlook on the music. I’ll be the first to agree that many rock artists have jumped on the blues bandwagon and beaten blues cliches into the ground in the past couple of decades. Frank Marino refuses to follow that trend and speaks about how he will only release a blues album when it is completed with an honest effort.
Todd Beebe: Hey Frank!
Frank Marino: Hey Todd how are you? Nice to hear from you!
TB: Thanks so much for talking to me today!
FM: Oh no problem, my pleasure to do it!
TB: Congrats on the new DVD box set. I absolutely love it! I want to talk about that and all the great music you’ve given us over the years. I always like to ask people what their earliest memories of music were. I know you started on drums, but what was the first music that caught your ear?
FM: Well, we all heard cartoon shows, when we were kids. I was born in the 50’s, so when I was young you know, TV was a black and white affair with three channels where I lived okay?! (laughs) So on Saturday mornings you might have a children’s show or a cartoon show. So yeah, early shows like cartoons were the Flintstones, and of course the music of the Flintstones was written by Buddy Rich and it’s the Buddy Rich Band that’s playing it!
FM: Yeah, people don’t know that. So that whole thing, Ba ba ba ba (sings Flintstones theme), the whole Flintstones theme, even when Fred Flintstone is running with his car, that’s Buddy on the snare drum, you know?! So being that I was into drums, yeah, it was like “oh that drummer is really good! Buddy Rich! I want to play jazz, I want to play swing!” So I guess the first music I heard was that but I also had parents who, my mother was Middle Eastern from Syria, Syrian Christian. So she was listening to like, you know, that Arabic scale of music you know, whatever she would have on records, like those kinds of things. In our church and all that stuff, they would sing in that weird scale. And my father, being Italian of course, Sicilian, it’s like all these Italian vocalists and singers and all the guys doing everything from Sinatra’s people on. So there was music around and it’s influencing you, but I wasn’t super interested in it. It wasn’t like I was sitting around saying “gee I want to go listen to music.” It was just the background of my life. And then of course the Beatles came! Ad like everybody else, when the Beatles came, I’m a kid, well now everyone wanted to be the Beatles and everyone wanted to listen to The Beatles. And because the Beatles came, now the other bands came. The Stones were trying to be the Beatles and the Dave Clark Five and all that stuff were trying to be the Beatles. So it was an explosion of music, and there I was liking all kinds of things, but playing on the drums as much as I could, you know, cause I just liked beating on the drums. I wasn’t trying to be a drummer or an eventual drummer as my job. I wanted to be a Paleontologist and go find dinosaur bones, okay?! (laughs) That’s was what I thought I would do!
FM: Yeah! But then the 60’s became the late 60’s, the drugs came into the scene, I blew my mind. I ended up in the hospital and I started learning how to play guitar because there was no drums in the hospital, there was a guitar. So I learned how to play guitar there and by the time I came out well I started playing guitar and I started trying to play the music that was in my head from those experiences. The late 60’s were in full swing at that point and you started to have guys like Jimi Hendrix and that type of stuff. So now you start being really influenced by that whole music scene. So I’m really a combination of a million things, even as a guitarist. People think it was just Jimi Hendrix. Oh God no! It was John Cipollina from Quicksilver and Santana and The Doors and the Beatles and Johnny Winter and The Allman Brothers and Sly Stone and a lot of soul music. And so there was a lot of influence there hitting me as I was beginning to play music and guitar. The rest is history!
TB: Were you friends with Johnny Winter at all? I know you played with him a lot.
FM: Oh yeah! I wasn’t friends with Johnny Winter but I played a lot of gigs with him. I was so afraid, every time I played with Johnny Winter, to say hello to him! (laughs) Walking down the hallway I’d say “hey” and hopefully I’d get a nod back you know? (laughs) Those are my earliest heroes in terms of the guitar. So for me, playing with Johnny Winter on certain gigs was like playing with Jimi Hendrix! It was that iconic! I mean I loved a lot of guys, but Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix were THE guys! So I never got to play with Jimi Hendrix, cause he died in September of ‘70 and I made my album in ‘71. But I certainly played with Johnny and I did a lot of gigs with Johnny. There’s a video of Johnny commenting on me and when I saw that video I was like “oh my god!” I wish I knew that then that he had nice things to say about me because I just never would have expected it, you know?! It was like really, really a big deal to me to see that! Unfortunately by the time I saw that Johnny was gone.
TB: That’s great! Yeah Johnny was amazing! So you had a wide range of influences it sounds like?
FM: Yeah! So the point is, the guys that influence you when you’re younger, they sort of shape where you’re gonna go. Now I know a lot of people think that you know, you shouldn’t necessarily be that influenced by certain guys. I don’t believe it’s possible to NOT be influenced by anybody. Even Hendrix had his influence and so does Johnny and so does Buddy Guy and all these guys. They all have their influences and they come from different sources and I think that we end up being exactly the culmination of all the influences that we had and that’s what makes the whole different guy! That’s what you’re seeing. I think that’s a good thing! I think one of the worst things that ever happened to music was the idea that, prior to the 60’s, artists could do all kinds of songs, even if they were written by other people. And it seems like once the Beatles came out and were writing their own material, now all of a sudden you weren’t considered serious unless you also were writing your own material. And I think that’s a sad state of affairs, because there’s something great about simply covering great tunes, if they’re great tunes. Nobody goes to a house party at Thanksgiving or Christmas or whatever and decides that they’re only going to play their originals with the family! (laughs) You know?! They love to sit around the piano and sing Happy Birthday or Jingle Bells or whatever, okay? It’s really nice that they don’t have to play their originals! So I think there’s something fun about being able to do music when it’s simply for the art of having fun at the time. And unfortunately in the 60’s it created a lot of this sort of pseudo-serious musicians who then have to not just be happy to play and play it nicely or express it nicely but now they have to be the writers and they have to be the poets and they have to be great novelists and they have to be everything else, and quite frankly, not everyone is. So you ended up with a lot of attempts at it and then when it really wasn’t what it was supposed to be, you ended with a lot of commenters trying to convince you that it was. And it kind of hurt the music industry I think, to a great degree, and created discord in something that really shouldn’t have any. So I harken back to the days before my birth. How many artists from the time before I was born actually wrote their own material? Probably none.
TB: You’re right, and that’s a really interesting topic. Back when Elvis and Little Richard and all those guys first hit, those were all cover songs they were doing. Even The Stones were doing covers when they first came out.
FM: That’s right! So I think it did a disservice that people began to believe that you have to also be a poet laureate as well as the musician and listen, let’s face it, some guys really are! Some guys happen to think that Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan and some of those guys really are great writers as well as what they do musically, but not everybody is. And I think we should be happy to just be able to play. Nowhere is that more let’s say prevalent, than in the blues. Think about the blues. I mean everybody’s playing the same kind of progressions and chords. Some are 16 bars, some are 12 bars, but it’s pretty much all blues. It’s all based on what gospel music was. Now when a guy says “I wrote a blues tune”, it really means that he wrote the lyrics for that tune.
TB: Yeah, you’re right!
FM: So let’s be real about that. It doesn’t denigrate that great blues artist just because he didn’t write the 1-4-5. And I think somewhere in rock, all of a sudden it became “oh no no, you can’t play that, because you didn’t write it differently” or something. It just became this kind of elitism that I’m really not all about. Listen man, music, we have a lot of fun when we play with our guys in a room or on a gig or whatever. It’s really all about having fun! If it’s work, I don’t want to do it! (laughs) It’s got to be fun! If it’s work, listen, I can go get a job and get paid more money than I do in the band! Why would I do work in the band if I can just have fun in the band? That’s sort of my outlook on things. I don’t take us that seriously, Todd! We’re not curing cancer! (laughs)
TB: Now talking about the Blues, when was the first time you actually heard Blues?
FM: I heard Shuggie Otis, you know, cause in the 60’s don’t forget like I said, there was that transitional period right? There was that transitional period from artists covering to artists writing, right? So some of the great artists, unique artists, writers were obviously writing very, very different and unique material, you know? But some were not. And so when they would write, what would they base it on? They based it on blues progressions. So you’re kind of being introduced to blues through the pop and through the rock and then you’re finding out later, oh that came from such-and-such a blues song. For instance, Crossroads was a great example of that. You had Cream playing very blues-based music, 1-4-5 blues-based rock versions. But when he covers Robert Johnson’s Crossroads, and he does it his way, Clapton I’m talking about, all of a sudden people are saying they thought Clapton wrote Crossroads. Then you find out that no, he didn’t write that, that’s this other guy that wrote that, it was done like on an acoustic guitar! So when you find that out you end up saying “hey I want to hear that original! Where can I do that? It’s very hard to find!” So then you begin going around asking your friends and you’ll meet someone who’s kind of like a blues aficionado or music aficionado go “oh yeah I have that old record!”, and you’ll hear it that way. That’s how you find the guys. You found B.B. King, you found Shuggie, you found Buddy, you found all these other guys. Then you go “hey, wait a minute man, I just heard Jimi Hendrix do that line and that line is there in 1952!” You start to see the influences of Jimi Hendrix! So finding the blues wasn’t like finding Nemo, where you suddenly find it! (laughs) It’s kind of like you sort of find the pathway to where all this stuff came from and you go “wow, it’s not just the place, it’s a mountain! It’s a world! It’s a whole world of it!” Then you want to find out where the blues came from and then you find the gospel stuff. You find the gospel music.
TB: Yeah it’s always interesting when you really get bit by the music bug! You really start to go down paths looking for where everything came from, and it’s an endless journey, really! So much of it comes back to the blues.
FM: I was talking with a friend of mine the other day. People like the way I play blues because I try to play blues a little bit differently than say the standard 1-4-5 all the time. You know what I’m talking about. Everybody does that. So I’m always looking for that jazzier, different way to express it. So consequently I like a 16-bar blues more than I like a 12-bar blues. Although 12 bar has its thing right? It’s good for some things, but then you find out that there’s different kinds of blues. There’s the whole Texas blues and there’s Louisiana and there’s Memphis and Chicago and there’s all these styles of the blues. And I say to myself “okay, these are all flavors. Where are they coming from and why are they there?” You always end up back in some form of gospel music you know? Basically that’s what’s going on. So I was talking with a friend of mine who’s got a couple of blues records and I was saying “you know, I’m a little bit miffed about how some rock artists decide they’re gonna be blues artists.” They’re influenced by the blues. I’m influenced by the blues, but to all of a sudden be a blues artist just because you’re getting invited to a lot of blues festivals or playing blues clubs, doesn’t mean you’re really a blues artist. I mean you’re playing it, you’re playing it pretty well, but it doesn’t mean that’s what you are, cause you don’t have that life experience. What is the life experience of blues? And it occurred to me that Blues is largely misunderstood among those who do it for a living. I’m talking about rock artists who become blues artists. They think that blues is almost about bad things, you know? This didn’t go right and that’s terrible, my baby left me, and they always woke up in the morning. “I woke up this morning and this happened to me.” It’s like, when else did you wake up? Did you wake up last night? I woke up at midnight! (laughs) So they wake up in the morning, something bad happens and then they find out they don’t have a girlfriend. This is what they sort of think the blues is! But actually, if you think about it, this is the argument that I made with this guy I was talking with: I said “blues is not sad music, blues is hopeful music!” He says “what do you mean?” I said “well in every kind of blues, every kind of gospel, you’re acknowledging that there are really terrible things, but you still have a hope for something.” So in other words, some guy has a hope for Jesus, some guy has a hope for the bottle and some guy says “my girlfriend left me, but don’t worry, I got her sister.” You know?! There’s always this hope that it’s gonna be better tomorrow. And I think that the song, playing the blues tune is all about trying to hope for something better tomorrow. And gospel music is very much that. They put their hope in God, their hope in Jesus, you know? “Michael rowed the boat ashore”, you know?! They put their hope in something. Because, when you don’t understand the blues, then it becomes this kind of maudlin, self-pitying thing where you’ve got to think that your song is the most terrible things happening to you. It’s a very depressing state. Now that’s I think why we ended up using blues progressions in some of the more up-tempo stuff, you know, what we call the Chicago Blues. The up tempo, the swing kind of blues, using blues progressions, because that kind of music is already happy, you know? It’s like, hey we’re gonna use the blues progressions, but we’re gonna all be happy doing it, okay?! (sings) Ba ba da da da! And they’re jitterbugging or whatever. Those are still blues progressions, but they’ve exceeded to the point where they’ve found the happiness, okay?! They found it in the song in this case right, not just in the hope of the lyric. So that’s the way I look at the blues, and I’ve been working on my quote unquote “blues” album for 15 years.
TB: Well that’s a very refreshing attitude, cause you’re exactly right. There are so many people that are “born with the blues” now, and you go back, years ago, in their careers, and they never played blues! Now all of a sudden they’re a bluesman. It’s pretty comical! Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about getting more exposure for the blues, but some of these artists that just jump on the band wagon because blues might be popular again with the public is just very questionable.
FM: Everyone keeps telling me “you’ve got to do a full blues album”, and the only reason that I never finished it yet is because I’m saying “I haven’t lived that experience.” So it would be really kind of weird for me to try to write my own blues tunes, because I haven’t really had that kind of life in terms of that type of music. So I do the odd blues tune because I’m doing it more to express that I love those chords, or I love the way those melodies work and I can do that in kind of jazz too right? And I can even stick it in rock too. But when I finally do finish… I have a plan for a blues album that I’ve been working on that’s very different. It’s not gonna be what people expect, because I know what they expect from a guitarist. It ain’t gonna be that! It’s very different. I have a plan for how I’m gonna finally finish this long awaited blues album, and I think it’s gonna be very very interesting, the way that I’m approaching it. Because the one thing you don’t want to be, at least from my point of view, I’m a pretty real guy, and I don’t ever want to be seen as some kind of imposter, some kind of fake guy. So I don’t want to put out music that…cause people know that. They know when it’s an imposter. They know when it’s fake. They don’t know why, they just do. So I want to make sure that whatever I do, if I finally do a blues album, it’s as honest as possible, without me getting maudlin about how bad things are when they’re actually not that bad! If you think about our lives Todd, you and me, I mean really, how many bad things happened to you today? None. And yesterday? None. And the day before? None. So everything is pretty good usually, for a lot of people. There are people who can’t say “none.” They have some pretty bad days all the time. Those are the people who genuinely need the hope. Now, I happen to be a religious guy. So for me, hope is that, right? I’d be much more comfortable doing a gospel record than let’s say a blues record, cause I really am a believer. But I think when it comes to music, I want to make sure that I don’t make us take ourselves so seriously that we’re trying to say that our music is gonna save the world. It isn’t! All it’s going to do is save a few minutes of our existence and make us be happy about something. And I think that’s what music should be, you know? As they say Todd, “Sooth the savage beast.” So there you have it!
TB: You’re right! It’s interesting you’re saying this, cause I was having this conversation with somebody the other day. The fact that we’re even talking to each other on the phone shows that we’re not really doing that bad off!
TB: So many of us get up every day and put shoes on and eat and drink. Right there, you’re doing pretty well! But so many people complain about how bad they have it!
FM: Right! It’s all good! I mean listen, in the Bible, when God creates the world, every time he creates something and he saw that it was good. He didn’t say that it was bad or 50/50. It’s all good! So we may make it bad, okay? But it’s actually all good! Nobody ever tabulates it, nobody ever quantifies it. Nobody ever sits down and says “well how bad is it really?” Cause really, they’re always disappointed to find out it’s not that bad okay, it’s all good! And I tell this story all the time to try to explain: A long time ago my wife who, before we were married, she said “Oh, I Iike a certain car.” I don’t remember what it was. Some kind of Chevy Lumina or something that she said “I think that’s a cool car! Maybe we should think about one day maybe we could afford that car.” Then all of a sudden you start seeing that car everywhere when you’re driving! And it’s not like that car just suddenly decided “hey there’s Frank, I better show myself to him” (laughs) and it’s jumping out at you. Those cars were always there! You just never noticed them until you wanted them. And I think it’s the same thing. If you begin to acknowledge that things are bad, then you’re just gonna see that and you’re going to think it’s everywhere, just like the car. But generally we’re pretty blessed! Especially in today’s world with these millennial kids I guess you could call them that. When the biggest problem is the iPhone charger doesn’t work, I think we need to look around and take stock of the fact that we may be protesting something but boy, we’ve got cool Nike’s and we live at home and your parents are paying for the bills and all that stuff. Things are not as bad as they seem and I think some people want things to be bad, so they run around looking for bad stuff to vicariously live through it. And unfortunately I think that’s what a lot of the let’s say, very blessed rock musicians, successful rock musicians, not the ones struggling, successful ones- as their success began to wane in their own field, they began to say “Hey, if I jump into the blues, I can keep my success going!” And they all start becoming blues artists! And it becomes flavor of the month, you know, taste du jour. I never really liked that. Often times I’ve been asked to play at blues festivals, because now all of a sudden there’s blues festivals. And they’ll say “Frank, we’re going to put you on this Blues Festival” or whatever, promoters and stuff. I would say “listen, if you’re gonna put me on that festival, don’t expect me to come and just play blues,cause I’m not a blues artist. So you’re the one putting on a rock band that plays some blues and blues based material. But I’m not really a blues artist.” I’m really not. I can play the stuff, but I can’t honestly attest to the fact that I am an actual blues artist like for instance, Buddy Guy. I mean, some of these guys are real blues artists and they’ll always be that. You don’t see them going out and doing Purple Haze either or some heavy metal tunes. You’re just not going to see that! So that’s sort of my take on the blues, and I think that some guys are not liking to hear what I’m saying but it is true. If you think about it from a regular point of view, regular guy point of view, I think what I’m saying is very, very true!
TB: Oh yeah! I remember reading an interview with Dickey Betts saying something along those same lines years back. In the early 80’s he was offered to do a whole blues album for a blues label and he was like “I love the blues, and I play it, but I’m not gonna just do album after album of strictly blues.” Because he does so much more along with the blues.
FM: Well yeah, that’s me, exactly! I mean, I do a lot of different stuff. As a matter of fact, one of the things that people in the record companies thought was a bad thing believe it or not, was that I did a lot of variation. A record company does not want you to do variation. A record company wants you to do one thing so they can sell it. So you’re not likely to go get an AC/DC record and all of a sudden there’s a Frank Sinatra tune on it, or vice versa! But in my records, people at the record label would say to me “what are you? You did a jazz tune, you did a psychedelic tune, you did a ballad. Who are you? Are you the groove guy, or the blues guy? Which guy are you?” And I’d say “I’m all those guys!” That’s what I am. I’m a musician and quite honestly, I don’t know another musician that doesn’t want to play different styles! Maybe they don’t want to do it professionally, cause they’re afraid it might hurt their brand, but when you get them alone in a room, believe me, if I get together with a bunch of guys from some heavy metal band and we’re sitting in the living room or we’re sitting in the basement, they want to try to do other stuff! They want to play other stuff. They’re musicians at the end of the day, that’s what they are! So there’s the branding of it, there’s the commerciality of it, and then there’s the music itself. And I’m just all about the fun and the music itself, and if one day it’s a blues tune, great! If one day it’s another tune, great! You know?! As long as we’re having a good time! Like I said, it’s got to be easy. If I wanted to work at it, I could go get a job and get paid a hell of a lot more money than I do getting paid doing music! So it just better be fun and it better be easy!
TB: I think that’s great, and an artist should never feel like they HAVE to stay stuck in a certain style or brand. I love Ronnie Montrose and he was like that too. He was all over the place musically, and I loved it all! I don’t really know how we got to the point where you’re expected to just be a one-trick pony, but a lot of people strangely seem to like it that way! It’s almost like they want to hear the same stuff rehashed, over and over, year after year, and if an artist takes a chance on something different, they’re out to get them!
FM: Well yeah, that comes from the problem I said in the 60’s. Because all of a sudden they were expected to be these nobel laureates. But when you think about it, there is an art to simply interpreting. So if Frank plays a certain way or Ronnie plays a certain way and then you say “I want to hear Ronnie play his version of what that jazz tune is” or what that blues tune is or what that pop tune is, you expect to still hear that different style, but with Ronnie’s flavor or Frank’s flavor in it. And there’s nothing wrong with that because that’s what all the great singers did before people were writing their own tunes, you know? I love Tony Bennett, and Tony Bennett does a lot of different kinds of stuff. But Tony Bennett singing this and Tony Bennett singing that, you know? I think once we begin to hold the artist up as some kind of writer of a new genre and then we get their album and it isn’t exactly that, we can’t sort of blame them for wanting to interpret something in their own way. But it might be a different kind of music. I think that’s very important, to allow us to just have fun doing what we’re doing cause like I said at the end of the day, what are we really doing? We’re not saving the world. We’re making music. Musicians, at one point, they were the guys behind the curtain playing minstrel music while the King ate sumptuously at his dinner table, you know? (laughs) They were not saving the world with their music. I think what happened is we got a little bit skewed along the way because we did have a few musicians who had some pretty poetic ideas, and they were probably not even supposed to be musicians, but they ended up selling their ideas through the music. And they were pretty good ideas. I’m talking about world ideas. But then they somehow got blended together. The one great thing about the blues, and that’s what I do like about it is it doesn’t purport to do that. It’s probably one of the only forms of music that employs vocals that doesn’t purport to have a better way to advise you to save the world. It’s basically people singing about stories. In a sense it’s kind of like country music done a different way! It’s kind of like that. It’s about stories. The guy tells the story. So how could let’s say myself, I’ve never lived in Georgia near the pine. So why would I write a song where I’m going out you know, listening to the wind through the pines in the hills of Georgia? It would be wrong. I would be lying, okay? That didn’t happen to me. I’d be trying to invent that story. So I don’t like to be dishonest, okay? Take me or leave me the way I am. Like me or hate me, I always want to be straight up. I always want to be honest. I always want to be the same guy when I’m playing music as I am when I’m talking to you on the phone. It’s too much work. I’ve seen that happen to a lot of people I know. It’s too much work for them to remember who they are all the time and put on a persona, okay?
TB: Well that’s been a huge appeal of yours Frank, for sure! I think people pick up on that and sense that you are a real guy! And we appreciate that!
FM: I think everybody appreciates that! Not just in the artists that they like, but they appreciate it in their friends and their circle of friends. I mean you’ve got a circle of friends. Everybody out there reading, they’ve got their circle of friends. That’s how you grow up. Now how many people would let someone in the circle of friends that was kind of a jerk or full of themselves or pompous or thinks he’s important? He’d never get into the circle of friends! So nobody likes inauthenticity. Nobody likes that! I think it’s a natural order of a human being to like authenticity. If you think about it, take my DVD for instance- this new box set. One of the things that people are commenting on so much is that the sound is really organic. They say it’s good sounding. What they’re really saying is it’s authentic sounding. It doesn’t sound all faked out, you know? And I think that human beings like authenticity, because it goes right back to the way you’re made as a person. Like for instance you have two ears and that’s how you know where something is directionally, because things arrive at your brain out of phase, it’s called triangulation. It could only have come from one position. So a human being, naturally living in the jungle for instance, appreciates authenticity because then he knows where the danger is and where it isn’t. And if it’s fake and if it’s real. So it’s a natural order for us to like authentic things. We like authentic food and we like authentic music and we like authentic everything! Everybody likes that. Nobody likes fake stuff. So why would we even tolerate inauthentic music or inauthentic people if we don’t like it in anything else? It doesn’t make any sense. Look at this move today towards organic food. We used to call it food! (laughs) And now it’s called organic food to sort of tell you that it’s authentic food, and that must mean that there’s a lot of inauthentic food! So we’re trying to get away from the inauthentic stuff and everybody wants to buy a real Gibson SG and not a well-made copy of a Gibson SG. So authenticity I think is really important not just to get people to like you, but to actually be able to live your life on a day-to-day basis. So I walked away from the music industry’s fakeness way way back in the early 80’s. I mean, I couldn’t stand it at the end of the 70’s! Everything was so fake. Everything was becoming so scripted, and I just walked away and said “I’m gonna make records when I want. And they might be five or six or eight years apart, but that’s what I’m gonna do. And I’m gonna play what I want, where I want and how I want, and I’m just not gonna be pigeonholed into group think, just because they’re gonna promise me some money.” Money is not that important to me. As long as I have enough to eat and feed my family, I’m okay, you know? That’s it. I don’t even own a house, and I’m okay with that!
TB: So, understandably, you walked away from the business a couple of times.
FM: I walked away twice, Todd. I walked away in ’83, from the big stuff. And then from ’83 to ’93 I did my own thing. And then ’93 I walked away completely, until 2000.
TB: So what did you do during that time? Were you just kind of laying low?
FM: I recorded that album Eye Of The Storm, and it never came out until 2000. I did it ’93/’94 while I was not touring. I had kids and I loved it! I thought it was fantastic! I was very happy just playing at home and jamming with friends and just having fun. Cause for me, look you saw me, you’ve seen me numerous times Todd. I was always that guy who made myself available to everybody. So at the end of a show, I’d sit around and talk to everybody. It wasn’t like the artist coming down from the clouds to talk to the people. I’m that regular guy and I always liked that about that business. But whenever the business tried to stop me from doing that I thought “okay, this is like, ridiculous. Who are all these gatekeepers? Why do we have to work through all this stuff?” We’re just trying to have a good time here, maybe after the gig we’re gonna go to Denny’s and have some chicken fingers! (laughs) That’s basically what touring was about right?! (laughs) It was like, “where are we eating after the show?!” You know? If you think about it, everybody that starts a band, before they become big and famous, that’s really all they want to do too. They play the high school gig and then it’s “okay, where are we going to spend the 50 bucks we made?”, and they spend every cent of it on food, you know?! So I think I’ve always tried to maintain that and when I just found that we just can’t maintain it anymore, I said “damn, I’m just gonna go home!” I just went home, I had children and I thought it was great! I had three daughters and life was just wonderful! I made a record and didn’t expect anything to happen and then I found these fans and said “really? They really, really want me to play!” So you know what? Let’s go and do a couple of gigs! Let’s go and do five gigs or 10 gigs, let’s try to put it together. That’s how it’s sort of came back to where I am today. I just spent the last 8 years doing the same thing again with the DVD- getting it ready and fixing it up, cause it was broken, and now it’s out and who knows what I’ll do. Some agents called me just the other day. All of a sudden they call you because you know, you’re being interviewed again. They said “we’d like to put a tour together and blah blah blah and we’re gonna go out and tour..” And I said “well what have you got in mind?” And then they start telling me “well you know, you can go out there and you can charge extra money for people to get your autograph and meet you” and all that. And I tell the guy “I’ve been doing that for free forever. Why would I all of a sudden charge money for that?” and he said “Oh no, a lot of bands are doing it! They’re paying $500 and $600 for special tickets to meet the group.” I said “that’s kind of like gouging people and that’s kind of ridiculous. I’ve never refused anybody an autograph or charged them money for that stuff ever, so why would I start that?” So you can see that the business again, has found a new way to kill itself. (laughs) Basically it’s got suicidal tendencies, and no sooner do you walk away from one set of suicidal tendencies then you find another whole set of them, you know? So that’s where we are now. Will I tour again? Listen- if the box set does well enough that I can use my own money to tour again or let’s say some promoters decide okay he’s worth having, then I’ll do it. If not, hey, you know what – this may be the last thing I ever recorded. Who knows? But I have no plan. I’m not trying to promote a brand here you know, or something like that. (Author’s note: Frank IS touring in 2020!! Check out the dates here: https://mahoganyrush.
TB: Yeah the meet and greet thing is kind of strange. I mean, it’s cool for so many, to get to meet their musical heroes and all, but tons of them are for big, big money! It does kind of make you question the authenticity behind many of them. It doesn’t always come off as the artists really wanting to meet the fans as it does an easy way for a fast buck. It makes you wonder WHY they’re doing it.
FM: You know why they’re doing that Todd? Look, don’t forget, I came up from 1971, so I’ve been through the whole 70’s thing. I knew a lot of these guys then, when they were coming up. And look, what’s happened is this: I told some of these guys, and I won’t mention their names, but I told them that I didn’t agree with what they were doing and I said “remember the days when you were on the up escalator and you wouldn’t even let the fans watch you walk from the limousine to the arena? You had guards all around you and tents and all that, as if you were the President coming on Air Force One. You wouldn’t even let them talk to you! And now you’re begging them to come and see you because you’re on the down escalator. Things have changed and you’ve got to sort of raid the silverware before the party’s over. And you’re charging them 5, 600 dollars to come and do what you wouldn’t do in the first place?” I mean it doesn’t make any sense! I mean it makes sense, I understand why they’re doing it. But the whole idea that they feel that they have to do that I think is really, really disrespectful to the supporters. The people who support them are the fans and I can tell you something- being backstage on a number of festivals, you know I did a lot of those festivals in the 70’s. I mean every day was a festival okay, and when you’re doing those you’re with a lot of bands and what would I hear? What would I hear backstage, even on the shows that I was doing? I won’t mention who the bands are, but a great majority of them I would hear “oh the crowd sucks! The crowds terrible.” Because they didn’t go over well or whatever, they’re blaming the crowd. But when they’re out there talking to the crowd they’re saying “hey we love you Chicago!” Right? So what’s up with that crap? It’s like, this is very inauthentic. You know, they have supported you all this way, that’s why you’re wearing these cool clothes you know?! It’s not because you were born that way! And you’re basically treating them like cattle. But now they’re doing this for money, and the money is not like 50 bucks, I mean it’s like $600 bucks! And you think “what are they getting?” I said “this is awful! This is not normal.” It’s like, okay, you’re gonna get some money out of this, but look what you’re doing to the actual art form! It won’t survive this! It’s gonna get a terrible reputation and you’re just killing it for everybody else. It just won’t survive this. You’re doing exactly what the record companies did and you all say you hate the record companies and you’re doing exactly the same thing! So I walked away. I said “you know what, I can’t take this crap anymore. I’m just a guitar player, musician, call me an artist, whatever you want to call me, who wants to spend my time playing something, really believing in what I play and hoping that the people like it and hoping it’s good enough for them and if they support me that’s great! I have a great life and I’m very, very thankful for it, but they’re not peons. They’re the life blood of what we do. So I support them and I hope that they support me and I hope it’s a nice synchronous relationship.
TB: That’s awesome Frank! Believe me, the people sense that and feel what you’re saying. Why do you think it is that the “big guys” in the business don’t want artists mingling with the fans, etc.?
FM: Well they used to tell me “If you do that, they won’t look up to you. They’ll think you’re a regular guy.” I’d say “you’re probably right, they won’t look up to you. But I’d rather they look up to me for being real and at least respect me for that than look up to me as if I’m some kind of demigod.” Because let me tell you something, and I say this all the time- it doesn’t matter what you do and how important you think you are, when your life is over, the amount of people at your funeral is largely determined by the weather! (laughs)
TB: Well that’s true! (laughs)
FM: So listen, get a grip, you know! We’re not all that important, okay? I’m trying to sell this box set now because I owe a lot of money and it took me a lot to do it and I hope I can go on tour with the money that I make. But I’m trying to give a hell of a lot, I know it’s not cheap, but I’m trying to give a hell of a lot for the money and believe me I’m not getting 100% of it. But the point is this: I know that when people watch it, it’s gonna be real, it’s gonna be authentic, they’re gonna learn something from it if they’re guitarists or if they’re musicians. They’re gonna like it! And there’s a book and everything else that explains what I’m telling you now. If I get the respect from people that they support me like that, I’m okay with that. I don’t have to be a millionaire or a thousandaire! I don’t even have to be that. I’m okay! I’m gonna be 65 in November. I started at 15. I’ve had a half a century in this business. Put that in perspective- a half a century! And I’m not the kind of guy who thinks I should keep doing this into my 80’s. I mean I’ll always play music into my 80’s if I live that long, but I think there’s something unseemly about running out at 75 years old in tight pants like you’re 21! I think there’s something unseemly about that. I think you basically become that uncle that comes down stairs to the basement and thinks he’s cool and puts a lampshade on to talk to the kids, you know? They all laugh, but then when he goes upstairs they go “boy, your uncle’s a real idiot!” (laughs) So I don’t want to be that old uncle, doing that. As for making the music, that’s different. I’ll always make music cause you know, it doesn’t matter how old you are or who you are you can sit down and record, you can make music. But I think chasing the rock star dream and playing that rock star role.. no no no.. that’s over man! The people that still believe that there’s a future in that, you know who they’re like? They’re like Bruce Willis in that movie The Sixth Sense. They’re basically walking around dead and they don’t know it. And not only are they dead, they’ve been dead for 30 years! (laughs) So let’s make it real man, let’s just make it real.
TB: So, getting into this new DVD Box Set, it’s an amazing set! The DVD’s and the Blu Ray both, PLUS the awesome book- it’s a must have! I’ve been telling everyone to get this thing! It’s the definitive Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush experience for sure! Now, will this box set be a limited thing?
FM: Well as long as there’s demand for it, I’ll try to make more of them. As long as I can earn enough money to keep on doing it and then maybe put the band out to do some gigs, do some touring, I’m there! You know, I don’t say no to any of these things, but I think circumstances determine what you’re gonna do. But I’m okay if it doesn’t happen, you know? If nobody likes it, if nobody gets it, if it disappears into the ozone, you know what, I’m okay with that! Nobody owes me anything! If anything I owe them! I owe the fans. They don’t owe me anything. I owe them! I’ve had 50 years in a career, I could have been doing all kinds of things like moving boxes in a warehouse. I’m very, very fortunate to have had 50 years in music doing something I like. Even though the people in music made it hard for me to enjoy it. The fans never made it hard for me to enjoy it! It was always the people in the business that made it hard for me to enjoy it. That’s why I walked away. I didn’t walk away because of the fans. I walked away because of the people in the business.
TB: Well that’s one of the things we all love about you is that you’ve always been very real Frank! So the Full Circle album in 1986 was almost like a celebration of waving goodbye to the industry, am I right about that?
FM: Oh absolutely! That’s why the title is there. Even if you go back.. this is interesting… somebody sent me an interview that they did with me, believe it or not a cassette tape, if people even know what that is! They sent me this cassette tape of me doing an interview when I was 18 years old. 18 okay? Not even 19 yet! I’m listening to this kid on the interview, that’s me, with a little higher voice! My voice is higher but the content of the interview is remarkably similar to what I’m telling you now! And I’m going “oh my gosh! I didn’t even realize that I have not changed.” I’m just the same guy I was back then in 1969! I’m the same person, and you know what? That’s probably a good thing! But you know what? That’s probably why I never got rich, and that’s true! Because money is air in a balloon man. And if you get a lot of it, you have to have squeezed it from someone else. And I’m just not the type that wants to squeeze it from someone else. So when you’re not willing to do anything to get that air squeezed into your section of the balloon, if you’ve got scruples or you’ve got principles and there are certain things you’re just not gonna do, then you’re just not gonna get paid. And that’s okay, as long as you know that before you do it. Just don’t be disappointed. But that is the price! The price of doing what you believe in might mean that you don’t end up with all the perks that somebody else did that did what they didn’t believe in. That’s just the way it is, but I gotta tell you Todd, I’m okay with that! There’s no “oh whoa is me” and “it was terrible!” It was great! I’m extremely fortunate and I thank God everyday! Everyday is good man. Even when the bad stuff happened, it was really one or two things here or there. Really, most things are pretty good. I’m not gonna complain. Why would I complain? I’m very, very lucky!
TB: In the book with the box set you talk about how cold the Agora was when you played there. It was freezing, huh?
FM: Oh my gosh, you have no idea how cold it was! It was called the Agora and people were calling it the “Iglooa!” It was that cold! If you go look at the DVD, on some of the shots that are coming from my left from below me, from that camera looking up at me from my neck side of my guitar- look at the top of the picture and you’re gonna see this red square. It’s like a red triangle, far away. It’s like a big, long rectangle in the ceiling. That’s a heater! Okay? They were trying to heat the place with these giant heaters blowing in hot air from up there. That’s how much we needed to heat the place. It was so cold. It was just freezing! And the fact that people stayed there for 7 hours the first night and 12 hours the second day… it was amazing that no one left! Cause I wanted to leave it was so cold! I was like “this is so cold!”
TB: So even the stage lights and all that weren’t doing anything, huh?
FM: It gave you a little, under the stage lights, but you know what? The way that Peter’s crew was lighting it was for the cameras. (Author’s note: Peter Daniel’s crew filmed the set.) So they weren’t making it too too bright and it was a nice blue light here or a red light there, and I’m like “turn up the whites man, I’m freezing to death”, you know? (laughs)
TB: I love the version of O’ Little Town Of Bethlehem on the new box set. Have you ever thought about doing a whole Christmas album?
FM: Oh I want to, absolutely! You can be sure at one point I will!
TB: Yeah, that is just beautiful! The song selection on here is great! There are many tunes that people probably weren’t expecting to see make the list. Was that selection hard to come up with?
FM: No, we were just going! I just had a list and said “okay next, okay next!” It was not planned, it was just “let’s go!” And I didn’t get to all of them. We were running out of time! So I had to do my solo at the end and that was it. I even forgot to do my air raid siren! (laughs)
TB: It’s Begun to Rain has always been one of your best vocal performances, and it sounds great on here! The bebop/jazz section is amazing stuff, and Chains of Space is just unreal!
FM: Yeah! The end of Chains Of Space we do Space Unchained, this is a whole new thing! It was invented right there at that moment! So I thought that was pretty cool too! That’s the first time ever, never done before!
TB: Yeah that is amazing! You go into great detail about the problems with the drum tracks in the book with the new set. Now that it’s done though, it’s an amazing thing to look at. When you read the whole story, it’s just incredible! But, going back to when you first realized what had happened, that had to have been just been terrible!!
FM: (laughs) Forget it man! Have you ever heard of suicide?! (laughs) That’s the feeling, okay? Suicide! Can it get any worse than that!?
TB: You spent the past 8 years meticulously fixing them. So, you basically fixed what was already there, am I correct about that?
FM: Yes! It was more like resurrecting from bad audio what the audio is. It wasn’t putting audio or inventing audio that wasn’t. It’s a really tedious, tedious process. Imagine if you had to repaint every blade of glass on your lawn to make it green, you know? Like basically clean the dirt off something, but it took a hell of a long time to fix and it was very hard to figure out how to do it, but I did do it and I did it one bar at a time and it took me years and years and years. So here it is! I kept my promise. I told people I would do it. I told God I would do it. I believe in God. I don’t believe you should break a promise. I made a promise, I kept my promise. Now it’s out, I just hope people support it, I really do. I really would love to have the support of people for this thing.
TB: That had to have just been crushing! That just makes it even more amazing though! Once you read what happened and how it all still came together, and the hard work you put in, it’s just unbelievable!
FM: Well that’s why I thank God, you know? Cause I couldn’t have done it without him, and that’s who I thank for it. Peter did a great thing and all these people did these great things, but I believe God directed them to do it, and it was a gift. So I thank God for it, I really do. He gets all the credit cause, I got to tell you, without him I couldn’t have done it. Even I don’t know how I did it. So when that happens, you know something’s going on! You don’t know why, but you know it is. (laughs)
TB: What are you doing these days to stay in shape Frank? It looks like you never age! What’s the secret?
FM: Well, I quit smoking. I don’t drink, I don’t take drugs. I haven’t taken a drink or a drug since I was 13 years old, so my entire career was without drinking or drugs. So maybe that helped, and I just quit smoking, so that helps too. And you know, I walk my dog. (laughs)
TB: Do you have a workout routine or anything?
FM: No no no! I’m way way too lazy to do that! (laughs) I mean, I worked on cars a lot throughout my career. I was a big fan of cars and I like hockey. I don’t play hockey like as a rule, but I like the game and I worked a lot on cars, so maybe that was some kind of exercising. But no, I’m just a lazy guy, like any musician! Pretty much every musician is pretty lazy! The hardest thing about going to the gym is putting your shoes on. That’s why I never joined up with a gym! But I don’t know, I’m just trying to have a good outlook, you know? I just think you’re here for when you’re here and you might as well enjoy it. You might as well look around at all the good stuff instead of look around at the bad stuff. I just think that people are… today I see it worse and worse because I follow the news and I follow stories and I see a lot of depression and I see a lot of people thinking everything’s bad. I don’t think it’s that bad! I think that there are people who make you look at the bad because somehow they’re gonna make a buck off it if they make you look at the bad you know it’s like, the media. All you’ve gotta do is go to any story online and then go to the comments section. And all you’ve got is people complaining and calling people names. There’s too much division. I don’t like it, I’ve never like it. So what can I do? I’m not gonna save the world, I’m not gonna start telling people what they should do and start writing songs about it and all that. So I just say “I’ll live my life the way I think it should be.” Instead of telling people how it should be. That’s my let’s say, contribution to saving the world, I saved the immediate 15 feet around me!
TB: That’s great! Now, you had some problems with your shoulders awhile back right? I’m glad everything went okay with that.
FM: While I was doing the editing I got adhesive capsulitis in the right shoulder, which is frozen shoulder, which is very painful. It lasted 18 months and right when it was finished and I celebrated “hey it’s going away”, I got it in the left shoulder. And that lasted 18 months. So I had to go through 36 months of this. But the second time I used cortisone shots to try to make it better, so that helped. But it’s gone now, it’s been gone for a long time. But at the time when I had it, believe me, I couldn’t even move my right arm. So I had to actually do it all my editing and I learned how to do it left handed for a year, cause I actually had the other arm tied to my body.
TB: What is it that actually causes that?
FM: Well the shoulders are held together… did you ever wonder how come your arm doesn’t just fall out? (laughs) The ball and socket? It’s because the shoulders, the ball joints are held together with a kind of a membrane, it’s called a capsule. Imagine cellophane wrapped around the whole thing. It’s a stretchy sort of membrane called a capsule. But if the capsule itself becomes hard like leather instead of cellophane, then it tears and creates scars and squeezes every nerve you’ve got and you’ve got to soften it all up again and restretch it over time. That’s Capsulitis. It’s called “frozen” because, imagine taking a piece of cellophane you’ve wrapped something in and then turning it into hard plastic. All of a sudden you can’t move it anymore. The pain is ridiculous. So they generally do procedures and you have to wait for it to go away. It takes time. But I kept working, and then it happened to the left arm, and then I kept working again. It’s just one of those things that happened and there’s nothing you can do about it and there’s no point getting freaked out by it. You play the hand you’re dealt, right?
TB: Well I’m glad everything’s okay with you now! So many people tend to have skewed, cliche views on artists too, especially in the rock world. So many just assume everyone is stoned and drunk, and many are! (laughs) But many aren’t! I’m sure you know, someone who’s not familiar with you, or has just heard your name in passing and all the exaggerated stories we’ve all heard, would just assume that you DID go down the drug and drink path during your career. It’s strange how people just believe stories or think everyone is part of a cliche.
FM: I happen to be a very religious person. That’s just the way I am. I really believe in God. I really believe in Jesus. So when you really believe that, then you kind of want to be that way. Just like if you really like blues you listen to blues, okay? You kind of want to be that way. It’s not like you’re saying “I’m gonna be that way because I’m going to go to heaven and I’m gonna to be that way so that people think what a wonderful person he is”, you just want to be that way! We’ve all heard the expression “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” and “wide and easy is the way to destruction” or “straight and narrow is the way to salvation.” You know? We hear that it’s hard to do well and it’s easy to do bad, right? That’s not true for a good person! Go to your nice good grandmother and tell her “come on, we’re gonna go rob a store” and see how quickly she says “I can’t do that!” It’s only easy if you’ve got a propensity to do it! It’s really hard to get a good person to do a bad thing. So I try to live what I believe. So I lived my life in the music industry, not drinking, not taking drugs, not because I thought they were wrong, but because I blew my mind and was too scared to touch anything ever since. I didn’t even touch a codeine pill for a headache! But the music I was making was so psychedelic because I was constantly trying to express what put me in the darn hospital in the first place! And I never came down! So it took years and years before I could even function normally. And so I’m always trying to express that kind of music and that music goes with what I do. So that’s why you have Strange Universe and all these kind of songs that I did. I wasn’t just trying to be cool, I was trying to say “ok this goes with what I do, this goes with what I feel, this goes with what I think!” And so people would look at that and they’d go “look at this long haired freak playing this weird, psychedelic feedback. He must be on LSD, he must be on drugs, he must be drinking, he must be partying!” And then when people found out I was a devoted Christian, I’d get letters from people that would say “great job buddy, I’m so glad to see that you finally went sober.” And I’m like “I didn’t just finally go sober, I’ve always been sober!” Bells didn’t ring, angels didn’t come down and talk to me through the ceiling! You know? I just found that that stuff was true. That to me it’s really true! So me responding to what I believe is true is the same as someone responding to the fact the multiplication table is true! It doesn’t require a great revelation to use the multiplication table, you’d be an idiot if you didn’t, if you thought it was wrong! So it’s not virtuous of me, it’s just natural for me to do these things BECAUSE of what I believe. And listen, I’m lucky I believe it, I could have not! I could’ve gone the other way and then I would have to find the day when I got sober or the day when I got off drugs. As it is it took me forever to get off cigarettes, and that’s really not good for you!
TB: Okay, I’m gonna geek out here a bit and ask you about some guitar related stuff! You use really super light gauge strings right?
FM: Oh yeah, as light as I can! The reason I do that is because I started that way, okay? Like when I didn’t know how to play. I had a set of strings on the guitar and I broke the low E string. So I didn’t have any money, and in those days strings were never clipped off at the tuning pegs. You’d put ’em through and they were all hanging out there like big huge long things, right? So when I broke the string I said “well I can’t get any new ones, so I’ll just take these other five and I’ll move them up! So I ended up with no high E string. My E became the B and the G became the D, you know what I’m saying?
TB: Ah! Okay!!
FM: So I moved them up and then I got used to playing that way, with these super thin strings. So then later on, when I went to buy strings, they were too hard to play because of course when you put them in the right positions, now they’re tuned up tighter and they’re harder to play. So I cut the low string off and moved them up again, on purpose, even with the new strings. Then a friend of mine said “well now you don’t have a high E string, but I play a banjo” and he gave me this banjo string, cause it was skinny and he said “well like that looks like it’ll work!” So I used this banjo string as my high string, but they never had a ball on them at the end, they were like a loop. So I had to take the ball out of the low E string that I took off and I’d put it in the banjo string, and that’s how I would string my guitar. So I got used to it that way. Plus I was tuned down, so imagine, the strings are moved up and it’s tuned down 3 semi tones as well. Imagine how loose they are, okay? So then later on, when I was finally making a record they said “okay, this piano player is going to play with you with this blues tune.” And it’s like okay, but you have to tune to his piano. So then up went the tuning and then I didn’t know what to do with the strings! They said “well nowadays we can buy them by the gauge, which means 8, 9, 12, whatever”, you know? And I said “really!” So there was a guy with a garage who was building engines, and he said “I’ve got a micrometer and I’ll measure your strings and tell you how thick they are”, you know, the strings that I was using at the time. So he gave me a bunch of numbers, so I went to the store and said “okay I need strings that are these widths, these numbers, by the gauge”, and that’s how I arrived at what I do today. It’s the exact same gauge I’ve used ever since. I’ve never changed it.
TB: Oh wow! So what’s your high E gauge?
FM: It’s an 8, because I can’t find anything smaller that doesn’t break. But I would have a 7 there if I could, if it didn’t break!
TB: So then what’s your top string gauge?
FM: Well I put a 38 on it because it sounds a little better. But by the way I’m doing it should have been like a 32. But then if you put it as a 32 then the notes are very muddy, so that’s a 38. So basically it’s 8, 9, 12, 15, 26, 38. It’s a really, really thin set of strings.
TB: Now when you play acoustic guitar what changes there?
FM: I don’t!
TB: Okay, well going back to Ronnie Montrose, he always said he used the same gauge strings on an acoustic that he did on his electric, which is pretty unusual.
FM: Oh yeah, I do that too! I have three daughters and two of them play acoustic guitar and they play with 13’s and they’re young little girls. They can’t play my guitars, cause they go to play them and they go out of tune, and I can’t play their guitars, because the minute I play one chord I’ve got a cramp! (laughs) I’m like “I don’t want to play that it’s hard to play!” Listen Todd, for me, and I tell this to guitar players: whatever makes it easy, do it! If it makes it easy, do it. If the string makes it easier, go ahead and do it. If stretching a certain way, using finger one and three instead of one and two, do one and three. Always do what’s easy, because effectively what I do, if I could make it as an analogy, I play air guitar on a real guitar. That’s what I’m doing. And everybody’s good on air guitar. Everybody’s fast on air guitar. Everybody’s perfectly precise on air guitar. So try to play air guitar on your guitar and you’ll get real good at it! You know, make it easy!
TB: And then you’re using extra heavy picks too right?
FM: Well yeah, you know why? (laughs) Because the first picks I had, I didn’t know what picks were! The first picks were a broken record!
TB: Oh, Okay!!
FM: I took the plastic from the record. That’s in the days when records were plastic, they weren’t bendy vinyl. They were stiff, stiff plastic, really hard. So I’d break a record and it would break into a million little shards and I’d use that. So when you’re using super light strings with a super heavy piece of plastic, you can’t pick hard, because if you pick hard the string goes “bling” and it bends out of the way. It gets all crazy, right?! So you have to learn to pick it lightly. So yeah, I use a heavy pick and I pick lightly, very lightly, which again relaxes me. I’m not digging in with my right hand and I’m not digging in with my left hand, so I’m playing air guitar! That’s what I’m doing. It hurts your tone by the way. What I do hurts your tone, that’s for sure. So consequently I had to learn to build my own amps, because no amp I could buy had a tone like what I wanted. Because the strings are so thin and I’m picking them so light, so I had to build my own amp to get back the tone I was losing from the strings.
TB: So your amps are all homemade stuff, huh?
FM: Now it is, yeah. But in the beginning I would use Twin Reverbs, and I would use like five of them. And you know, I would use whatever I could to try to get the power back up to get my strings to sound better. I never really used Marshall. I didn’t like the fact that they didn’t have a lot of bass, you know, the low end. But then I started making my sound out of my pedal board, because amps just weren’t cuttin’ it. So I would put all these different pedals together. I had this gigantic pedal board, I had like 22 pedals on it. Not because they were 22 different pedals, but there were 2,3 fuzzes, 2 wah wahs, you know, that type of thing. And basically my sound was being created on my pedal board and then I simply needed an amp to make my pedal board louder for the people. So what I did was I used a transistor amp. For the entire 70’s I used an Acoustic 270 transistor amplifier. People can’t believe that! They listen to the black Live album with you know, The Answer, Purple Haze and all that and they’re like “no way, that’s a Marshall!” Nope! It’s an Acoustic 270 transistor amp, clean as a whistle. The distortion comes from my pedal board. The sound is being built on the pedal board. The amp is simply serving as an amplification system for what the board is sounding like. And then I realized that I couldn’t keep walking around with four roadies every time I wanted to go from one room to the next and move my pedal board! So I said “I need to learn how to do this in an amp so that I don’t need such a big pedal board.” So I learned how to build amps. I learned how to build pedals and I built my own and I gradually experimented until the amp I use is the sound my pedal board used to have. So that’s where I am today! On the box set on the DVD, that’s the sound you hear, it’s my amps built my way, it’s my pedals built my way, and it’s a pretty organic, nice tone. If you’ve heard it you know what I’m talking about. It’s a very nice guitar tone.
TB: Oh yeah it’s an amazing tone! Sounds great! So warm, yet cuts through too. How do you feel about vintage versus new guitars? Some guitarists only play vintage stuff, some say the whole thing is blown out of proportion.
FM: Well look, what makes the difference is the wood, okay? So wood, by definition, by nature has humidity in it, has water in it right? A microscopic level. Even wood that’s kind of dried still has some water content, and it takes time for the microscopic levels of humidity to completely go away. And as that happens, we’ve all heard of petrified wood, okay? So that’s wood that’s waited so long that it’s become like rock. The longer you wait on the wood, the more you dry it, the more stiff it becomes and the less likely it’s going to begin to warp with weather changes. So guys that like old guitars like them because for instance, my Gibson has this low low action without a buzz, because it’s set up that way. But guess what? Next week it’ll still have the same, and next month the same and six months the same. It won’t change because the weather changed, because the wood’s not moving anymore. So old instruments are good because they don’t move anymore. They stiffened, they’ve settled and they’re done. New instruments might feel amazingly great… I bought an acoustic guitar at one point that was fantastic, I loved it! “Wow, I love this guitar!” Then six months later “wow, I hate this guitar!” And every day I was adjusting the truss rod. Pull it down, now it’s okay, and the next week, oh it’s too low, push it up, now it’s okay, you know, and it was just moving and moving and moving and moving! And you know what, at the end of the day I said “I’m not gonna wait 10 years for this guitar to settle! It’s like, ridiculous!” I ended up giving it to a guy.
TB: Yeah, that’s beyond frustrating when a guitar keeps moving like that.
FM: The wood is what makes that happen. There’s another good thing about old wood: as the humidity leaves the wood, it leaves air behind. People don’t realize that. And air is the conductor of audio. Audio works through air. That’s how it works. So vibration works through air. Now imagine you’ve got this piece of wood that internally it’s more holes than it is wood, okay? It’s like a screen door is more holes than it is metal. So internally, in the wood, there’s microscopic mites that live in that water, they die. Their bodies decompose and it leaves behind a hole in the shape of that body. So you end up with a honeycomb cavern, billions of caverns in the wood. And every one of them is connected by thin membrane walls which make it stronger, like a geodesic dome. And then you’ve got all of this air separated by membranes and all of a sudden old wood resonates because of all the air in it. So that’s the other reason why musicians say “I love old instruments!” They don’t know what I just told you, they just know they love it! What they love is it vibrates. They call it tone wood, you’ve heard that expression, tone wood, okay? Tone wood is usually very light and it’s interesting, you’ve got a piece of wood two feet long, three feet wide, whatever, an inch thick and it’s lighter than another piece of wood two feet long, three feet wide and an inch thick. Well that has to be in the content of air that’s inside it, the difference. The one that’s lighter has more air. So if it has more air its gonna resonate more. And if it’s gonna resonate more, and you make a string vibrate against it through a bridge, the whole guitar will vibrate and you’ll go “wow, what a great tone!” So old wood is really great for instruments, it’s great for drums, it’s great for everything! Because it stiffens, and it gets lighter. That’s why I never agree with guys who build guitars with plexiglass or that kind of stuff. They weigh a ton and they’ll never resonate properly.
TB: I saw Zakk Wylde gave you one of his Wylde Audio guitars with Strange Universe painted on it!
FM: It’s beautiful! It’s just absolutely beautiful! For Zakk to give me that, I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of it! Zakk has always been a major supporter of me. Probably one of the first guys that would publicly say stuff, you know? Him, Paul Gilbert, Marty Friedman, guys like that would say stuff publicly. And I really appreciate that! Frank Hannon from Tesla, great guy! Frank’s a prince of a fellow. These guys are friends more than anything, okay? They’re really great guys! So for Zakk to give me this guitar with Strange Universe painted on it like that, I just thought it was absolutely fantastic! It’s such a beautiful instrument.
TB: Yeah, Zakk’s a great guy! Let’s talk about song writing. When you sit down to write is it a number of different ways? Does the music come first or the lyrics?
FM: Music is always first. Actually the beat, because I’m a drummer by nature, beat comes before anything. But really music is there… lyrics are the last thing I write.
FM: It is the last thing. Almost every song I’ve ever recorded was completed before I even wrote the lyrics.
TB: Oh wow!
FM: And the melodies that I end up singing, they were done on a guitar, and then taken out when the voice did it. They were imitated on the guitar. So I’m thinking of it like a musical piece. Now obviously in blues, you’re not gonna do a blues track and then do the melodies on the guitar. You don’t need to do that because you know what you’re gonna sing in a blues based song. But for most of the other stuff, yes. It’s almost like you’re writing a movie piece, you know? And then you have a main theme and then you take out that theme and that’s what the vocal ends up doing and the words have to follow. And the advantage to that is that you never really know what you’re gonna say until you listen a lot to the piece when it’s finished. But the advantage is you can listen to the piece when it’s finished and say “okay, now what does this remind me of? What do I really want to say?” Because let’s face it, music has to fit the picture right? There’s nothing worse than music that doesn’t fit the picture or fit the story. Like, imagine a really sad ending of a movie that’s bringing a tear to your eye, but they’re trying to play, you know, banjo music on top of it. All of a sudden you don’t cry! (laughs) You know what I’m saying?
TB: (laughs) Yes! That totally makes sense!
FM: So music has to fit the picture! So when you’ve done the music first and then you’re gonna write the story, it gives you a little bit of an advantage to say “this story needs to be about this, because this is what the music does to me.” And if it’s a happy song it needs to be about this, and if it’s a maudlin, deep, dark song, it needs to be about this. That’s sort of the way I approach it, and I have approached every song that way. 98% of the songs I’ve ever done on a record, ever, have been written the day they were recorded. I did not go into the studio with a list of tunes to do, ever. Day one of every album had no songs. Day one!
TB: That’s amazing!
FM: I’ll get to the studio and it’s like “I’ve gotta write a tune today!” (laughs) So I’d write a tune, the band would learn it, we’d record it, then the next day was “I gotta write a tune today!” (laughs)
TB: Lyrically, you were like one of the first guys, in the rock field who wrote more meaningful lyrics. So many people, especially during the 80’s, wrote a lot of “hey baby I’m coming over tonight!” stuff.
FM: Well, you know I did do a few like that. But some of them actually had truth in them. Like I did Crazy Miss Daisy. That was actually about somebody. And Ditch Queen, that’s a great one! Ditch Queen is actually about many types of people like that. It’s a parody, it’s actually a comedy! Ditch Queen is a satire, it’s literally a satire! So you know, I never really just… even Moonlight Lady, way back when I wrote Moonlight Lady, I really don’t like the tune today, but I did write it and it was actually about somebody, but made even more poetic than the person was, you know, that type of thing? (laughs) So I try to keep it as real as possible. Once in a while it’s just “hey, this is a cool story!” Here’s a great one: I did a song called Once Again, about people arguing, and that’s actually about my parents!
FM: Yes! It’s about an argument my parents were having, because they were always arguing! And it was always over you know, “what do you mean by that crack? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah! Oh yeah? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah” and it was always this stuff that would go on, you know? And I loved them for it! I thought it was funny, you know, to hear my parents argue! I mean they were together all their life, like 65 or 70 years. But yet it was always that thing you know, the two parents, and the “we’re going here today! No we’re not! I’m doing this!” It was always the same thing, you know?! I had Mediterranean parents, they knew how to argue! (laughs)
TB: You’ve always had some cool album covers. Strange Universe of course, and Child Of The Novelty. I’ve read that you weren’t too fond of The Power of Rock and Roll cover.
FM: That’s the one cover the label grabbed and put their own idea on it, in spite of me not wanting it! I like the music on it, but to this day I can’t listen to the album because I hate the cover! I look at that cover and it’s like “what is this?!” Tales of the Unexpected they said “we want to present a cover.” So I said “okay, go ahead and present it.” They presented this cover and I could not believe it! I thought they were kidding! I thought it was like The Onion or something. The Onion didn’t exist at the time, but they presented this cover for the album. If you’re familiar with the very very famous painting by Norman Rockwell, it’s called Thanksgiving Dinner. The woman is presenting this turkey and everyone’s smiling at the table right? So they took that picture with the same look and on the plate, instead of a turkey, they had a dead baby! A dead baby!
TB: What?! Wow!
FM: I mean, they didn’t even think to make a dead animal, I mean a dead baby! And they said “this is Tales of the Unexpected.” And I’m like “are you kidding me? Is this a joke? You actually hired artists to go do this? I hope you didn’t pay them!” (laughs)
TB: (laughs) That’s crazy!
FM: And so I said “no way, no way!” So this war continued until they got their way on The Power of Rock and Roll and they literally took the album, made a cover and put it out before I could do anything!
TB: Unreal! Well, it does seem like more people are getting their music out on their own now and not relying on a label. The power to do it all right from your house is better than it’s ever been today.
FM: Record labels are no longer necessary! Nobody needs one! I don’t even know why they still exist, they’re not needed! They don’t bring anything to the table. You can make your album without their big advance. I mean, everybody can go home right now, with their laptop, and make a great record! And then they can use the internet to tell the world they have it. What we need to do is we need to change the paradigm. The paradigm is this: people think “well, I get my records at the record store”, or “I get my music from Spotify”, they all think that that’s the way it is. That’s called the paradigm, the way things are done. Okay? Why do people put their money in the bank? What do you do with your salary? (imitates voice) “Well I put it in the bank?” Well you don’t have to put it in the bank, but you think you do. You think it’s abnormal if you don’t. There was a time when banks said to people “come put your money here” and people said “we don’t even know you!” Okay?! So they changed the paradigm, to make people think it’s THE WAY YOU DO SOMETHING, and then everyone sheepishly goes along and does it. Everyone thinks the way you buy is with your credit card. That’s THE WAY YOU DO SOMETHING. That’s how they brand something. But we could change the paradigm! What if, in some far-flung future, people would walk around the streets and say “where do you get your music?” “Well everybody gets their music directly from the artist! That’s the way we do it. We call the artist and ask for a song. And he does it. And we become his patron.” So we need to change the paradigm. So here’s how you change it: You’ve got the internet, you’ve got the laptops, you’ve got the instruments. I’m talking to the musicians out there. None of you, NONE OF YOU is any worse than the biggest guy! You’re all talented! You’ve all got something to offer. Go record it, put it out and create a new way of doing it. Okay, you won’t get a million right away, but maybe your children will. Maybe it becomes the new way and we get rid of these hucksters. Why are they there!?
TB: You played a lot of shows in Chicago over the years! Any great memories?
FM: I loved going to Chicago in the day, cause they had the best ribs in the world! The Aragon Ballroom or Comiskey Park, every time we played in or near Chicago I’d say “okay, someone’s gotta find those ribs!” I don’t remember the name but they would come in these big square, long trays that were 2 inches high and just unbelievably good! They’re the best ribs I’ve ever had, and the pizza is pretty darn good too!
TB: Yeah we love to eat here, that’s for sure!
FM: The Aragon is long gone I imagine?
TB: No, it’s still there!
FM: Oh really?!
TB: Yeah! Years back I talked to Les Paul, and it was cool, he was talking about going there back in the day when they actually had ballroom dancing! It’s amazing, the list of people that have played in that place: Hendrix, everybody. The Aragon has been around forever!
FM: Well I always liked going there! Also, I’m a baseball fan, so I was pretty happy when the Cubs finally got one, you know? (laughs) Cause we called them “The Cubbies!” And I still say, to this day, that’s the best park to see a ball game. I’d love to be one of those people that lives around there and is able to watch the game from the roof!
TB: Well, this set is just amazing! I can’t stress enough that people should pick this up! It’s such an amount of music too! 3 DVD’s, a Blu Ray, plus the book, which is great! I loved reading the book. Some great stuff in there, and it really makes you appreciate the live show that much more once you’ve read your stories on the whole thing. So, congratulations Frank! And thanks for giving us this!
FM: Well I’m glad you like it Todd! I hope everybody feels like you, I hope people that have never heard of me feel like you! I hope they go and I hope they get it and take a chance on it. Maybe they will make a new fan, or maybe their sons will become fans, who knows?!
TB: Well thanks so much for talking to me Frank, this has been great! I really appreciate it. Thanks for all of the great music through the years, and thanks for being a real, down to Earth guy. Your attitude and view on things is very refreshing!
FM: In Italian we say “tutto a posto”, everything’s okay! Everything’s good! It’s all okay! That’s my motto- it’s all good. It’s all good, even when it’s not!
TB: Thanks again Frank!
FM: Don’t be a stranger Todd! Keep well, Ciao!
Pick up the new Live Box Set and check out all things Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush on his website and Facebook:
The release of the fantastic Live At The Agora Theatre DVD /Blu-ray Box Set by Frank Marino is for fans or even if you have never heard of the man and just love great guitar playing, you absolutely need this!
The concert is a guitar master class and shows Marino at his all-time best. The fantastic set comes with three DVDs and a Blu-Ray, with a total of over 6 hours of music. There’s also a 180-page book where Frank details his career and the release of the set. A definite must-have! But the true secret weapon of Frank Marino is his fantastic voice! It matches his songwriting style to a tee and along with his awesome guitar playing, you won’t find a greater musician walking planet Earth. But you also won’t find a greater guy! I spoke with Frank recently and we hit it off right away, talking for several hours. It was very refreshing to find him extremely humble, down to earth and real. I’ve talked to everybody and anybody in this business and I can tell you Frank is in a class all by himself. A solid straight shooter and one of a kind. It was real great to connect with him and to make a new friend. We talked about Frank’s amazing career, the ups and downs of the business, some technical aspects of his gear, and of course the new DVD/Blu-ray Box Set. Thanks again for a great interview Frank, thanks for all the music through the years and for being a super great guy! It’s great to call you a friend.
Check out the trailer and get a preview of how amazing this set is right here:
www.mahoganyrush.net/dvd/. Now you’ll want to pick it up here: www.mahoganyrush.net/store/
At the time of this interview, Frank had no definite plans to tour in support of the new box set. Luckily, current times are cause for celebration for Marino’s fans worldwide! Starting in April of 2020 Frank will hit the road for long awaited concert dates.
(For those in the Chicago area, Frank will be playing at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles on April 25, 2020! Check out all the dates here: https://mahoganyrush.com/appearances.htm)