I’m not sure that anyone in the Manopause demographic is unaware of Grand Funk Railroad! Whether you loved them or hated them, they were huge in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, were the ultimate American Band. Like so many artists from the 60s and 70s, their music is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.
Grand Funk Railroad was formed in Flint, Michigan in 1969. According to many sources, the band’s name was a derivative of the “Grand Trunk Western Railroad” that ran through their hometown. The band’s three founding members are Mark Farner (lead vocals, lead guitar, keyboard), Don Brewer (drummer extraordinaire, singer) and the unforgettable Mel Schacher, the amazing bass player. Farner wrote 90% of the band’s songs.
The band’s meteoric rise to fame began when they played the Atlanta International Pop Festival in 1969. They were booked to play but were not paid. The performance was met with a wildly enthusiastic response from the audience, and record labels attending the concert competed to sign them. They ultimately signed with Capitol Records through their manager, Terry Knight.
They embarked on a European tour in 1971, and returned triumphantly to the States by selling out Shea Stadium in New York City faster than the Beatles! Have a look:
Grand Funk continued to have astonishing success, with back to back Gold albums in one year, but the relationship with Knight worsened and he was ultimately taken to court for taking financial advantage of the band for personal gain. In 1972 they parted ways, but Knight won copyright and publisher royalties for every Grand Funk recording from early 1969 to mid 1972. The band was allowed to keep the name “Grand Funk Railroad.”
Grand Funk Railroad was the first rock concert I attended. I saw them in 1971 in Frankfurt, Germany after my friend and bandmate Jim Lipscomb introduced me to their sound! My dad was stationed in nearby Wiesbaden, and I attended the H.H. Arnold High School, an Air Force high school. We couldn’t hear a thing for a week after the concert, but we didn’t care! Here’s my grainy pic in the days before iPhones:
Like most high schoolers of the time, Jim, a drummer named Jon, and I started a 3-piece band, so Grand Funk was our collective idol: a threesome that made crazy loud and hard-rocking music.
Grand Funk Railroad’s first album was released in 1969, “On Time,” and featured most of their early hits, like “Heartbreaker” and “Are You Ready.” It earned Gold Album status and helped launch their tours.
I bought every album those first few years. My first was the double “Live Album” that was recorded at several of their live performances, including the Atlanta International Pop Festival in 1969, over 50 years ago!!!! How can it be?! I’ve managed to save 4 of their albums over the years:
We played that Live album so many times we wore the turntable needle down to a nub! But we gradually learned the songs and started playing “Heartbreaker” and a shorter version of “Inside Looking Out.” Jim also had the “Closer to Home” album, featuring the classic hit “I’m Your Captain,” which we also incorporated into our musical repertoire!
The next album was “Survival,” which actually featured 2 cover songs that were awesome: Dave Mason’s “Feelin Alright” and the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”
After that came “E Pluribus Funk,” which had the hit “Footstompin’ Music” but also had more of a social awareness tone with songs like “People Let’s Stop The War” and “Save The Land.” One of my favorite songs on the album is “Loneliness,” a dark song that resonates even today, and it has a beautiful orchestral feel uncharacteristic until then for Grand Funk. By the time “Phoenix” came out in 1972, my hormones and emotions were raging, as were relationships, and the song “Someone” hit home.
By 1973, I had moved back home to the States and Grand Funk released one of their biggest albums and songs, “We’re An American Band.” They also released another cover song, Carole King’s “The Loco-motion,” which was also a hit. By 1974, I was in college and had moved on to other musical styles and bands, but Grand Funk released “All The Girls In The World Beware” that had 2 songs that climbed the charts: “Bad Time” written by Mark Farner, and “Some Kind Of Wonderful,” again by Carol King. “Bad Time” was the most played song on the radio in 1975 despite not reaching #1 on the charts, and Farner received a BMI award.
The legacy of grand Funk lives on to all of us Manopause men and women who loved them. They were truly an awesome force in down and dirty rock and roll. The band broke up in 1976 and endured legal fights for several years. While the guys intermittently toured together, they finally broke up permanently. Don Brewer and Mel Schacher now still tour as Grand Funk with other musicians. Mark Farner started a successful solo career that continues today.
Mark Farner Rocks On
I was fortunate enough to talk to Mark Farner on our Manopod podcast with my Manopause.com partner Mike Essrig. It is a must-see! Farner still rocks on with Mark Farner’s American Band, and is a passionate advocate for living a good life filled with love and forgiveness! To his credit, Mark reached out to Terry Knight and forgave him for his deceptive behavior shortly before he was murdered by Knight’s daughter’s boyfriend. He also started a relief fund for Michigan flood victims through GoFundMe. Check it out.
Mark’s been been happily married for 43 years. He continues to reinvent himself, even after nearly dying twice from a heart condition requiring a pacemaker, and neck surgery that didn’t allow him to play his regular heavy guitars. He ended up changing to Parker Fly guitars, which weigh less than 5 pounds! That’s re-inventing yourself!
In the Manopod podcast, we asked him what his 5 favorite Grand Funk songs are, and I’m glad he chose them, because I could not have narrowed it down to only 5:
- I’m You’re Captain/Closer to Home
- To Get Back In
- I Come Tumblin’
- No Lies
- Bad Time
“I’m Your Captain,” my favorite song then and now, also became a favorite song of Vietnam vets, and remains so today, touching their souls’ desire to return home from the horrors of that war. And Mark also continues to rock his hit “Bad Time” on his American Band tour:
My own list, which includes Mark’s choices, is long, but I would add:
- The Railroad
- Footstompin’ Music
Grand Funk Railroad has a well-earned legacy as one of the greatest American rock bands, and Mark Farner continues to bring his fans that footstompin’ music. Check out Mark’s webpage at MarkFarner.com to get information on his future concert dates.