An interview with Frank Marino - 2003

Still going Strong

Early 80's .....I was bored and had a beer in a local pub. "Are you coming?", asked a friend, who just came in. "We're going to Paradiso(Amsterdam) to see Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush and we've got a ticket left", he said. "Frank Who?", I didn't know that name. I went to the show and a fan was born. Impressed by this great show I started to collect everything I could get from his hands and every time I was touched by his music.

Other info about the band was hard to find until I found a site on the Internet. A site called Strange Universe with almost everything you would want to know about Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush. This site is maintained by Wild Willy Parsons and can be found on Here I learned that Frank Marino was born in Montreal , Canada, on November 20th 1954.

He began recording his first album Maxoom (KoTai records) in late 1971, just prior to his 17th birthday. The fact is that after a musical career of more than 30 years, he's still going strong. So if.............................?

Hello Frank, thanx for taking some time to answer a few questions. When did you pick up the guitar?

"I first played guitar when I was 13 years old. I learned to play while I was in hospital recovering from psychedelic drugs. I was just a kid and I needed some type of therapy to keep my mind off the trip, which was not a nice situation. There was a guitar in there for the kids to use, so I began to use it as much as I could. By the time I came home, I would only want to play all the time. My mom bought me a guitar and that's how it all started".

You started as a drummer. Any advantages to that when you did pick up the guitar?

"I believe the ability to play drums was a very definite advantage, yes. I feel that understanding rhythm is a key to understanding phrasing on guitar or any instrument".

Which type(s) of guitar and amps do you use?

"As far as guitars go, I use mainly SG guitars and occasionally I'll use a Stratocaster for a track or two. But I've have a few custom made SG's, some with different kind of pickups and even one that is hollow. For many years I only used the 1961 SG Les Paul. I have a couple of those. Lately I've been using more of the custom made ones, which are all basically copies of the original one anyway with a few modifications. I basically build pre-amps that are tube type, based on a cross between a Fender Twin and a Mesa Boogie, and with that I'll use any kind of high-powered amp like a Crown or something like that. The majority of sound is in the pre-amp though and it really doesn't matter what power amp you give me, it'll sound pretty much the same as any other".

You like to construct a lot of the material you use yourself. Can you tell us what you've constructed and what you would like to construct to use on stage?

"Well, like I said,there's the amps. But also the pedals and the pedal board, the speakers just about everything is made by me. I take a pedal from the old days and I modify it till I like the sound a bit better. I try very hard to make it noiseless as possible and hum-free if at all possible. But the bottom line is that it absolutely must sound musical to the ear".

Lots of amps and effects nowadays are digitally based. Do you prefer the digital or the analogue versions and why?

"I've always preferred analogue , and I still do. Digital is only OK for doing editing really. Anything else sound better analogue. I could go into a dissertation here explaining the technical reasons,but space probably won't allow it. Suffice it to say that with digital,what you get is a representation of music that is based on momentary 'snapshots',while analogue is more like reality. Listening to digital is like looking at a 'flip-movie' , and listening to analogue is more like looking at 'real life'. But the problem with analogue is the noise level. It's not as quiet as digital,so many people think it's not as good. Analogue can be made very quiet if you take the time to fix it properly".

If you could choose to release your music on LP or CD, what would you choose?

"Well I still like CD's better than LP's, even though they're digital. The best way of listening to analogue music would be to put it on 1/2 inch 30 inch- per- second analogue tape, but nobody will do that. For all that digital does wrong to the music vinyl is in some ways even worse, for a whole set of different reasons. So, like I said, the best is large tape, then CD and then vinyl".

Any tips to sound better for low-budget players?

"Budget really hasn't got a lot to do with sounding good. I know a lot of high budget situations that sound awful and low budget ones that sound great. The basis of a good sound is really the amount of work put into it by the producer or the musician. The fact is, if something sounds 'bad' to someone and then they take the time to tweak it and fix it till it's 'good',the result is more a measure of their care than their 'talent' or money. But if you simply accept second best in your own heart, then you'll probably give that impression to the listener. The best thing to do is LISTEN, because that's what it's there for. Music is all about listening".

Can you train a musical ear and is it important have it, when you just listen to music?

"A musical ear is something I believe that most people have, but I don't really know it. For instance, if there's a birthday party and someone begins to sing happy birthday, usually you can chime in and be in key with the melody. Most people are not out of tune in such an instance, but if you ask to sing a song they don't know very well and if they feel there are people watching them, suddenly they think they haven't got an ear. Even at sporting events, when crowds of thousands chant "We will,we will rock you......",you can make out the melody and the tuning as be correct. So, while it's a 'gift', it is also a gift that I feel everyone has but doesn't realize. A bit of confidence in one's self usually helps. That's the beginning of training a musical ear".

Playing and singing together seems extremely difficult to me. How did you practice it?

"Playing and singing, for me, is extremely natural. I've never had to get used to that. It just works. Kind of like walking and singing. I don't feel the need to walk in step with the timing of a song in order to sing it and most people can do that. But when they get on an instrument . They begin to watch themselves play and then the timing gets screwy because of the watching. If you treat it like walking, you'll find it's really easy to do".

How do you keep your voice in shape?

"My voice isn't what it once was because I smoke a lot and I'm getting older. I didn't believe I actually could sing until I was quite a bit older. In the beginning, I did a lot of "talking vocals", if you know what I mean, because I was shy about singing. By the time the 80's came around, I began to believe I could sing OK, but I haven't done too many albums since then".

How do you practice? Do you've a favorite chord or root? Any tips, tricks or licks?

"The truth is, I don't practice at all and never did. Certainly I did a lot of jamming with people, especially early on, but I've never sat down to practice in my life and quite honestly, I don't believe in it. I feel that is the way for everyone,not just myself. If I was training a student of guitar, I would tell him not to practice in the classical sense, but to use the time to play with people and hopefully with people better than himself, especially early in their development. As for favorites, I don't because it's just the lowest string!".

How do you compose a song and can you express freely on the guitar?

"I compose a song mainly in the head, without a guitar. I then play it on the guitar and, yes, I can express rather freely. That is, I usually am able to simply transfer the idea from the head to my hands, without too much getting used to, although sometimes I'll tend to compose something that is a bit more technical and then I've got to get used to the fingering and stuff".

Do you see any advantages in the Internet for musicians?

"Well, the advantages are that they can get their music to the people directly. The disadvantage is they can't promote it widely, and that a lot of people will just download it and won't pay them for it, so they may find themselves unable to continue to afford to make records. It's a vicious circle".

The last cd you released in 2000 was Eye of the Storm. Can we expect more musical projects in the future?

"You will see a double cd, recorded live in Montreal on September 8th 2001. This is ready to go as we speak, but I don't know exactly when it will be available. My stuff has always been really hard to find, even when I was on Columbia because record companies have never believed in our kind of music, so they don't promote it. But whatever happens, my stuff will always be available through the website (Strange Universe), even if it is on a label somewhere and in a store".

Do you have other creative hobbies?

"Many. I design and build stuff, invent stuff. I used to be a race-car builder and driver, but I stopped that awhile ago. I write Theology and I draw also. Just about anything that's a challenge I try to do and I hope to do it well".

You play a lot of instruments (drums, guitar, mellotron etc.). Is there any other instrument you particularly fancy to play on?

"I'd love to play tenor saxophone, for one, and I wish I was a better piano player. But at my age and with the fact that I never practice, I'll probably just remain where I am with those instruments".

Your impressive career lasts now for over 30 years. What lessons did you learn from that long time you're on the road? Highlights?

"I learned a lot about the way people in this business can be. There's a lot of pettiness, rip-offs, and general danger to the young inexperienced musician. I wish I knew then what I know now, but that's all water under the bridge. Some memorable highlights would be the shows I did for Bill Graham and some of the large festivals, not because of their size, but because I got to meet some people I had long admired as youth including Bill".

You recently did the Legends of Rock-tour in the UK. Can you give a short impression?

"Well, it was very different for me. First of all, I haven't played a short 40 minute set for almost 25 years. So that was really hard for me. I had a hard time really playing well in such a short time. But I got a bit used to that after awhile. Also, I only had my drummer(Josh Trager) and had to get a bass player and guitarist over there and teach them the songs in about one day. Now, for a jam-band like us, that's hard to do, because it isn't about 'songs', but it's about feel. But Francois Garny (bass) and JJ Marsh(guitar) did such a great job and were so friendly and professional, I felt that they really saved me, especially JJ. I loved to hang out with Uli Jon Roth, Jack Bruce, Glenn Hughes, JJ Marsh and Clive , well just about everybody. We had a lot of fun, although there were some behind the scene things that were a bit of nuisance, but nothing too serious. All in all, I had a great time, mainly because of the feelings of friendship. And I love touring anyway and haven't been to the UK for 20 years or so. The only other problem was that I was only added to the show very late and they didn't get a lot of time to promote the fact that I was there, or to tell people that Michael Schenker was not, so we ran into a few situations where some fans felt upset about Michael not showing up, and might not have known I was there not to mention that we went on so early that there was usually very few people when we began. But after we played, it usually turned out OK, and the halls filled up before we finished".

So if anyone wants to bring you back to Holland/Europe to do a tour with your own band. How can they contact you?

"Would I? Man, just say the word and I'll be there! If anyone over there wants to contact me to get us over there, they only have to go to our page(Strange Universe)and write me directly. We'll do whatever we can to make it all happen,if it's at all possible".

Frank, thanx for answering the questions! The last lines are for you...........................

"Well, I'd just like thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I do this because I like to meet people and so it's always refreshing when people such as yourself take the time to talk to me, and when fans take the time to read it".


Interview by Eric en Linda

(return to Ask Frank Marino)