By Ray Shasho
Frank Marino is an invigorating virtuoso and champion guitar slinger who is also considered to be among the greatest players of all-time. The Montreal native and his assiduous band Mahogany Rush were one of the elite monster rock acts throughout the 70s.
The band performed on several prestigious television music shows including Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and Burt Sugarman’s The Midnight Special hosted by the notorious Wolfman Jack. Marino jokingly stated in this interview that Mahogany Rush was mysteriously omitted from the Midnight Special DVD collector video library released to the public.
Mahogany Rush also played for more than 300,000 people at California Jam II in 1978. The televised concert featured Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, Santana, Dave Mason, Foreigner, Heart, Bob Welch (with Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood), Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush and Rubicon.
Mahogany Rush was managed by Steve Leber and David Krebs, who also handled Aerosmith and Ted Nugent. Some of the bands most significant releases include, Maxoom, Child of the Novelty, Strange Universe, Mahogany Rush IV, World Anthem, Live, Tales of the Unexpected, What’s Next, From the Hip, Dragonfly(The best of Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush), Eye of the Storm, and Real Live!(double live album).
The Sicilian -Syrian Marino captured the essence of Jimi Hendrix early on in his career. Rock and roll urban legend suggests that when Marino was a teen he was visited by an apparition of Jimi Hendrix after a bad LSD trip, which led to the spirit of Hendrix entering Marino’s body and bestowing his ability to play the guitar. Marino renounces the fabrication and says Hendrix was still alive while he was in the hospital recuperating from the LSD trip. But he did learn to play the guitar while recovering.
Frank Marino was widely recognized throughout his career as a master for performing Hendrix cover tunes. Marino’s cover versions were impeccable and audiences globally would ultimately embrace them. His cover tunes were commercially successful (“Roadhouse Blues” The Doors, “All Along the Watchtower,” “Purple Haze” Jimi Hendrix) but Marino was never pleased about his original material receiving virtually no airplay on FM radio.
Marino retired from the music business but returned in 2001, largely galvanized by his fan base. Most recently Frank Marino has been suffering from adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder) and gradually recuperating. The condition usually resolves itself within one or two years but restricts mobility and can generate intense pain. Marino is receiving extensive physiotherapy. The condition began after Marino spent tedious immeasurable hours in his studio editing a meticulous task.
I had the great privilege of chatting with Frank Marino recently from his home in Montreal Canada about his current physical condition, the future of Mahogany Rush, and since it’s the NHL playoffs … a little hockey.
I found Marino to be fascinating, sociable, sympathetic, righteous and profound. He’s also just a genuine, down to earth, nice guy.
Here’s my interview with legendary guitar wizard/ singer/ songwriter/hockey aficionado/theology writer /Frank Marino.
Ray Shasho: Frank thank you for being on the call today. The tape is rolling … (Laughing)
Frank Marino: “I’m glad you’re doing this on tape because I can’t stand emails.”
Ray Shasho: Being from Montreal are you a big hockey fan?
Frank Marino: “I’m an extremely big hockey fan! I’ve been a fan since 1955. I was a Montreal Habs fan until 1989, then stopped being a Habs fan and started becoming an everything hockey fan. I just love the game and it doesn’t really matter who’s playing as long as they’re playing it right. You can play hockey right and you can play hockey wrong and I don’t like teams who do it the wrong way.”
Ray Shasho: Frank, what do you consider playing hockey the wrong way?
Frank Marino: “The wrong way would be not paying attention to the details of the game. Not having passion for playing the game. I’m not a big fan of east-west style hockey, when you’re not going directly north and south to the net. Growing up in Montreal … the way to play hockey was to drive the net and you check … basically football on ice.”
Ray Shasho: You’re half Syrian? My father’s family was Syrian Jews. And of course they had to get the heck out of Syria and finally came to America in the early 1900’s via Ellis Island.
Frank Marino: “My mother is Christian Syrian and my father was Sicilian. Believe it or not my grandmother had to get the heck out of Syria because she was a Syrian Christian. It wasn’t just the Syrian Jews who had the problem. But we’re Orthodox Christian from Antioch. My mother actually speaks Ancient Aramaic … we’re a very biblical family. Our original church is in Antioch Syria, the first church established outside of Jerusalem over a thousand years ago.”
Ray Shasho: A lot of rock bands have incorporated Arabic rhythms into many of their songs; Led Zeppelin was a good example.
Frank Marino: “I do a lot of music like that myself. I use to play Arabic music for my grandmother when she was alive. When I was very young I was a drummer … from the time I was five years old into my teens, and then picked it up again later on after my 30’s. But being a drummer you can’t help being attracted to that type of music, it was all beat related. And there are nuances to that kind of drumming. Often times in a pop tune we go very clearly from a verse to a chorus with a big change. In Arabic music they also go through changes but they’re very subtle changes in the tempo and timing and as a drummer I find that very interesting.”
Ray Shasho: I heard that you write Theology?
Frank Marino: “I’m a Religious guy; into Theology and study it quite a bit including Hebrew and Judaism.”
Ray Shasho: What led you towards that direction … was there a calling at some point in your life?
Frank Marino: “It was a long time ago, don’t forget we grew up as hippies in the 60s and after that culture we have to find ourselves. And a lot of people from the 60s will tell you, I spent a lot of time to try and find myself … well that’s what I found… I found that. It’s been forty years now that I’ve been doing this. But I live it and not just write about it. I live it on a very daily basis and have done so for decades. But the stuff I write is somewhat philosophical and mostly related to my understanding of ancient scripture including Hebrew scripture.”
Ray Shasho: How do you find the time to write and study Theology and then play rock and roll?
Frank Marino: “I’m a bit under pressure right now because I damaged my shoulder and really badly actually. It’s called adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder. Mahogany Rush did a show in Cleveland on December 12th and 13th at the Agora, and I’d never done a DVD, I waited ten years to finally do a DVD. The reason I waited was because I didn’t like or believe in them, and just don’t like the way they’re done. It’s too much selling and not enough art. I always wanted to do a different kind of DVD and finally found my chance to do it. The video crew for Bruce Springsteen just happened to be fans of mine and they offered their services to come and shoot this thing for me. We shot a twelve hour concert and basically we booked the place for two nights. One night was the Soundcheck, the next day from noon to midnight was the show… and we played everything. We didn’t stop, only had two breaks, but pretty much played all day. We filmed it all on seven cameras and very professionally on a really good looking DVD, which I had to assemble on some form of condensed show.”
“When I got home on the fourteenth of December … that was in 2010, and when I checked on the multitrack audio… the drums was damaged, the audio was damaged, because of a problem in the recording that no one had noticed. So I was left with a magnificent video shoot and no audio. So the only answer was to go into and find each beat that was damaged and replace them one by one. So that’s what I started doing on the fourteenth of December… and it’s like changing every blade of grass on your lawn one by one with a fork. So I started on the fourteenth of December and was so determined to do it that I sat for almost fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, until the next August. And what happened was I froze up my shoulder on the right side and didn’t realize what I was doing. I thought well… my shoulder is hurting me because I had a hard day but it got worse and worse.”
“It’s called frozen shoulder and what happens is the whole shoulder freezes up and you lose all your motion and the pain becomes unbearable. Then the rest of your muscles in your neck and back try to compensate and they become unbearable. Really the only way around it is to stop doing what you were doing and go to physiotherapy and restretch it out until it goes back to normal, but it can take one to three years to come back. I’m a year removed from it now, I stopped working on the video in September and I’ve only got five songs left. (Laughing) I’m hoping to get back to it by this summer. Only five tunes left and there’s like sixty.”
“Now I’ve restored motion to my arm and at least I can move it. I’ve got 50% movement in the arm. I can’t play guitar …I can’t put my arm around the body of the guitar. To play the guitar your elbow has to extend out from your body and that’s one of the motions I can’t do without serious pain. I get physiotherapy four days a week. The doctors say it will take one to three years to fully recoup the shoulder …it’s been a year now. Although I have movement … I haven’t lost the pain. I’m in constant pain 24/7.”
“Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to work soon, and once I finish the DVD… somehow package it, get out on the road again and do a few gigs.”
Ray Shasho: Frank, is there a way to hire a producer to finish the editing?
Frank Marino: “To tell you the truth Ray, there’s not a human being in the world that can do the kind of editing that I do. And I mean that sincerely and not giving myself credit. The system that I practically invented to do this kind of replacement … there is nobody that can do it, in fact I did speak with a bunch of people who are professionals at doing these things and every one of them said, forget it throw it away you’re not going to be able to do this. But I did, and probably because I’m an editor and a drummer and I really understand what I’m hearing. But you have to understand the drum tracks that we’re dealing with here …it’s not as if we simply have a drum track that sounds bad, we have a drum track that in some places it has completely disappeared. And when it hasn’t disappeared it sounds like an iPhone. So I have to basically discern exactly what the drummer is playing on every single strike and then I have to discern how hard he hit it, which drum he hit, and with which nuance, and I have to redo that and fix each piece one by one. I’m not improving anything just resurrecting it, kind of like restoring a painting. If it was just an album, I could just get the drummer to come back and play it again, but we can’t because he’s on video.”
Ray Shasho: When do you think the release date of the DVD might be?
Frank Marino: “I had hoped to have it done by last December and that’s why I was working like a maniac. Now it could take till next December or longer. But I can tell you this …the video looks magnificent. And I hope people like it because it’s the only DVD I’m ever going to do. (All Laughing)”
Ray Shasho: I loved those late night music shows in the 70’s that spotlighted the greatest artists of the decade … ABC’s In Concert, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. And I remember a particular episode of The Midnight Special that featured Dickey Betts, Elvin Bishop and Charlie Daniels Band. Then this hard rock band appeared and completely blew away the audience. I’ll never forget the look on their faces when Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush took the stage.
Frank Marino: “I remember that very well and I’ll tell you why… they had this host called Wolfman Jack and we did our version of Johnny B Goode, and my version of Johnny B. Goode is anything but the 50s rock and roll style, and it’s really unpolished, fuzzy, and distorted, and it’s got guitar solos in it. And after we did that he wanted to sing a verse of Johnny B. Goode while they went to commercial, and we had to go back to the tune and play Go Johnny Go, Go, Go while he stood there and sang Go Johnny Go, Go, Go and I thought it was really hokey. It was really weird…. I thought I was in some strange dream; normally I wouldn’t do something like that. Did you ever notice something Ray… they came out with this Midnight Special DVD package set and I’m the only guy not on it? I’m not on it man …everybody else is but me. (Laughing)”
“Well … I guess I never joined the party and sort of marched to my own drum. I don’t care about money, don’t have any, and don’t want any. And I certainly don’t care about fame… I really don’t like it. It goes against my religion to be famous. I’m just a guy who plays music and I got lucky, and people happened to see me, and people happened to like what I do. I certainly don’t take it seriously as if I’m saving the world with my music. I mean for crying out loud we’re not curing cancer here we’re just playing guitar. The only difference that I make by making a record, a video, or playing live, is that some people for the duration of that song or live show … have a good time. And that’s really the best way to make a difference. I think we’re all in this to have fun.”
Ray Shasho:I watched an interview you did that talked about commercial radio not playing any of your music unless it was one of your cover tunes.
Frank Marino: “As far as radio was concerned …it never really liked me. I had one #1 hit on the radio and it was called “Strange Dreams.” Then on the very year that I had the #1 hit, and after twelve years of the record company telling me… if you’d only get one hit everything will work … I left the record company and quit the business. Then I decided not to work with a major again and never did. My old band members got mad at me and they all ended up quitting because I wasn’t going to pursue it. So that’s just the way I am. I’m very happy that way, no regrets and I’m not bitter. And I thank God every day that he didn’t make me rich.”
“In 1989, I bought myself a studio. I went to the old studio that had all my old 24 track masters of all the records that I had done since Maxoom, all the way through Juggernaut. I went to get all my tapes over 600 of them and I found out that day some girl at the studio had been selling those tapes at night to bands to record on. My entire catalog of everything that I ever recorded was wiped out and does not exist. After I’m long gone there will be no history of my work except whatever was on the vinyl. That has never happened to a musician in the history of music. There isn’t a single musician in the history of rock music that hasn’t got their masters. My whole life was wiped out.”
Ray Shasho: I grew up in the Washington DC area and rock stations would religiously play your version of “Roadhouse Blues.”
Frank Marino: “See what I mean … another cover. “I’m A King Bee,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Roadhouse Blues,” “Purple Haze,” “All Along The Watchtower” and that’s what was on the radio…it’s unbelievable and I think we had a lot of other stuff that could have done really well …even on that radio format.”
Ray Shasho: How was your relationship with Columbia Records?
Frank Marino: “The business people who found me and said oh boy we can make money with this kid …they would have liked me to be more proactive in terms of selling and caring about marketing. I was always at odds with them, always at war with them, because they wanted me to act like I wasn’t me and I wouldn’t do it …and I’m stubborn so it created problems. I got out of there as soon as the contract was over; it was just not for me. I once said to one of the big honcho’s at Columbia, you’re always boasting that you have 162 artists, because that’s how many they had, but all of our industry is based on the Top10. So if you’re happy with your artists being in the Top 10, that means there are 152 guys you don’t care about. Why are you signing with them just let them go. The thing that was wrong with our industry was Top 10 …Top 10 ...Top 10 to the exclusion of all else. Just because something is the Top 10 seller it’s not the Top 10 best. So a lot of guys with a lot of dreams got short shrifted by these people who basically paid all the attention to the Top 10 and in fact took the money from the lower 52 to boost the Top 10.”
Ray Shasho: Do you have children Frank?
Frank Marino: “I have three daughters … 18, 16 and 13. They’ve been on the road with me and involved in music with me since the day they were born… all three of them. They all became musicians and just on their own. My oldest daughter does classical voice, piano, clarinet, and writes symphonies. The middle one is the guitarist and the youngest one is going to be another guitarist. I was a cool dad. I was the type of dad that would say don’t go to school today. I’d take them on the road, take them all over the world, and they still got 90s and are honor students. This was the rule in my house Ray … when the kids came home from school I’d say no homework till you had fun. I’ve always had a kind of loose outlook about it and they turned out really good. I always joked that God brought up my kids and I didn’t because I would have failed miserably.”
Ray Shasho: Are you friends with fellow Canadian rock musicians?
Frank Marino: “I’m friends with everybody … but the only one I speak with on a call up basis is Myles Goodwyn of April Wine because I go back with him since 1971, and also the guys who were the original musicians in that band. Anybody else …Rush or other Canadian bands, certainly if I bump onto them it’s “Hey Frank how are you, are you working?” and that kind of thing. But I wouldn’t say that we’re on the telephone or anything.”
“But I’m kind of recluse, not because I’m paranoid or anything, I’m just not interested in going anywhere. (All laughing) I’ve got three daughters that love me and I love them, a wife that loves me and I love her, my mother lives next door… why do I want to go anywhere. I’m surrounded by females that cater to me and there’s nothing better in the world then that. Ask any guy that question.”
Ray Shasho: You were one of the first guitarists to start playing Hendrix style music after his passing.
Frank Marino: “I was the first guy in history literally to take public what Jimi Hendrix was doing other than Jimi Hendrix. There was no other guy before me… and I was only 16 years old… and I was Canadian …and I was white …and I played an SG. So it was like no, no, no, no. Then they invented these stories about reincarnation.”
Ray Shasho: Frank, talk about how Jimi Hendrix visited you as an apparition and entered your body … urban legend?
Frank Marino: “This stuff was invented by Circus Magazine and Creem Magazine. I went to the hospital in 1968 and Jimi Hendrix didn’t die till 1970. I told them where are you getting this reincarnation thing, where was he if he was supposed to be in my body for two years. So this story filtered when we started to get known and every single show I went to …I’m telling you Ray… with the exception of two or three bands …I was completely shunned. No one would talk to me. I had the same management as Aerosmith and Nugent for seven years and those guys didn’t start talking to me for three years. In 1971, one year after the death of Hendrix, I played on a float, a parade to commemorate his death. I played for three hours on a float across the city doing nothing but his tunes. And it was almost like … how dare you? You can’t do that. I use to say this …I even got the old article… "You’re condemning me for doing this now, but one day this style of guitar will be the way that everyone will be judged by." And it is. It became true.”
Ray Shasho: What did you think about playing at California Jam II?
Frank Marino: “I hated Cal Jam. It was the complete microcosm of everything I thought was wrong with the rock and roll concert. All the bands there had a great time, I know they did I watched it, but I was backstage just feeling like I want to go home. Because from my point of view it was Entertainment Tonight, I hated it. I didn’t hate the gig …I hated leading up to the gig. I played at one o’clock in the morning and had to play after Aerosmith. At the end of Cal Jam when I did my encore (I played for ninety minutes) … what do you think was shown when they finally put it on TV? …“Purple Haze!” I played for ninety minutes and they showed “Purple Haze” which was my second encore. At the end of “Purple Haze” I played the Mickey Mouse theme. And that’s what I thought of the show. It was anything but the highlight in my life.”
Ray Shasho: I realize you’ve been more or less sidelined and in serious pain … but what’s next Frank?
Frank Marino: “I did a song for this local singer, she’s actually American but she’s become very famous here in Quebec, her name is Nanette Workman. She asked me to play guitar on one of her tunes in which she did a cover of “Wild Horses” by The Stones. So she asked me to play in Quebec City at a big show and come play the song. So I told her yea even though I’m not in shape to do it. So I’m hoping by July 15th I’ll be okay to just play one song. I think I can probably play one song. So there’s no plan right now until (A) I get better (B) I finish the DVD and then will see what’s going to transpire.”
Ray Shasho: Thank you Frank for being on the call today and for all the great music you gave us over the years. We wish you well and a speedy recovery! We’re also looking forward to the DVD and future concert dates from Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush.
Frank Marino: “Thanks Ray … please stay in touch.”
Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush official website www.mahoganyrush.com
Purchase Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush music at www.mahoganyrush.com/albums.htm or amazon.com
Coming up next… Happy Together Tour 2012 including recent interviews with Micky Dolenz of the Monkees and Gary Puckett of The Union Gap.
Contact Ray Shasho at firstname.lastname@example.org
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