Frank Marino scoffs at the thought of being a ‘guitar god’. “I think it is ridiculous – You can either be a guitar god or you can be a musician.” For someone who influenced a lot of today’s guitar players like Marty Friedman, Joe Bonamassa, Steve Vai, and Zakk Wylde, it is even more amazing to hear Marino say, “I’m told that a lot of guitarists have talked about my influence. . . I can’t believe these guys even know who I am!” When I read the Guitar Player magazine account of Frank Marino’s extraordinary journey from the psych ward to that of reluctant guitar hero, I had to find out more. I had heard of Frank and his band Mahogany Rush, but I hadn’t actually heard more than a song or two in the distant past. A quick tour of the friendly neighborhood YouTube site caught me up on forty years worth of Marino’s music and it was interesting to hear his take on his unusual musical career.
A Montreal, Quebec, Canada native, Marino started out on his musical journey as a drummer but a dalliance with the psychedelic drug LSD literally blew his mind at age 13. He ended up in the psychiatric ward of the Montreal Children’s Hospital and even though the treatment failed to help him, the stay did save his life. His lifeboat came in the form of a cheap Stella acoustic guitar that he latched onto in order to distract himself from the terrifying things that were going on inside his head. Marino explained that, “I progressed incredibly quickly (because) in my state of mind, I hung onto that guitar the way a person would grab a piece of shipwreck if he was drowning in the ocean. It was a lifeboat for me.”
How quickly did he progress? Soon after being released from the hospital, he began gigging around Montreal with a three piece band he named Mahogany Rush. He laughs about it today because the name came from him telling the doctor at the Children’s Hospital that he was having ‘mahogany rushes’ when he tried to describe what the drug did to him. His parents decided that the guitar playing was helping him so they found a used 1961 Gibson SG (for $75) which is still Marino’s guitar of choice today. He drew the attention of a small American record label but did not want to have any part of recording an album and becoming ‘commercial’. In the end, they got him on board by promising to give him the equipment, studio time and complete control of his first album! Marino says, “I mean, they let a 16-year old kid produce his first album! Who could say no to that?”
My favorite Marino quote pretty well sums up his long held disdain for the whole music business scene: “Business has no business in the music business!” He became disillusioned enough to stop playing guitar for a long period of time, preferring to spend his time raising his children and playing around with computers. He eventually stumbled upon some fan sites that were keeping his music and legendary status alive even though he wasn’t actually creating any new music. This interest eventually lured him to the 1997 Ottawa Bluesfest where he met his band members on stage for the first time in four years and inquired if they still knew any of the songs. Since then, he has played when and what he wants, toured with Uli Jon Roth and recorded a new album (Eye of the Storm). He is currently in the process of editing a DVD of a 2010 live show at Cleveland’s Agora Theater and hopes to release it soon. Even after four years of editing, he isn’t in any rush. He doesn’t own a car or a home and has virtually nothing to show for all the recordings and shows he did in his previous musical life, but he just doesn’t care. “I’m just a musician, man, doing whatever I’m doing,” Marino says.
He is respectful of other guitarists views, but finds it rather funny that they rave about his guitar tone and ability to forge guitar sounds. The fact is, early on he had built himself four large speaker cabinets and happened upon an Acoustic 270 amp that was powerful enough to drive them. Because the Acoustic 270 was a transistor amp (no tubes – the heart of many a guitar amp’s tone), he carried around a 3 foot by 6 foot pedal board with 22 stomp boxes on it to shape his guitar sound. When guitarists especially rave about the tone on his 1978 Live album, he tells them, “Well, it was just a transistor amplifier and some pedals” which they find hard to believe.
The one thing he does care about is the ridiculous amount of press that has been generated about him being the “reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix” based on the assumption that while he was in the psyche ward, he was visited by the spirit of Jimi and had a “Robert Johnson meets the devil at the crossroads” kind of experience. “I am a Christian and I don’t believe any of that reincarnation crap,” says Marinio, “and besides – Jimi died in 1970 and I was in the hospital in 1968.” It is so unlike popular media to run with a story that sounds good without having any actual plausibility!
Frank Marino sums up his early career as follows: “The guys who came of age in the sixties, I feel that our reasons for doing it were different. We didn’t want to get rich. We didn’t want to be famous. We wanted to make music and jam with our friends and create and have a good time. That’s why I got into it.” ‘Creative’ is a good way to describe Marino’s guitar playing because he fuses many different styles into his music. When he was recording for bigger labels, they had a hard time marketing his albums because they were such a mashup of styles. Staying true to his own self, this is exactly how Frank Marino manages his career to this day and it seems to work just fine for him.
Top Piece video: Classic Mahagony Rush with Dylan’s All Along the Watch Tower ala Hendrix!