Note: In case if you haven’t noticed, there’s a tiny black box to the right of these words that links to all the music-related blogs on the FNP’s blog site. The great Sue Guynn, who writes the Three Chords & The Truth blog, often covers what’s going on at the Hollywood Casino over in Charles Town, West Virginia. And because we host The Local Playlist every Friday on WSHC in Shepherdstown – which is only a stone’s throw away from Charles Town – we thought we’d start posting her coverage here as well. Thus, behold an interview with Grand Funk Railroad, who will be performing at the casino on Saturday. If you’d like to read more of Sue’s work, head on over to her blog. Why? Because she’s the best.
”You cannot talk about rock in the 1970s without talking about Grand Funk Railroad!” That’s what David Fricke, of 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 by continuing to play to multiple generations of fans. Founding members Don Brewer, drummer, and Mel Schacher, bass guitar, are still touring the country performing the songs that made them 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 a 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 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.
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 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. GFR 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 sometimes 40 shows in 40 days and the pressure to put out two albums a year for Capitol Records.
“That was grueling,” Brewer said. “This is a lot better. It’s a lot more freer. We take our time.”
Brewer wrote and sings lead (and plays drums) on their mega hit “We’re An American Band.” The band was touring in 1972 and radio was changing 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” at the time, and that became the tag that became the hit song they needed. “It was inspired by a need for a hit record,” Brewer said.
Former bandmate Mark Farner wrote and sang (often shirtless in concerts) 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. It’s one of his GFR 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.”