I don`t think people in Europe realize how incredibly huge this band was in the US and Canada in the period from 1969 until around 1975. They sold regularly to Platinum and even double platinum with their albums, meaning they shifted several million copies in those golden years.
This band is still out on the road in the US with ex-Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick and Max Carl (a renowned musician for a whole lot of bands/artists) filling the void after Mark Farner who continued his solo career in 1998.
Do yourself a favour and check them out if you can.
Grand Funk rise from the ashes
Interview by Pete Makowski
Banal and incompetent are just some of the criticisms that have been laid on Grand Funk Railroad. Their first album was dismissed in one paragraph in an American paper and they have been slandered non-stop since their first successful concert at Atlanta right up to the release of “We`re An American Band”, their ninth and best selling release, where the media opened their eyes and recognised the validity of this band – and it`s about time too:
It seems senseless that a band who have – and I`m quoting the publicity handout – broken every existing attendance record in every city they`ve appeared in, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have been ignored by the networks and totally massacred by the music press.
They sold out New York`s Shea Stadium in 72 hours; more than 12,000 fans camped out all night to be the first in line for tickets. Five years before it had taken the Beatles 80 days to sell out the same stadium. They grossed a staggering two million dollars in one single 52 day tour.
The prime argument against them is the hype factor which in some ways is justifiable, but if this were completely true then you can dismiss the old adage “You can`t fool all of the people all of the time”.
Personally I credit their success to the situation around them at the time of their inception. There was a new generation of kids in their mid-teens who didn`t particularly turn on to acid or any other forms of hard dope it was more the alcohol and pill scene more commonly known as wine and reds.
They weren`t susceptible to or aware of the music around them, the music didn`t contain the aggression they wanted. So when Mark Farner, Don Brewer and Mel Schacher stepped on stage in Atlanta in 1969 and played a set with the rawness and power the kids were looking for, they were accepted as the new generation`s rock`n`roll saviours.
They turned onto Farner`s frantic stage act as Chuck Berry turned them on two decades ago – a decade later it was Mick Jagger. The new breed of audience hadn`t been associated with their elder`s musical evolvement so this sexually orientated stage performance seemed a whole new thing to them.
So what is it about them that enables them to be in such high regard? Firstly, I must admit to the felenous act of being a keen fan of the band and I can honestly say I enjoy listening to their albums. But why? As musicians they can be regarded as competent but they`re definitely no virtuosos, their lyrics are by no means awe inspiring but cannot be condemned as trite, and anyway you rarely get inspiring lyrics in rock and roll. So why do a few million or so people idolise them?
Since the band broke their liaison with Terry Knight, their ex-manager and professed mentor, they have expanded from a three piece to a quartet with addition of old colleague Craig Frost on keyboards. They`ve also become more accessible to the press than when Terry Knight acted as the band`s mouthpiece.
I spoke to Don Brewer, the band`s volatile percussionist, who was lazing in his Detroit apartment and he seemed to be quite excited about the groups new album: “I`m really knocked out with the album, specially with the single getting in the charts, it`s our first hit single.”
The boys have certainly come a long way and their musical history stems back to the pre-psychedelia era, the age of punk rock, when the Electric Prunes` “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” and the Standell`s “Dirty Water” were riding high in the charts.
The band were all born and bred in Flint, Michigan, Detroit which has always been recognised for its raucous bands (Alice Cooper, MC 5 and Iggy Pop). Don Brewer played in a band called the Jazzmasters and, as legend goes, Terry Knight a locally famous DJ who quit, spotted the band (who were on the verge of splitting) saw their hidden talents and joined as vocalist.
Their name was promptly changed to Terry Knight and The Pack. Mark Farner joined temporarily on bass then left to play in Dick Wagner`s Bossmen but after The Pack`s guitarist was given notice to quit Farner rejoined as lead. The band was fairly good as far as punk rock goes and they recorded a couple of albums on Lucky 11 label a subsidiary of Cameo Parkway.
A lot of their songs sounded uncannily like rip offs of old Beatles and Yardbird numbers. Eventually Terry split to pursue a solo career and the Pack tried to make it on their own but found themselves stranded in Cape Cod penniless and hungry.
Terry was playing in a club nearby and when he met up with them decided to manage the boys. They hunted around for a bassist and found Mel Schacher a one-time member of Mark and The Mysterians who made chart success with “99 Tears”. The band signed a whole load of contracts, went into rehearsals and before they knew it were playing Atlanta, a huge venue for a band so young and inexperienced.
They played the gig for free to get a little more exposure and were plunged straight into the deep end, a very risky business. I asked Don how he felt about playing venues so large: “I didn`t like Shea Stadium it was only a promotional concert and it was too big, the acoustics were bad and you couldn`t get close enough to the people.”
Their gigs went so well that their newly acquired company, Capitol, released a single “Time Machine” and followed it up with their debut album “On Time” which sold well. Knight pushed their name in every outlet available and made sure their gig sheet was consistently full, even though they were playing for a mere pittance and travelling in a beaten up old Volkswagen.
It was their third album “Closer To Home” which had the critics screaming `hype`, due to Knight`s huge billboard across Times Square and the way the boys were presented as a peoples band. Then came “Grand Funk Live” which gave the band international recognition they played two successful gigs in England, one being in Hyde Park.
“I really liked the Hyde Park concert,” Don told me. “I was so surprised at the amount of people that came, there`s been a representative from Island from England come over to see us at our latest tour and he wants us to do a British tour. I`d like that, I think the kids would like our new stage act, I think we`ll be over soon.”
After the live album came their most controversial record “Survival” which features renditions of Dave Mason`s “Feelin` Alright” and the Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter” and it seemed as if the band were mellowing down and this began to win the critics favour. Don recalls the album with some disdain “I don`t play it much, it reminds me of some bad times we were going through personally I prefer “Closer To Home” and the new one.
“Survival`s” sales weren`t high in comparison to the rest although it struck gold and the next album “E Pluribus Funk” reverted back to their old ballsy style. It was at this time – when Funk were reaching the pinnacle of fame, a world tour underway and a film was in the can – that the band split with Knight and the court cases began.
Everyone predicted this as the end of the line for the Railroad and for a while it seemed as if they might be right. Then they released “Phoenix” a title indicating the new start. I asked Don why the band split from Knight:
“I`m afraid I can`t say anything because we`re still fighting court cases and if we say anything it could be used, so all you could use is what has already been written.”
There certainly has been a lot written about the case, easily enough for another article but in condensed form it seems that the band`s whole life was being saturated by Knight`s excessive hype campaign and this was affecting their music as well as introverting their personalities.
But, I hasten to add, the guy must be given his dues, if it wasn`t for all the risks and schemes he undertook for the band they wouldn`t be as big as they are now – although it doesn`t mean they wouldn`t have ever come about.
But to them it`s all past now and they have been given a new lease of life devoid of the past, apart from 55 million dollars worth of court orders.
Mark Farner`s role in the band comes over as the leader. I asked Don if he and Mel felt as if they were just a backing band? “No we felt guilty because Mark had so much responsibility, he had so much to cope with but it`s not like that any more because we come over as band, as Grand Funk.”
Mark has written a lot of socially conscious songs and is concerned with ecology. “Yeah, Mark knows that he`s in a position where kids will listen to him so he feels it`s his responsibility to make them aware of the situation around them but people say `Mark should stop writing pollution songs,` and `Mark should do this,` but he`s really concerned about the situation around him.”
The band must obviously have strong opinions about the press. I asked Don how he felt about the criticisms laid on the group, “It used to get me at first but now I don`t take so much notice of the criticisms although I`m aware of them but I`m more concerned about the people than the press.”
Rightly so, I asked Don what the differences were in the approach of recording “We`re An American Band.” “It was much looser before, we would rehearse and record the albums in a couple of days because of the tight touring schedule. We still recorded the whole album in five days.”
Don describes the band`s music as American funk and explained the whole concept of the album was to show they were just an American band. He blushingly admits to being pleased about the album`s success as he wrote and co-wrote most of the material, including the single.
The band are now being managed by their old road manager Andy Cavaliere. “He`s great, he came in at a rough time and handled the situation really well I mean it must have been hard to make that transition from road manager to manager. “They`ve also acquired a new member Craig Frost on keyboards who was originally intended to be in the band but due to various complications didn`t get round to joining till now although he`s always been closely associated with them.
Funk have also just completed a tour. “The reactions been fantastic,” said the enthusiastic Mr. Brewer, “I never expected it to be as good as this. Right now the band are resting,” Mark at his ranch breeding horses, Mel whose the quitest in the band lives in the woods where he spends most of his time building motorcycles and me I`m the business man of the band I stay in an apartment in the city.”
I asked Don how long the band intended to be around? “We don`t intend to be around for any fixed amount of time it just depends on how long we feel like being Grand Funk as long as it feels right, that`s how long we`ll stay together.”
With their new album and single riding high in the charts and their tours going so well it looks as if Grand Funk aren`t go to be just an overnight sensation. They`ve managed to sustain their gargantuan success up till now and it seems as if the phoenix has risen from its ashes for good and the Railroad`s going to be back for a helluva long time.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Free, Elliot Mazer, Kevin Coyne, Gentle Giant, Yes, Judy Collins, Dr. John, Stackridge, Eumir Deodato, Camel, Jerry Lawson and Jimmy Hayes.
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