FRANK MARINO and MAHOGANY RUSH
by Todd K Smith
Frank Marino has been a part of the Montreal music scene for over 35 years. As a kid, Jazz and the Blues influenced him heavily. At five-years of age, he took up playing the drums passionately mimicking jazz greats Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones and TS Monk. I started life as a Jazz drummer, says Marino in our recent conversation. When you listen to great jazz drummers you cant help but hear the other great players theyre with. I didnt know John Coltrane then or even if he meant anything, but the music was pouring into my head.
Fast forward eight years and Marino is lying in a hospital bed recovering from an acid trip. I started doing acid when I was ten or eleven remembers Marino. I had older brothers and sisters that were hanging around in the hippy scene and I was one of those youngsters that said, Let me have it too, or Ill tell on you. The hallucinative drug, and its result, had an unusual effect on the young teenager.
Before the hospital incident, my older brother (Norman) took me to see my first Hendrix concert in 1968. I had no idea who he was, I just saw a guy with red pants playing the most hellacious noise Id ever heard. I told my other brother that I wasnt sticking around to listen to what I considered then, noise. Whats ironic is this guy that I walk out on become such a huge part of my life. I still cant get away from him.
While in the hospital Marino was introduced to the guitar. The sound of the strings created a connection with the experience of the wildman in red pants. (Hendrixs) was the only music that I had in my head at the time, reflects Marino. It was what I was then gravitating toward. Legend has it Marino was visited by the spirit of Hendrix while in the hospital and was able to play Hendrix riffs after picking up the guitar for the very first time. For the next three years, Hendrix was all Marino listened to and played. It was an obsession, one that he crafted it into a band - which started to draw some very big crowds.
At 16 Marino and his band, bassist Paul Harwood and drummer Jim Ayoub were invited to play at the Montreal Expo (1971). Says Marino, We got in to the festival because we had a big local following of heads (people who like psychedelic music and smoked grass). After the show, we had this record company ask us to make a record, but I thought, no way, I didnt want some 45-single played on AM radio. Then they came to me and said, Look, well put you in the studio, you can play whatever you want, do whatever you want, mix it however you want and we wont ever come down to the studio - and well pay for it!
What resulted in Maxoom (1972) was a set of classic Hendrix. Every Hendrix riff, melody and slurred vocal copied exactly only the song titles were different. However this was no cheap imitation, it was a dedication. Even the originally penned Buddy was Franks tribute to the now departed guitar icon. All I knew was Hendrix, says Marino. I was 16. I hadnt written any songs what else was I going to play? Yet, the result was staggering and started the Canadian guitarist on a studio education that became crucial in releasing this years astounding RealLIVE! (2004) recording.
"I wrote, recorded and produced all my records, says Marino. It says on the first record produced by Frank Marino, not because the record executives loved my production, but because they wanted to get me in the studio and save a buck at the same time. So it became like school. I learned all about recording tape, microphones what do with all those knobs. I learned as I went.
Yet the ghost of Hendrix haunted him. Critics mocked the record as copy and tagged Marino as a clone, which still brands him to this day. That was the biggest mistake I ever made from a corporate point of view, says Marino. The name never stopped following me after that. Two more records followed in like vein under the marquee of Mahogany Rush (Child of the Novelty, 1974 and Strange Universe, 1975). Both showcased Marinos budding confidence and engineering skill and the later established the now 19-year old as powerhouse tour-de-force. It also pushed the guitarist fully into the genre of stadium hard rock with contempories Ted Nugent, Robin Trower and Montrose. Key cuts included Strange Universe, Land Of 1000 Nights, Satisfy Your Soul and Dear Music.
A label change introduced a second phase for Marino and Mahogany Rush a move that saw them desperately seeking credibility. Mahogany Rush IV (1976) with its classics Dragonfly and Moonwalk shoved the originality of the guitarist down the critics throat with subtle jazz nuances and exquisite playing. World Anthem (1977) followed suite with Requiem For A Sinner, In My Ways and Broken Heart Blues. 1978s Live record put a cap on it proving what fans had stated for years. Mahogany Rush was best experienced in full bloom on stage. Here is where Frank spun the magical web of seduction a hypnotic snake charmer in his brightest element.
The best compliment I get is that my music sounds magical, says Marino. Im the producer of the music, so I like to hear peoples reaction to the sound, the feel, the magic. There is an abundance of great guitar players but what separates them is what comes from the heart and the head. Really, were all just minstrels in the court of the king one step up from the court jester.
Tales Of The Unexpected (1979) gave MR their biggest radio hit in Sister Change but the records live/studio split may have confused audiences. 1980s Whats Next saw Franks little brother Vince join the band on rhythm guitar. The liberty to expand saw Marino produce his most commercial effort to date and delivered a killer version of the Doors classic Roadhouse Blues. In Power Of Rock N Roll (1981) Frank traded his Gibson SG for a Les Paul on the cover art subtly signifying yet another shift in sound and delivery. The record moved at a faster pace knocking holes in the wall with "Play My Music" and "Stay With Me." However, this marked the end of the Mahogany Rush brand name.
Marino didnt so much as go solo as change (shorten) the band name to his own. Juggernaut (1982) put him on tour with Saxon and Riot while Strange Dreams from the record got plenty of airplay. Full Circle (1987) came five years later and saw an uncanny return to his Hendrix roots. Then Marino more or less disappeared.
Im a very anti-industry person, says Marino. I dont like selling people stuff. I dont like doing music thats intent is selling people stuff. Personally I think music should be free. Music is everywhere and somebodys making that music and somebodys selling that music. The industry has become this monster where if they dont have anything to sell they will manufacture it. I didnt want to be a part of that. With that Marino took ten years off to raise my three girls.
Then in 1995 an odd thing happened. Windows 95 came out and I was helping my Dad do some family research on the Internet, continues Marino. I keyed in Marino and this website Strange Universe popped up. It was a fan-based site and was telling cyberspace all about me. I was like, who is this guy that knows all about me? Marino contacted the Webmaster and the two formed a partnership of sorts. His activity online connected him with fans and after continued promoting and support Frank began to tour again.
It wasnt much, says Marino. I did a couple dates in 97, a couple more in 98 and a lot more in 99. In 2001 I put out my first studio record in fourteen years called Eye of the Storm. Marino wanted to tour behind the record but 9-ll happened and the idea stalled. I wanted to keep the momentum going so I said to Jimmy West, the head of Justin-Time Records (his new label) lets look at what we have. The last thing we did was a live show in Montreal. I picked it up off the top of the pile and popped it in. It sounded pretty good but was missing the last ten minutes which I really wanted to have.
I reached out to some fans and asked if anybody had a bootleg. Sure enough someone did. After I got the tape I laid it alongside the master and used it as a model to restructure the show. I thought if I could fix one bar, maybe I could fix two. I didnt really think about it being 150 bars. A year later I was done with the missing ten minutes. I could have just re-played those parts in the studio, but I wanted it to reflect the actual show. It was painstaking and took over 40,000 edits but it now sounds seamless. People have told me I should win an editing award for this, but being a good editor is like being a good spy if you do a good job nobody notices.
RealLIVE! is Marinos 16th record. As a two-CD set, it is possibly the closest to capturing the guitar legend live than any of his previous live CDs. It really is an indication of the night we played, says Marino. It wasnt about putting together a great live album, or fixing this or that. I just wanted to put out that snap shot of what the concert was like. It was so unplanned.
More than just a snapshot of a great night, RealLIVE! is a marvelous retrospective of Marinos body of work. I loved the Beatles, Quicksilver, The Doors, all the 60s stuff but I still had the jazz influence. Its bubbling under. My music is very much a mixture of blues, jazz, pop, rock, and psychedelic and just about anything in between. I wanted all that captured in a live setting. Pulling from his background Marino musically takes the listener from his fundamental roots with a ten minute version of "Voodoo Chile" through the blues of "Red House" and on into snippets of the late 60s in Poppy which includes Robert Johnsons "Crossroads", slices of Allman Brothers, and The Doors.
Disc two brings back the elegance of Strange Universe and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Tales Of The Unexpected, Rattle of Sabers and World Anthem The record closes with Somewhere Over The Rainbow and Try For Freedom both worthy of the time invested in recreating them. Its about jamming, states Marino in the CD liner notes. My perfect set is a set that has no set list, no idea, no plan, yet we do 35 songs and jams perfectly, make em all up as we go, and go blindfolded.