Grand Funk Railroad

  • Hard rock band formed in 1969 from Flint Michigan. The original lineup consisted of Mark Farner (vocals, guitar, songwriting), Don Brewer (vocals, drums) and Mel Schacher (bass guitar).
  • Each of the men were in local bands as teenagers. Brewer joined the Detroit based band Terry Knight and the Pack in 1964, and in 1967, Farner joined the Pack. Brewer and Farner wanted the change their direction to form a power trio. They left Terry Knight and the Pack, recruited Schacher from another band, and then they hired Knight to be their manager. Knight gave them the name Grand Funk Railroad – a twist of words from a well known Michigan railroad called the Grand Trunk Western Railroad.
  • They performed at the Atlanta International Pop Festival in 1969, and they were so well liked, they were offered a recording contract. Their first album, On Time, was released later that year. By then, they had established their sound – an early heavy metal, blues rock that music critics hated, but their growing number of fans loved.
  • Initially, sales of On Time were modest. They released 5 more albums from 1969 to 1972. While their singles did not chart very high, and the critics hated them, they became hugely popular due to their high energy performances. In 1971, they sold out their concert at Shea Stadium in New York in 3 days – the Beatles needed several weeks to sell out the stadium. After their breakthrough album in 1973, We’re An American Band, sales of their earlier albums increased, such that 3 of the early albums went platinum, and the album Closer To Home went 2x platinum.
  • While singles from the earlier albums never cracked the top 20, the single We’re An American Band landed at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song still gets frequent play on classic rock radio. It was written by Brewer after the band was drinking at a bar while touring with British rock band Humble Pie. Members of both bands were arguing about British rock versus American rock – after bragging about American rock legends Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino, Brewer stood and shouted “We’re An American Band!” He wrote the song the next day.
  • Their next album, 1974’s Shinin’ On, had their only other #1 hit – a cover of The Loco-Motion. This song is interesting in that 3 different versions of it with 3 different artists reached the Billboard 100 top 3 in 3 different decades – Little Eva took it to #1 in 1962, Grand Funk took it to #1 in 1974, and Kylie Minogue took it to #3 in 1988. It is 1 of only 9 songs ever to hit #1 by 2 different artists.
  • By the mid-70s, GFR was starting to burn out. They released 3 more albums – their All the Girls In the World Beware!!! album included 2 top 5 hits – Some Kind of Wonderful and Bad Time. They split up in 1976.
  • Farner and Brewer reformed the band in 1981 – 2 new albums were released, but they did not sell. They disbanded again in 1983 – Farmer became a Christian recording artist, and Brewer joined Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band. In 1996, all 3 original members reformed and toured for 2 years. Some of their shows included a full symphony orchestra, conducted by Paul Shaffer from The Late Show with David Letterman. In 1998, Farner left for good. In 2000, Brewer and Schacher recruited 3 new bandmates, and Grand Funk Railroad continues to tour today, typically playing 40 or so concerts a year.
  • My brother was a big GFR fan, so I heard a lot of their music as a young teenager. He had the gold colored limited edition vinyl 45 of We’re An American Band, so that was cool. I own their first Greatest Hits double album, Mark, Don, & Mel – the record liner has all these newspaper clips from critics saying what a terrible band they are, as well as clips about them selling out stadiums. Hilarious! Here’s a concert clip of the band performing We’re An American Band. They have the early 70s rock band look here – long hair, no shirts, lots of sweat.

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