Frank Marino has been blowing people's minds with some of the wickedest, fastest guitar playing on earth for over 35 years. Frank and his band, Mahogany Rush, first burst onto the scene in the mid 70's on the strength of their incendiary live shows. Yet, even though Frank was selling out arenas and outdoor shows all over the world, he never had much to show for it. Ripped off by record labels and promoters, and fed up with the music business, Frank hung up his SG in '93 and embarked on a new adventure — being a dad. But being the kind of artist that Frank is, it was only a matter of time before he would return to music with a vengeance. Lured back onto the road by his rabid fanbase, he resurfaced in '98 and released arguably his strongest studio album to date, Eye of the Storm, in 2000.
Interviewing Frank was a lot of fun. I felt like I was talking to an old friend whom I had known for years. He is very articulate, intelligent, opinionated, and honest to a fault. He really enjoys talking with his fans, which you'll see if you happen to peruse the message boards on his website — he is very active there and extremely accessible. Even after 35 years in the business, clearly he still loves to play the guitar and bring his music to the people.
Frank recently completed the Legends of Rock tour in the UK with Uli Jon Roth. He is poised to release a new double live CD, as yet untitled, sometime this fall. Check out www.mahoganyrush.com for more information on Frank and the new CD.
8/10/03 Interview conducted by John Walker.
DRG: Let's start off by talking about your last record, Eye of the Storm. The opening of it is really eerie.
Frank: Oh yeah, prophetic.
DRG: And the album was actually released before 9/11 happened, correct?
Frank: Yes, and I even recorded it long before that. I'm a theologian, so I think about those things a lot — prophecy.
DRG: That's what's really interesting about a lot of your music. I always get into the political and spiritual stuff more myself . . . rather than the "I love you baby" type songs.
Frank: That's the interesting thing about my pop tunes. (Note: Frank is referring to a collection of around 70 pop songs he's written.) The whole key about writing pop tunes is, they are about nothing. They are either about love interests, or about nothing. A day in the life, walking down the street, that baby carriage rolling in the mall, you know? That's what pop tunes are about. That affords me the ability to get away from the seriousness of most of the poetry that I have to write in my life, the prophecy or whatever you wanna call it, and I just write these pop tunes about absolutely nothing, you know? The first time I saw you, you really lit up my life — this kind of stuff (laughs). That's why I like writing the pop tunes, because it allows you — especially when, you know, I'm doing this to never put them out — I'm just doing this to do them, like a painter that does paintings that he keeps in his studio.
DRG: You have to do stuff outside the box.
Frank: Oh yeah, and it's great to be able to write stuff like this that doesn't have to mean anything. It just has to sort of sound like it means something to someone else.
DRG: It might (laughs).
Frank: It probably will if you write about teen angst, write about losing a love, or you write about wanting a love, or you write about dancing all night with a girl — somebody somewhere, they're going to be thinking that. You know, dancing all night with a girl that time we went to the high school prom, whatever.
DRG: There's a real art to that, too.
Frank: As far as Eye of the Storm goes, the music for Eye of the Storm was mostly written in the early 90's, and I didn't really put it out until the late 90's. The piece that opens it, Storm Warning — that was even done before that, including the radio tuning through it. So it is quite in advance of what happened, what continues to now be the political paradigm in the world, you know. I have Middle Eastern ancestry — Arabic ancestry and Italian ancestry — and so I feel now I see all of this when I see what's going on in the world and how much of a part the whole Arab thing is playing in the world and all that, it does, even to me sound eerily prophetic because of the fact that I didn't only write these things about this very thing, but I even did the music in that style, when I did Eye of the Storm, and then He's Calling and then all these other tunes, you know?
DRG: Yeah, I picked right up on that, but I just didn't check my dates. (laughs)
Frank: This happened to me once before — I did a song for an album that I did called From the Hip and I did this song prior to the first Gulf War by about two years, or a year, and there's a song on there called Babylon.
DRG: I haven't heard that one.
Frank: Well, it's more of the same, actually (laughs)! It's more of the same, so it seems to happen to me quite regularly. I think if more people contemplate theology as much as I contemplate it, I mean I really contemplate it day and night, you know, this is what I do. I don't, you know, when I have free time, if you want to call it that, my free time is spent contemplating, not necessarily reading or studying — that was 30 years ago — but contemplating the ideas, theological and spiritual ideas. And I think when you spent a lot of your time doing that, you sort of become a conduit, like a radio antenna. And the things you say, you often don't know why you say them. But they do end up being relevant. I believe we are radio antennas, you know?
DRG: I've always felt like when you're writing a song, a good song will just be there, and you'll be in the mood or whatever that you need to be in to pick it up and it'll just write itself.
Frank: That's very, very, very true — and that happens very much too when you're recording a song. Like, even a person in my position, who has been writing for 35 years and stuff, even to this day if I actually record a tune, the tune that I begin recording bears no resemblance to the one that ends. By the time it's finished, the song has asked me for many things, you know — I've got the drums down and I've got the guitar down and as I'm listening to it it's like, hmm, this needs this, hmm, that needs that, wow I need this harmony there. And by the time you're finished it's the song that's actually telling you feed me a minor third! So, by the end, the song is just recording itself, as you say, and when you hear it in the end you go my goodness. Did I do that? I had no idea it would turn out that way. Historically speaking, and this is a testable theory, the majority of very, very great tunes, the great tunes of the age, the 90 percent of these songs were written in under two minutes. So they really are feel, seat of the pants, feel things that the writer almost lucked onto. And then he took what he lucked onto and he might have polished it a little or made two verses instead of one or said boy it needs a bridge, you know? But generally the melody and the gist of it was tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, and it came out of his head.
DRG: Boom, there it is. (laughs) So I take it that that's pretty much the way you operate too?
Frank: Always have, always have. Every tune that I've ever written, with the exception of these pop tunes, every single one of them I've written at the point of recording.
Frank: Yeah, I've never gone into a studio and had a preconceived tune.
DRG: So, how long does it take you to do a song, typically?
Frank: It's totally dependant on the day. We may sit for many, many days doing nothing. Like, I like to watch hockey. We may sit for days watching hockey while playing guitar, and nothing's happening. But at some point, the sound is right, the feel is right, the night is right, the pizza's good! (laughs)
DRG: And it just takes off?
Frank: Bingo! Ding ding ding ding ding ding! Oh I got another one! Oh, it goes like this! Oh, it goes like this!
DRG: So you guys pretty much just sit in a room together and . . .
Frank: Yeah, yeah, togetherness is the most important thing. Writing in loneliness is very hard to do because you don't often come up with the best result. You really need to sort of feed off the energy of some kind of other listener. Even if it's a person who you can simply say to what do you think? Even if it's your wife, or your buddy, or your friend or your daughter, you know? Just to know that you're sort of playing to an audience — a closed in audience, but an audience nevertheless — we feed off the energy that comes back from people. And, uh, this is the way to do it. So bands really should promote togetherness a lot more than they lately do. In the early days of bands, it was all about that. It was really all about that, truly. Now, it's not so much about that — it's about money or it's about stardom, or it's about being somebody. I don't care for fame. I don't care for stardom. I care for money only in so much as it helps my children. I don't care for money for me. I don't even ever change my wardrobe. Matter of fact, my wife tells me what to wear, you know?
DRG: They all do. (laughs)
Frank: But the rest of it, you know I really couldn't care less about the stardom, or the fame, or being known as somebody great, or even being known as somebody who did something great. It's always been about enjoying it, and the best way to enjoy it is with the people you do it with. I believe that the combination of many people sharing in the same thing, whether it's a sports team, or people at dinner — it becomes the sum of the parts. It's like an addition, it's like another person gets into the crowd. Imagine, you know, the combination of all your friends at dinner or you with your family at these family functions creates a spirit, like a spirit of party, a spirit of enjoyment, a feeling, if you want to call it that. And that feeling is almost like another being, it's like the spirit that is created. And you can't often have that alone. So, so alone time is for contemplation, there's no real spirit to that. But when you get together with other people of a like mind and do anything where — it could be music, painting, it could be basketball — you know, if you're doing something where a bunch of people are of a like mind, there's a feeling that comes over that group of people, a camaraderie. And that feeling is the spirit of those people added together. Doing that in a band I think is the most important thing you can have, because it's that spirit that creates the music, that makes the music work. You see, most people today, they have computers. And most computers have software on them that do recording. That software's even free, you can download it from the internet in about a dozen places; you know everybody's got a crack for every program. And so, everybody in their home can make their own recording studio so they get the soundcard, they buy a guitar, a mic and an amp, maybe a keyboard with some sounds in it, they plug it all into their computer and they start making their own songs at home. And this is wonderful, in a sense, but in another sense it's a bit sad because they all become islands and they're so disconnected from anybody else doing the music that how could they ever get any kind of spirit into it?
Frank: I don't believe in that. I believe that, when I'm home, I'm not touring, or I'm not playing in a recording, I never play my guitar. And I never have, for 35 years. When I took 5 years off between '93 and '98, I didn't touch my guitar one time. There was no reason to do it. There was no people to do it with. And then in '97-'98, when they said do you want to go back out on the road?, the idea that brought me out there was the idea that I was gonna get back together with people, and it's the same kind of feeling as saying you wanna go out to a restaurant with your friends, and eat pizza! You know, the fun of it. In my time in the 60s we did that. We — people got together and created bands in garages or went to somebody's house with their guitar or their drum — in my case it was a drum set, I used to be a drummer — and we'd cart all these things over to someone's house just to bash on them not because we thought we were gonna be in a band, or tour, or make records, but for the same reason the kids do it with their video games. We just went over to have fun. At the end of the day, the day was over, the next day there was more fun. And what ended up happening, is some of us got so successful we ended up in careers, we ended up making records, we ended up making notoriety. But the next generation of kids who came along started to say I'm going over to so and so's house to play so that we have a band, so that we can get signed, so that we can have a record, so that we can be rock and roll stars. The motivation behind why people were gettin together to play music changed from one of having fun, to one of goal oriented. To one of, be somebody. We're gonna be famous, we're gonna make money, we're gonna — never mind money — we're gonna get girls. Could be as simple as that. And so, as soon as it became that, the motivation for being in the group no longer was pure, and it was only logical that the next step would be more and more and more of the same. What you now have, and what you've had for the last little while, is people who won't even start a band, or play with anybody, unless there's something in it for them. There's got to be a hope of a deal, or a hope of getting noticed, or a hope of being the best band in the city and getting signed, that word signed, it drives me crazy, you know? So, this is what you see as the 'holy grail' now for bands — let's make a band and get signed.
DRG: It's not about art anymore, really.
Frank: Yeah, it's totally not about art anymore, and this is what's killed the industry. On top of it all, you have the people who are in the industry who are already firmly ensconced in the industry, who in the sense — try to understand my words here — they used to do concerts, now they do shows. Do you understand what I'm trying to say? Nobody goes to a concert anymore, that calls it that. Everybody calls it a show, and for good reason, because what used to be a musical experience has now become a complete other thing. And nowhere is that more evident than with bands like KISS or Nugent or people like that started turning their concerts into extravaganzas, with fireworks and blood and you know, everything else that goes with it. Right? It became a spectacle. In a sense, most of these acts became to music what the WWF became to sport — a kind of a parody.
DRG: You toured with both those acts, I'm sure.
Frank: Yes, of course, I toured with everybody except the Stones, thank God, (laughing) 'cause I can't stand them! (laughs) I can't stand the Stones, I think they're the worst hoax ever perpetrated on the musical community, ever! (laughing)
DRG: I've never understood the fascination either. (laughs)
Frank: I seriously mean this, when I say the word hoax, I'm not just using a euphemism. I believe the Rolling Stones were a hoax from the beginning, and they're a hoax still, but it's like, you know, Barnum was right — there's a sucker born every minute! (laughs)
DRG: That's definitely true.
Frank: And there's a lot of suckers for the Rolling Stones.
DRG: You've got a new live CD in the can. Is it coming out soon?
Frank: It's coming out if somebody wants to get it from me. I'm trying like crazy to get some company to take it. So far I haven't had any luck. Steve Vai called me up and he wanted it for his label, but he wanted me to wait until the middle of next year because of his schedule, and I just can't do that, so I very amicably said no. Maybe we'll do something in the future. I made a trailer of this CD, to circumvent the P2P problem, and actually I hope people take the trailer and put it on Napster and Kazaa and all that, because I'd love to see it all over the place. It's an 11 and a half minute audio trailer of the record, and it pretty much gives you what the record is. You don't really need to hear more to know, if you're a company, to know whether you like it or not.
DRG: Well, people should know what they're getting with you by now, anyway.
Frank: Yeah, and so the trailer is out there in the hands of a bunch of people at a bunch of companies, and so far nobody's really gotten back to me on it except for one guy here in Canada who has the record company that just did my last album, Eye of the Storm. I'm probably going to sit down with him on Monday or Tuesday and see if we can come to an agreement. If we can, he'll be putting the record out probably in September. If we can't, I'll be putting the record out probably in September, on my page. We don't really know what to call it yet, and we don't really have a cover.
DRG: You have a lot of fans on our forum and that was the number one question — when is the record coming out and where am I going to be able to get it?
Frank: If I put it out myself, or I put it on my page, I really pray and hope that they don't just send one guy to buy it and then share it amongst everybody, because I really could use the sale! Listen, I'm a guy fighting upstream on my own, I've got no manager, got no record company, and got no money. So, any help I can get from any fans would be greatly appreciated!
DRG: What did you think of the recent Legends of Rock tour with Uli Roth?
Frank: Uli is a very wonderful person who I love dearly, and I hope to work with him again sometime in the future. Uli's a strange cat, he's very busy on a lot of weird, different things. And he's not the type of guy who just likes to go out and play for nothing, so maybe if I could interest him in something. There's a girl who did Legends of Rock with us named Kate (known to DRG faithful as Battttttty), who's trying right now to put 15 dates together for me in England. I really don't know if that's going to happen but I'm crossing my fingers. And I even suggested to her, maybe we should tell Uli to come out with me and play with me. Since he had me on his tour why shouldn't I have him on mine?
DRG: Is there any interest at all from any US promoters?
Frank: The toughest thing for me to do, and don't ask me why cause I couldn't answer you, is to understand why US promoters are so . . . hesitant to take a chance on hiring this act. The only reason you don't see me touring 200 days a year is not because I wouldn't do it, 'cause I love touring. I bring the kids — they've been with me everywhere — I basically bring my family so for me, nothing changes. I love it, I love being on the road, I love traveling — but the promoters, it seems like I can never get enough promoters in one week to give me enough dates to put me on the road. I might get one guy in one week, but I can't go out on the road with the money from one guy, 'cause I got huge expenses to keep a band on the road. The problem for us is constantly to put together enough promoters in a straight line, a drivable line, to say, here we are, we've got a week of dates, and now let's do two weeks of dates, and now let's do three weeks of dates. But I don't understand it, because we do a very good show, we give a lot to the people, we play 3 hours and 40 minutes, we certainly give people their money's worth, and nobody leaves, and yet the promoters, for some reason . . . and we do well at the doors, it's not like we come into town and do 20 people! But, for some reason the promoters don't really know about us, and so they're booking bands that they know of or that they've heard on the radio, and they're filling their weekends with that. And so consequently, we don't get as much work as we'd like. But if the question is, would I tour 200 days a year, the answer is, absolutely! It's a lot harder now than it was before.
DRG: That's a lot of the motivation behind Dinosaur Rock Guitar.com, because there are a lot of great players who are just . . . disappearing.
Frank: Yeah, I just wrote my first genuine blues tune. Wanna hear the first line? (laughing) hey, this is a scoop for you!
Frank: (sings "I'm a Man") Da nah nah I woke up this morning, da nah nah nah and all the good guitar men were dead! (laughs)
Frank: I have to tell you, I don't wanna seem like the voice of doom here. But the music industry, the business as we like to call it, there's something wrong with it. It's very ill, you know? Nobody's in sync. No one's in sync with the fans, that's for sure, OK? Just look at the P2P sites. These fans are going to get their music on P2P because they can't get it, reasonably priced, anyplace else. They're getting totally fuckin' ripped off by a bunch of fat cats in the industry that don't know the first thing — and now they're gettin' sued by the RIAA for downloading. It's ridiculous, but the industry is totally out of touch with the fans. The radio is totally out of touch with the fans. The promoters are totally out of touch with the radio. The industry's totally out of touch with the promoters — nobody's communicating here. And I come from a time when everyone was communicating, you know, it clicked. You had everybody always on tour playing and they were always puttin' out records and they were always gettin' gigs, and it was like a big circus. Now, it's like, me me me me me me me. Everybody's got this me thing goin'. Consequently we've got a bunch of musicians out there that want to do — even for the right reasons — that want to good music, they can't get fuckin' arrested! I mean it's — it's ridiculous.
DRG: When did it break?
Frank: I think it broke slowly. I think it broke, uh, it almost sort of eroded more than broke. And, I think, I could point to a dozen times that I would think were the watershed this started that happening, this started this happening. But we are at a point where something has to be rethought here. Point 1: the fan of music, who just likes music, OK? That's the guy that's downloading. The guy that's downloading music from sharing sites, is actually the guy who just likes music. He's not downloading it so he can have the latest KISS record or the latest Metallica record. He's downloading it because it's there. He likes to have it. He probably doesn't even listen to all of it that he has, but he says, music, I like music, and he downloads the music. Whether that's right or wrong is a whole other argument. But the point is, this is the guy that likes music. And if he likes music so much that he's gonna sit down through a download for God knows how long to get it to be able to hear it at his computer while he's working on his drawing program, then, why rip this guy off? He's doing this so he can get songs on a one by one basis based on what he likes to hear. He doesn't want to have to spend $17 or $15 or whatever it is in America now, to get a CD where one song is good and 12 songs are trash. So he's basically trying before he buys. Unfortunately it sometimes works a little farther and he tries the whole album. Then he tells himself, you know what, I've got it on MP3 and it sounds pretty good on my computer so why should I buy it? A lot of people go out, I've noticed, and buy a record in the store, copy it themselves for their own use and then sell it on EBay, so they get their money back. I see this all the time. Brand new copies of records, opened once, right? This is what they're doing. The problem behind all this is basically one of gouging, and price. I think that the fans pay way too much money for a record — way too much money, and I think they pay way too much money for a show. And I think that if we could, somehow, bring them really truly affordable music in its original form, then those fans would probably buy it. I think that the fans who download the record, uh, if he figured he could get the whole record for 5 bucks, and it would be the real record, and it would have the real everything, I think he'd probably say, I'll pay 5 bucks for that. So how do we do that? Well, I believe we do that by cutting out all of the middle people. I believe that record companies are not necessary. I believe that record stores are not necessary. I believe that everybody in between the artist and the fan is not necessary. I think that if we could somehow engender in the minds of fans that it is the normal way of living to go direct to an artist and buy their product, and then engender in the artist that he could sell his work for 5 bucks and not try to gouge them for 20 bucks, if everybody did that, in 6 months there would be no record industry left. There'd be no more record companies, there'd be no more record stores. It would simply be the normal way of getting your product — you go to the band's site, you click on this thing, you pay 5 bucks, you get the music either as a download or sent to you and you can burn to your heart's content, or copy it — do whatever you want with it. And I think if — just imagine, if big bands started to do that, if the Rolling Stones started to do that? So I'm calling for a site, that I would like to put together, where it's basically a portal, a doorway, where anybody putting their music on this site — small band, big band, medium band, whatever — they just have to live up to our mission statement. Our mission statement is, we will only sell the records for so much money, we will offer them for download, we will allow free copying, we will do whatever, and it's like going to a market. If the fans get to know that I can go to that place and get all of these band's records directly, and pay an interesting price for them, like 5 bucks, why not? And I think it would work.
DRG: I do too.
Frank: And I think that if we did that, if we somehow put — hear me now, in order to make this successful, it doesn't just have to be an idea. It has to be engendered in their minds that that's the way we do things. Just the way we do it. Like you know how people think, well when you have money you put it in the bank? Well, you don't really need to put it in the bank. People just believe that it's the way you do things. But you don't really have to. So the public can be educated to believe something like that, and the public can be educated to believe that the way we do things with music is we buy them direct from artists. No one buys them from record stores or from record companies. And if all of this happened, you have to understand that the biggest artists in the world aren't getting better than 2 bucks a record, for their CD. They're not. Maybe $2.50. OK? Then there's a about $1.50 to $2 manufacturing cost on that, literally to manufacture it, OK? That's about 4 to 5 bucks in total. Why does it need to be $18? If the artists were able to sell their product on their site directly at $5, they'd cover their manufacturing and they'd still get the same darn royalty that they're gettin' from the record company, and that's if they even get it, 'cause most of the time the record company steals it. In my case, they stole every penny. So what we have to understand is, as artists and fans, we are on the same side. It is an issue of sides. There are sides in this industry. The problem is, it's not the artists and the record companies on one side and the fans on the other. It's the artists and fans on one side and the record companies and record stores on the other, and the distributors, the people that drive the trucks to get the records there — everybody in the chain is dipping their hand into the till, and adding to that price. That drives the price up to $18, $19, $20 — in Canada, it's 22 bucks for a CD. So at this point, we're left with ok, let's sell it ourselves. But here's the problem: yeah, I'm gonna sell my record myself on my website. But because I don't have the old everybody thing working, I'm not gonna get the same amount of distribution, fans are not gonna come and buy my record in the same numbers that they would if it was engendered in their mind that it's the normal way of doing business. So what am I gonna get? I'm gonna get about 10% of the amount of people that would've bought my record had it been in the stores. So now I'm forced to sell my record at $15 or $20, because if I sell it at $5 and only do 10% of the business I won't even make enough money to make another record.
Frank: So the only way this thing works, is if we know that A) all the fans will buy direct from the artist and give them the $5 of course, not try to steal the stuff, and B) all the artists will sell it at $5 and not try to gouge anybody, and do it only that way and not through record companies. If we could make A and B happen, I'd be the first one to put my records out there for $3 or $4, and try to talk all of my friends into doing the same. I would like to see a portal website that caters to these people, and handles all of this, but you can't get on this site as an artist unless you're willing to do that — sell it inexpensively, allow copying of it, and basically adhere to the mission statement of the site. Now I'm currently putting together a site like that. I have no idea if it will be successful. I'm throwing this idea out to a bunch of people that I know and seeing if they're interested in coming along and doing this. I know that all of the small bands have said to me oh, I'll do it in a second. Well of course they're gonna say that, 'cause they're not on record companies to begin with. But if I go up to AC/DC or people like that, and say do you wanna come and do this thing, do you know what they're gonna tell me? They're gonna tell me to go to hell because they're getting big advances from the record company, and they're getting all the promotion and everything else that goes with it.
DRG: If you got in early enough, I think you're OK. The guys who managed to get in before 1980, most of them, if they had some big records they're OK. But from 1980 on, everything just got really weird.
Frank: I'll tell you why. Interesting that you pick 1980. There's a reason for that. Because 1980 was the advent of that new thing in our industry that we never had before that, or had very little of. You know what that is? The rock club. There was no rock club in the 70's. Very few. Everything was a concert, everything was a show, everything was a hall or a theater, whatever, when bands came to town. There was no rock club — even small gigs, they were done in schools, or they were done in theaters, or they were done in universities. All of a sudden some bright guy figured out that you could take a shitty room where you used to have strippers in, get the fans in to see a band and sell them a bunch of booze! So it went from being thinking man's music to drinking man's music! So now, it was hey, we can get the bands in here, we can pay 'em $3000 to play the gig, guarantee $3500, and hell, even if we pay 'em and don't do great on the door we'll probably do $5000 in liquor. But here's the problem: why should we even be talking about club owners in the same breath as music? They're part of that other side! They don't belong in our business. But let's just be idealistic for a minute. Frank Marino puts up this site where people sell their music for $5 — the biggest bands in the world. Six months later there's no Sony. There's no Epic, there's no Polydor — those companies no longer have a stake in the business. Basically, we kicked 'em out. The record stores now, there's none of those either, because nobody's gonna go to a record store and buy for more what they can buy for less directly into their home. So now, we've taken a huge chunk of the business out of the equation, and we've got the farmer, that's the musician, selling his wares to the market, that's the fan. He's goin' directly and sellin' his tomatoes to the buyers, right? The next thing is, those groups now want to play concerts. Well now you've got these club owners who, at this point won't give you the time of day because you're not part of the other equation, but when that equation is gone, you then become as strong as the band who used to have the big record deal, because you go to the club owner and you say to him hey, we're on the direct site, we're selling numbers. You want us in your place, you pay us to do it, pal. And guess what, if you don't, there's a knitting factory down the street that we can rent and put on our own show. We don't need 'em, and we don't even need the club owner. They need us. Currently, currently we need 'em. And we need the record companies, because they're holding the cards. But the point is, let's not fight the current! Let's just empty the fuckin' river, so there is no current, and we walk up the sand! This is the way I'm lookin' at it. These people in record companies have no business in our business of art. They are not artistic people. They are not even nice people. If you met them, you wouldn't even want to go eat with them. They don't like music, they don't dress like you and me, they don't listen to the stuff we listen to, when they pretend that they like a band it's all lip service they're paying to be able to get the band to sign with them. So, why keep them in? Let's kick 'em out! Let's kick the suckers right out! And let them scream and yell — so what? Big deal. You know the only thing they could do after to hurt us is they could go to the pressing plant and say it now costs $18 to press a record on your own. Well, you know what? We'll burn 'em on our burners.
DRG: A lot of us are already doing that now.
Frank: I think . . . look, it's an idealistic pipe dream, and the chances are that it will probably never happen because I've always had these crazy ideas for better windshield wipers and stuff like that that never work out, but the fact is it's a great idea and if it could, I just keep saying if it could work, we would really, really need the cooperation of every fan out there. We would really, really need to be able to say to this army of potential fans of music — and not just our music, but every type of music, every genre of music, from pop to rock to jazz to you name it to classical — if I could get everyone who ever buys a record to say I'm in and I promise I'm gonna buy stuff direct from whomever I like, and I'm gonna pay a quarter of the price for it and I'm gonna be happy with it and I'm not gonna steal it, I'm not gonna download it and I'm not gonna be the one guy that doesn't adhere to it — never mind six months — one month. One month, there would be no more system. I don't know what they'd do. I'd do this in a heartbeat if I had the money. I'm a guy who's basically a broke guy with three kids, who's an ailing rock musician. (laughs) You need money. First of all you need to maintain incredible servers to make this work, Microsoft style servers. Imagine! All of the music. You need someone to maintain all this. And I'll tell you something else too, and I'm not shy to say it. If I was maintaining a site like this, I would need to be able to have 5 or 10% on top of everything to help take care of the whole thing.
DRG: You have to pay for the infrastructure.
Frank: Yeah, otherwise forget it, it won't work. But, we're talking about 20 cents or something here, not 10 bucks. You need all that, and most importantly you need money to be able to get the word out in the first place, and I'll tell you why. The internet is a really great tool as long as they come to you, but you can't take the internet to people. With television you can have ads, it comes into people's homes in the midst of other things that they're doing, like watching the latest episode of Friends. But you can't do that with a computer, you can't just SPAM people. They don't like that. So, you need to be able to get your message out to the people, and that message has to be done not on the internet, which means you need to use the current infrastructure system in order to get your message across. The current infrastructure owns radio. They own television. You need to be able to use their system to deliver your message, and tell people go to your computers now, type this in and read about this thing, and become part of it if you're a music lover. It's gonna take money to get that word out, but more importantly than just getting the word out, you need to get the word out in a way where the fans say, that's cool. I like it, that's cool! Not that's a great idea, or yeah, I think I'll check that out. It's gotta be cool. Once you can convince the record buying public that that's cool by giving them value, by not gouging them, by saying the customer is always right, going back to the business practice that started our country, and you make it work for you, why shouldn't it work? All I'm saying is get rid of the crooks. They're the ones driving the price to 20 bucks, not the band.
DRG: When you're in the studio, how are you getting your guitar sound? I know you build your own amps.
Frank: Yeah, my own preamps. That's what I use.
DRG: How'd you learn to do that?
Frank: You know, ever since I was starting in the beginning you have a friend who says you know if you put a resistor here it makes some distortion. So you buy a resistor and you tack it in with a soldering iron and hey, it makes some distortion!
DRG: Right before it blows up! (laughs)
Frank: And eventually you find out why it did, and someone teaches you the premise behind why the resistor worked and why it made distortion, and then you go on to bigger and better things and you think of pots and volume controls and master volumes, and you start — it starts like that. It starts with pedals really, not with amps. It started by modifying pedals, like fuzztones and boosters, making booster pedals and stuff. And then you start learning about amplifiers and you realize that these are nothing more than big pedals, so you see the schematic circuit diagram — so if I do this, if I make a feedback from this loop to that loop, I'm gonna get this distortion — and you gradually play with it until it sounds the way you like. So yes, I build my stuff, and uh, I either use the preamps that I build when I'm in the studio, or I use heavily modified Marshall amps, which are basically like my preamps, but they're modified heavily in the same way that my preamps are. Basically I learned about signal paths by looking at pedals, and finding out what they were doing with gain structures. And then it was just a question of looking at the gain structure part of the schematic, and understanding why the gain was rising, and then limiting it in certain areas and doubling it in other areas and then filtering it in other areas. And that's basically what it comes down to — raise the gain, filter it so that you have the frequency ringing where you want it, and then amplify that and sum it into the signal. That's basically how I build an amplifier.
DRG: What's different about yours? It obviously sounds different.
Frank: They started originally as Fender Twin Reverbs. But of course that changed — the biasing of the power tubes, how you do it, how you deal with it, whether you wire as a pentode or a triode, I mean, there's all different. What type of EQ, where you put the EQ. For instance, in a Fender style amplifier the equalization — it's passive equalization — but the equalization is prior to the first tube. Well actually, it's just after the first half tube, but it's prior to the main circuit. In a Marshall, the EQ section is almost similar to the Fender but it's after all the sections. It's later, and so where you put the filters is gonna very much determine what happens to the sound of the amplifier, so to speak. The easiest way to understand this for a novice is to say well, what does your wah wah sound like before your fuzztone and what does it sound like after your fuzztone? That's basically the premise behind what you're gonna do with a Marshall or a Fender style amplifier as regards equalization. As regards to gain, it's just a question of how many gain stages you make and how you drive one into the other, and what you do to keep the noise level down. If you can do that, if you ground it properly and you keep the noise level manageable, and you create oodles of gain, you create little feedback loops that create your sustain through these loops, there's no reason why you can't eventually make it sound exactly like you want it to sound, depending on what guitar you're using in the first place. Now of course, the guys that go fooling around with this, they don't really know about impendence matching, they don't know about stuff like that, but this is the stuff you eventually learn as you work with this stuff.
Frank: The trick is to stick to analog circuits. Don't start dealing with digital crap, because anytime you've gotta use converters, A/D converters or D/A converters, you're really mutilating whatever audio you had. Digital has its place, but it certainly doesn't have its place for the guitar minded guy like me. The trick of tube amps is in the transformers, it's not in the tubes. It's which transformer you use and how the windings are and what the impedances are — that's really what makes tube amps sound like they sound. You hear a lot of guitarists tell you the tube sound — well it's not really the tube sound, it's the transformer sound they like, that's where the compression comes from. The other thing you can do, you can use whatever amps you do like, and use a Power Soak on the output.
DRG: I may end up trying that.
Frank: I've done that on almost all my records. When I use my big Marshalls or my own big power amps in the studio, I don't wanna be super loud, I never record super loud, so I basically run the speakers through a Power Soak, the Tom Scholz Power Soak. I know that they have different ones today, like the Marshall Power Brake and all that. I've never tried them, but I've got one Tom Scholz Power Soak. I wish I had a second one. I'm always looking for a second one, but every time I see one on EBay they're like a million dollars and I don't win the bid. But I would like to get a second one so that I could run two amps at one time through the Power Soak. I could build one, but the problem is when Scholz built the soak he uses extremely weird resistor values to make it all work. 50.2 ohms, they're all special wire wound resistors. I'm not gonna go out and have these all wound for me just to build a Power Soak.
DRG: Do you ever go direct?
DRG: Any special cabinets you like to use?
Frank: A 4x12 Marshall cabinet in the studio, but never live. Live I use 2 15's.
DRG: Why do you do that?
Frank: (laughs) Bass. (laughs) I want bass. I wanna move air. .So when you hear the trailer, you hear the kind of guitar sound I have, that's 'cause I'm moving a helluva lot of air.
DRG: So you're pretty loud live?
Frank: Huge. Too loud. I technically don't even need the PA. It's like, way loud.
DRG: As it should be. (laughs)
Frank: The reason it's loud is so I can get my sustain from the feedback generated through the room, rather than, you know, some device.
DRG: So, on Eye of the Storm, were you doing that? There's a lot of things that sound like an Ebow, almost.
Frank: No. The majority of work on Eye of the Storm is pretty much the big Marshall with the 4x12 cabinet, or my preamp with the 4x12 cabinet, and the sustain is generally the overdrive channels of my amplifiers. A lot of the stuff you're saying sounds like violin, or Ebow, is just my — I have a backwards playing technique. So I play guitar, and sometimes it sounds like reverse. I don't know if you're familiar that on that record there's a lot of parts that sound like reverse guitar.
DRG: Yeah, there are.
Frank: Well, they're actually forward. I play them backwards. How I do that is a technique. I do that live.
DRG: So, how do you do that?
Frank: I do it with a combination of my volume pedal, when I move the volume pedal, what notes I play while the volume pedal's moving, and delay. I can play the line I wanna play and then by the time it plays through the delay, with the right notes, I'm settin' up the next line prior to the delay. So it all stitches together and changes with the chords and stuff. I'm playing out of sync with the band.
DRG: That's gotta be tough, especially as fast as you play sometimes.
Frank: Yeah, it's kind of become natural for me now — I basically invented the technique, so it's kind of part of what I do, it's just the way I do it.
DRG: You are also able to fake out slide with a whammy bar, is that right?
Frank: Yeah, all the slide you hear me doing, and I believe there's some on the trailer too, that's all done with my bar. I've never used a slide in my life. (laughs)
DRG: You totally fooled me.
Frank: You thought it was real, huh?
DRG: Yes, I did.
Frank: Yeah, I like that. I like the fact that people believe it's real. I do. Because I could never play slide! I was like, what the heck do I do with this thing, it's on the wrong angle, (laughs) it's uncomfortable, I've got to to tune the guitar differently. . .
DRG: I've gotta put big strings on it. . .Frank: I'm hitting the frets . . .
DRG: It doesn't work for anything but slide now. . .
Frank: Yeah, exactly, so I said fuck that, I'm just gonna figure out how to make this sound without one. (laughs) It's just a question of how the notes go together, right? I like to be able to know that anything I've done on a record, I can do live. I don't ever wanna get to a point where I'm gonna say well I can't do that song, 'cause it's a trick. It's live, that's it. If I can do it, I should do it. If I can't do it, then why record it, you know? So I do it.
DRG: Are you using 57's on the cabinets?
Frank: Yeah, basically I only use a 57. It's relatively close, I might use a second mic or a third mic but I generally don't like multiple microphones because of the phase cancellation. I don't mind so much using multiple microphones if it's very close mic'ed and it's separate cabinets, so I'm not getting a leak from one to the other anywhere. Then I really am adding another color. But I don't want the sound of cabinet A into mic A and partially into mic B out of phase. It can't be in phase if the mic is anywhere except that point in time where mic A is, it is by definition out of phase. You'll never get it back in phase. So, the whole idea of including phase cancellation anywhere in a record is detrimental to the reality of the sound, no matter how you slice it. It may sound good, but it'll never sound real.
DRG: Most of my recording philosophy comes from an old Guitar Player interview with Jimmy Page — get the amp sounding good, stick a mic on it . . .
Frank: Well, I'll differ with him in one area. I don't believe you have to get the amp sounding good. Because oftentimes, the overall sound that you're recording is a combination of the frequency response of the amp plus or minus the frequency response of the microphone. And so, depending on what mic you're using, let's say you have an amp that's sounding good, in the room it sounds good.Well, the mic'ed version will not sound like the amp in the room because the mic'ed version is only focusing on one area of what sounds good. What sounds good to you in the room is generally a combination of every reflection coming to where you're standing. So it's a combinational thing and that's when you think wow, this amp sounds good! Filtering is taking place in the air, basically, due to many phase cancellations and summations. But when it comes to the mic, all of a sudden there is no other air, there's only what the mic sees in front of it, because mics reject anything from behind them, to the side of them they're 6 dB down, whatever. So, you don't really necessarily have to have the amp sounding good. You have to have the combination amp/mic, sounding good, and you can only hear that inside the control room once the mic is getting to the speaker in the control room. So basically, your control room speaker becomes your guitar speaker, and I do all my guitar sitting in the control room. Your control room speaker becomes your guitar speaker, and then if it doesn't sound good you gotta go out and move that mic and make the amp uglier or nicer or whatever until the control room speaker sounds good.
DRG: Do you EQ a lot on the board?
Frank: As little as possible. The use of any electronic device in the path of the audio signal, will by necessity invert its phase. So, basically what that means is, if we're doing any kind of filtering — for instance if we raise 2k, on a graphic EQ — by necessity the points where the bell ends and where the bell begins are by necessity not in phase with the prior frequencies. So if you use a lot of boosts you end up with a comb filter effect. Imagine raising 2 sliders on a graphic EQ, one at 1k, and one at 2k. You're creating two bumps. Where the two bumps go down and crisscross, obviously they're not in phase — one is going up, one is going down. So if they're not in phase, you've created an out of phase condition, and for every EQ that you use you're creating at least two out of phase conditions. If you were to take the logic to its extreme and put 5000 EQ's, you'd have 10,000 out of phase conditions, or what we call a comb filter. The result of that is an unreal sound. Why is it an unreal sound? Because the brain calculates what it hears as reality by triangulation. You hear in a binaural fashion, the brain uses the two ears and the source sound and the reflections of the room — which it immediately takes into account — to say that sound is slightly to the left, or slightly to the right, or slightly above me, or slightly behind me. It uses the calculation of phase, frequencies that are in or out of phase, that should be in or out of phase, and it knows instantly whether that's real or not. But when you're recording this you no longer are doing it with two ears, you're recording it with microphones going through amplifiers, so any phase cancellations that you introduce are introduced in a linear fashion, they're in series with your sound, rather than in parallel with your ears. And so the brain hears that in the end and says hmm, sounds good but doesn't sound real. A perfect example of that is if you were to watch a guy on TV playing his drum set in a closet, and then add huge hall reverb to it. You would say that doesn't look right. He's hitting a snare in a closet but I'm hearing the Taj Mahal. You would know that's not right (laughs). The brain does the same thing. It hears frequencies apparent in the music that shouldn't be there, according to other frequencies that are, and it says that's not correct, it sounds fake.
DRG: What effects are you using now, on your guitars? You've cut it down quite a bit, I'm sure.
Frank: Yeah, I'm way down. I was the guy with 22 foot pedals back in the 70s, and everybody said he can't play without his pedals. I use a wah wah pedal. I use a fuzz that I built. My overdrives are all built into my preamp so I don't even need the fuzz anymore, although it's still on the board in case I want it. I use a delay, and I use reverb. Once in a blue moon I'll use a flanger — once in a blue moon. I've just gotten a flanger from Dave Fox at FoxRox that's just unbelievably cool. It's a thru zero flanger — it's the only thru zero analog flanger ever made. He's currently making me a stereo one which is very cool, so I will probably be going back to using flangers, but I haven't used one for a long time. Are you familiar with Hendrix's House Burning Down?
Frank: It's like that sound. It's very cool. I have a Univibe but I don't use it. I have an original one but I don't use it, I don't like it. For my delays, I just use a Line 6, just to get echo. And I'll use . . . volume pedal, big part of what I do, that's how I do all the backwards stuff. I keep a cheap BOSS chorus (laughs) on my pedalboard, but it's actually bypassed. I keep it there in case the other flanger that I use breaks, so at least when I want that swishing sound I can press on the BOSS and get it in mono. But that's it man, and probably the thing that I will always use completely, you'll never ever hear me play without it, is reverb. I will never play through a dry amplifier. Ever. I never did, and I never will. Ever since I had my first Pro Reverb, I've always had reverb on my guitar — sometimes too much!
DRG: It sounds like you just pick it up and wing it . . .
Frank: I never practiced. From day 1.
DRG: So, you just were able to play?
Frank: Well, I learned in a hospital, I learned as a method of like, saving my life (laughs). It was either I played the guitar or I sat around with demons in my head, you know? I was playing guitar to basically forget about the acid trip, and so it became my lifeline. So yes, (laughs) the guitar was on my leg, sitting down with that guitar every hour of the day, literally.
DRG: Did you have anything that you consciously worked on?
Frank: No, no, I was a little confused you know, I was a 13 year old kid in a hospital on 1500 hits of acid. That's like, unbelievable, right? In 1968, who the hell knew what that was? So it was like what's wrong with this guy? Well, let's give him some thorazine and see, you know? So there I was in this hospital, and I found that by playing the guitar, doing something, anything, reading a book — no, couldn't read, that was impossible — playing a guitar, or drawing or something, kept my mind off the trip, you see. But I was also very confused. So, I'd pick up this guitar and I'd play these tunes, and of course I'd be playing the melodies of the things I'd been hearing as a kid hanging out with my friends — you know, whether it was Hendrix or the Beatles or whatever, right? But I wasn't thinking that, I was just playing 'em. It was like yeah, that's a cool tune. Wonder where it comes from? (laughs) You know? So it was therapeutic, really. In the first year, six months to a year, I was always playing the guitar. But it wasn't practice per se.
DRG: Just chasing what you heard.
Frank: Yeah, yeah, the thing is, once I started playing with friends, as I told you before, going to their houses and just playing, then it was simply about playing for the fun of it. So if I had a guitar in my hand on any given day, it was because there was a bunch of other guys with me who were doing the same thing. We were more like trying to make music together than trying to learn how to play the instrument. Who cared about learning? I didn't care if it was an E string or a B string or a G string — it didn't matter to me. And gradually you end up learning all those things anyway, but once the band started and once we started doing records and touring and playing gigs, the last thing we ever did — well we never did any kind of rehearsing — we might jam, go over and jam on stuff. But it wasn't like OK boys, this is how the chorus goes, and let's try it 10 times. I certainly never sat down and did scales. . .
DRG: That's amazing to me. You're known for your technique, for your speed and how clean you are.
Frank: I'm a three-finger player, man. I only use my pinkie when I run out of fingers. I literally have no callous on my pinkie finger when I play, it's like I only use it when I run out of fingers. You know what I mean — it's like you go up the neck and then oops I need that note and you need to touch it with something . . .
DRG: And your brain says put this there (laughs)
Frank: Yeah, put that one there, you know. But there's no technique in what I do. There's no practiced technique, there's no particular way of doing this scale, there's no methodology to it, I couldn't teach it on a video, it's just totally ear and I need this finger now so go do it. I know all about the guitar now, I know the names, I know the intervals, I know the music, I learned it. But it's not how I approach it. I approach a guitar in the same way that I believe I approach talking. There's something I wanna say to you, I don't figure it out before I say it, I just say it as I wanna say it. You say oh yeah, there's something I wanna tell you. It came into your mind to say oh yeah, there's something I wanna tell you But you didn't say I have to fashion my words as 'oh yeah, there's something I wanna tell you' — and then say them. It just happens as your mind wants it to, because you have a command of the English language. It translates instantly from what you want to do, to your tongue. Now, if someone took away your tongue, then you wouldn't be able to do it. So if someone took away my hand, I wouldn't be able to talk through the guitar. It's a kind of a translation. And it's only limited by my vocabulary. If I want to instantly express a certain thing on the guitar, now, I don't have a huge vocabulary that's gonna let me play anything — like for instance, I can't play something that Allan Holdsworth might play, 'cause I don't have that vocabulary. But I'll find a way to describe, with my fingers, what Allan Holdsworth tried to play. I'll find another way to get to that, and it'll sort of be like it. I'm totally against TAB. I know you were going to ask me about that at one point, do you have any TAB?
DRG: No, actually, I wasn't! (laughs)
Frank: (laughs) I'm totally against TAB. I think they are the bane of every guitar player. All they do is let the guy play the song that he's doing the TAB for. There's nothing for the guitarist. They don't make him better. They make him worse. They make him reliant upon the TAB. He learns to equate that a guitar is from what he read, not from what he heard. And so, it becomes an eye/hand thing, not an ear/hand thing, not a mind/hand thing. And we must remember that what we're doing is music, it starts — it has to end, as an audible device. So it has to start as an audible device, and if you can't hear it through your ears, the only other way you can hear it is through your mind, in your memory. So, if you remember a song, it's like hearing the song, and you should be able to remember it, and then play it. If you require your eyes to do it, you have completely disconnected what was audio and made it what was visual. You're wrongly connecting the dots, and in the end, since you're a person who wants to make music — which is an audio thing, not a visual thing — then you have learned to make music the wrong way. So, I'm against TABs. I'm against reading music, as for a guitar player who wants to compose or do things. Certainly if a guy wants to learn how to do it, that's fine. I'm not against that. But I'm against needing it. The more you allow yourself to need it, the more you will need it. The best exercise that I would teach any guitar student of mine is to listen for a note in his mind, and then find that note immediately. Then listen for another one — unrelated, and then find that note immediately, just a single note. And do that over and over and over until you can find instantly any note that you heard in your mind. And as soon as you're able to do that, then you'll be able to find any group of notes that you heard in your mind, any structure of notes. And the next thing will be polyphonic, any structure of chords, two notes together, two or more, three, you know, and translating — because hell, that's what they do with their eyes! They see a little staff with three balls on the tree, two are together and one is farther apart, that means it's a such and such chord. See what I mean? You equate that vision with let's say, Bb — the key of Bb major. So, if they can do it from eye to hand, why can't they do it from ear to hand, from mind to hand? No reason.
DRG: Let's say somebody had never heard you. What would you recommend?
Frank: Well, if they wanted to hear me live, 'cause live and studio are like two different animals, right? I would say this new live CD for sure, and then the first live CD, the black one. It's pretty indicative of what I do live, but I'd say the new live CD is the most indicative of it. Studio-wise, jeesh, you know every single one of these records was different. You start looking at the first three, Strange Universe, all that insane spacey stuff, and then you look at the more rock oriented stuff like Power of Rock and Roll, Juggernaut and stuff like that, jeesh, we couldn't even begin to tell you. But, uh, Eye of the Storm is a pretty good place to start, actually, because it's something I like. As far as the older stuff, I like Mahogany Rush IV, I like Juggernaut, I like parts of World Anthem — there's parts of each record I like, but most of the records I do the instant they're done I never hear them again — never. They will never enter my turntable or whatever you want to call it, again.
DRG: As long as we're talking about Juggernaut, did you two hand tap that solo?
Frank: Yeah, of course.
DRG: Well, you faked me out on the slide, so I thought I'd ask.
Frank: I'm a three-finger player, I couldn't do it without two hand tapping it! (laughs) I had done that so much earlier on earlier records, and people hadn't noticed it. On Mahogany Rush IV, I'm playing some wickedly fast stuff on a song called Moonwalk and it just — 'cause it's such a weird tune no one ever listens to it, but basically a lot of that is technique like that, way back in seventy — when did I do it? 74? I don't like to, by the way. I don't like to use two hand technique. I think it's kinda cheesy, actually. Now Allan Holdsworth does that with one hand. As far as I'm concerned, if you want a fusion jazz player — let's say you want to hire a fusion jazz player for your fusion jazz record, why would you hire anyone but Allan Holdsworth?
DRG: Yeah, who else is there? Everybody else just copies him.
Frank: It's like, he can do anything, in that vein. He probably can't do what I do, 'cause it's not his thing. He can do anything else. I can't do what he does, nor would I try. If I needed that, I'd go hire Allan. But, it's almost like, if you have Wayne Gretzky in his prime, why would you wanna hire another great hockey player? This guy can do it all anyway, he's the right guy. You've got the speed, you've got the fluidity, you've got great ideas, everything with what he does. It's a little boring sometimes, but from a technique point of view, it's absolutely flawless.
DRG: What do you listen to now? Do you listen to music when you're not working?
Frank: No, very rarely, unless it's jazz.
DRG: So, is that where the jazz influence in your music comes from, then?
Frank: Yeah. I was a drummer. I used to be a drummer before I was a guitarist, and I'm still a jazz drummer. I've always been a jazz drummer, I just let it go for all the years that I was playing guitar I stopped playing jazz, stopped playing drums. But I started again a few years ago, and I set up my drums and I sit out here and I play jazz. I put on headphones and Miles Davis records, stuff like that, and I just play along with the drums. The jazz influence with me comes from the fact that I was a big Buddy Rich fan when I was a child, you know. 5 years old, bang on sticks. I was really into Buddy Rich. Unfortunately, nobody would sell you a record that had just the drummer on it, drummers were in bands, right? (laughs) So in order to hear Buddy, or Elvin Jones, who was a drummer I really liked, in order to hear Elvin, well, you had to hear Coltrane, 'cause that's who he played with. So you're listening to these Coltrane records all the time, but of course, it was 'cause you're listening to the drummer, but that music's going in your head.
DRG: Right. And it comes out later.
Frank: Yeah, it's becoming part of you. So when I finally became a guitarist, I'd lock onto some line that Coltrane did and I'd go hey, that sounds like that Coltrane line (laughs) and you'd use it, right?
DRG: What's your favorite Frank Marino song, or do you have one?
Frank: Let me think, do I have one? It changes by the day. I did Somewhere over the Rainbow on this live thing, like acapella type thing, and I kind of like that 'cause of the jazz chords, but my favorite tune of mine. . . couldn't tell you. It changes from day to day. I actually dislike most of my stuff.
DRG: That's not uncommon.
Frank: Yeah. Until I hear it. I dislike it in my memory, you know? Then when it's playing, I go hey, it's pretty good! You know what I mean? (laughs) Then I dislike it again when I don't hear it. There's always something about it I dislike, mostly my vocals. If I did have a favorite, it would be something I didn't sing on. I did this tune that's on this new live CD that I'd actually recorded before on another live CD called Poppy. That's probably one of my favorites, because it's jazzy.
DRG: You're playing a custom guitar now, right?
Frank: It's a hollow SG. (laughs) Can you believe it?
DRG: Is it thin like an SG?
Frank: Yeah, it's a real SG man, but it's hollow. It's thin as hell and it's light as a feather! (laughs)
DRG: Seems like that would make the neck heavy problem even worse.
Frank: Well, no, the guy built it really cool, his name is Jim Glynn, and he's a boat builder actually, and he built a few guitars, and he built me that one, which is pretty much a direct copy of my 61 ½ SG Les Paul for feel, except it's got 24 frets. I'm sorry I did that, I kind of prefer 22. And it's just great — it's got an ebony fingerboard, it's this beautiful candy purple color, flame maple top, it's got the F hole, which I think — the F hole's a bit fat, I wish it was a thinner F hole, but what the heck, never look a gift horse in the mouth.
DRG: Did you take that one out live?
Frank: Yeah, I take it out all the time. I've got a lot of SGs, I only use SGs. I do use a strat once in a blue moon. I've got a nice 93 purple strat, and you'll think wow that's weird, 93, what's so good about that? It's a 93 American standard, it just sounds good. I've got a 61 strat, like a real original, and I can't stand the darn thing, I'm gonna sell it. I don't like it, it sounds like shit.
DRG: Strats are weird. I looked for years, and I finally found one, it's an 85.
Frank: I love my 93, it's really really good. I love playing it. That's what I'm doing my pop tunes on.
DRG: So, if Gibson was to come out with a Frank Marino signature SG, what would be on it?
Frank: First of all it would be a copy of the 61 ½ Les Paul, it was only made for 6 months. I've got a few of those. So it would have to be that, 'cause that's the shape of the neck and body and everything that I like. The other SGs — the juniors, the specials and all that — they're sort of similar, right, but one's a little chunkier, one's a little thinner, there's all of these differences, right? The 61 ½ is the one that I'm used to, and that's what Jim Glynn did — he basically made that guitar again, except he made a longer neck and he made it hollow. If Gibson were to come out with a special of mine, it would — and I doubt whether they would, 'cause they don't like me (laughs) — but if they did, if someone could convince them to, it would definitely be a 61 ½, it would probably be hollow, or semi hollow, 'cause it would have to be very light. I don't like heavy guitars. I'm not sure what pickups it would have, probably DiMarzios, vintage DiMarzios, that's what I'm using now but I'm just not sure. And it would have a vibrola, 'cause that's what I use.
DRG: Do you have any tricks for keeping the vibrola in tune?
Frank: Yeah, especially with my strings — no one has strings as light as I do. Yes, you have to really learn how to play the guitar. When I play a D chord for instance, I have to pull the neck, I have to pull slightly. If I play a G I have to push slightly. It's like playing a trombone. You're constantly adjusting, otherwise it is out of tune. I mean, my D string is plain (unwound), man.
DRG: Is it really?
Frank: Yeah, so, the strings are so light, nobody even likes to play my guitar.
DRG: What strings are you using now?
Frank: Fender Super Bullets, 8, 9, 12, 15, 26, 38. Sometimes I change that 15 for an 18 wound, which is probably what I'm gonna keep doing because it's just hell to try to play that plain string. Let me tell you why I play that way. I play that way because when I started I had no money, and I broke my low E string. So, I moved the other 5 strings up, on a Fender set of light gauge strings. I moved the other 5 up, and then I had no high E string, right? So, (laughs) a friend of mine at the place had a banjo, so I took his tenor A banjo string, and used it as my high E. So then when I got a few bucks, I started buying strings, so I would buy these sets of 6, and I would move them up, and then I'd always have this low E string left over, and I always needed a high E string. So I'd cut the ball off the low E string, buy a tenor A banjo string and put the ball in that, and use it on my E. And then after awhile, it was too much trouble to fuck around with the ball all the time, so I just started buying an extra E string. And the E's at that point became 8 gauge, because in the beginning they were 9, so I bought an 8, so that's why I have 8, 9. And I've just stuck with that ever since 1969. Consequently, I've never had a lot of calluses on my hands. I play very lightly — it doesn't sounds like it, but I have a very, very, very light touch. I don't pick hard, and I don't press hard. It's a super, super light touch, just by habit. I could put tissue paper underneath the strings and you won't see it tear at all. I play so light that I often don't even press the string down to the wood. When I'm bending, it's just barely on the fret.
DRG: What about picks?
Frank: I use Fender extra heavy picks, standard shape. It works for me. A lot of guys really don't like my guitar when they play it, truly, like all the other pro guys have said hey, let me try your SG. How the fuck do you play this thing? — you know? It has no sound. When you have light strings like that, it has no sound, no tone. Imagine taking your strings and tuning them down 5 semitones. That's what happens, 'cause that's what I've done, I've moved 'em all up one, so it's tuned down like 5 semitones. So it's like taking a set of standard 9s, and tuning them down 5 semitones. It's very hard to keep it in tune, and there's no tone anymore. If you play the low strings, there's no tone. So I have to, that's what I've made up in the preamps. If someone comes up to my preamp or my amplifier and they plug a guitar in that has heavy strings on it — holy mackerel, you have to hear it! It has a lot of gain to make up the difference.
DRG: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. You've been very gracious.
Frank: No problem. I'm as loose as a goose in a
caboose, you know? (laughs)
We at Dinosaur Rock Guitar would like to thank Frank Marino for taking the time to answer our questions. Copyright ©2003 All rights reserved.