By Andrew Catania
Perhaps one of the names missing in the who’s who of the guitar is Frank Marino. Frank trailblazed through the ’70s with his impeccable playing.
Sadly for Frank, after seven albums recording for Columbia Records, at which he and the label reached a creative impasse, resulting in him leaving the company and vowing never to record for a major label again.
Frank was gracious enough to speak with me and give an update on his career.
What have you been up to?
FM: I have a big project that’s been going on now, for years, that I’ve finally got ready for distribution. It’s a live Concert DVD/BluRay that was originally 12 hours long, but I cut it down to six. It’s six hours of music and not very much talking in between the songs. It’s three two-hour shows. Everything’s done except for physically getting it out there for people to purchase it. Hopefully, that will be soon. And, even more hopefully, people will want to get it. I’ve had some offers from some well-known record companies, but I’m pretty much done with that way of doing things. I don’t want to go back through that machine. I’ll just put it out myself and see what happens.
You’ve been compared to Jimi Hendrix throughout your career, does it ever get tiring to hear that?
FM: Throughout my 50-year career, I’ve always been compared to him. Hendrix this and Hendrix that. I love Hendrix, don’t get me wrong. It’s just the way that I naturally play. That’s all I had to answer in the seventies, was about the comparisons to Hendrix. And it gets very tiring to hear that all the time.
Do you have a publicist or a record deal?
I don’t have a publicist and I don’t have a record company either. I walked away from Columbia Records in 1982 and didn’t look back. I owed them another record, too, but I chose not even to exercise my option. I’m just a very anti-industry, anti-corporate guy.
I’ve been offered a few times to play at NAMM, and I’m told that if I did that, I could get free gear. I’m like, why would I want free gear when I’m not going to use it? Don’t get me wrong; I love gear. I’m a gear nerd, but I build my own. Guys go to NAMM to talk to companies to try and get a guitar or pedal endorsement, in hopes of getting on a magazine cover, or something like that. I’ve never really been like that. I’m just a guy from 1969, and I was still in 1969.
Do you get any royalties from your back catalog from Columbia?
I know that some record labels have occasionally licensed some things of mine, from the past, and put them out telling people they’re remastered. If they did remaster them, they probably did them from the vinyl, because the few that I’ve heard sounded pretty bad to me. But I don’t have any ongoing relationship with my old record label. They don’t send me royalties or even really account to me, but I don’t care. So, consequently, they take whatever they can, and I’m not the only guy they’ve done that too.
Let me tell you something about a record contract. The only time you even look at a contract is when you sign it, and when you sue. So it doesn’t matter what’s in it because if they don’t honor what they wrote, that means you’re going to have to sue. But most people don’t because they don’t have the money or they don’t have the time. So, in the end, the record companies pretty much do whatever they want, unless you’re already some huge artist. And at the beginning of a career, you’re most likely not a very big famous artist yet, so you have to be careful about how you go about things at that time.
Let me give you an example. When I just finished this Concert DVD, I had to get permission to record my songs from previous record labels, because of deals I made when I was a teenager. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing on the part of a company, because that’s the deal I signed. But one does have to live with the consequences of their early decisions, whether or not we think it’s fair now.
One of the things that artists do is that they tend to devalue their work when they are young; they figure that they can give up certain things in trade for some promises of tours or gigs, or even fame. And they tell themselves that they can just write more songs anyway, so they don’t realize what they’re doing by giving that away. They’re not thinking that in 20 or 30 years they’ll wish they hadn’t done that. But that’s exactly what happens in the end. And it’s a real drag, believe me.
Did you ever get the opportunity to tour with Hendrix?
I started playing guitar in late 1968 when I was in a hospital, pretty screwed up on LSD, and was recovering through the next year. I didn’t get to go to Woodstock naturally because I was freaked out and too screwed up to go anywhere. Otherwise, I would’ve gone. So, after that time it became 1970, and by then I was hanging out making music with a bunch of friends. And it was never intended to be a band, originally. Now, Hendrix died in September of 1970. But I had seen Hendrix in early 1968 before I even started playing guitar. I was a drummer then. I went to see what all the fuss was about. I went because I liked his drummer Mitch Mitchell. Ironically, I’m probably one of the last guys you’d expect to walk out on Hendrix after two or three songs, but I did exactly that because I thought it just sounded horrible. That was the first and last time I ever saw Jimi Hendrix. Later he died, but by that time I was playing that kind of music, and by then I had come to like what he did.
When he died, though, it put a big spotlight on his music in the scene, and there I was playing that kind of music. So writers started making up weird stories because I sounded like Hendrix. But I just sincerely liked Jimi; I even dedicated my first album to him. But I didn’t know just how much that would come to affect my career.
In the early 70’s it just wasn’t the standard norm to play that style. Most people thought it was pretty unique, and some even thought it was impossible. So the press hated me for it. They’re like, who’s this kid, how dare he play this kind of music. And I didn’t understand what they were so freaked out about, to me it seemed perfectly reasonable. Well, It took a few years, but by the late ’70s, everyone started playing somewhat like Hendrix, and it did come to be viewed as normal to play that style.
Do you feel that you were “shredding” before it became popular in the ’80s?
I saw the changeover coming. With me, I was already playing that kind of guitar for so long; I was playing fast stuff and ‘shredding’ if you want to call it that, along with my other styles, blues, jazz, etc. And the new guys from the ’80s would look at a guy like me and say, “Wow, that’s cool too.”
But there were no real “shredders” in the late ’60s, which were my root-years. The closest thing you’d get to a player playing fast was someone like Alvin Lee, of Ten Years After, and maybe a bit of Johnny Winter, in some of his stuff. And I liked him as much as I did Hendrix or the other guys who influenced me.
When did you start playing the guitar?
I was still in the hospital recovering, and there was an acoustic guitar in the sunroom. I started picking up that guitar, and I started gravitating towards playing it. It kept my mind off things. When I came out of the hospital, my friends and family were like, wow you’re playing guitar; when did this happen?
What was your first guitar?
It was a really cheap acoustic guitar from a company called Stella, I believe, and it was owned by the hospital. But I couldn’t take it with me so, when I got out of the hospital, I asked my Mom if she could buy me my own guitar, as it made me feel better and took my mind off my issue. She bought me this used 61 ½ Gibson Les Paul SG, from a kid down the street. They’re rare now, but they weren’t back then, so it cost nearly nothing.
When the neck broke on that one, I asked my Mom to get me another one. All I knew was that it was a red guitar. This time it was a 62 SG Special. But that 62 got stolen, so I went back to the pawn shop and asked if they had another one, as long as it was red with the pointy horns on it. They had another 61 ½ SG Les Paul, like my first one, and that’s my main guitar people saw me within the ’70s and ’80s. The only reason I kept playing an SG was that it was the first electric guitar I had, and I just got used to it. There was no awareness of the year or brand and all that like there is today. All we knew back then is that you plugged any guitar into an amp and turned it on 10. That’s all you knew.
How have you evolved as a musician over the last 50 years?
I think the most significant demonstration of my musical evolution is experience. It’s more like knowing what you’re doing. My first album, Maxoom, was done on four-track and eight-track, and it was put out on a record label back in 71, 72. I started it when I was still 16 years old. But in 1993, which is 22 years later, I did an album called Eye of the Storm, and I made sure that I didn’t use anything that wasn’t available back in 71, because I wanted to make a record that would show me what I could have made in ’71 if I’d simply known then what I knew by ’93.
So the difference between Eye of the Storm and Maxoom is pure experience or, as you called it, evolution. And you realize, when you compare the two albums back-to-back, that the difference between these two records is huge. So you wonder, what if Eye of the Storm had come out, exactly as it sounded in ’93, but 1971? I think It probably would have been one of the biggest pure guitar-records of that time.
So, to answer the question as to how I’ve evolved, you could look at it and say, well, everybody sorts of evolves slowly, but they simply don’t notice just how much they do. I guess it’s kind of like looking at yourself in a mirror thinking, well, here’s me, and then you see a picture of you as a teenager and you say, oh my God, I looked like that? Right. You think you’re seeing that guy you were 20 years ago when you look in that mirror but then when you see the real picture; you see that you’ve changed and become older, and very different, yet you’re still you. And you wonder how it even happened without you having noticed. And that kind of thing happens with music too.