“You cannot talk about rock in the 1970s without talking about Grand Funk Railroad!”
That’s what David Fricke, Rolling Stone Magazine, said of the American blues rock band in 2003. It’s still true in 2015.
If you listen to classic rock, you know their hits: “We’re An American Band,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “I’m Your Captain/Closer to Home,” “Shinin’ On,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Footstompin’ Music” and the mainstream “Loco-Motion.”
Grand Funk Railroad will mark 48 years of its brand of R&B rock next year in the Tour of 2016 and playing to multiple generations of GFF fans. Founding members Don Brewer, drummer, and Mel Schacher, bass guitar, are still touring the country performing the songs that made GFF an unforgettable band.
Brewer and Schacher, along with lead vocalist and guitarist Mark Farner comprised the original power trio. Farner left the band to pursue a solo career in the mid-1970s and again in the ’90s following the GFF reunion tour. Grand Funk Railroad has split and reunited multiple times over the years. The current lineup has been together since 2000 and includes Brewer and Schacher along with veteran musicians Max Carl, who wrote “Second Change” recorded by 38 Special and is referred to by Brewer as the last blue-eyed soul singer in the country; Bruce Kulick, who was a member of the touring band for Meat Loaf, toured with Michael Bolton and was the lead guitarist for KISS for the 1984 Animalize tour and the 1996 reunion tour; and North Carolina native Tim Cashion, who has toured with Jon Secada, Robert Palmer and Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.
The full band will play one show at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at the Event Center at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, in Charles Town, West Virginia. You gotta be 21 or older to attend and tickets are $35 and $55 at ticketmaster.com.
Formally known as Grand Funk Railroad, or just Grand Funk, the original trio’s roots run deep in Michigan and the R&B sound of the late ’60s and early ’70s, said Brewer in a recent phone interview. Since 1982, he has and still does play with Bob Seger’s tour band when their schedules allow. Grand Funk plays 35 to 40 shows a year.
“We usually tour mostly in the summer and he more in the winter,” Brewer said. GFF shows are mostly in the U.S., with a few in Canada, and giving the state of the world right now, Brewer said that is fine with him.
Back in the ’70s, it was often 40 shows in 40 days and the pressure to put out two albums a year for their label, Capitol.
“That was grueling,” Brewer said. “This is a lot better. It’s a lot more freer. We take our time.”
Brewer wrote and sings the lead (and plays the drums) on their mega hit “We’re an American Band.” The band was touring in 1972 and radio was changing from an underground medium to a hits format, he said. He had the lines “we’re coming to your town, we’ll help you party it down,” but “I didn’t have a tag,” Brewer said. The band was being hailed as “America’s band” and that became the tag that became the hit song GFF needed.
“It was inspired by a need for a hit record!” Brewer said. “We needed a song to hit commercial radio.”
Former bandmate Mark Farner wrote and sang lead on “I’m Your Captain/Closer to Home.” Pausing when asked what the song is about, Brewer gave credit to Farner for writing the song and said that it has different meanings for those who listen to it.
“Getting closer to God, closer to home, closer to heaven,” Brewer said. “A lot of Vietnam veterans said they played that song over and over on their way home (from the war).”
It’s one of his GFF favorites, along with “Some Kind of Wonderful.”
“I love to see people get up and get into and sing the songs,” he said. “That’s what Grand Funk Railroad is all about.”
And that, he says, is what the show in Charles Town will be about.
“I like to say we do a high-energy, Grand Funk Railroad, all hits show.”
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Brewer said he “doesn’t care much for the (music) that’s out there today.” He was influenced by the music of British rock supergroup power trio Cream, and Mitch Mitchell, drummer for Jimi Hendrix, as well as the R&B and Motown sounds of the ’60s.
“I wish it would come back,” Brewer said. “I don’t like rap and I don’t like hip-hop. I would love to have music go back to being about the melody.”
While he admits he didn’t have a “plan B” in case that music thing didn’t work out, “my mother did — to be an accountant! I went to school for a while, but this (music) is what I love,” he said. “I love being able to get on stage and play music AND be paid for it!”
Brewer, who has had a band since he was 13, had some advice for anyone who wants to pursue music: “It’s always been this way but you gotta have a thick shell. You can’t let people tell you you can’t do this. You can’t take no for an answer.”
And you have to stay in shape. “I’m a walker. I walk four or more miles daily and workout at the gym,” he said. “And I watch what I eat. I know I don’t get enough sleep.
“You have to be committed and make a lot of sacrifices,” he said.
Is it worth it, I asked.
“Absolutely!” Whether it’s because of the grace of God or whatever, I’ve been able to do this,” he said.
firstname.lastname@example.org, Susan Guynn