Friday, July 18, 2014

"GUITAR GODS: Frank Marino"

Countless publications have called Frank Marino one of the best and most under-rated guitarists of the 1970s. I call him one of the best and most under-rated rock guitarists ever.

Fronting the Canadian hard rock band Mahogany Rush from 1970 to 1993 (when Frank retired) and again (when Frank came out of retirement) from 2001 to the today, the bands popularity peaked from 1974 - the year of their highest charting album - to 1978, when they appeared at the famed California Jam with Aerosmith, Foreigner, Heart, Ted Nugent, Santana, and more top bands of the day.

Frank's style is influenced by players as diverse as Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman, and has influenced countless players from blues master Eric Gales to metal god Zach Wilde. You can visit Frank at his website

I spoke to Frank in 2010 (this is one of the Lost Interviews). Check it out!


1) What are your current projects?

Well, I'm currently working on a number of things at the same time. I've been doing this Blues Album for awhile now, and I'm also doing some new Mahogany Rush material, as well as putting together a show to be recorded as a DVD, sometime in the fall. I'm also pretty involved in doing Producing, Engineering and Mastering for other artists who want to hire me from time-to-time, and I've even begun to play on other records as a guest guitarist.

2) How does this (do these) differ from your past work?

The Blues thing is very different... not what most expect of a guitarist of my perceived style... it's more of a New Orleans approach, rather than the expected "Texas Guitar" style that most guitarists tend to use nowadays when playing Blues. The Mahogany Rush stuff is only different in the sense that it is newer stuff, but it is still following the style of the group to date, and might even be a bit more like the earlier Mahogany Rush stuff than some of my more recent records. But it's still early, so I don't know exactly how it will turn out yet. As for the Production, Engineering/Mastering, and the playing on others' stuff, that is different for me in the sense that I didn't do a lot of this for other projects until recently, especially the guitar-playing, but I'm finding that making myself available for this type of thing allows me to meet a lot of interesting people with some pretty cool music.

3) Do you have one project that you are most proud of as a guitarist?

No, not really. I mean, I like some stuff more than others, but on any given day I could change my mind and like the other more than the first. So, it's kind of like being proud of your kids... you don't necessarily feel more about one than another. I suppose that, right now, I'd have to say I'm more into the RealLIVE! record, but that's because it really is a true representation of what the band did that night, and what the band really does do live... even more than my earlier Live records. Plus I think the production came out pretty good.

4) Can you give our readers a run-down of your basic gear (live and/or studio), and do you have a favorite piece of gear?

Oh, that's pretty tough, because I change things now and again, and I build most of it myself, or modify what I do have into something it wasn't before. Non-specifically, I really use what most guys do... overdrive, wah-wah, fuzz, chorus, delay, etc. But the main sound comes from the Pre-Amps I build, including the overdrive. I can get by with just about any other piece of gear or pedal, because if it doesn't fit in when I get it, I can mod it to make it fit in. But nowadays there are some really good things out there from some really good companies and builders... the only problem, I feel, is that some of them charge a bit too much for what they sell. Now, while a guy like me might not get too worked up over that, because it is a tool-of-the-trade and we need it, some kids just can't afford it, especially high-priced guitars. And I believe that if you exclude these musicians, especially younger ones who are beginning, from having some of this stuff just because it's too expensive, you do a disservice to music as a whole. We need to get the good stuff into the hands of all the young guys who can use them to make better sounding music. And when a good guitar can cost in the thousands, that's just going way over the line. I've lately started playing with Vintage Icon Series Guitars, which are amazingly well-made clones of original guitars, like my original 61 SG/Les Paul, yet sell for a price that any musician can afford. This series is the idea of Trevor Wilkinson, who has a lot of experience in the instrument business, and I think he's done some pretty good work with these guitars. I mean, if I can actually use them as replacements for my real vintage Gibsons, and I can, then what's the need for multi-thousand-dollar instruments?

5) Who would you cite as early influences, and who are you favorite new players?

My earliest influences in music are not necessarily guitarists... I was more influenced by bands and styles than I was by guitarists, which came later. I was into, and still am into, late 60's bands like Quicksilver, The Allman Brothers, The Doors, pretty much everybody from Woodstock and, of course and probably most of all, The Beatles. But as for guitarists, they would be Hendrix, Winter, Cipolina, Santana, and probably a few more from that time. I also began to like some guys that did more of a bluesy or jazzy thing, like Larry Carlton, Larry Coryell, Kenny Burrell and George Benson. As for newer players on the scene, although I hear many of them through my much younger nephews who are into Metal and play in active Metal Bands, I can only acknowledge that many of them are really good at what they do, but I can't say it influences me in the same way that it did as with the earlier guys I mentioned. There are a few new "blues guys" out there, but to me it sounds pretty similar from one to the next, with possibly a couple of exceptions. I don't get that feeling that I want to play what they're playing, the way I did and still do from my early influences, or listen to it for hours. But blues can be like that... I can love playing it for ten hours straight, but I can only listen to it for much less time... and I'd bet that most players would agree with that.

6) Can you give a few tips to aspiring players?

The most important tip I always do give to aspiring players comes not from the rock world, but from the jazz world. And that is to "listen". Listen to the other guys you're playing with... REALLY listen. Make music WITH them, not "along" with them. It's the same advice you'd get from an acting teacher... listen, and then do. Jazz guys understand this very well. But, all too often, rock players just want to play what they know, in whatever key it's in, and as fast as they can... all the while "hoping" it fits in just because of the key or the sound, or the attitude. But if you really want to get good at music as an art, as a craft... listen, and listen a lot. Then do. Don't read tabs, or sheet music... don't learn that way and, if you already do, STOP IT. All that does is teach your brain to equate music with your eyes instead of your ears. Music is a language, just like any other language. You can "speak" it very well if you hear it enough, which is exactly what happens when we learn a language as children. Many people learn to speak a language, even their own mother tongue, long before they can read or write it. They learn to equate it as a form of expressive communication, to get along with others, and the ones that learn that best are the ones who get along the best. They are the ones who can easily communicate ideas to everyone. Well, music begins in the head as an idea, and is expressed by a different part of the body than speech, which uses the tongue... music uses whatever part is matched to whatever instrument you play. And like the tongue which, in speech, gets used to instantly translating an idea into a word or words or phrases, the hand (in the case of guitarists, for instance) can attain the same level of instant expression into musical words or phrases. But if you train it wrong, you'll never get it. So, do yourself a favour and train it right... Music is for the ears, and the ears are for music... don't bring the eyes into it, or the memory, or anything else... Listen.

7) You famously took a near-decade break from the music biz from about 1993 until 2001. What were you doing during your time away?

I had three wonderful daughters who are all now into music, and have become that way totally on their own initiative... no pushing from me. I also got heavily into computers for awhile, building them and fixing them and stuff... it's very interesting too, especially as I'm interested in electronics.

8) You are known for not only your incredible guitar technique, soulful approach, and high intensity performances, but for your love of the music gear. It has been reported you've built your own pre-amps and that your pedal board is among the most sophisticated in music. What got you interested in music technology, and do you still design & build some of your own gear?

I got into modding pedals in the beginning, because they didn't sound right when I got them out of the box... it was really out of necessity. I build pretty much everything now, even amplifiers. In the beginning, I had a pedal board that was 6 feet long, 3 feet wide, and two-tiers high. It had over 22 pedals on it, and took four guys to move it. That was in the days when every other musician I toured with laughed at me and said that I must have been using those things to make believe I could play. I told them then that, one day, all guitarists would be looking to do exactly what I was doing with pedals and, today, it seems that it has become true. The irony in all of this is that, although I still have a board with many functions, it is nowhere near as large. And if I use a pedal for more than ten minutes altogether in a two-hour show, it is a rarity. Now they all have the overfilled boards, and I'm simply playing with the amp's distortion for 90% of the gig, almost never any chorus anymore, or delay, or wah-wah, except if the song calls for it, and that's usually done at the end of the night during my guitar solo. Still, I keep them all there, ready, just in case I get the urge to go nuts... which I have been known to do from time-to-time. I also rely on techniques I have invented over the years... I play behind my bridge sometimes for a cool effect, and I invented a way of simulating slide guitar without a slide of any kind... just technique with my hand and my tremolo. Whenever you hear me doing slide, it's not slide. As early as my 2nd album in 1972 or 1973, that can be heard on the song A New Rock And Roll. I've also taught myself to near-perfectly imitate the sound, tone and licks of backwards guitar. I don't use a device for this... I simply use my volume pedal and my hand technique, and it sounds remarkably like reverse tape. So, when people hear these things on my records, they think it's really reverse... but it's not. I do it live.

9) Balancing your love of high-tech, you still play predominantly on your old Gibson SGs thru Fender amps, and every guitarist realizes that one of the things that sets Frank Marino apart from others is that the vast majority of your personal sound comes from your hands & your ears & your heart rather than your gear. How do you manage to stay so grounded & soulful with your playing?

Well, the first thing I do and have always done is to never believe the press clippings! Seriously, I don't take the compliments or the criticism seriously. I don't look at music as if I'm doing something so "important" to the world. I mean, let's face it, we're all just a bunch of guys playing guitars, and having fun... and some of us actually get paid to do it. It's not as if we're inventing the next cure for Polio, or bringing about world peace. But some musicians do act that way, just because they begin to believe their press-clippings, or they justify it based on how many units they sold, and I can't stand that pompousness. Musicians need to take things less seriously, when it comes to themselves, and more seriously when it comes to actually creating content for the sake of the music itself, rather than for the music business or for a "career". And they should be more concerned with the tone and sound of the music, than with the ability, attitude or public-image of the musician. We're all just musicians, and "good" or "bad" are terms that are completely subjective, and have no basis in reality.

10) What are your future plans?

I don't really plan for the future too much. I will finally, God willing, get to do this long-awaited DVD... probably in the fall in Cleveland, at the Agora Theater. But other than looking for the next few tours, the DVD, and the projects I'm working on at the moment, your guess is as good as mine... probably better!

If anyone ever really wants to know what's up, they should probably go to the website and join the Message Board. It's kind of like a big family for us, and they (the members) know more about me there, and what I'm doing, than I do myself!

11) Thanx for talking to us, Frank!

My great pleasure... thanks for wanting to talk to me in the first place.