Vol. 2, Issue #12 July 6th - July 19th, 2007

Tiger Bear From Hell at NONzine.com

By: Wilhelm Murg

Partyin' It Down with Grand Funk's Don Brewer

“You guys don’t know Grand Funk? The wild, shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner? The bone rattling bass of Mel Schacher? The competent drum work of Don Brewer?”
Homer Simpson, “Homerpalooza”

Grand Funk Railroad is one of the most overlooked bands of the 1970s. Though they were never a favorite of the critics, they were the best selling band of their era, estimates are that they sold around twenty-five million albums, and they are best known for their four most popular singles; “Closer to Home/I’m Your Captain,” “We’re An American Band,” and their thunderous remakes of “The Loco-Motion” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.” Grand Funk will play Shawnee’s Firelake Casino on July 18th.

Mark Farner and Don Brewer formed grand Funk Railroad in Flint, Michigan in 1969 out of the ashes of the garage punk band Terry Knight & The Pack. Along with Mel Schacher, the bassist for ? & The Mysterians (of “96 Tears” fame) and Knight as their manager, the Power trio became an overnight success when they played the 1969 Atlantic Pop Festival. They soon became the hardest working band in the country, releasing five albums and doing a full tour for each album in just their first three years.

A major shift happened in the band’s sound when they fired Knight in 1972, officially shortened their name to simply Grand Funk, and brought in keyboardist Craig Frost. While their sound always had an R&B edge to it, Frost’s organ amplified it. Their next move was to bring in the legendry Todd Rundgren to produce what would became their two biggest albums, “We’re An American Band” (1973) and “Shinin’ On” (1974). While their next album, “All The Girls in The World Beware!!”(1974) was a hit, it couldn’t match the sales of its predecessors. They made the final album of their classic period in 1976, “Good Singin’, Good Playin’,” produced by Frank Zappa.

The band reformed a couple of times in the past, but 2001 the band reformed with Brewer and Schacher in the lead along with 38 Special singer Max Carl, Bruce Kulick, who spent twelve years with KISS, and keyboardist Tim Cashion, a former member of Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band, and they have been touring every since.

Grand Funk was the quintessential early 1970s band. Their performances were covered in sweat and louder than God. As pioneers of heavy metal, they defined the sound that would become “Classic Rock” and opened the door for younger bands that took their influence from The Railroad, like Boston, KISS, and Van Halen. Many of their finest moments are buried in their albums, such as their driving cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” the nasty “She Got To Move Me,” the shimmering metal attack of the title track of “Shinin’ On,” and their pop classic “Bad Time.”

“A guy was doing us a favor to get us on at The Atlantic Pop Festival,” Don Brewer said in an interview with NONzine. “We had just changed names from The Pack to Grand Funk Railroad, we were looking to break out of the local band syndrome, of just playing around Michigan, and we had heard about Woodstock, the hippie movement was going on. This guy said if we could get down to Atlanta he could get us on the show, he wouldn’t pay us, but we would be the opening act of the festival, so we rented a trailer and borrowed a van. When we walked on stage – it wasn’t a huge crowd yet, but there were a few thousand people – they announced us, but no one had heard of us, so they just stood there and watched for a while. By the end of the set the audience gave us a standing ovation. They loved it. The promoter was wild about the band and told us if we came back the next day he would give us a better time slot, and he did, we were the third or forth band, there were twenty or thirty thousand people out there, and the same thing happened. Then they put us on the next day, and we were somebody coming out of there, and the word spread. All the sudden we were getting job offers from these hippie ballrooms in the South and from other festivals.”

“We had taken a lot of the music we did as The Pack, which was a five piece band, and when we became Grand Funk we were going for this power trio thing, because Cream had been out, Hendrix, Blue Cheer; they were all playing the blues, but with a rock attitude. We were like an R&B band, rather than a blues band, being out of Flint, Michigan, we were heavily influenced by Motown and the Memphis sound, so we took R&B, what we did, and cranked it up and put a lot of energy into it, a lot of power, and that’s what made Grand Funk stand apart.”

While guitarist Mark Farner was seen as the obvious choice for going solo, it was actually Brewer’s songwriting that pushed the band over the top and into immortality with their biggest hit. “I didn’t know I had a hit, but we recorded ‘We’re An American Band’ first and the people from Capitol said ‘That’s the single, we got to have it right now.’ The song was mastered and sent out by Capitol before we were even finished with the album. It was one of my first attempts of writing a song by myself and it just took off. I kept asking everybody ‘You really like this?’

“The inspiration came from the fact that we were going through a huge lawsuit with our former manager, Terry Knight. We were playing around the country and he was suing every town we were going into, plus radio was changing, we couldn’t just be an album band anymore because FM radio was playing three and four minute songs and becoming more commercial. I had this thought as we traveled town to town, ‘We’re comin’ to your town, we’ll help you party it down,’ and ‘We’re an American Band’ was just a great tag. I came up with the rest of the lyrics and the chord progression in my apartment in Flint. It was really inspired by the lawsuits, it was a sink or swim deal, we had to have something going. I wrote some other songs on the album that were more commercial than our previous material, but that song – wow! it’s been great.”

Will we ever see Grand Funk in their rightful place at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? “The Hall of Fame is controlled by ‘Rolling Stone’ Magazine, and we were never a favorite of the magazine, so there’s a lot of political things there that the fans don’t understand,” Brewer said. “There are certain bands that ‘Rolling Stone’ will never allow in the Hall of Fame, and I’m not saying we are one of them, but there is all of that political stuff going on.”

Brewer is proud that they are Homer Simpson’s favorite band because they always saw themselves as making music for the workingman. And for the record, Brewer’s drumming is far more advanced than the Homer Simpson quote lets on. For more information visit GrandFunkRailroad.com.

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