Grand Funk Railroad
Grand Funk Railroad
Original lineup of Grand Funk Railroad (left to right: Don Brewer, Mark Farner, and Mel Schacher)
|Also known as||Grand Funk, GFR|
|Origin||Flint, Michigan, United States|
|Years active||1969–1976, 1981–1983, 1996–1998, 2000–present|
|Past members||Mark Farner|
Howard Eddy, Jr.
Grand Funk Railroad, sometimes shortened as Grand Funk, is an American hard rock band popular during the 1970s, which toured extensively and played to packed arenas worldwide. David Fricke of Rolling Stone magazine once said, "You cannot talk about rock in the 1970s without talking about Grand Funk Railroad!" Known for its crowd-pleasing arena rock style, the band was well-regarded by audiences despite a relative lack of critical acclaim. The band's name is a play on words of the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, a line that runs through the band's home town of Flint, Michigan.
Grand Funk Railroad was formed as a trio in 1969 by Mark Farner (guitar, vocals) and Don Brewer (drums, vocals) from Terry Knight and the Pack, and Mel Schacher (bass) from Question Mark & the Mysterians. Knight soon became the band's manager, as well as naming the band as a play on words for the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, a well-known rail line in Michigan. First achieving recognition at the 1969 Atlanta International Pop Festival I, the band was signed by Capitol Records. After a raucous, well-received set on the first day of the festival, Grand Funk was asked back to play at the 1970 Atlanta International Pop Festival II the following year. Patterned after hard-rock power trios such as Cream, the band, with Terry Knight's marketing savvy, developed its own popular style. In August 1969, the band released its first album titled On Time, which sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold record in 1970.
In February 1970, a second album, Grand Funk (or The Red Album), was awarded gold status. Despite critical pans and little airplay, the group's first six albums (five studio releases and one live album) were quite successful.
The hit single "I'm Your Captain (Closer to Home)", from the album Closer to Home, released in 1970, was considered stylistically representative of Terry Knight and the Pack's recordings. In 1970, Knight launched an intensive advertising campaign to promote the album Closer to Home. That album was certified multiplatinum despite a lack of critical approval. The band spent $100,000 on a New York City Times Square billboard to advertise Closer to Home. By 1971, Grand Funk equalled the Beatles' Shea Stadium attendance record, but sold out the venue in just 72 hours whereas the Beatles concert took a few weeks to sell out. Following Closer to Home, Live Album was also released in 1970, and was another gold disc recipient. Survival and E Pluribus Funk were both released in 1971. E Pluribus Funk celebrated the Shea Stadium show with an embossed depiction of the stadium on the album cover's reverse.
By late 1971, the band was concerned with Knight's managerial style and fiscal responsibility. This growing dissatisfaction led Grand Funk Railroad to fire Knight in early 1972. Knight sued for breach of contract, which resulted in a protracted legal battle. At one point, Knight repossessed the band's gear before a gig at Madison Square Garden. In VH1's Behind the Music Grand Funk Railroad episode, Knight stated that the original contract would have run out in about three months, and that the smart decision for the band would have been to just wait out the time. However, at that moment, the band members felt they had no choice but to continue and fight for the rights to their careers and name.
In 1972, Grand Funk Railroad added Craig Frost on keyboards full-time. Originally, the band had attempted to attract Peter Frampton, late of Humble Pie; however, he was not available, due to signing a solo record deal with A&M Records. The addition of Frost, however, was a stylistic shift from Grand Funk's original garage-band based rock and roll roots to a more rhythm and blues/pop rock-oriented style. With the new lineup, Grand Funk released Phoenix, its sixth album of original music, in 1972.
To refine Grand Funk's sound, the band secured veteran musician Todd Rundgren as a producer. Its two most successful albums and two number-one hit singles resulted: the Don Brewer-penned "We're an American Band" (from the number two album We're an American Band) and "The Loco-Motion" (from the number five album Shinin' On, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and originally recorded by Little Eva). "We're an American Band" became Grand Funk's first number-one hit on Farner's 25th birthday, followed by Brewer's number-19 hit "Walk Like a Man". "The Loco-Motion" in 1974 was Grand Funk's second chart-topping single, followed by Brewer's number-11 hit "Shinin' On". The band continued touring the U.S., Europe, and Japan.
In 1974, Grand Funk re-engaged Jimmy Ienner as producer and reverted to using their full name: Grand Funk Railroad. The cover of All the Girls in the World Beware!!! depicted the band members' heads superimposed on the bodies of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu. This album spawned the band's last two top-10 hits, "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Bad Time".
Although they were highly successful in the mid-1970s, tensions mounted within the band due to personal issues, burn-out, and disputes over musical direction. Despite these issues, Grand Funk forged ahead. Needing two more albums to complete their record deal with Capitol, Grand Funk embarked on a major tour and decided to record a double live album, Caught in the Act.
The double album should have fulfilled the contract with Capitol; however, because it contained previously released material, Capitol requested an additional album to complete Grand Funk's contractual obligation. While pressures between the band members still existed, the members agreed to move forward and complete one more album for Capitol to avoid legalities similar to the ones that they endured with Terry Knight in 1972. The band recorded Born to Die and agreed not to release any information regarding their impending breakup in 1976.
However, Grand Funk found new life from interest by Frank Zappa in producing the band. Signing with MCA Records, the resulting album Good Singin', Good Playin' yielded little success. After this, Grand Funk Railroad decided once more to disband in 1976.
Disbanded, 1976–1981; new lineup in the early 1980s
Following the breakup, Farner began a solo career and signed with Atlantic Records, which resulted in two albums: Mark Farner (1977) and No Frills (1978). Brewer, Schacher, and Frost remained intact and formed the band Flint. Flint released one album on Columbia Records; a second record was finished but never released. Grand Funk Railroad reunited in 1981 without Frost and with Dennis Bellinger replacing Schacher on bass.
The new line-up released two albums on Irving Azoff's Full Moon label, distributed by Warner Bros. Records. These releases included 1981's Grand Funk Lives and 1983's What's Funk?. Neither album achieved much critical acclaim; but the single "Queen Bee" was included in the film Heavy Metal and its soundtrack album. After the band disbanded a second time in 1983, Farner continued as a solo performer and became a Christian recording artist, and Brewer went on to tour with Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band.
Disbanded, 1983–1996; re-formation, 1996–present
In 1996, Grand Funk Railroad's three original members once again reunited and played to 250,000 people in 14 shows during a three-month period. In 1997, the band played three sold-out Bosnian benefit concerts. These shows featured a full symphony orchestra that was conducted by Paul Shaffer (from Late Show with David Letterman). The band released a live two-disc benefit CD called Bosnia recorded in Auburn Hills, Michigan. This recording also featured Peter Frampton, who joined the band on stage. In 1998, Farner left the band and returned to his solo career.
After this, two years passed before the two remaining members recruited some well-regarded players to reform the band. Lead vocalist Max Carl (of 38 Special), former Kiss lead guitarist Bruce Kulick, and keyboardist Tim Cashion (Bob Seger, Robert Palmer) completed the new lineup.
In 2005, Grand Funk Railroad was voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame.
Grand Funk Railroad continues to tour, and kicked off its "The American Band Tour 2019", "Celebrating 50 Years of Funk" tour on January 17, 2019.
- On Time (1969)
- Grand Funk (1969)
- Closer to Home (1970)
- Survival (1971)
- E Pluribus Funk (1971)
- Phoenix (1972)
- We're an American Band (1973)
- Shinin' On (1974)
- All the Girls in the World Beware!!! (1974)
- Born to Die (1976)
- Good Singin', Good Playin' (1976)
- Grand Funk Lives (1981)
- What's Funk? (1983)
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