HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: December 2023. We had the great pleasure to talk for a fourth time with one of the greatest living guitarists: Frank Marino. (You can also read the interviews he kindly gave us in 2012, 2014 and 2019 -click on the year to read them). He has made several amazing albums with his band, Mahogany Rush and as a solo artist. He recently released three custom-designed and hand-assembled guitar pedals: “Maxoom”, “Dragonfly” and “Juggernaut”. You can order the pedals here: https://www.frankmarinoaudio.com/. Some years ago, Frank released his 3-DVD “Live at the Agora Theatre”. Read below the very interesting things he told us:
How did you come up with the idea to make a custom-made guitar pedal series?
Well, they are the pedals that I have been using, that I designed a long time ago for myself. I figured that since I am not playing and not touring, maybe it would be a good idea to let other people use what I use. So, I took my designs that are in a certain kind of box on my pedal board to put them out as three different pedals, which are the three main pedals I use and see if other guitarists would like them. I call them: “Maxoom”, “Dragonfly” and “Juggernaut”.
What are your thoughts now about the “Live at the Agora Theatre” DVD?
I love it! (laughs) I love it. I think it’s really-really good.
How emotional was it for you to write the book that accompanies the DVD?
It was actually quite easy. It was the first time I ever did that, but it was quite easy. It just came very-very natural to me.
How long did you rehearse for the Agora Theatre concert?
Not even one minute! (laughs) Not even one minute. It was all basically done as a jam.
Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth) posted on Facebook when he received your DVD: “When I was a kid, I would have given my left nut to play like Frank Marino. Still trying”. Is it flattering when people say so kind words about you?
Yeah, it’s very-very much so. You know, I never really made a whole lot of money, so I think when I get respect of the other musicians, it is worth something. It’s very-very flattering.
Are you surprised that even though the media never liked you, you have influenced so many great guitarists like Zakk Wylde, Paul Gilbert , Joe Bonamassa and Marty Friedman?
It is very surprising to me when I found out those things, when they happened a long time ago, because you are right, I was never really a big media star. So, to find out that some of the great guitar players were influenced and they liked what I did, to me that is a big thing.
Are there any touring plans?
At the moment, no. Basically, I ‘ve hurt my hand, my left hand and I am going through some medical procedures now to maybe make it better and we will see, you know, when that happens.
So, maybe in the future?
I know you are always making new music. Is it possible to release a new studio album soon?
Well, I can’t, right now, because I can’t play (laughs). With my hand being the way it is, I can’t play at all. So, I have to fix that problem first.
Jimmy Ayoub (original Mahogany Rush drummer) recently passed away. How important was his contribution to the band?
I think it was very-very important. I wrote a piece about him on Facebook and I said there that he was the consummate drummer, like for a rock band, he was a person who had everything: Power, persona, he was the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll drummer. Yes, he was very-very important and he will be missed very-very much.
“Dragonfly” (Mahogany Rush IV -1976) remains a fan favourite song. Please tell us a few words about this.
Well, it was just a jam, really, like every other song. Most of the songs that we did on the record, I would write the songs the night we went into the studio. I would never write the songs before. They were done for the first time when we would go into the studio and “Dragonfly” was one of them.
How did you come up with the idea to play mellotron on three songs from “Mahogany Rush IV” album?
It is something that happens when you are producing a record; that the record begins to tell you what to do. You know, everybody has heard the joke about “get the cowbell”, “put some cowbell” (ed: he is referring to Saturday Night Live “More Cowbell” sketch about Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” song). You hear what should be on a record. That’s how I produced every record. I would listen to the record that was being done and like I said, they are always being done for the first time, so when I was doing those songs, there was a mellotron in the studio and I said: “Hey, let’s incorporate this into the music” and so, that’s all I did it.
What was your influence on mellotron? The Moody Blues? King Crimson?
Yeah, yeah! Both! Exactly! (laughs)
Or “Strawberry Fields Forever” (The Beatles)?
That too. Those are my roots.
When you recorded the song “Ain’t Dead Yet (“Power of Rock ‘n’ Roll” – 1981) had you realised that was so ahead of its time?
No (laughs), I didn’t realise it, at all. I just did what I did naturally and it turned out to be what it turned out to be. I had no plan, you know, I didn’t realise anything like that.
Is it frustrating that most people don’t know the fact that you did the tapping technique years before Eddie Van Halen?
No, it doesn’t bother me. Yeah, they don’t know it, but it doesn’t bother me that they don’t know it. There were guys before me that did it, but they did it in a different way. It’s just part of playing the guitar. It just happened to become famous when Van Halen did it. It is like Peter Frampton: He did that record with the talk box (ed: “Frampton Comes Alive” -1976) and before that record came out, I was using a talk box, too. Many people were. But when he did his record, it happened to become a very big record and the talk box became a part of it. The same thing with the tapping.
Why did the original Mahogany Rush line-up break up?
Well, Jimmy (ed: Ayoub –drums) was the first person to leave and he left because he wanted to be famous with some other people that were different kind of people than our band, they were more like party people and we were more serious. That’s why he left. Then, three or four years later, Paul (ed: Harwood –bass) left too. Things just started to change. Once Jimmy left, things started to change.
Is it a coincidence that you share that same birthday with Duane Allman (20 November)?
I didn’t even know that (mad laughs).
Now, you have learned it, it means something, isn’t it? I know you like him.
Yeah, I do. I do very much, I always did. Yes, I mean, but I also share that birthday with someone I don’t like very much, like the President of the United States (ed: Joe Biden).
Do you have any memories from the concert you played at Winterland in 1975 with Black Sabbath?
I have, yeah. I remember that very-very well. Yeah, that was a cool concert. That was a very cool concert. First of all, Winterland was a very special place to play, because it was a Bill Graham (ed: legendary concert promoter) show. Everybody liked playing for Bill Graham. So, just that alone it made it special. Just the fact that it was Winterland, but also that was Black Sabbath… and I played with Black Sabbath a few times, not only at Winterland. I had played with them before.
There are great videos on Youtube from your late ‘70s concerts in Bromont and Oakland. Is it possible to release all this stuff on DVD on better quality?
I don’t own it. So, I can’t do anything. It is owned by a television station. I don’t have any ownership rights of those tapes.
How important is improvisation to you?
100%. It’s the most important. Listening and making up music as you go. That to me is really-really big in a band.
Who is the nicest guy you have toured with?
There have been a few. You know, we got along very well the guys from Kansas. I always thought Al Di Meola was a very nice man. He was very nice. There have been a few. There have been a lot that were not very nice (laughs), but I won’t talk about them.
I saw a nice poster opening for Blue Oyster Cult.
They were pretty nice too. Also the band that did “Love Hurts”. They were also very nice. Do you remember that song? Nazareth! They were very-very nice. And Lemmy from Motorhead was very nice.
In the beginning of your career when you played at high schools, you did Hendrix songs that nobody else did like “1983” and “Castles Made of Sand”. What is so special about these songs?
Well, I always like doing Hendrix material that nobody else did. It was one thing to do “Purple Haze” or “Foxy Lady”, everybody would try that, but I liked to do “Machine Gun” and some of the stuff that was more jam-oriented, the long “Voodoo Chile” instead of the short “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. To me, that was always pretty special, because what I did with the Hendrix material was: I did the spirit of Hendrix, I didn’t do the copy of Hendrix, you know what I’m saying. You could do the copy or you could have the spirit. I was always trying to do the spirit of Jimi Hendrix.
What was it like to meet Mitch Mitchell (The Jimi Hendrix Experience –drums)?
No, I met Noel Redding (ed: The Jimi Hendrix Experience –bass). That was quite something for me. It was a very-very cool experience. He was very nice guy.
Is John Cipollina (Quicksilver Messenger Service) the reason you use a Gibson SG?
No. I mean, it was true that I liked John Cipollina and he used an SG, but the reason I used an SG was because it was the first guitar my mother bought for me (laughs). I needed a guitar and she found a neighbour who lived down the street who was selling a guitar and it happened to be a ‘61 SG and she bought it for 45 dollars.
In your music, in Jimi Hendrix’s music, in George Harrison’s music, in Santana’s music, there is also a very strong spiritual aspect.
Yes, very much so. There is a very strong spiritual aspect in my music, but in my case it’s very Christian. I get the inspiration from Jesus. You know, I’m an Orthodox Christian.
Is modern music spiritual?
No, not at all. Some of the modern music is devilish, I find. Anti-spiritual. The music that we have today, the modern music, was one of the reasons that I wanted to build the pedals; to give guitar players from today the chance to use the gear that I used. Maybe, it will make them think a little bit different. You know, it’s very analog.
What is it like to be a hippie in 2024?
(Laughs) What is like? I haven’t changed, ok, but the world has changed. The world has gone so far to the Left, that now this hippie that’s me, I look like I’m on Right (laughs), because everybody else moved very-very far in the other direction. I’m the same person that I was in 1969.
Is it a bit surreal when you watch people making reaction videos to your music on Youtube?
Oh, yeah, that’s freaky (laughs)! I only watch them when somebody sends me a link and they say: “Take a look at this” and I see these reaction videos and I feel good about it.
Yes, but it makes you look like an exotic species.
Yeah, it’s true, but I like it. I like the fact that they do that. Especially, some of the people that do it, you ‘d never think of it. They are not like the type (ed: of his fans), you know what I mean.
Yes. They are classical composers, etc.
Yeah. I’m very-very thankful for that. Very thankful.
Can you explain to us why do you have so many fans in Finland?
I don’t know. I just know that I do (laughs). I don’t know, maybe it was the same thing in Sweden, too. Maybe because there are a lot of guitar players.
Is it true that you were a huge Soft Machine fan and when you watched their performance with Jimi Hendrix, you walked out after a few Hendrix songs?
That’s exactly true. Isn’t that ironic? I used to say years later when I would hear the name: “Hendrix, Hendrix, Hendrix” like it is the only word that everybody has learned, it’s like that guy that I worked out on saying: “I ‘ll make sure you never forget my name” (laughs).
Why are you against meet & greet events?
I am not! I am not opposed to them. I just think they need to be free. I’m not at all against them. I was doing meet & greet events before they were popular. Anybody that has been to a concert, that has seen me, will tell you that I would meet everyone and anyone, all the time. I usually stay until the last minute, until the last person to leave and I sign everything, I speak to everyone and I take all the pictures and I don’t charge any money. I’m not against this. What I am against very much is VIP tickets, when people spend extra money for VIP. That I am against. It’s like saying that the other people that didn’t spend the money are less important. I don’t agree with that.
Have you ever thought to tour with Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad)? I think it would be a fantastic tour!
Yeah, it might be. He is also a Christian.
Do you like younger guitar players like Eric Gales?
Yeah, I like him very much. Very much. Of the new guys, there wasn’t too much, because now the new guys are using 7-string and 8-string guitars and it’s doing a different kind of music, you know, like heavy metal. But I pretty much like every guitar player. I think they are all good. I see kids on Youtube that are 12 years old, very good.
Had you ever met Frank Zappa?
Yes, I did actually, but by accident (laughs). It’s probably by accident, when I was young. What happened was me and my brother and sister, who are older than me, went to a place to see The Mothers of Invention and they wouldn’t let me in because I was too young. So, my brother and sister said: “Well, just get on the bus and go home”. So, before I get on the bus there is a restaurant across the street and I went to the restaurant to get something to eat and Frank Zappa was eating there. So, I said: “Hello, Mr. Zappa” and because I was a young child, he talked to me the way that an older person talks to a child like: “Hi kid. Do you want a French fry?”, like that type of thing.
You are one of the very few people who never sold out. How difficult was it for you not to sell out?
Well, it’s just my personality. I do what I do because I love what I do. I never cared about fame and fortune. You know, I just do what I do. Look, I think I’m just very lucky. It could have been many other people that could have been found. I mean, it was always like that. There are so many good players and good musicians that the world doesn’t know about, just because the guys were not lucky.
Others might say that you are not lucky. You must have been much more famous.
I’m just grateful for what I had.
It there anything you would like to add?
Not really, except that I hope that people will still listen to the DVD and I hope they still like it. I think it’s one the better thing that I’ve done. It’s long, it does a lot of good songs. And I hope that people look at the pedals and use them and make good music with them.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr. Frank Marino for his time.
Official Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush website: https://www.mahoganyrush.com/
Order the guitar pedals here: https://www.frankmarinoaudio.com/
Order “Live at the Agora Theatre” 3-DVD here: https://www.mahoganyrush.net/store/