Still making stops all over America and the world, the Grand Funk Railroad, one of the biggest hard-rock bands of the ‘70s, just keeps on going.
Originally a power trio from Michigan that included guitarist Mark Fahrner, drummer Don Brewer and bassist Mel Schacher (formerly of ? And The Mysterians), the group, formed in 1968 from the ashes of Terry Knight & the Pack, scaled the charts with a muscular, R&B-powered sound that fueled hits like “We’re An American Band,” “Shinin’ On,” “Walk Like A Man,” “The Loco-Motion” and “I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home.”
One of the biggest-selling acts of the ‘70s, having sold more than 25 million records, Grand Funk Railroad was so big the band broke The Beatles’ attendance record at Shea Stadium in 1971. Tickets for the show were gone in a mere 72 hours.
Farner is no longer with the band, but Brewer and Schacher are carrying on with a new Grand Funk Railroad that includes fromer .38 Special vocalist Max Carl (who wrote .38 Special’s “Second Chance”), former KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick and keyboardist Tim Cashion, who has played with Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band and Robert Palmer.
Brewer took time out to talk to Goldmine about the band’s glorious past.
Goldmine: How has the current tour been going for you guys?
Don Brewer: Oh, it's been real good. We played quite a few big festivals this summer and everything's been real good. We're looking forward to playing a fair in Bremerton, right outside of Seattle.
GM: How is touring different nowadays?
DB: Well, there are a lot of different aspects to look at. I mean, in the '70s — I hate to use the term, but it's true — we were the new kids on the block. 1969, 1970 and we just got to a huge plateau, you know? We're playing Shea Stadium, and then, we moved on from that and got into more of the hit singles thing. The tour … we used to do 40 shows twice a year — we did two tours and two albums a year.
That's what our contract called for. So, from 1969 to 1976, it was nonstop work, work, work — plus, when we toured, we had the trucks, and we had our own airplane, and all that stuff. Now, what we do is, we only do 30 or 40 shows a year, and they're spread out over the whole year, and we just fly into all of these places that we play, and the backline company brings our gear. We use local sound and lights, because the sound and lights are state of the art everywhere across the country now. So, it's a lot easier doing it the way we do it now, and [there ’s] a lot less stress and so forth.
GM: Does that relatively comfortable traveling schedule help your performances?
DB: Yeah, I just think we get up there and have a good time, you know? We don't take anything too seriously. If something's not working perfectly that night, we're used to it. We just kind of run with it ... the important thing is the audience has a good time, and that's what we focus on.
GM: The road is where Grand Funk made its name. It was a real grass roots movement. In the early days, when did you notice this heavy touring schedule was starting to pay off?
DB: We got on the road and played a lot of places down in the South. The first big break we had was the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1969, and that got us a lot of word-of-mouth stuff, so we started playing around all over the South.