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Secondhand Smoke: A Memoir of Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush

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The night I met Frank Marino I received an education and an introduction to the world of metal guitar. Frank and Mahogany Rush were in town to promote their World Anthem album. It was 1977 and I worked at Hot Rocks, a small independently owned record shop. The ‘perks’ for working at Hot Rocks, to me, at that time, were wondrous and incredible: backstage passes, the occasional center front row seating. Life was So Very Cool. (My poor parents had no idea.) Frank Marino was my first. My first rock band backstage experience, that is.

A black-haired lady walked up and introduced herself as Joan Jett . She was friendly, poured me a drink and started to fill me in on the scene. There were a few guys parading around in their briefs; they were in the opening band, Widow Maker, and had already completed their set. It must have been cool down time. Three guys entered the room, one with a fabulous mustache and long dark hair, a guitar hanging like a third arm off his shoulder. Time seemed to me to go slow motion, the room quieted, the air sucked out. Just for a moment. Then he blew past. Joan nodded after him, “That’s Frank, wanna meet him?” Yeah, good times.

The press following Frank Marino was loaded with misinformation; hype in circulation claimed he had professed to be Jimi Hendrix reincarnate. Sadly for Frank, this tag has been difficult to shake. As Frank states on his official website,

The most often heard story is that I took an overdose and woke up from a coma in the hospital and somehow became the spirit of Hendrix, or that I met this spirit and it entered me, endowing me with this amazing ability to play a guitar and magically know everything about it… They never ask me the truth and when I told them, they wouldn’t listen. The short truth about it is that I learned how to play guitar while recuperating from my trip. The guitar became a soothing help for me because of my great fear of letting my mind wander back into the trip if I wasn’t occupied and besides it was the only thing in the hospital relaxation room. I never even thought about the guitar before since I played the drums quite well anyway. I had this trip while Hendrix was still alive and began to play his music because it matched perfectly to what I was going through at the time.

The Jimi Hendrix ‘possession’ combined with the scandal regarding Frank’s drug abuse became the main focus of talk regarding this band. Critics of Frank Marino harped on his mimicking Hendrix instead of recognizing and applauding his prowess as a guitar artist. Marino can sling an axe like Hendrix, and vocally there is some resemblance. True aficianados of the guitar, though, recognize Frank for the unique gifts and abilities he possesses; he is able to slash out the hot metal sounds as well as play some mean electric jazz. He’s a self-taught guitarist who should be acclaimed as one of the most gifted of all time, standing in league with heavy hitters such as Ronnie Montrose, Carlos Santana, Jimmy Page, Hendrix, and Eric Clapton, to name five. In a review of his CD released in 2001, Eye of the Storm, on the metal-jazz fusion website, Sea of Tranquility, “Those who might have tired of all the Jimi Hendrix comparisons that followed Marino throughout his career will be pleased to know that these rumblings may very well end with this CD.” One of my favorite tracks off of this CD is “Avalon”; it’s an instrumental that starts off as a smooth jazz piece then mutates into a complex rocker.

[ADBLOCKHERE]Artists in today’s music scene, using Bo Bice as an example, are alternately praised and condemned for allowing the recording moguls with the power, such as Clive Davis, influence their musical choices and careers. Going along with current commercial trends draws the exposure, and the financial benefits that go along with the trade-off. It is a shame that Marino and Mahogany Rush won’t be included in any of the ‘greatest rock bands of all time’ lists that pop up. One reason may stem from the semi-reclusivity that Marino enjoys; but the most telling one of all is his refusal to cater to the common demands of the music industry. Staying ‘true’ to yourself in this business, when ‘true’ doesn’t include bending or compromising or producing commercially radio friendly tunes, won’t breed or lead to the type of success enjoyed by the Pop Princesses of the current charts, not to mention the immense commercial successes seen by the likes of listed ‘great rock bands’. Frank has abstained from following trends or signing contracts that would compromise his music. In a quote from Frank, “Now, I know that some radio people are gonna say…’Which song can we play?…They’re all too long for our programming’, but hey, I never let a little thing like that stop me before. Anyway, we all know what the music’s been about since the beginning, and it certainly wasn’t ever commercial radio.”

Thanks to the Internet, word-of-mouth advertising is back. WildMess Records™ released a CD in December 2005, called Secondhand Smoke – A Tribute to Frank Marino, a collection of ten tracks contributed by from ten top guitarists such as Ronnie Montrose, George Lynch, Jennifer Batten, Rick Ray, Jeff Cloud, Audley Freed, James Byrd, Karl Cochran, Randy Hansen and John Norum. The description, off of the web site, reads,

Frank Marino, the ’70’s rock guitar guru from the band Mahogany Rush has long been held in high regard by his peers for many years and now they get a chance to prove it. The mere mention of his name to many of the world’s top guitarists like Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde, Marty Friedman, Steve Lukather, Paul Gilbert, Ronnie Montrose and George Lynch will evoke the responses of “Amazing”, “Phenomenal”, “Un-copyable”, “Relentless”, “Legend” and of course “Superhuman”!

The last CD released by Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush was 2004’s RealLive, a dual-disc compilation of 32 tracks. A gem to add to your collection for the Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush fans, great for anyone wanting a crash course on this band.

Peace.

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  • violetta

    I’m with you, Jewels, it’s more important than ever to keep talking up artists who stay true to their own musical vision. I’m learning more all the time about the totally artifical nature of $ucce$$ (better late than never) and your mention of Bo Bice was so apt in this article. I cried real tears when I heard that cd that RCA manufactured and put Bice’s name on..that’s my ax to grind,I’ll say no more.

  • http://www.taylorhicksblues.blogspot.com Jewels

    Frank has never stopped growing and honing his craft – so many artists hit a self-identifying style and stop. I am hoping that Bo Bice, once all his small venue touring and lately, car racing experiences get out of his system, settles down and cuts a CD with his own music.

  • Duane

    Jewelsie! You just had to tailor your article in a way that you could mention this Beau Brice character. He (she?) doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in an article about Frank Marino.

    It’s like writing an article about Vince Lombardi, then mentioning the local high school coach (who you may think is cute), as though there’s any kind of substantive comparison.

    You’re funny. Carry on.

  • http://www.taylorhicksblues.blogspot.com Jewels

    Thank you Duane darlin’ – you are the Only person to have (or maybe would have) caught my sliding Bice into this rambling memoir bit about Frank (who I do truly Idolize…)!

    I try to sneak in the props – my mind works in subtle evil ways…

    Thanks for the post. Don’t be a stranger.

  • http://www.taylorhicksblues.blogspot.com Jewels

    House of Blues, Chicago Thursday, October 12. Frank and his band performs – I know this seems along way from now, but man, wasn’t it just Easter? That’s what I’m talking about. October, a great time to visit the Windy City, grab some pizza and feel that cool air. Haven’t been to a House of Blues since Orlando, FL a couple of years back. Hearing Frank again will be great.

  • steve

    Jewels,
    I caught Frank this past Thursday night at the House of Blues in Atlantic City. You are in for a treat. He’s never sounded better. Enjoy!

  • Tom Pasour

    Jewels I really enjoyed your article on Frank Marino. He is truely a creative powerhouse of a guitarist. I was learning to play guitar in the mid seventies and Hendrix, Marino (Mahogany Rush) & Trower were my primary inspirations and influences. Of the three I could play virtually all of their licks and it felt so good to jam with those records. However Frank was able to outplay myself as well as all of the popularized rock guitarists of the day including Clapton, Page, Beck, West, Gibbons, Perry, Santana etc. The music business was never going to give Frank the attention he truely deserved and that was a disservice to the fans of great psychedelic rock guitar music.

    I was extremely fortunate to connect with Frank at the end of Sept. 2006 and in an amazing series of syncronicities within a week and a half I was on the Oct. U.S. 35th Anniversary Tour providing the psychedelic lightshow projections on the backdrop for the tour! What a dream suddenly coming true for me!

    I must tell you that it was a true honor to get to tour with Frank and get to know him personally. He is a bright, funny, engaging, wise gentleman who performed amazingly (he only gets better with time) with his band Mahogany Rush every night. The fans were truely appreciative and responsive and Frank took a lot of time after the shows for the meet and greets.

    The upcoming tour dates are in the eastern U.S. July 20th thru July 31st so far and I’m doing the visuals again (Cosmic Fire Lightshow). I would encourage anyone who would enjoy seeing an unforgettable show featuring one of the planet’s greatest guitar heroes outplay his peers and jam out with his excellent band, visit his website at http://www.mahoganyrush.com and scroll down on the home page and click on Tour Dates to find the venues and their links for tickets. You wont be dissapointed.

    Thanks again for the article on Frank. He deserves way more attention than he’s ever gotten and the fans need to be aware he’s still delivering the goods and go out and support and enjoy this true guitar hero.

    Tom Pasour

  • Bill Ballinger

    Frank Marino is the greatest guitarist of all time. I saw him in concert in the mid 1970s as an opener for Blue Oyster Cult at the Shrine Mosque in Springfield, MO . I was so buzzed by his music, I couldn’t even stay for Cult, they were lame. I had never had the nerves in my head tickled like that since.

    I agree with him entirely on the business. He made his own, not as a Hendrix or a Trower (others I idolized) and he made Clapton look like a joke. I saw him live, and he is good too, but he is no Frank Marino.

    It is too bad so many people have never heard of him. I am blind now and I don’t get out much, but if I get anywhere near one of his shows, I’ll be there. If my heart gives out during the show, I’ll have a true smile on my face on the way over.

  • http://www.taylorhickblues.blogspot.com Jewels

    Bill, it amazes me too, even on this site there’s a piece about Greatest Guitarists of all time and no mention of him. They don’t know what they’re missing. Love it when he comes to town, always a great show. Take care.

  • http://www.myspace.com/snailmelodysoflove David (Snail)

    Yes, Frank IS the greatest guitarist of all time. No doubts whatsoever.

    But, you know, when you meet him, none of that seems to matter. He is this wonderful human being who happens to play guitar. I would love the guy even if he never played another note.

    Peace,

    David