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Frank Marino- “Beyond Mahogany Rush”
As told to Stu Simone by Frank Marino
Guitar Player Magazine
Last profiled in September 1976, rock guitar powerhouse Frank Marino shows no signs of easing off the throttle at the ripe old age of 27. The leader and creative force behind the noted ’70s power trio Mahogany Rush, Marino continues to draw sell-out crowds in concert halls across the country. He also remains active in the recording studio, sustaining his album-per-year pace for nearly a decade now. July ’82 marked the debut of “Juggernaut”, the tenth LP of the guitarists career, and one of his most successful.
Marino discovered the guitar in 1969 at age 14. It was like finding a friend in need, or perhaps a life preserver-the future rock star was in a Montreal hospital recuperating from the effects of a bad acid trip. A precocious self teacher, Marino recorded his first album just two years later with the group he christened Mahogany Rush.
The band grew out of a basement instrumental jam crew consisting of Frank, drummer Jimmy Ayoub, and bassist Paul Harwood. High school and club gigs eventually led to an enthusiastically received concert performance at the ’71 Montreal Expo’s huge pop festival. The groups first album followed on the heels of that success.
“Mahogany Rush IV” (released in April 1976), their fourth album, was their first with a major label, Columbia. Since then, Marino has generally spent half of each year touring and the other half in recording sessions. The veteran performer expresses a taste for the concert hall setting saying: “The masses that collectively trudge through the elements to see and hear us play-they’re the power. You have to play for them one-on-one, because they’re the ones that matter.” Marino’s consistent studio work and dynamic concert hall presence have built him a loyal, if not fanatical, following over the years.
In 1981 “Frank Marino And Mahogany Rush” became simply “Frank Marino.” Jim Ayoub departed, to be succeeded by Timm Biery. In their latest album, the power trio of old has matured into a five-piece band, with Franks brother Vince on second guitar (a 77 addition), and Argentina s Claudio Pesavento debuting on keyboard.
As he mentions in the following discussion, such crowd-pleasers as his Jimi Hendrix renditions are not his artistic lifeblood-Marino is a prolific composer/lyricist in his own right, claiming influences ranging from folk to jazz and classical. Furthermore, he explains why he s not a heavy metal guitarist (despite his sometimes being saddled with that label). And the electric wizard reveals some of the secrets behind his most intriguing sounds, provides a step-by-step equipment rundown, airs his views on tubes and transistors, and explains his philosophy of soloing and creativity.
* * * *
Being heard by people is my first objective, and I’m not just referring to volume. Sometimes I feel as though something else is moving me. I know there are things I’ve got to say, and each album I do is a way of saying them. I’ve been given this gift-to be lucky enough to be in a position where a lot of people can hear me.
The lyrics are about the world-almost like Woody Guthrie in a way. But they’re not about drugs or sex or even rock and roll. They’re about serious things. Yet the music is hard rock and, technically, jazz-oriented. If you take a jazz musician’s technical approach to music, a rock musician’s approach to sound, and a folksinger’s approach to lyrics, you’d probably have what makes up Frank Marino.
It’s true that the first album I released under my own name, “The Power Of Rock ‘n’ Roll” was my most straight-ahead rock album. But I wasn’t happy with the direction we were going in, and I had to say to myself at that point: “Stop! How do I get my group onto the track that made it unique in the first place?” You’ve got to play what made you what you are as a human being, not just what made you commercially successful. Let’s face it, a lot of bands can get up and play “Johnny B. Goode,” and some can even play it better than we do, but nobody gets up and plays “Strange Universe” or “Juggernaut” or “Strange Dreams” [both on Juggernaut] with that attitude and that sound, except Frank Marino. That is what makes us unique-not the “Johnny B. Goode” songs, not the guitar speed or technical proficiency. The content and the attitude of the music makes us a show that’s not like the rest. I believe Juggernaut has put me back on the track towards meaningful, unique music that is only Frank Marino.
We used to play Hendrix material before we had originals-when we’d play at high schools-but we didn’t play “Foxey Lady” or “Fire. “We’d play”1983” or “Castles Made Of Sand”-the stuff that nobody else could play. Gradually we had our Hendrix set interspersed with originals, and then an original set interspersed with Hendrix. The only reason I still play “Purple Haze” is because people want to hear it from me. I have it as a second encore, because I’m trying not to do it, but they keep calling me back to do it.
Having a five-piece group now makes things easier for me, and also sweeter. Now when I playa melody, it has a chord behind it. I held out for the trio live-but not on record-because I was comfortable playing the extra guitar or keyboard parts myself. Live was totally different-we were caught in that whole image thing. I finally got fed up because I wanted to do that unique music from the albums. Now in concert I play for almost three hours, but it just seems to fly by. People are surprised at the variety, but some people seem to say, “What’s your real face, are you apples or oranges?” I say I’d rather have a fruit basket than a basket of apples.
People sometimes call me a heavy metal guitarist, but that term miffs me, because I don’t consider myself a heavy metal player. I suppose that that music is similar in sound to some of my records, but I don’t have a heavy metal attitude towards music, and neither does any member of my group. Our music is loud and deadly sounding, and although heavy metal is usually deadly sounding, we’re not in the mold of the metal of today. Maybe I’m a heavy metal player from the earlier ’70s. I don’t consider myself in the vein of AC/DC or Ozzy Osbourne.
In my music-whatever the hell you want to call it-I do feel the necessity to come up with different sounds and different ideas. This necessity is easier for musicians today than, say, ten years ago, because we have devices available to us now that can virtually make us sound better. It’s like: Go in, and spend the bucks, and you’ve got this device that can inspire you to write a new tune because of what it does.
I don’t necessarily like that idea. It’s almost like hockey players today who buy skates that hold their ankles up. A lot of the older players frown on that-they go for the old leather skates, because they think that you should learn to hold your ankles up by yourself. But now we have this abundance of equipment such as DDLs [digital delay lines], Harmonizers, compressors, guitar synthesizers-it’s almost like whoever’s got more bucks is going to come up with the heavier music now.
A player now is going to buy this device that he doesn’t know about, and even the dealer doesn’t know what you can get out of it. So he’s gonna turn some dials and the thing’s going to make an envelope sound, and he’s going to think he invented this sound and be inspired to write a tune around it, rather than saying, “I need a specific sound for the tune I already have in my head.” So it’s putting the cart before the horse, because devices available today make it a little easier to find new sounds to break heavy metal ground. But are these musicians breaking the ground? Or is the ground being broken by the technicians who designed the equipment? Are the musicians just putting music to the effects? That’s the question I always ask myself.
I have a lot of effects, too, but I always try to use them in the spirit intended. I think of what I want, then try to make the effect do it. And if it doesn’t, then I try to find the effect that does. Now, Frank Marino does this specific thing 30 times, thinking of a song, thinking of a sound, hunting like crazy to find that sound, and finally achieving it. And another guy finds 30 devices that give him 30 sounds, and writes 30 tunes around those.
You’re going to end up with two guys, each with 30 real nice songs, really well done. But one is going to have a lot more confidence, and that’s going to be me. Because I’m going to know inside, without having to mention it to anybody, that it’s my baby-I really thought about it, I worked hard on it, and it came. for the other guy, the minute technology stops or his equipment breaks down, he’s dead as a creative person. His creativity basically is coming from outside. I think that a musician should always use the creativity from inside, because that well is not going to dry up. A lot of people think it does dry up after a while-that’s bullshit. If a guy’s creativity dries up then I say, (a) it never came from inside of him in the first place or, (b) he got so fucked up on drugs he lost his mind. You could be 90 years old and still create. The mind is still there.
Constructing A Solo:
My philosophy on soloing is to do what fits. I don’t like to turn a solo into a finger exercise. A lot of guys come up with the old one-two-three: They’ll show, you know, what they can do, in terms of physical dimensions. Of course, it often comes out sounding good, but basically it’s finger exercises. I can’t say that what I do is the end-all, but if I’m really feeling the song and haven’t played it so many times that I’m bored to death with it, then I try to play what really fits at that moment, and that can consequently be totally different from day to day, depending on the mood.
I find that letting your fingers guide your playing is a pitfall, a bad habit that I try to break. Yes, my fingers become my guide sometimes. I have to watch out that that doesn’t happen. I mean, it’s all very well that I have enough flashy tricks to look real good for an audience, but that’s not where it’s at. It’s not enough for the people who know, the ones I’d like to reach as a guitar player, the people whose respect I really want. And for their sake, I try to be as honest as possible and just play what I feel fits.
If the fingers start to become a guide, it’s almost like a habit of biting your nails or sniffling or something. You’ve got to watch that, because it can just creep in. It’s typical when you see somebody go to a music store to try a guitar out. The first thing they do is to go through rudiments. And that’s what tells them if the guitar feels good. That’s all very well, but basically what you see there is the habits of the individual taking precedence over anything else. If you’re just testing a guitar, then you don’t have to play anything with feeling. But that tends to happen to people onstage and in the studio, too. For that split-second they lose their concentration and waste time by just going through triplets and quadruplets and this and that, vibrato this and vibrato that, finger taps, and all that stuff.
You can get more speed out of a familiar finger pattern, so a lot of people go for it because to them, being faster is being better. And I don’t necessarily share that view. As a matter of fact, I have that problem. I find sometimes that I play too fast, which probably stems from my boredom from sometimes playing the same songs over and over again-I end up doing the solos faster and faster. It’s a problem because I don’t think the listener can really appreciate this high-gear, full-speed playing all of the time. It’s kind of a copout to always do that. It’s great to know I can do that, that I can play real fast, but it’s not criteria for being a great guitar player. I think that speed comes with being sure of yourself. If you’re really sure of yourself, then you’re automatically going to start to play fast when you want to.
Avoiding repetitious solo patterns is almost a two-edged sword. It’s paradoxical, because the advice is to concentrate on not doing it, but yet in order to play a good solo, you gotta not really be concentrating on anything and sort of let your mind feel the music. So how do you overcome the problem of concentrating on avoiding bad habits, while at the same time not concentrating on anything at all so that you can just feel the solo and be more than just a technician? It’s real hard. I try to split my personality up a little bit. Before the record or the gig, I’ll really hammer it into my mind that I’m not going to make mistakes I usually make, and that I’ll try to be a full musician. But then when the time comes to actually do it, I’ll have confidence that this thought process worked, and I’ll go out there and just do it. I’m not saying it’s always successful, but nine times out of ten it will be.
As far as daily practice goes, I don’t do a lot of scales and that sort of thing. If there’s something I can’t do, and I want to be able to do it, then I will figure it out and practice it. But generally, I find that when you have a good feeling about a guitar, nothing comes hard to you. There are some things another guy happens to do, and you just never thought of them, but once you see it or see how it’s done or read it or whatever, it’s not a question of eye-hand coordination anymore.
If I turned the guitar around left-handed, it would then become a question of hand coordination again. I think I can do anything; there’s not a rudiment or a pattern that’s going to give me any trouble. If I haven’t played it before, I’ll do it once and make a mistake or two. I’ll play it twice, and the mistakes will be gone. I guess that’s what my talent is, the ability to hear a piece or see a piece done or even just think of the notes I want to play, and be able to put them straight to my fingers. I don’t have to force myself, and I don’t have to do it in what may be the “correct” way. I do it in the way I feel comfortable.
For instance, I do everything with three left-hand fingers. I very rarely use my little finger. But sometimes you’re in the middle of a solo, and in the wink of an eye you’ve boxed yourself into a corner and there’s no more fingers. Your mind tells you, “up, next higher note, ~ but you’re on your 3rd finger, and there’s no way to get your first finger back on it. Then the little finger comes into play. It’s like a reserve fuel tank. It’ll do what it has to when you’re really stuck. Some guys use it all the time, but that’s not the way it works for me.
Solo construction depends on the kind of music. We do play a lot of blues and jazz when we’re not on the stage, believe it or not. Like from rehearsals, we have thousands of hours of blues and jazz that never got on record. That’s the kind of music I really love. And when I say jazz, I don’t necessarily mean John McLaughlin kind of jazz-it could be that kind of music on a given day, but I’m talking about a little more on-the-wall jazz than off-the-wall jazz. In music like that, you have to have a little bit more discipline. You can’t just take off like you can in off-the-wall jazz or in crazy rock. You’ve got to know certain chords, and you’ve got to have your majors, minors, minor 7ths, and major 7ths together; otherwise it’s just going to sound Like You’re doing a finger exercise when the chords change.
It’s all very well for a guy to pick up the tonic note, a 3rd, a 7th, and a 5th, and run around them, and then the chord changes behind him and it makes what he’s playing sound real good because of the way the notes fit into the next chord. But I’ve always said, if a guy can play good blues or good jazz, he should be able to play the solo with no backup-no chords behind him, no bass, no nothing-and you should be able to actually hear the chord changes by the notes he plays. Then, from a technical standpoint, the guy’s playing what I call a really good blues or jazz solo. The linkup notes are very important-those semitones and the odd notes he uses here and there. They’re like the spice of the solo. The band stops, and it might be a seven-chord progression, and yet he’ll play the solo with no backup, and you’ll say, yeah, that’s where the chord changes. That’s really important.
Then again, in some rock the approach is basically to play that rock scale, making sounds, cause you know you’ve got a I chord behind you, and your job is to actually take what would be a boring rhythm track and use the sound and the right notes to make it seem a little bit exciting and tasty. That’s an art in itself too.
There’s all sorts of ways to keep your solos interesting. Go with the flow, but at the same time try to control the flow. Since you’re often the lead instrument you’ve got to take the initiative. I think the most important thing a guitar player should have is confidence, to know that he’s good enough to lead the rhythm track. Let’s face it-the rhythm track’s just going to do the same thing over and over for five minutes. But if you play with volume dynamics, try different techniques, and have the confidence that you will do the job, then it’s going to sound good, not boring. But if you just fill in the time and be the “lead player” for five minutes, and do all this flash just to be doing it, it’s going to be a joke, and a lot of people are going to know that.
The guitar I first started playing on is the same model I’m using now, a 1961 Les Paul/SG model. The ’61 had that very thin, flat neck-almost too thin to hold it together. My first guitar, not surprisingly, was broken. Then I got an SG Special, which was stolen. And then-when I was about 15-I got my current guitar, which I’ve been playing for the past 12 years.
Over the years I’ve had such a love affair with that particular SG that whenever I find one, and they’re hard to find, I buy it. Just the other day I got a fourth one-in bad shape. I don’t care about the finishes, just so long as they have the right pickups and frets-Fender frets, very thin and low.
I have a ’61 Fender Stratocaster, and between that and my SGs, that’s about it. There are also two SG Juniors, which are now with a violin maker in Calgary who is making the necks thinner and putting in three Stratocaster pickups. I had a Gibson Flying V, but I gave it to a kid in trade for that same SG that was stolen 12 years ago. The Strat is the best guitar, sound-wise. But I cannot play that thing as freely as I can the SGs. The one thing the Strat won’t do, that the SGs will, is to really scream. The standard Fender single-coil pickups just don’t have, the gain that the Gibson PAF humbuckings have.
I go for the clearest pickup I can get, to eliminate the variables-but it’s got to have some gain. So, I’m going to try some Seymour Duncans with stacked coils; they have the Strat sound but more gain. I go for the clearest speakers, too, to eliminate the variables. Then, when I want distortion I can build a pedal that will give me the perfect distortion every time.
I know my guitars, and this helps get around problems with the tremolo bar. After using the arm I know what string to pull on to yank it back into tune. I also retune while I play. Now I tried the Floyd Rose tremolo, but it has its drawbacks. Number one, if you break,a string, you have to undo the locking nut on each end with an Allen key, tune, and lock ’em down. If they’re not in tune, you have to retune them sharp to compensate, since when you lock them down, they go flat.
I just ordered a new tremolo by Kahler that has a separate locking nut for each string at the nut and adjustable tuners at the bridge, which is a slight improvement. But the one thing those systems won’t let me do is play behind the bridge to make sounds. I do that a lot. On “Maybe It’s Time” [Juggernaut], for example, I make a funny metallic sound that comes out almost acoustic.
As for strings, I use very light gauges, like .008, .009, and .012 on the top, depending on the tune. On the bottom I’ll use anything from a .015 plain to an .018 wound for the fourth string, and then a .026 and a .038 for the fifth and sixth.
Sounds From The Albums:
A lot of people ask about that incredibly high squeal on the solo in “Johnny B. Goode” [California Jam II]. That’s harmonics. I’m playing in the highest register and getting harmonics by picking off my thumb to go even an octave higher than the guitar’s highest notes. There’s another way that I play harmonics, and that’s by tapping the notes one octave up, and I’ve been doing that long before Eddie Van Halen came around.
Speaking of tapping, you see a lot of guys tap single notes on an open string and just hit one string. But what I’m doing on, say, the solo in “Juggernaut,” is playing different arpeggios with the tap, and I’m changing with the chords. It’s the same with “Ain’t Dead Yet” on The Power Of Rock’n’Roll. I’ve been fret-tapping for years, and suddenly people are getting famous off of it. So when I went into the studio, I said, “I’ll do real fret-tap solos-on several strings at once. And it was very appropriate for “Ain’t Dead Yet” and “Juggernaut.” It’s like the organ used to play in Deep Purple.
I also get asked about “Little Town Of Bethlehem,” which is a Christmas carol I do in concerts, using fingerpicking and making it sound like a pipe organ. The key to doing this piece is to use the right dissonant chords; you have to look at it classically and have the bass lines pass from the chords. I play three notes at a time, using my index finger, third, and thumb. Sometimes you’ll see me really stretching to get some dissonance, like a low F and a high B, and that’s what creates the impression of a pipe organ. I call that my “symphony,” and it’s been my favorite part of the show for years.
I don’t use a flanger for “Bethlehem”-I found that it tended to muddy the sound. I do use one for the volume swells in the solo at the end of “Talking ‘Bout A Feelin'” [Live], but again, it’s the same technique as the “symphony,” only with full distortion. I start with everything clean and get my distortion with the notes, like at the beginning of “Purple Haze,” where that tritone intro sounds distorted.
Sometimes when I bend a note and really want it to scream with distortion, I’ll pick up the note on the next string to create a growl. I play a lot of two-string solos. When I was playing Top 40, I used to do Allman Brothers and Hendrix with riffs built inside chords, so I got used to playing solos in chords instead of in notes.
As for “Guit War” [Child Of Novelty]: Yes, honest to god, it was done with just a Strat and an old Fender amp-I’m not sure of the model-just like it says on the cover. It starts with ocean waves splashing up against the seashore. This was created by using the treble control, which had a dirty pot, and swishing it back and forth. Then you hear B-52s coming in the distance. I did about eight tracks of drone sustaining notes with a slight vibrato, each slightly out of key to the other.
You’ll notice that the waves fade out to the right as the bombers drone in from the left side. Then as the bombers get closer, the air raid sirens go off. What I did there was take the two notes of the siren, do each note on a separate track, and do the rise and fall on the tremolo bar. So now the planes are overhead, the sirens are blaring from different sides, the waves are practically gone by now, and then the planes begin to dive, which is an art in itself. Machine guns were created by banging on the guitar and flicking the pickup switch from a closed to an open pickup. And at the end is the bomb. “Juggernaut” ends with a nuclear explosion, too- from the beginning it’s all been related. “Guit War” starts with the Bible passage, “There shall be wars and rumors of wars,” which is basically the same thing I’m talking about today.
Amps And Effects:
I started out using Fender tube amps, but when I found the Acoustic 270 transistor amps, I went: “Wow! Look at all of this low end!” So I started experimenting with it. I used the Acoustic 270 tops exclusively from 1974 until I got my new system. I love their power and beefiness-when I did the bombs on the Acoustics they sounded 50 times better than the new amps; that’s the only thing I’ve given away.
My new amps have tubes again-though tubes will never produce the transient lows that the transistors will. As much as I like doing the bombs and the symphony stuff they’re hellacious on the Acoustics-I couldn’t stand the lack of sustain. All those years I had to use five buffer amps in a line just to get the transistor amp to stop being so clean. And it would still break up, so I’d have to end a note a lot sooner than I wanted to. Tubes are the greatest for singing sustain, and the kind of distortion I like, while the transistor amps have the beefiness and the clarity in the low registers.
Right now I’m working on a hybrid system. I still haven’t got it to the point where it’ll give me the super-lows-the 40 to 50 cycles [per second] you can” achieve with a graphic equalizer. The tube amp won’t get the quick response time you get from transistors, and it doesn’t have an active equalizer-it’s passive, so you filter out the highs. In a transistor amp you are boosting selected frequencies parametrically. Unfortunately, only tubes give you that sustain. Mesa Boogie is an example; my amps are designed around the parameters of the Boogie.
The original designer of my amp system was Richard Onslow, an amp technician in Montreal. Onslow designed the preamp, which is like three amps in one: a clear channel, a rhythm channel, and a lead channel. The channels are switchable with relays, so instead of hitting a fuzztone when I want sustain for a lead, I just switch to the lead channel, which has preset overdrives inside the amp that are laboratory-tested for the perfect amount of sustain. The rhythm channel is just the clean channel with one more tube added to the circuit. My old pedal board was about seven feet wide, but my amp man, Nick Ciarello, and I have rebuilt the pedals and redesigned the whole unit.
Starting with the guitar, the signal goes first to the wireless receiver, then to the pedalboard, through the pedals, then to the preamp rack. On the preamp rack it goes first to the Echoplex, and then to the preamp itself, which has its own effects loop. Then the signal goes to the power amp rack, and finally to the speakers. It’s a very modular system-it can be fixed in a snap. The cables are standard mike cables, and everything is standard wiring.
There is a weakness to the system in that everything is wired in series. But there are failsafe systems, so if a pedal conks out, a relay will automatically bypass the effect. Plus, a light will come on as soon as the pedal fails; the pedal can be removed by quarter-turn fasteners, and there are spare pedals ready to go. All the power for the pedals is DC, and they all plug right into the wall of the pedalboard.
After the signal from the guitar is picked up by the receiver, and before it enters the pedalboard, it goes to FET unity-gain preamps-or buffers-which make up for the long line by changing the impedance. Then I have your standard Cry Baby wah-wah, an octave divider that we built to give a really strong octave down, a modified Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi fuzztone, then a cheap fuzztone-a really crappola old fuzz circuit; I can’t even remember where it came from, but I like the raw, harsh sound. We have all these things built onto cards, and we put the cards in the footswitch boxes that activate the relays. After the cheap fuzz is a volume pedal, and then the signal goes out to the preamp rack.
Though there are a half-dozen cords coming out of the pedalboard, only two are for audio-the rest connect 4-ohm DC switches for the relays. We’re switching things with relays at the rack instead of running the audio out to switch them. When you switch an Echoplex, you’re actually switching the output signal to the input signal, so with a long audio cord you’re actually creating a big loop, which makes it noisier. So the signal goes to the relay box on a very short cord, and we switch the relay box remotely with DC. From the relays in the preamp rack, the DC terminates at a footswitch on the pedal board. When you hit that, it switches the DC to ground, which makes the effect switch on.
Inside the preamp rack there’s the three-channel tube preamp, an Eventide Flanger, which I find to be the nicest flanger, a Roland SRE 555 Space Echo, and an Echoplex mounted on top of the rack. The only reason I use the Echoplex is that it has a certain sound that nothing else has. It’s a noisy unit-in my opinion one of the worst echo units in the world. But for certain things, when you want to feed a lot of juice into it, the Echoplex is the only thing that’ll do it-the Roland is just too clean. I’ll use the Echo-plex to get that backwards-sounding guitar. You have to drive it into distortion to get that effect, so it’ll fade away when you play a note and come in when you let go of the note. Then there’s a Schaffer-Vega wireless receiver mounted on the rack.
Behind my stack is the power amp rack, which contains three Onslow tube amps and a Crown DC-300 transistor amp, which we haven’t yet wired in. What we’re working on now is a system that takes the signal, splits it up, takes the low end below about 180 cycles, and sends it to the transistor amp; everything above will go to the tube amps. So we’ll get back the lows that we had before.
There are two 6oo-watt tube amps-one 80-watter and a Crown PSA2, which is as much as 1000 watts on the low end. I have a selector with LEDs on the back, and the preamp rack is patched to the power amp rack, so I have a selection of all combinations of amps and speakers.
I use two cabinets on each side of the stage. These were originally a bass cabinet design. They have two 15″ Fane Crescendos in them, without a doubt the best speakers ever. They will take power like you wouldn’t believe; they’re rated at 200 watts RMS, but they’ll take up to 450 watts without distortion. They have an isotropic magnet that does not deteriorate with heat, whereas if you’re doing a show over two hours long with a normal speaker, or if there’s extra humidity in the air, gradually the sound will get funny. These speakers sound the same after 50 hours with 400 watts into them, and nothing will distort them.
I don’t go in for speaker distortion; it’s uncontrolled and unreliable. Speaker distortion depends upon humidity and other factors, and you want to eliminate all the variables if you want to control your sound. The next day, it could sound totally different, just because of density changes in the air.
With the Fanes, we’ve eliminated the speaker as a variable-we know what the speakers will produce, and that they’ll sound the same under any conditions. Plus, the Fanes are so much louder because of their super-efficiency. My same setup with JBLs, say, wouldn’t sound nearly as good.
The use of the speakers depends on the room. For a small rock club I just use the80, but for an auditorium I use the 600 to create ambience. I stand in front of the drums, thank God, because I hate to hear the direct sound, since it’s so unmixed to the rest of the band. So I have amps on both sides of the drums, and by miking them and putting it slightly in the side-fill monitors, it brings it right back to clarity, and I’ve created a panorama of guitar on the stage. We want to get to the point where the sound man won’t have to deal with the stage at all. But then we have to tackle the problem of PA systems, none of which sound nearly as good as what I hear in the middle of the stage.
Right now we’re two components away from perfecting the sound I need. The two components are a slightly better cabinet-Fane doesn’t build cabinets, so we did them ourselves-and the hybrid amp system so we can get the low end from the transistors. What we’d like to do is to bring the signal from the tubes and transistors back into one signal That way we eliminate the variable of having two separate cabinets that have to be stacked in different places so you don’t have coupling of your sound.
In the future I’d like my group to have as many as nine players. The instrumentation would be the same as I have now, keyboards and guitars. I’ll want all the guitars to have the same setup and sound as I do, so you don’t know who’s playing what.
We just came back from Europe, and it was fantastic. The appreciation level for what we did there was unreal. In all my ten to twelve years touring nothing comes close-I was totally amazed that it could be like that. The audiences there were so high and knowledgeable that I had to be real good every night.
The tour lasted three or four weeks. We did Amsterdam, a couple of places in Finland, Sweden, Holland, Germany (all over Germany), Belgium, France, England-that’s about it. And it was really, really something. It’s funny, because before the last album I did, Juggernaut, I had been to England to do an outdoor festival, and that inspired the whole trend on that album. And now that I’ve been to Europe, it’s even inspired me further.
I think that we suffer in our hemisphere here; we suffer from an abundance of too many things. And I think we’re a little bit spoiled over here-we have so many great artists and so many talented individuals, and we have so many people on our continent that are into the whole thing. It’s on TV, it’s on MTV, it’s on radio, it’s in music stores, it’s in every club you go to. I think we’ve become a little bit jaded.
A lot of times, we’re clapping for the wrong reasons over here. What band doesn’t get an encore today? Very rare-it’s almost part of the show. The bands don’t even wait until the show’s over-they wait right behind their equipment because they know they’re going to be back. I find that a little bit ridiculous. Who the hell do we think we are, that we should wait behind our equipment, like we know we’re going to be called back? The crowd should decide whether we’re going back or not.
I think the reason we’re doing that is not because we’re hypocrites-and when I say we, I mean all of us-I think that it’s because it’s become so standard here. When you go to Europe, it’s a little bit different-you’ve really got to be first rate. You’ve got to deliver the goods. If you’re no good, they know, because they don’t see as many shows. They seem to spend their money a lot more frugally.
We played alone at every place. We didn’t have an opening act because we’re doing these long, three-hour shows now. We played alone everywhere, and we just sold out. It was really amazing-the promoters didn’t expect it. We obviously have some kind of a great cult following over there because sometimes with very limited advertising in a place such as Oulu, Finland, all these kids came out of the woodwork. They knew who we were, they knew the songs-and something else-a lot of them knew the words to the tunes even though they couldn’t speak English. They could sing all the songs along with the band. It was a magical sort of tour. I t really inspired me.
You might think that playing for a quarter of a million people at Cal Jam II would be the all-time high. But it wasn’t. The greatest thrill in my lifetime was hearing my record on the radio after 12 years [“Strange Dreams,” from Juggernaut, made the top ten in Billboards Top Tracks chart, which rates album airplay]. Cal Jam, in my opinion, was a carnival of sorts. I’ve spoken to many people that played there, and they said that they didn’t have a good time, although they wouldn’t admit that to the press. It was too big, too remote-us and them. Woodstock wasn’t us and them, it was real; this was an attempt to recreate Woodstock, and I think it failed miserably.
In terms of my writing and the band’s playing, I’d say some of our best work went into “Strange Universe,” “Juggernaut,” “Ain’t Dead Yet,” and “Something’s Coming Our Way” [from What’s Next). As a guitar player, I like “It’s Begun To Rain,” [Mahogany Rush IV], and “World Anthem” [World Anthem). Actually, “World Anthem” was one of my favorite moments as a writer and as a poet. Though I wrote on the cover inset that it probably wouldn’t do anything, creating an anthem for the world was just something I wanted to do.
Looking toward the future, I have some things in the can that are like, say, Pink Floyd, and I’d love to try doing some instrumental scores for films. Right now I do have a 22-minute instrumental piece that is very movie-esque, and it’s very dramatic. I hardly ever listen to the radio or records-what I like to listen to more than anything is movie scores-just sit down and listen to the film score for Ben Hur or The Ten Commandments, or something by John Williams. That is where my new roots are. My original roots were in the ’60s with the rock and the blues and the soul. But now my musical idea roots are in the symphonic approach to music. I had no training at all, but I’ve been a closet symphony freak for years. Of course, it isn’t “cool” to like that when you’re in the rock scene.
I do listen to my own music too, -I listen to it for regeneration. Like, what did I do, and where am I going to go. And you know, I really am proud of my work.
FRANK MARINO & MAHOGANY RUSH
1974 Child of the Novelty
1975 Strange Universe
1977 World Anthem
1979 Tales of the Unexpected
1980 What’s Next
1981 The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll
1986 Full Circle
1988 Double Live
1990 From the Hip
1997 Dragonfly (Best of)
2000 Eye of the Storm
2004 Real Live
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