FRANK MARINO (MAHOGANY RUSH): “How Could I Be The Reincarnation Of Hendrix When He Was Still Alive?”

Frank Marino

Legendary Canadian guitarist Frank Marino has been in the business for over half a century and now he has finally released his first DVD. Mick Burgess called him up to talk about his new release, how lockdown has impacted on his life and going right back to the beginning when he started out as a drummer before turning to the guitar as he lay in hospital. Marino also puts to bed once and for all, the Hendrix reincarnation myth.

How have you been occupying yourself during the lockdown?

I have been doing a lot of work on my amps. I build all of my own gear. When you do that, there’s always a billion projects that you don’t get finished so I’m on with doing that which is pretty good as I’ve redesigned a pre-amp which is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I’m just getting all of my gear together until I’m ready to do something with it. I have all this cool analogue stuff and echoplexes that I probably wouldn’t have done anything with as I’m a tinkerer and tend to take things apart then put them in the corner and leave them so I’m working on that now.

Are you using this time to create any new music?

One thing that I put on the backburner years ago is a Blues record that I’d started so if this goes on much longer, I might just finish that. I’m half way through it at the moment. I’ve been asked many times to make a Blues record. I don’t think that anybody should just make a Blues record. We had a saying in the ’70s that you went off to make a Blues record when you didn’t have anything to say on your own record. I love the Blues and I can play it but I’m not a Blues artist and I think you need to be honest with an audience. I don’t think that anybody can just jump into the Blues thing. I resisted doing a full Blues album although I do have Blues songs on my records.

How are you going to approach this record?

I thought I’d do a really different kind of a Blues album and not what would be expected by the guitar player Frank Marino. I thought I’d do an album that doesn’t really need a guitar and is based on Roots Blues so I wanted to create the basis of the album first as if it’s not going to be a vehicle for a guitarist then imagine that the group who created that decided to get a guitarist in to play on the album and then I’d have to fit in with what they had done so it doesn’t go for the Blues in the Rock sense it’s more Ray Charles meets Freddie King. It’s older style Blues.

Will this be original material?

I won’t be covering tunes. I’ll be crafting the songs but the biggest problem is the lyrical content. It’s very difficult doing Blues tunes if you don’t live the life. I know a lot of people pretend to live that life but most don’t. Crafting the music is OK so there’s only so many ways you can do 12-bar Blues although I do use a lot of Jazz chords to make it different. When it comes to the lyrics, it’s a question of crafting it in a way that makes it honest and that’s what’s taking the time. Blues doesn’t always have to be about bad things that happen, that’s too maudlin for me, it can have a positive side too and that is the direction I’m looking for. So that’s why that album has sat there for years without me finishing and I also got side tracked with the DVD and that was a big side-track so being quarantined now is a walk in the park as I’ve spent the best part of 9 years in a quarantine working on the DVD. It won’t be another 9 years before my Blues album comes out though.

Your DVD/Blu Ray boxed set Live at The Agora Theatre, has recently come out and it’s your first ever DVD. How did this come about?

This one of those crazy Frank things. I’m last one to the party to do a DVD. I’ve been in the business almost 50 years and I’ve only just done a DVD. People have been asking me about it for a long time. It ended up that the people who record a lot of Springsteen’s stuff wanted to do it but I thought that I couldn’t afford them but they wanted to do it and it ended up being a sort of gift from them.

When did you record the show?

In December 2010, we went into The Agora at 7:00 pm on the Friday night and we let the crowd in and we spent the night doing the set up and jamming until midnight. Then we came back on the Saturday and started at noon and played until midnight. It was a 12-hour day with two short breaks and I did as much as I could from the early material, middle material and new material and I invented new material at the DVD shoot.

You originally planned to release a 12-hour DVD but ended up releasing 6 hours of footage. What happened there?

In the end, when we had a few problems with some of the audio that needed fixing, I decided that 12 hours was too long and got it down to six hours of solid music. I think the only other band that I know that has played for so long is The Grateful Dead. I come from those times and a lot of our fans are like Dead Heads and travel from show to show and I recognise a lot of them so it was fitting for me to do it this way. I think it’s well done and the sound, which is very important to me, is really good.

How has the response to your DVD been?

The DVD has done a lot better than I ever could have thought. It’s really been accepted to the extent that I’m getting offers to play from all over the world. I’m glad I put the work in as I hadn’t had offers like that in a long time. I think it’s turned out really well. The production turned out really good and the sound turned out really good. It’s really long, it lasts 6 hours and there’s a lot of stuff on there for people who like my kind of music.

How did you approach the recording of the show?

The guys who filmed Springsteen’s shows like Madison Square Gardens at New Year’s Eve and stuff and they did a great job with the picture and I was responsible for the sound so I had to make sure that the audio matched the quality of the picture so what I wanted to do was something different. Usually with a live album they are recorded so it sounds as if you’re in the tenth row or in the balcony or something. I wanted to mix it in a way that I hear it when I’m on the stage so I wanted to bring the audience on the stage to hear it the way that I do so it’s not huge and roomy with tons of echo and tons of crowd.

I loved the way Martin Scorsese, when he did The Last Waltz by The Band made you feel like you were in it amongst the musicians not out in the middle of the crowd and I really liked that. That’s what I wanted to do so I told the director, Chris Hilton, a British fellow, that I’d be mixing it close so try to be close to the stage and not have too many balcony shots. He knew my music, which was great, as we don’t have setlists, we just go from song to song so he would be able to shoot the songs as we went. He did such a great job. There’s no fast cutting between shots or shaking the camera or whatever. I just wanted the camera out of the way and steady it down. It’s turned out really good and I’m really proud of it.

The show was recorded in 2010. How come it has only just been released?

It was meant to come out a year later but there was a major, major problem which was like getting a punch in the stomach. The pictures looked great but there was a problem with the sound due to the onstage analogue to digital converter that coverts the microphones to sound. All of the converters for the drums were broken and no one noticed as the guys monitoring were listening to the overall sound from the hall. I was stuck with this beautiful video and a wonderful performance by my guys but the drums were unusable.

What did you do about the drums?

I had a choice where I could throw it away or I could fix them. I decided to fix them but didn’t realise it would take as long as it did. If you are doing an album in the studio and you have that problem you can just call your drummer and get him to recut the track. You can’t do that with a video and my drummer wasn’t playing in 2 and 4, he’s a fusion drummer so you can’t possibly replay it as we jammed our way through the show. The only thing we could do was resurrect the destroyed tracks and the only way we could do that was to do it on a beat by beat basis so that’s what I did. It’s like forensic editing to get out what he did and make it what he did, not what I wanted him to do. It had to be totally real. That kind of job is so painstaking. If I’d known how painstaking it would be, I mightn’t have done it.

You started off your musical life as a drummer. Did that help you during this process?

It absolutely did help. If I didn’t know exactly what I was trying to fix by listening to it and knowing what had to played then I just couldn’t have done it. I had to make sure that when Dave, the drummer heard it, that really was it. I didn’t want to him to think anything had been added or changed. If I’d changed anything then their art would not be there, it would be me interposing something over what they had done and I didn’t want to do that.

Do you miss playing the drums and would you like to go out on tour as just the drummer in someone else’s band?

I do miss it and I’d love to go out and play with a Swing band. I love jazz.

Are there any extras on the discs such as backstage footage or interviews?

That was the big question. I’ve been putting this together a long time. I had 7 hours of soundcheck where I was playing The Beatles and fooling around with people and I had 12 hours of footage from the show. I rolled it around whether I should include it on the DVD and I know some people like that behind the scenes stuff but I think for the most part I think that distracts from the music so I decided not to include them but I may release them for free on the internet someday.

Not only do you get 3 DVD’s and a Blu Ray but there’s also a 180-page book. What does the book include?

I got a journalist to write the history of the band. The first half of the book covers everything right from day one and the whole career thing up until the video. I then do the last 20 chapters of the book in my own words and I write about making the video and how I fixed everything up. I also write my personal thoughts on why I do what I do. There’s a bunch of pictures in there too and those are mainly from the old days. I think it’s an interesting and informative read. In fact, when I read it, I learned things about myself that I’d totally forgotten about. He really dug down and I wondered where on earth he found all that.

Going right back to the start of your career. You started on the drums as a kid. What made you switch to guitar?

I was a drummer as a kid and when I was 13 or 14, I went to hospital as I had a bad LSD experience. It was when I was in the hospital that I picked up the guitar. It was very easy for me to carry and to pick up and I taught myself how to play and continued playing guitar from that point. The drums fell by the wayside. When I eventually was in band I would occasionally return to the drums and play and I’d play along with Swing records.

So, you are self-taught?

Yes, I never practice either. I don’t believe in it as I think it stunts you. I think the communication of ideas is so much more important if it’s honestly done. I liken practising scales and perfecting techniques, to someone practising to have a conversation. No one would do that they’d just have lots of conversations and it’d become naturally. If you just play with guys, especially if they are better than you, you’ll raise your game. I picked up the guitar pretty quickly as because of that LSD experience, I latched onto the guitar as a means of saving my life. I wasn’t trying to become a guitar player, it was therapy. I played it all the time so I didn’t think about any of my other problems. If you do anything a lot you’ll become good at it. Just look at kids playing video games. They don’t go to school to learn what to do, they just play it a lot and get good at it. It’s like that for me with the guitar. I learned the names of notes and harmonies and why notes work together and all of those things you know as a musician, after I learned to play.

How did you start your first band?

It just happened by osmosis. I had a lot of players coming and going and whoever was in the practice room at that time was in the band that day. When we started doing High School gigs then whoever was with me at that time was in Mahogany Rush. Eventually we were offered a record contract which I refused to sign for 6 months because I didn’t want anything to do with the big bad establishment but they said they’d put us in the studio and buy us equipment and as soon as I heard them say equipment I signed as we weren’t exactly kids with money. Before we knew it, we had a record out and then more followed.

Who was with you at that point?

Paul Harwood and Jim Ayoub were the guys that were there at the time when we signed and they made those first few records with me. Once we were recording and touring there was no reason to go back to the room and say hey guys do you want to join the band. We were all happy with the way things were going and we were all friends.

Do you still see the original guys around?

I don’t see them as much as I used to. Jim left the band around 1981 and Paul not long after. There was no animosity or anything like that. They went and did their thing and I did mine. I spoke to Jim a little while ago and spoke to Paul a couple of weeks ago. There’s been quite a few members since then including my brother Vince and one time in 1986 I went on tour with 6 people in the band including a keyboard player and two guitarists.

Mahogany Rush is a great name for a band. Where did that come from?

Mahogany Rush were the words I was using to describe my LSD trip and I told my doctors that. When I did music that was my way of getting it all out of my system. When I first started playing with people when I was a kid and they asked what sort of music did I play, I told them that it was Mahogany Rush music meaning it was my acid trip music.

Why did you drop the Mahogany Rush name for The Power of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Juggernaut albums?

The first label I was on sold my contract to 20th Century Fox who sold my contract to Columbia. I didn’t leave one label and go to another. I was sold like a commodity. Columbia started saying that I was the guitarist and I was this guitar hero guy and that they should just use my name. I didn’t want to do that. They said no one is doing band names anymore look at Ted Nugent. They said that they couldn’t sell me as a band so I said put both names on but they said it was too long. I thought it was too and it was ridiculous. They used that for a couple of albums. I was at loggerheads almost every day with Columbia whether over a cover or a song, the length of songs or even the musicians in my band. They were always trying to make a problem for me. When The Power of Rock ‘n’ Roll came out they did the cover and renamed the band without even telling me.

This created a major fight but I still had another album to do which was Juggernaut which also went out as Frank Marino. That was it for me. I left Columbia after that. I had an option to do another album and Columbia didn’t think I’d leave but I did because I just wasn’t happy with what they’d done. That’s why I didn’t make another album until 1986 when I did Full Circle. By that time, everyone including my crew had left. I was all alone so I wasn’t sure what name to use but when I went out on tour I’d see all sorts of combinations of the name and I decided to do Full Circle as Frank Marino, I did the Double Live as Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush then for From The Hip I went back as Frank Marino and I don’t even remember what I did Eye Of The Storm as.

It was all very confusing but one thing that wasn’t confusing is that the music was still the same. You can take any of the albums and combination of names and you can still tell that it’s the same music. It’s not like I went off in a different direction. Now, there’s only the drummer Dave with me that did the DVD, Mark and Mick have gone. Maybe now is the time to just be me and just go out as Frank Marino. I don’t think the name is a circle I’m ever going to square. I’ll live with it as long as the music is still the music. I’m not after accolades or riches, I just want the music to be right.

You’ve had a recording career that stretches back almost 50 years. Did you ever dare think that you would make your living from music?

50 years is half a century. It’s a very interesting number and sounds like something you read about in a history book. This is the life I’ve had. I’ve never felt, been there done that. I’m just as happy being onstage playing in front of 10 people or 10,000 people. I’m just glad to play. I made the move that many musicians wish they could make. I was able to walk away from a major label, turn down offers from other labels and just make the music that I wanted to make. I should have disappeared in ’83 or ’84 by rights but I didn’t and I’m glad I didn’t.

You’ve influenced many guitarists over the years and have been name checked by a diverse range of guitarists such as Johnny Winter, Ronnie Montrose and Joe Bonamassa to name but a few. It must mean a lot to you being held in such high regard by your peers?

I played a lot of shows with Johnny but I never had the courage to say speak to him but I’d pass him in the hallways of the venues and meekly say hello, sir. My mind was blown when, after Johnny had died, this guy showed me a video of Johnny mentioning me. If I’d known that before it would have been so amazing as Johnny is my Number Two, Jimi Hendrix is my Number One. John Cipollina from Quicksilver Messenger is up there too. When guitarists like Joe Bonamassa and Ronnie Montrose, God bless his soul, and Zack Wylde and Paul Gilbert and people like that say stuff about me you can knock me over with a feather.

I never read the press as they never said anything good about me. When I get respect from people that matter, those who play and understand it, that’s all that you can really hope for. Getting a lot of money isn’t important to me. What are you going to do with it, spend it or leave it to someone else who didn’t work for it? So, getting the respect from my peers means such a lot especially as for the first ten years or so when I was a kid I wasn’t liked in the industry because of that whole Hendrix reincarnation thing. They thought I was a clone and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t like me but later when my peers said such nice things about me, that meant so much to me.

The old Jimi Hendrix reincarnation myth has followed you around for most of your career. Did it annoy you when it first raised its head?

It annoys me no end from the very first time I heard it. I kept asking people how they could even entertain the idea of this reincarnation thing simply based on the calendar. I went into the hospital and learned to play the guitar in 1968. Jimi Hendrix died in September 1970. If I supposedly had some kind of reincarnation experience while in hospital, how could this happen when he was still alive? Nobody would listen so I wrote some songs about it like ‘Talkin’ ‘bout a Feelin’’ and ‘Makin’ My Way’ and they were my way of saying leave me alone.

You have used mainly the Gibson SG over the years. Why have you favoured that guitar over all others?

It’s only because it was the first one I had. I have no love affair with a particular guitar. I just like that one because it’s easy to play. I have a Fender Stratocaster too but it’s not easy to play so I don’t like it. It’s easy to reach the high notes, there’s no heel for my thumb, it’s light as a feather and I use light strings so it’s like paying an air guitar. It totally suits me. I don’t care if it says Fisher Price on it so long as it is easy to play and sounds good.

Electric Reflections Of War is an incredible image of war created on the guitar. How do you create those sounds?

I didn’t want to use a device that made a sound such as a synthesiser, I wanted to take the analogue stuff and try to create a sound. That song represents what happens during and then in the aftermath of the war. I figured out which pedal I could use to give me a rumble and what I needed to do to the strings to make that happen and I developed it from there. There’s probably ten devices that can do it now but back then I created it using my tremolo arm, pedals and the strings on my guitar.

You played the UK a few years back as part of the Legends of Rock tour with Jack Bruce, Glenn Hughes and Uli Jon Roth. That must have been a lot of fun for you?

I was very honoured to do that tour and I was so pleased when Uli called me up and asked me if I would do it. I had my wife and my kids with me and I really did have fun. I went to soundcheck every day and jammed with the crew and would play Jazz and Blues.

It’s been a while since we saw you over here. Do you hope to tour over here again in the near future?

Oh, would I ever. Absolutely yes for no other reason than to get fish and chips or bangers and mash which I can’t get over here. I don’t call the shots on where I go as I can’t make the gigs happen. Like I said earlier, I’ve spent a lot of time doing the DVD and I got an offer of 50 dates and I said where have you been for the last 9 years? The DVD has been doing really well and I did say to him that I’d really, really like to go to England and Europe to play. The people seem to treat it more like a concert than a show and I feel really liberated under those conditions. People listened and I loved that, it was fantastic. It’s not just people jumping up and down, they listen to the music. Having said that the festival I did at Port Vale with Motörhead and Triumph in the early ’80s was a wild time. I’m a guy that likes to meet people and don’t like to hide in the dressing room so I was hanging out with them afterwards.

What do you make of the current trend in meet and greets?

Agents have been telling me that groups are charging money to meet them. What is that all about? Some of them are charging a lot of money. How is that even reasonable? That’s just embarrassing. When you create a V.I.P ticket you’re automatically creating an L.I.P, a less important person. You can’t do that, it’s just not right. That is not something I’d do. We are in a very privileged position and we should not put the fan in a position where they are being made to feel like they are being done a favour. They are doing us a favour. Without the audience there is no show. I think parts of the industry are elitist. I don’t like that but that’s just me.

For more on Frank Marino visit:

Interview By Mick Burgess


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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  1. I read Frank’s comment about Port Vale in the early 80’s and I was there, the only reason I went was to see Frank, no lie, what a great memory and a brilliant underrated guitarist, my other favourite band are also Canadian, Rush (not Triumph). Frank, whatever you do now after your recent announcement, enjoy and take care. Love to you man.

  2. I had the privilege of seeing Mahogany Rush in 1975 and Frank did a Jimi Hendrix set.
    He was amazing. A memory I’ll never forget! Very talented man!

  3. Discover Frank at the Atlanta municipal auditorium in 1975,couldn’t believe my eyes and ears,it was amazing to my 16 year old ears.I had taken a 4 way hit of what they called windowpane LSD that morning,drove my Suzuki 250 with a friend on the back ina rainstorm that night.Queen,Kansas and Mahogany Rush.The 1st 2 bands were ok but Frank’s music literally kept me high,I will never forget it,when he stopped playing that very second I came down.When I heard of his DVD,couldn’t wait.I started playing 5 yrs ago and naturally when I play you’ll hear alot of him in what I do after all I listened to him since I was a kid.I hope one day,if I live that long to be as good as he is.Hats off to you Frank and God bless you and yours.

  4. I have been a fan since the mid seventies. I bought the DVD, and I love it. Been turning on family and friends to it. Have to say it’s the favorite one in my collection. Keep jamming, Frank. Would love to see you here in Michigan.

  5. Fantastic dvd. I had ideas of maybe being he first to purchase it and I would check daily while we were all waiting for it to be released, when I found out about the release I ran to the computer with my credit card and I was # 1500 or somewhere around there! I would like to see how many have been sold so far and hope it continues to sell. I have the utmost respect for Frank Marino and have received messages from him as replies after I asked him questions a time or two. Thanks for all the music Frank!

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