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Non-Prog Interviews

Frank Marino

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview With Frank Marino From 2000
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

You have often been pegged as a Hendrix clone. Was that an aggravation?
It was an aggravation from day one because I come from a time, late '60's, when playing a type of music or sounding a certain way was not considered something odd or detrimental. With '60's bands basically all you did was cover material. That was how you did it. You got together at parties or gigs and played Beatles tunes. Whoever you liked you were influenced by. It was considered a normal thing to be influenced by who you liked. Hendrix was just one of the guys who I liked and who I was influenced by. I was also influenced by Quicksilver and the Doors and the Beatles and whole bunch of other bands - even the Grateful Dead. So, my music is basically a culmination of all of that, but since I'm a guitar player - and since most of the music is guitar music - and since I made probably the error of writing on my first record a sort of dedication to Jimi Hendrix, I think that some person in the industry looked at that and saw only that. So, they started to make that connection, and then a writer for some magazine somewhere invented some kind of really weird story about spiritual reincarnation and connection, some nonsense like that. And the next thing you know, you're a 16, 17-year-old kid from Montreal, a story like that's gone out. It's not like all the rest of the writers are going to find you, phone you up and ask you to confirm it. Then things started to spread. Any time I was doing an article in those days or talking to anyone on the radio, I was just telling them, "no, no, no, no, this is not accurate", but it never really got around. What that did was that it all turned into, oh, Marino, that Hendrix guy. You get that stigma - that association. It started to aggravate me very much. It started to aggravate me very early on. It aggravated me as early as 17 or 18 years old. So, that was almost 30 years ago. In answer to your question, I thought it was very, very detrimental to what I thought I was trying to do as a musician.

The interesting thing is I remember telling a guy in those days (I may have been 19 or 20), "OK, it's sort of a style that I play that you're looking at. You're sort of talking as if it's something bad to do, but I really believe that one day in the future every electric guitar player is going to sort of play this style because that's just sort of the way that electric guitar is to be played, you know, sort of R & B based, blues based rock guitar." At the time that I said that you didn't really have any other guys that were sounding on a similar line as Hendrix. But, then Robin Trower came out, and then the next and then the next, and then Stevie Ray Vaughn at one point, which was very, very similar as well. I think people can agree with that. But, it never translated into a kind of thing that these industry guys held up against those other guys. It was hung around my neck, but they didn't sort of see it in the others. Or, if they saw it, they said it was OK. I've got articles that those magazines had written. I'll always remember the headline of one of them. I did a cover of a Doors tune, "Roadhouse Blues". I did that in like '79, late in the '70's. The headline in this magazine was "Frank Marino Robs Fresh Grave". I thought, "well, what's going on here?" I can't cover a song? I can't do another person's tune?

At one point I responded by doing "All Along the Watchtower" to sort of goad them into saying something about it, which they did. To which I replied, well, it's a Bob Dylan tune, not a Jimi Hendrix tune. That's really why I did "All Along the Watchtower". I'll bet you a lot of people don't realize it's Dylan, because at the time a lot of people didn't. It's the old trick that some people have done where they take a track off a record by a known act and send it to like 20 record companies. Then from the letters of refusal that said stuff like, "we think your work is not up to par" or amateur, stuff like that. So, that was my way of doing that.

MSJ: So, don't you think that that was sloppy journalism on their part?
I think it absolutely was sloppy journalism, if journalism can be defined as accurate, getting the facts straight, proper journalism. In my opinion I would think that the most important thing about journalism would probably be accuracy, and then writing. I think that if any journalist is going to report the story as news, rather than opinion - say, "this happened" and they haven't bothered to find out if this did happen. What happens when those people find out it didn't happen? But, let's put it into perspective. We were in a time probably where we had more bands than we needed to have. So, we ended up with more journalists than we needed to have. The business was exploding and everybody and their brother was having a show or playing a pop festival - everybody had a gig. You'd see all these gigs going on. Nowadays a lot of bands are saying they came into town, and they did 600 to 700 people. In those days bands that nobody knew were going out and doing three to four thousand people. You had so many of them, so everybody was graduating to journalism as well. But, as I say, not even just with music, anybody reporting something should at least call the person and say, "I'm about to say this. What do you have to say about this? Is this a fact? I've confirmed this with two other sources, and now I'm calling you. I'm going to put it out." That's what I'd do if I was a journalist.

MSJ: I understand that you had a guitar battle with Ted Nugent. What can you tell me about that?
Basically I was playing in Detroit and Ted was opening. I never met him before or anything. During my show, unbeknownst to us, he came out on stage with amplifiers. I couldn't believe it - six roadies wheeling an amplifier while he was playing with an extension cord. And, he proceeded to do this guitar challenge. I'd never seen anything like it in my life. I was astounded. I couldn't have been more than 17 or 18. I didn't know what to do. I was totally embarrassed. I had to kind of play into it, like oh, yeah; this is what we're doing - to sort of not look stupid. I mean, what could I do say, "Get the hell off the stage?" I wasn't going to do that. I wouldn't even do that today. I'm not rude enough. So, it happened, and the end result was that basically it wasn't very hard to do what Ted did, and I guess the people saw that. The general consensus to this day is that Ted came out, tried to challenge Frank and Frank blew him off the stage.
MSJ: You have been out of the scene for a while and now are back. What happened?
I just left in '93. My wife was pregnant with the first of three daughters. I just left, just went home. I said, "OK, let's do this now." I was just sort of fed up with the music scene. By the end of 24 years in it I had come to understand that where I had gotten to, and what it had gotten to was not at all what I had hoped it would be when I started to play. It took a lot of years of being reminded of that to finally get it - that it wasn't just an anomaly. When I first started suspecting that the music scene wasn't what I thought it was, I thought, "that's an anomaly". It's just cause of where I am. Or, it's just cause of who we're playing with. Or it's just cause of that manager. Or it's just cause of that record company. You tend to sort of excuse the weird things that happen, because you're still hoping it can be what you thought it would be. That's denial. After 24 years, I'd seen so much of it. I'd seen it in big ways and in little ways. I'd seen macrocosms and microcosms - it always followed the same pattern. It wasn't at all what it was in the '60's. So, I said, "that's it. I've had enough. It's not what I thought it would be", and I went home. Because for me it was supposed to be about having fun and getting to know people in the industry. Becoming friendly, jamming - all the things you think when you're 16. It wasn't about competitiveness. It wasn't about competition - being better than the other guy. It wasn't sport, and it became sport, pretty quickly. It went from being art to sport. Then it went from being sport to being what the WWF is to sport. Then after those excesses it went to being a rat race. That's not why I started. I started in the business because I liked playing. I didn't want to go to school, and I didn't want to have a job and I wanted to meet girls. That's as forthcoming as you can be because that's why anyone starts. No one was thinking of money. I remember the conversations, "Well, you know the money won't be good, but…" "Yeah, forget the money, who cares?" We'd do these gigs, and the band would sit around talking about "did you see that girl in the third row?" "Did you see that girl in the fourth row?" That was basically what the band was caring about, and every other band I knew in those days. From an artistic point of view you had this dream. I really like Janis Joplin or I really like Jerry Garcia or whatever, maybe if I play in that business I'll go over to his house and we'll hang out. This is what you thought you'd do because that's what they did. It wasn't unusual in those days. Anyway, that's what you think it is when you get started in the '60's. You think it would be like that. Of course, it just happened to change pretty much because there was this large influx of people getting into the music industry. So, it became very competitive, dog eat dog.

People started putting on shows to be better than the next show, and everyone who was opening for someone else was trying to blow off the headliner. I never heard the expression "blow someone off the stage" until I started playing in these professional gigs. Then I didn't know what it meant until somebody told me. So, that's why '93 came along and I looked back. I had been looking back for a long, long time. I figured it isn't fun, hasn't been fun for a long time. I think I'll just go home. People said to me, "Why don't you do a last tour?" "Why don't you do a farewell?" I said, "that's so stupid. That's so self serving". "Farewell! Here I am. I'm leaving. Go ahead and come give me your money for one last time." I said, "If you're going to leave, you leave." Why should I announce I'm leaving? Athletes do that all the time. This guy's retiring - news conferences - clicking cameras, guys crying at the microphone. The guy's retiring - had a great run. Nobody died. So, that's the way I looked at it. I just went home and that's it.

MSJ: What brought you back?
Willy Parsons - Willy Parsons brought me back. I'm home now, and I'm building computers. There I was building computers and going on this new thing called "the Internet". This was around '97 or something, later '90's. I was looking for family trees for my family name, for my Dad. Of course, I put in the names Marino, Frank Marino, Tina Marino - looking to see if there were ever any relatives that he didn't know about. Bingo! I see Frank Marino this and Frank Marino that in the search engine. My name is all over this thing. So, I start clicking on these things. I get to this site that says, "Strange Universe". I thought, "How did this happen?" I started looking. That was the website that Willy Parsons put together. I didn't know Willy Parsons. I started looking at this site, and I saw all these hits on the hit counter. I figured, "wow, there's a lot of people looking a this thing." Then there was this thing at the time. He didn't have a message board at the time, but he had this guest book. I started viewing the guest book and couldn't believe the type of letters that some of these fans were writing. I was really, really moved. I couldn't believe it. I didn't know. I thought nobody knew - nobody gave a damn. I was really surprised to find this place. So, I contacted the guy to him "thank you". He said, "would you mind doing a chat or something or helping out a little?" I said, "yeah, whatever. I can send you some picture or maybe answer some questions." So, then he put that together, and the next thing I know there's this big connection with the fans. So, sooner or later I told them I'd done this album, which became Eye of the Storm. I had it in the can sitting her for the longest time - sitting there for 5 years. I wasn't going to put it out. I was never going to put it out. It didn't even have a title. It wasn't intended to come out. I started sending it to some of them. They asked, "Oh, please let me hear it." So, I made copies, sent it to some people. They basically convinced me to put it out. It took them almost a year and a half to two years to convince me to put it out. You go back in the guest book and see the history of all these people talking about it coming out; and it doesn't come out 'til a year and a half, two years later. So, finally I put it out, privately, basically. Next thing you know, "will you do one gig?" "Will you play two gigs?" "Will you do it just for the fans?" That type of thing. So, I started saying, "Yeah, I'll do it as long as it's fun. I was still thinking of why I wasn't doing it, you know. So, "yeah, yeah, don't worry, we'll all keep it fun. It will only be fun." So, that's why I only did one gig the first year and two the next. I'm not going to chase it. I'm not going to run after it. I'm just going to do it for the fun.

So, that's what ended up sort of drawing me back into the circle. It was really those fans and Willy Parsons. Without that you'd never see me back with a record. I'd have made a lot of records. I still do, but I don't make them to put out. I make them for me. Eye of the Storm was a record I made totally and absolutely for me. It was never intended to come out in the public market. That's why the songs are all 12 minutes long. They'll never get on the radio. They're totally underground, because they're my roots. Eye of the Storm is a totally uncompromised record. I can tell you that every other record I've done has some kind of compromise on it. That's why I could never listen to my other records. There's always some song on it somewhere that's filler or something I didn't want to do or is polished too much. Gotta sound good for the radio. This is probably the first candid musical snapshot I've had. Everything else was a posed photo.

I couldn't believe it, when it was finally put out the response from, of all people, journalists. I was like, "are you kidding me? You like it?" I could have done this from day one. They didn't like the records earlier in my career, and all of a sudden I do a record that I didn't intend for public consumption, but just for me. I don't compromise because you don't compromise when you're making a record for you. You figure nobody's ever going to hear this. And, all of a sudden they love it. I'm like, "wow, why did I ever listen to all those managers?" The funny thing about it is, I could do these records all day. I did before I made records. It's exactly what I did before I made records. Those kind of tracks done that kind of way. That's what got me signed to a record company in the first place. I was out there as a live band playing this kind of stuff in concert - totally like that. I got signed to 20th Century and I do Maxoom? Please! I was 16. I didn't know how to make records. On top of it they said, "you produce it." So, I've produced every record I've ever done. I really shouldn't have. I really should have had a producer who said, "do what it is you do and we'll produce it." You stick a 16 year old kid who's got his own music and then you him, "well, we do need to fill up 40 minutes of vinyl, but you can't have two songs on it. Let's shorten them all. Let's make tunes out of them." So, you're trying to think as a producer, because you want to be responsible. At the same time you're compromising your music. So, that's what happens. If I'd had a real good producer in the beginning, he'd have probably said to me (because I know now. I produce other people) "you just play what you do and leave the recording of it to me. Leave the shortening of it to me. Leave the packaging of it to me." That's what should have happened. So, Eye of the Storm is the album I wanted to make when I was 16, but didn't know how to do.

MSJ: Where do you go from here?
I'm just recording stuff as I go. I bought a 32-track digital hard disk recorder and I take it wherever I go when I play. When we do live shows I record them. Already I've got so much stuff. We record every single show, every single sound check. We even record the dinner. I'll sift through it when I'm at home and say, "oh, there's a cool riff. There's a cool jam", because we're a jam band. This new jam band scene that you see happening - we're like the original jam band. That's really what we are. That whole album Eye of the Storm is jamming. I'm always looking for a good jam. So, that's where I go from here. I keep making jam records, and if I like them, chances are now people are going to like 'em too. I should have felt that way in the beginning.
MSJ: Are there any musicians with whom you would like to work?
I'd like to work with everybody, man. I have a great respect for a lot of musicians. It would be easier for me to tell you, and I don't really want to, who I don't respect as musicians than who I do. Because I could count them on one hand. I have a lot of respect for most musicians because if you strip away the veneer of what they're trying to do - make a living, get people to buy their record, get a gig - that's all they're really trying to do. When they try to do things that people put down, they're really not bad people. They're trying to market. Some of them go about it the wrong way. There's a few, like I said, I can count them on one hand, or maybe two, that you know are taking advantage. They're laughing at people. You have to know them to know it's true. You can't just see them from a distance and know that's what they're doing.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
I had the whole Spinal Tap tour. 1986, I'll never forget it. We did 8 weeks - all together 14 people and the band equipment on a bus. We did 8 weeks, and everything that happened to me on that tour could have been in the Spinal Tap movie. Some of the things that happened in the Spinal Tap movie did happen to me. We got lost in the kitchen, couldn't find the stage. We played a military installation. We had gigs that we got to where the place was not there. It had burned down, and no one told us. We had days off in cities where we had no hotels; we had to live on the bus. The bus broke down in a ghost town in Texas, with tumbleweeds rolling across the street. The floor of the bus fell out. The bus sunk in quicksand while we were sleeping on it. You couldn't believe the things that happened to me on the '86 tour. When I saw Spinal Tap, I saw it after that, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing because it was like Rob Reiner was on my bus. The guys that were with me at the time, we were all watching it, later, well after the tour. We were looking at each other like, is this possible? Where did he get that story? Did he hear about what happened to me? And, I even played at a place where I had a puppet show opening.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought or what have you been listening to lately?
I haven't been listening to anything lately. I don't think I ever bought a CD. My wife has bought me a CD because I said I'd like to have it. So, I get it as a present. I got the 40 Years of Tony Bennett compilation and I got the Beatles 1. It's these kind of things where you hear somebody put out something that you're kind of interested in, and you say you'd like to hear that, it might be cool. She sort of shows up with it. So, that's sort of the way I got my last CD.
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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