Although '70s guitar icon Frank Marino checked himself out of the music scene in 1993, he's back with "Eye of the Storm," an album which finds him returning to his roots with a similar psychedelic-laced rock that he originally laid down a quarter of a century ago with his band Mahogany Rush. Relaxed and at peace with himself, Marino talked to ConcertLivewire's Tony Bonyata explaining why he got out of the music biz, what it took to break his musical silence and how he plans on keeping it real on the road.
Livewire: After such a long absence from recording, what prompted you to make "Eye of the Storm?"
Frank: Actually, I made it having left the music business. I started it in '93. I had done so much touring up until that time that I just wanted to go home and have kids and not do anything anymore. I never really thought "Eye of the Storm" would come out. I wanted to do an album where I didn't have to worry about anything - where I can do really long songs that nobody will play on the radio (laughs.) And I can do all the psychedelic stuff that I like. It's the album that I always wanted to make. After making so many others - not that I didn't like the others - but there was always some form of compromise somewhere. Every time I ever did a record I always thought, I would've liked to have done that song longer or I would've like to have included this or that track, or I would've like to have done more jamming on that tune, you know what I'm saying?
Livewire: Was it the pressure from the record company that kept you from it?
Frank: It was a little of everything, actually. It was also the fact that a lot of those records were made on vinyl and you only have 20 minutes a side. So you always ended up with stuff that you didn't put on because you had to sort of balance which ones were going to get on the record, even though I have this fourteen minute jam tune that I love. So when "Eye of the Storm" came along I said, "let's just make this record whether people hear it or not." So I did it. It took a couple of years and then I saw the [Frank Marino] website and I saw all the fans out there. I didn't realize that we were so well liked. They convinced me to go back out and play some dates. So I started doing one or two dates here and there. I kept it really brief and took my kids with me and just had a great time doing it.
Livewire: Are you referring to the shows you did last year?
Livewire: How were those received?
Frank: Oh, they were received amazing! I couldn't believe it. Since I've been off and I came back it seems like a whole different kind of appreciation. Maybe the attitude has something to do with it. We just want to go out and have fun and be ourselves. Nobody's going out there to sell records or sell tickets. It's totally not like that. It's more like going back to the '60s mentality, and that's what I love about it. As long as it can stay like that I'll keep doing it. If it starts to become the rock biz again - chasing the big date and chasing the big deal and all that stuff - I'll just stop.
Livewire: It sounds like you've tired of the rock business.
Frank: Yeah, totally. I mean, look, I'm a 46-year old musician who's always liked music. I've been doing it since I was 16. I'm not about to start chasing the business again. The business is totally different. Radio is different. I might as well do what I did when I was 16, which is just play for fun.
Livewire: I understand that, prior to it's release on your new record label Just A Minute, "Eye of the Storm" was available through the Internet.
Frank: Yep, the whole thing was available on my page.
Livewire: It's great that although your not interested in 'chasing the business' that you're able to tap into today's market.
Frank: Well, it's not just that. I wanted to make it available to anyone who really wanted to hear it. When you have a record out with all these other labels, a lot of the time you have a shelf life on the record. Like you put out a record in January and, gee, you better start thinking about making another one in September or December. I think the whole cycle that the record companies put bands through goes against the grain of what being a musician is all about. There shouldn't be like a six or eight month shelf life on a record. It should be like a novel, you know? There's no shelf life on a book. People will read it in 1930 and they'll read it in 1970. If it's a good book, it'll always be a good book.
Livewire: You still have some good reads from your past.
Frank: Well, thank you. So I said that if I just let people have this on the Net, hey, that's great. If they really want it they're gonna come and get it. I don't have to sell it to them. I don't have to go out there and give the album a life and tour behind it and do all that stuff. It's sort of a very '60s attitude, you know? And that's the way I'm going to work from now on. I meet all the fans and I become their friend. It's a lot better than being their entertainer. You get to meet so many people this way. I must've met three or four thousand friends from this page. When we go and do our concerts it's like everyone is invited to come and have pizza, you know. I guess the Grateful Dead were kinda doing that awhile ago and then they turned that into an industry. (laughs) But it's very much like that type of mentality.
Livewire: Without either of the original two band members, why did you decide to use the name Mahogany Rush for the album, instead of just Frank Marino?
Frank: Believe it or not, who people think were the originally two band members, weren't really the original two band members. (laughs)
Livewire: Jim Ayoub and Paul Harwood?
Frank: Yeah, they just happen to be there when we hit big. Mahogany Rush was originally not a name of a band but a name of a psychedelic experience that a young kid was going through in the '60s, and I basically called it that. I named the music to be descriptive of what I went through in the '60s on all of that stuff.
Livewire: Was it an individual trip or a whole scene that you were going through?
Frank: No, it was an actual series of trips. When I was young in the '60s, I experimented with a lot of psychedelic drugs. That's what kids did in the '60s. I happened to have an experience that, let's say, wasn't very controllable after awhile. It sort of hit me pretty hard and I ended up in the hospital. And when I was in that hospital I really needed some kind of therapy. That therapy was that I learned to play music.
Livewire: Can you set the record straight on your stint in the hospital. I remember hearing things like you had OD'ed on acid and the soul of Hendrix hit you in a vision or something to that effect.
Frank: The press made a big thing out of it. Creem magazine wrote some thing about spiritual connections [with Jimi Hendrix] and all these weird ghost stories. (laughs) I tried to get a hold of the original guy who wrote that thing.
Livewire: You said that was Creem magazine?
Frank: No, they were the ones that carried it nationally, but some local writer [from Canada] wrote this story. And I said, "what's with that?! Where are you going with that fricken' story?! I mean, I was in the hospital in 1968. Jimi Hendrix didn't die until 1970, what are you talking about spiritual connection? He was still playing for two years." I tried to stop it but then Creem starting carrying it nationally, then Circus and then all these other magazines and before you knew it, it was blown way out of proportion. It seemed like the harder I told people that it was just ridiculousness, the more they said that's what I said. I finally just stopped talking about it.
Livewire: You'll be happy to know that I don't intend on mincing your words. Although, with your consent, I wouldn't mind adding that you're the reincarnation of Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Frank: Oh, no, no! Please don't do that! I've had enough. I remember I covered a Doors tune "Roadhouse Blues" many, many years later, and that same magazine (which I had really given hell to) wrote this review with the headline "Frank Marino robs fresh grave." I'll never forget that.
Livewire: What was fresh about it? Morrison had been dead for almost 20 years.
Frank: That's what I mean. I thought it was so petty to do something like that. But it all rolls off my back. I don't really get too upset by that sort of thing. I kind of find it comical, and I'm really into comedy by the way. I find it in just about everything I see, you know. I think the business just got way out of hand, with the excesses of the '70s and the way the stories were being done and the way the shows were being done. It is not at all where I come from. I come from a much more hands on, sort of, one-on-one place, you know. Anyone who's lived the late '60s is that way. We just like to be normal guys, we just happen to be musicians. If we weren't musicians we'd probably be house builders or painters or something like that. (laughs) So when I got back into the business I said, "if I can keep it fun, if I can bring the kids and meet the fans and just be one on one with people, that's great." I'll keep doing it 'till the cows come home. But if I can't, hey, I'll just go do something else. No fanfare. I've never done one of those 'farewell' tours. I don't think I'd ever do that. (laughs)
Livewire: The "this time we really mean it" tour.
Frank: Yeah. (laughs) I don't think I'd ever do that. I proved that in '93 when I just stopped.
Livewire: Now you're coming back and...
Frank: But I'm not saying that I'm 'coming back' either. I'm coming out to do 10 or 20 dates a year for the fans that really want it. Nobody's beating the bushes to say, "oh, please we need a Tuesday in such-and-such a place." We're going out to do what we do.
Livewire: I see your tour is predominately in the Midwest and Canada, with one date in New York. Do you plan on expanding the tour to the West and South?
Frank: If anyone offers me a date I'll go do it. That's basically how it works. So if the promoters or agents see that there's something going on and they want us to play, then you know what we're going to say? Absolutely. And it doesn't matter where. And it doesn't matter how big or how small, and it doesn't matter how much. We'll do it if they want us to, but we're not going to chase it. Now since we're on Just A Minute [Records], they've got a record to sell and their going to hire publicists and they're going to get people to phone people, and that's cool. I don't mind that. I think it's better that they handle that, and if they want me to play, I'll play. They asked me if I wanted to play on a boat in Toronto harbor, and I said, "sure, why not? It sounds like a lot of fun." Hell, I played on a float in a parade once." (laughs)
Livewire: Wasn't that a very long time ago, though?
Frank: (Laughs) Yes! I'm trying to get back to a long time ago. I really, really am. I'm not putting on any show with smoke or fire, you know, it's just right back to a long time ago. And I love it. I'm living my teenage years again and I'm liking it because it's my teenage years without the pressure.
Livewire: It's like you've come full circle.
Frank: Yeah, there I was a 16-year old kid making my first album. Everything between that point and the rest of my career was pressure. And it was daily constant pressure.
Livewire: At 16, how in the hell were you able to handle the success and fame? You were just a kid.
Frank: I wasn't able to handle it, in the sense that I had three nervous breakdowns as well as the acid trip that blew my mind. It was really bad. But everyone thinks it was really fun. It wasn't fun. Everyone says, "oh, you played Cal[ifornia] Jam 2, there were 300,000 people there, what was it like?" And I said, "what was it like? It was like playing on Entertainment Tonight." I mean, it was not fun. Everyone talks about it being the highlight of their career. That's no highlight, when you can't even see the first person because they're 300 feet away. Everybody's preening, and it was like doing a TV show. The big concerts that I liked doing were Bill Graham's 'Monsters of Rock' concerts. Because Bill was from my era. He had that attitude, and he knew how to make it fun for the groups.
Livewire: Do you have a bigger following in Canada, than in the U.S.?
Frank: No. I would say our biggest following is probably still in the U.S. and Europe. I probably couldn't get arrested in Canada. There's probably two or three cities, but I've never been big in Canada. Even when were doing the big, big buildings in America, we would come to Canada and maybe do five or ten thousand people. Because we didn't play that kind of Canadian music - the music with a lot of harmony vocals that got on the radio, like April Wine and stuff like that. We didn't do that. It was a very underground group. It was a three-piece band jamming.
Livewire: The art that was used for your earlier albums such as "Child of The Novelty" and Strange Universe" are tremendous works.
Frank: Those are renditions of the acid trip that I was talking about. Artist renditions as told by me.
Livewire: Those are very surreal images.
Frank: Well, they're real! (laughs) That's Mahogany Rush, by the way. When I talk about Mahogany Rush, that's what it is.
Livewire: Are drugs behind you now?
Frank: Oh, way behind me! I stopped when I started music. I stopped when I went to the hospital when I was 13 years old. This is what people don't understand about psychedelic drugs - if you're a person who has done that and then quit, the stuff that you experienced is still with you. You don't have to take drugs to remember what happened. But, no, I've never taken a drug after I got out of the hospital. I don't even drink. So all I do is smoke cigarettes and drink Coca-Cola. And that's basically all I do, and I've done that since I was 14 years old. Of course the music was still about trying to explain where my headspace was at. My headspace was there for a long, long, long time. The reaction to that experience was not something that lasted six months. It lasted ten years. And after ten years it was still a memory, it just wasn't something I forgot about. The last thing I could do was take drugs. (laughs)
Livewire: Your brother Vince used to play with you as well. What's he up to?
Frank: He's moved on. He's doing other things - recording stuff, playing with a band. He's a pretty good guitar player...better than I am.
Livewire: I don't believe it.
Frank: He really is. At least I think so.
Livewire: I noticed in the liner notes of your new album that the art for "Eye of the Storm" was done by a Norman Marino. Any relation?
Frank: He's my other brother. He's into graphic arts, and he's a great graphic artist but he's actually a musician as well. It was Norm that got me into all of this in the '60s. He's my older brother and he was into the same stuff. He's a big Deadhead. He plays in a group that does Grateful Dead music. You know how Deadheads are, don't you? They stay Deadheads. We have different lives but we love the same stuff and come from the same place.
Livewire: Your new album has some very interesting stuff on it. I actually hear quite a bit of old Mahogany Rush.
Frank: Oh, absolutely. I'm trying to go back to my roots. You're hearing the backwards stuff, and you're hearing the Quicksilver Messenger stuff...
Livewire: The song "Learned My Lesson Well" sounds like it was from your early '70s textbook.
Frank: Exactly. (laughs) It is! I love it. It's the only record [of mine] that I love front to back. I like everything about it. I like the music. I like the lyrics. I like the sound. I like everything about it. But I liked it before I put it out.
Livewire: What prompted your strong Arabic guitar-stylings on your new album in songs like "He's Calling" and "Eye of the Storm?"
Frank: My mother's Arabic and I've always liked Arabic music.
Livewire: And you've got a jazzy thing going on in "Avalon."
Frank: I've always loved that type of music. Even from the beginning I've loved that. That's why I liked Quicksilver, because they did "Gold and Silver" and "The Fool." And the Allman Brothers in the old days, because they played that type of stuff. It wasn't really jazz but blues / jazz. And I love jazz. Remember, when I was a kid of about 5 or 6 years old I started as drummer - until I became a guitarist at the age of 13. All you could really listen to as a drummer back then was jazz.
Livewire: Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa...
Frank: Exactly. Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones. And Elvin Jones played with John Coltrane, so of course, I was hearing Coltrane but I was listening to Elvin Jones. But the music is Coltrane's and that's what's going into your head. So then later on you become an instrumentalist on a guitar and you start remembering all these little licks - doing John Coltrane's lines from something you heard in the '60s. I love that stuff.
Livewire: Is there any new music that interests you today?
Frank: Honest to God, I haven't heard it yet. I don't even know the band names, really. I heard of some Bizkit band, or something. And Korn. I don't know what they do, but those are the words I hear when people are talking on the street. The few things that I have heard sounds like there isn't a whole lot really being played. Like banging or something.
Livewire: It's the rap / metal hybrid.
Frank: Yeah. Rock 'n' roll is cheap psychiatry. People pay their twenty dollars, or whatever it is, to stand on a chair and scream for two hours. It's scream therapy. It doesn't matter at that point what the band is playing. And it was that way in the '70s. It's a shit business, but at the same time it's the only business that affords me the ability to play music for a living.
Livewire: So it's a double edge sword.
Frank: Yeah, exactly. As businesses go, it's not a great business. I wouldn't want my three daughters to do it.
Livewire: How old are they?
Frank: 7, 5 and 2.
Livewire: You wrote the song "Since You Came Into My Life" about them? You sound, at least from the song, like a proud family man?
Frank: I'm just happy that they're here. That's why I quit in '93, to have kids. I thought I'd have one, and now have three. If my wife was a little younger we'd probably have ten. We looked at each other and said, "why didn't we do this a long time ago?" This is like way, way better than rock 'n' roll, you know? (laughs)
Livewire: Sounds like you've really matured.
Frank: Yeah, I think so. Now if I can just take that maturity out on the road and be who I am and if people will still like the music, then everything will be okay. I'll have a job for a few years.
Livewire: You mentioned earlier that you bring your family on the road with you. How do they adapt?
Frank: They love it. Are you kidding? My oldest daughter's got her National Geographic and telling me where we have to go next.
Livewire: It seems that religion plays into the mix on "Eye off the Storm", such as "Ordinary Man" and "He's Calling."
Frank: It's always been there. I'm surprised that people are just noticing it now. They're probably noticing it more because I'm more open about it. I'm saying it clearly. But I was always saying it. Look at the cover of my first album "Maxoom", it's a picture of the Last Judgment. So it's always been there. I've always been studying theology since I can remember. But I'm much deeper into it than ever before. I'm not one of these newfangled people hearing bells ring. This is something that has been a part of my life for a long, long time. I've learned how to articulate it and I've learned how to live with it. It's probably the biggest part of my life, even more than my kids.
Livewire: Despite the fact that you haven't come out with any material for a while before this album, it seems that your website has generated a lot of interest with your fans. What do you attribute that to?
Frank: I don't know. I didn't make the website. I found it by accident. If I hadn't of found it, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now.
Livewire: Do help support it.?
Frank: At that point I got in touch with him - Willy Parsons [the man who put the site together]. And I said, "man, thanks for doing this!" And he asked if I could help out by giving him pictures and talk to the fans. So I started going in the chat rooms, writing letters and doing stuff like that, and made a lot of friends. That's really why I came out. They convinced me to do it. So I figured I'd do it as long as it's for the right reasons. But I'm really not chasing the money or chasing the business or the 'holy grail' that so many bands go after. If there's anybody in the band or crew who thinks that's what we're doing, then it's better just to shake hands and say forget about it. If people like it, that's wonderful. If they don't like it, I don't want to overstay my welcome.
Livewire: What do you have up your sleeve for the future?
Frank: No plans. That's exactly the way I want it - no plans. All I know is where I'm going next week. It's not about anything other than to like what we are doing.
Livewire: I know a lot of fans, including myself, would love to see a heavily blues influenced album from you. Any chances of that happening?
Frank: Yes. If you talk about plans, it's kind of a plan in my mind to do a blues album - my long awaited blues album. I've been wanting to do my blues album for 15 or 20 years, I just never got around to doing it, because it's like I said, all of those other pressures. But you know what, I'm going to do that just as soon as these dates are over. I'm going to record a blues album. It'll be a different blues album, though. It won't just be standard blues, but the kind of blues that I like, Ray Charles-style and things like that. Blues with chord changes. I don't like blues where the changes are so anticipated. I like "Georgia on My Mind" and stuff like that. I like blues songs that are actual songs. So it'll probably be a lot like that. Just remember the Coltrane route, you know. (laughs)
Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush will be performing Thursday, August 16th at the House Of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., Chicago,IL. (312) 923-2000