I. Best Single Live Rock Albums in the History of the Universe
II. Crowd Noise Bands
A very famous rumor--though one that I can't cite internet references for as I look, unfortunately--is that Kiss Alive II was actually recorded in the studio, and was augmented with the crowd noise from "Monday Night Football" games.
I really can't comment. I was just a little too old for Kiss. When I was 12 or 13, I had a buddy named Greg Grossman who was a year behind me in school, and he was a big Kiss fan, had Double Platinum, both live albums, comic books, lunchbox, etc., etc. But I was on the outside looking in then, and later on, as I began building my album collection with cornerstones like Rush and Aerosmith and Styx* and Ted Nugent, the idea of a band in makeup seemed kind of quaint to me.
As did the fake blood, and discussions about the length of Gene Simmons' tongue.
So, then, OK, whatever: Just from having read what I've read, the silly things that Gene Simmons seems to say, I wouldn't put it past Kiss to have overdubbed the football crowd noise onto their ostensibly live album, but the fact remains I've never heard the thing and can't judge.
But I can judge Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush's Live album. That one I have heard, and on that one I can say: Listen, jack, that crowd noise is 70,000 strong. Which is about 60 grand stronger than any crowd Marino might have played for when these recordings were being made.
Don't get me wrong: it's all very artfully done. It doesn't sound real, but it sure sounds great. Frank (who is of course an amazingly fast and crisp player) goes apeshit on some modified blues scale solo, and it sounds like the Cowboys just scored from 40 yards out. Frank does some stage patter ("Alright!"), and it's as if the home team just won the coin toss. Marino rips into the chords that introduce "Johnny B. Goode" and it's as if John Elway's just thrown the pass that's gonna take him to Disneyland. These are awesome sounds, over the top and psycho, perfect for getting you all pumped up to maybe smoke a joint or see a live rock 'n' roll show, or--what the fuck--both.
But there's no way those sounds are representative of the crowds Marino and his band played for during the tour that birthed these recordings.
It's true that Marino played Cal Jam II in March of 1978, and it's also true that show drew something like 300,000 people, but the album's liner notes tell us that Live was recorded on the band's "1977 tour" in the "Southern United States." Those same notes specify that some of that material was actually recorded in South Florida. This would have had to have been at the Hollywood Sportatorium; there was no other sizable venue for rock 'n' roll shows here at the time. It varied from show to show, but the Sport's seating capacity for rock shows was nine or ten thousand, which is not to say that Marino and his band were drawing those kinds of numbers in '77.
I remember that sometime in the early '80's, Marino came down and played the Sport in a package tour with Head East, the reformed Humble Pie, and one other band I don't remember. Unfortunately, I did not go, but I do remember that tickets were astoundingly cheap, even for the time, at $5.00. Pretty sure I also remember reading an interview that Jon Marlowe of the Miami News conducted (was it with Marino, or with Steve Marriott?) where the guy was saying how important it was to him to do these five dollar shows. Later on, when I became introduced to Fugazi, and became familiar with their policy of five buck shows, I would think of Frank Marino and that package tour.
Which brings us back, I think, to live music, like the kind that is on the Mahogany Rush album we're looking at today. Of course, Mahogany Rush was ALL ABOUT Frank Marino. The backing band, Jimmy Ayoub on drums, and bassist Paul Harwood, were extraordinarily loyal to Marino, but not really otherwise distinguished. There's actually a really good song on What's Next called "Finish Line," where Marino goes off on this flight of the bumblebee solo, all classically influenced, and the guy is flying, he's soaring, but what keeps the track from becoming absolutely transcendent was the rhythm section, who frankly have trouble keeping up.
Like with Neil Young with Crazy Horse, like with Robin Trower and his bands, especially after James Dewar left, like with Ritchie Blackmore after he left Deep Purple to a certain extent, there's a big drop off in talent from the star to his backing band. Fortunately, most Marino songs, and all of them on Live, are straight ahead, and all Marino is really requiring from his sidemen is a framework against which he can jam.
And he does jam. The riffs which issue crystalline from his beloved SG may not always be the most original, and in fact, there's a lot of times when he's playing a phrase and you think to yourself, 'I've heard that before.' But it's rare that you've heard it played so well. Marino's playing style is infused with all the whammy bar divebombs and wah wah transforms that percolated through hard rock guitar before Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads changed the game.
But the '70's era flash never overwhelmed, and always served Marino mostly as contrast and counterpoint to the clean, fast technique that really dominates his playing.
In doing my research for this post, I took a look through Rolling Stone's list of its 100 Greatest Guitarists, and without getting sidetracked by too much criticism of the um, venerable, magazine's rankings, let's just say that, though Marino unsurprisingly does not appear on their list, there are players on the list (and high on the list, too) whose attack is sloppier, less soulful, and slower than that brought forth by Mr. Marino.
Marino (to his detriment, I think) has always dropped the name of Jimi Hendrix during his concerts and interviews, so writers in a kind of sympathetic resonance to that often call Marino's playing psychedelic. But if a shadow of Hendrix' approach trickles through to Marino's playing, it's at the blues end of the spectrum, where Hendrix was most at home, anyway. Paul Leary plays psychedelic leads; Marino was simply the shred guitarist of his era, with more crystal clear speed and more metal face soul than most all his contemporaries.
Though I've come to quite like "Dragonfly," one of the four vocals on the album we look at that gets an "F. Marino" writing credit, Marino is plainly less of a gifted songwriter than a soulful interpreter. Like his hero, he probably never wrote a song as great as "Johnny B. Goode." But his interpretation of Berry's tune, as he marries the '50's rhythm and blues cool to the crazy-as-fuck enthusiasms of 70's arena hard rock, is indisputably of the first rank for anyone who bothers to listen.
Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush - Live - 07 - Johnny B. Goode.mp3
217 kbps mp3, up for six weeks (Right click and save as target)
File under: Songs with parts recorded on a Monday night in Oakland
* Yes, it's true: I bought The
Grand Illusion at Sears, and got Pieces of Eight through the Columbia record club. (Return)