...:::NEW HISTORY PAGES:::...
PRESSCONFERENCE announcing SHEA concert 1971
NEW - who needs the press?
Circus Magazine January 1970
Madison Garden 1972 Review
The nights they never forget
Bigger than The Beatles
Press Quotes '70 '71
SHORT HISTORY DESCRIPTION
Grand Funk Railroad - 1969-1971
Power Rock Trio - Mark Don Mel
Grand Funk Railroad - 1972-1976
Rock Quartet - Mark Don Mel Craig
Grand Funk Railroad - 1981-1982
Rock Quartet - Mark Don Dennis and others
Grand Funk Railroad 1996-1998
Power Rock Trio - Mark Don Mel and others
Grand Funk Railroad 2000-
Rock Band - Don Mel Bruce Max Tim
Mark Farner NrG Band 1999-
Power Rock Band - see the Farner section
GRAND FUNK RAILROAD is divided into two separate groups:
(NEW) GRANDFUNK RAILROAD and
MARKFARNERS N'rG BANDTHIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED BY KERRANG MUSIC MAGAZINE IN 1984 (England)
It gives us a lot of information about the time for Grand Funk breakthrough and answers many questions about why critics killed GFR, why rock history writers have forgotten the greatest rock group of all times and why there is almost impossible to find Grand Funk records (at least in Europe). Nearly every record store has a great number of records with Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple from the seventies. The following article is written by a journalist called Chris Welch, who seems to dislike GFR, but sure is impressed by their popularity. (webmaster)
This article war originally published on "The Mailing List" ( at William A Parette´s GFR site) by Mike Butler in cooperation with Rick Capetto
One of the strangest sagas in the history of Heavy Metal was the rise and fall of Grand Funk Railroad. They were reviled by critics, fought over by the music industry, and are best remembered for their image rather than their music. But they sold millions of albums, toured the world and won the ecstatic support of a mass of Metal fans. Many resented the way the band were sold by the unashamed Svengali-tactics of their manager Terry Knight. Yet GFR created the market for pure Heavy Metal. Forgotten today, there was a time when they were regarded as giants of the American scene. When Led Zeppelin first went to the States in 1969 they were told, if they played their cards right, they might topple the might of Grand Funk. Yet never was a band given such a hard time, so consistently, for so long. Rod Stewart called them'loud, white noise'. Rolling Stone magazine dubbed their music 'wretched'.
The victims of this abuse were Mark Farner (guitar, vocals), Mel Schacher (bass) and Don Brewer (drums). The more withering the scorn heaped on their heads, the bigger their album sales became. Snapped one British critic: 'All three are pretty bad, but outstanding in his awfulness is Brewer, whose drumming is so pedestrian it's laughable... the riffs they play are simple in the extreme, verging on the monotonous. Vocals are flat, but usually mercifully short introductions to dire lead guitar solos ... But were they really so bad? And didn't the screams of 'HYPE!' leveled at the band tell us more about the attitudes of the late Sixties than they did about Grand Funk Railroad~?
Looking back, .there was a level of hypocrisy about the music industry of all industries complaining about the use of promotion to market an act. Today such activity has been made far more sophisticated and effective, and indeed is now accepted, even admired. After the shock of the record business slump which began in 1977, anybody who can sell an act today, whether Def Leppard or Wham!, is regarded as a saviour. Nobody seriously complains about'hype' any more and most bands complain most bitterly if they don't get their fair share.
I first heard the phrase hype' extensively used in connection with Grand Funk when they first appeared back in 1969. The dictionary definition of the phrase is 'a deception, racket or publicity stunt'. It also described drug injections with a hypodermic needle. Despite the wealth of groups in Britain in the late Sixties, most critics and a lot of fans still took their information and manners from America, and when word spread that Grand Funk were a 'hype' they were damned even before they had played a note here, or a record had been released. What set the world against them was the way audiences and the media were manipulated to accept a new band who weren't very good. But all the hype in the world couldn't completely fabricate the enthusiasm of young Americans for Don, Mark and Mel.
After all, they didn't read the record company handouts, and probably didn't read the ads in the trade papers either. What they did see was a brand new, young, enthusiastic band, playing simple hard rock in their own back yard - or at least at the rock festival down the road. Grand Funk appeared at a time when the Beatles had broken up, the Rolling Stones were soiled by the disaster at Altamont, when a fan was killed, and rock music was in the hands of middle of the road singer- song writers. The first wave of US rock performers had got tired from booze, drugs and stardom. They wanted to lay back, stretch out and sing wimpy songs.
The new generation of fans wanted excitement. Zeppelin were on their way, but Grand Funk got there first. The echoes of their swift success are still with us today, like background radiation from a Big Bang. And the centre of the explosion was Detroit, Michigan, home of many a group which would lay the foundations of the white Heavy Metal style. They included Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and the 'Kick Out The Jams' band MC5, as well as Alice Cooper and the Stooges. The essence of such bands was volume, heavy guitar riffs, stagey behaviour and, if possible, a message of youthful revolt carried through both songs and image. Sound familiar? It's a format copied endlessly since, but Grand Funk and Terry Knight took the concept and sold it with Hollywood style ballyhoo.
It was a move born out of desperation and until their relations were soured by lawsuits, it paid off handsomely for both group and manager. Among the group's biggest album successes were 'Caught In The Act,'Grand Funk,'Closer To Home','E Pluribus Funk' and 'Survival. They also had a hit single with 'We're An American Band', produced by Todd Rundgren in 1973 and hailed as one of their best songs. The band's hometown was Flint, Michigan. Mark Farner was born there on September 29, 1948 and Don Brewer on September 3, 1948. Mel Schacher was born in Owosso, Michigan on April 8, 1951.
They all played in different teenaged rock bands. Don joined one called the Pack with Mark. The band contained a singer named Terry Knight. Knight was originally a disc jockey in Flint, and then went to work for a bigger radio station in Detroit. He played many of the new British hit records, especially those by the Rolling Stones and the Animals. He was only 20 years old and cocky with it, so eventually he got fired from the station. He put the Pack together as a backing band for his own singing efforts. Here the story gets somewhat complicated. Terry Knight And The Pack had a few local hits, but the singer fell out with the rest of the group which by now included Craig Frost on keyboards.
Knight himself described the band as 'a cheap version of the Rolling Stones' and they recorded from Cameo-Parkway, the old Chubby Checker label. One of their singles was a version of'I (Who Have Nothing)'. When the group broke up, daunted by lack of success and Knight's temperament, Terry tried to form a big band and went out on the road with Go-Go Girls. Next he tried singing with an accoustic guitar in a Donovan style act. He considered returning to Cameo-Parkway in search of a job, but this was now under the harsh regime of Allen Klein He hitched a ride to Cape Cod in Massachusetts and called up the Pack. Don Brewer had kept the Pack together until the end of 1968 when, with his old school friend Mark Farner, he decided to form a new group. Mel Schacher came in on bass and they called the trio Grand Funk Railroad, inspired by the name of a famous American rail route - the Grand Trunk.
Brewer called Knight in to listen to them and he was impressed. All his frustration and pent up energy could be usefully released in the service of the band and he became their manager, doubtless determined, like managers everywhere, to get back at those who rebuffed his previous efforts. They were all virtually starving, so Terry borrowed $500 dollars and paid for studio time in Cleveland to record 'Heartbreaker' and'High On A Horse'. He also organized their first gig in Buffalo, New York in Spring 1969.
Soon Terry would take charge of virtually every aspect of their activities. He was their press spokesman. gave interviews on their behalf, produced their records and organized promotion. But at first, the record companies were unanimous in giving the thumbs down to the Grand Funk tapes. Knight even took on a temporary job as an MC on a tour by Twiggy. But this apparent ignominy had unexpected results. Twiggy's husband was Justin De Villeneuve and when he heard the master of ceremonies playing some guitar, he rang his friend Paul McCartney about the unknown talent. An invitation was extended to visit London but when Terry Knight arrived he found the Beatles were in the throes of breaking up. There was no direct help from the Beatles - but just the fact that they were interested caused Capitol Records to re- investigate the Grand Funk tapes and eventually sign them.
The Big breakthrough came when they were booked to play at the first Atlanta Pop Festival on July 4, 1969. They played for nothing in front of 180,000 kids at what was then considered ear blasting level. Just when the critics had decreed that henceforth rock music would become mature, sophisticated and laid back, so Grand Funk appeared as an appalling raucous intrusion - with predictable results. The kids loved 'em. Their long hair flying, Mel, Mark and, to a lesser extent, Don leapt about the stage, striking~macho poses and kranking out kerranging kords. The James Taylor aficionados were outraged. But although the critics tried to point out what was being delivered was not even very good Heavy Metal, the fans ware hooked. Every dog and rock band has its day - and this was Grand Funks. They went down a storm. Radio stations refused to play their records and the Press were hostile, so Knight fought back, cleverly turning around the situation by claiming that as the Establishment was against them, then Grand Funk (they eventually dropped the 'Railroad') must be a people's band.'
Their first album was 'On Time', released on Capitol in 1970. It was said that Capitol destroyed 30,000 album covers when Knight told them he didn't like the design. Despite the lack of airplay, the album went gold and soared up the US charts by the end of the year. They also had two hit singles, 'Time Machine' and'Mr Limousine Driver'. In Britain they released their own song called'Paranoid' and another,'Mean Mistreater', during 1970-71, while further albums-all gold- included 'Grand Funk', 'Closer To Home' (1970), and a double concert LP (1971). The same year saw the release of'Survival' with the three funsters dressed as cavemen eating meat and old bones around a fire. At first it seemed that the trio were faceless men without an ounce of the charisma of the reigning rock idols.
Dave Marsh described them as 'archetypal ~Midwestern rock n rollers, long-haired, impolite and sweaty with a kind of radical cheek orientation'. In fact they turned out to really rather nice guys, proud of their humble origins and determined to succeed like myriad others drawn to rock 'n' roll. Mel had been a member of Sixties band Question Mark And The Mysterians, Don was with the Jazz Masters and Mark had been in Dick Wagner's Bass Men. He switched from bass to lead guitar later, and so all of them had paid their dues in obscurity. They must have been delighted and thrilled when Terry Knigt put up in Times Square, New York, sixty foot high billboards which covered two city blocks, depicting the band's portrait, at a cost of one hundred thousand dollars. And they must have blushed when they read the publicity blurbs which described them as 'catalysts for a new generation'. But if people winced at the publicity, within a year Grand Funk had three gold albums, with'Closer To Home' rating among the top ten best sellers in America on the day of its release.
In December 1970 they played Madison Square Garden in New York, performing two concerts which sold out in under two hours. Just to annoy everyone even further the band refused to give any interviews at all for their first year claiming that it was against their principles. In fact it was all pat of the strategy. When people wanted to write about them, they had to fall back on the press kits. By 1971 they had sold an incredible five million albums and 'E Plurbius Funk, released in November 1971, got to number three in the US album charts and stayed around for 30 weeks. That same year they sold out two Shea Stadium concerts faster than the Beatles - taking three days, as opposed to the Mop Tops' three weeks. The music blasted louder and louder, their lyrics dealing with death, doom, pessimism, groupies, guns and motorcycles.
The money poured in and they even produced an LP cover to look like a round silver coin. They changed the words on the coin - 'E Pluribus Unum' which means 'one for all: to 'E Pluribius Funk' which meant 'Funk for all: The band, on the surface at least, seemed undismayed by the continued hostility. When they were called 'trashy' and 'boring' they simply suggested that the critics didn't like them because they hadn'y discovered them first. Their manager explained how their appeal to 'the people' worked. He proclaimed: "We take the kids away from their parents and their environment to where the only reality is the band and its rhythms". The group's musical policy was described as "turning all our concerts into huge parties to which all are invited". In January 1971 the band played at the Royal Albert Hall in London and then at a special free concert in London's Hyde Park in July l971. The band had been on tour with Humble Pie, and they had all been to Italy where tear gas had accompanied their heavy riffing.
I saw them for the first time at the Hyde Park concert and, while not overly impressed, was not enraged by Grand Funk's performance. I was, however, heavily influenced by the hostility of fellow critics and didn't want to upset the party line when I reviewed the band. My sympathies were in any case extended towards Humble Pie who played better and looked better, with Peter Frampton and Steve Marriott cutting a more exciting rug than Farner and Schacher. Pie were even louder! I never got to meet Grand Funk because the stars hid in a caravan. But they seemed happy enough on a huge, elaborate stage which dwarfed their tiny drum kit and stacks.
They later reported that they thoroughly enjoyed the show and liked the atmosphere, although curiously one of them complained about the carbon monoxide in the air. I would have thought the middle of Hyde Park was just about the cleanest part of the city. In my review I said: "They played an unremarkable selection of stock riffs with a great deal of hammy emotion". But perhaps I was being a bit snooty. Compared to some of the horrors wrought in the name of rock 'n' roll since, they would probably seem Like an ace band if we could be transported back to that pleasant summer's day in the sunshine. The drummer- as I recall - played as fast as his limbs would allow, while Mark leapt on to a spare organ. The crowd was large- as well it might for a free show - but there were very few photographers, reporters or liggers in the press area. I seem to recall having the place to myself, thanks mainly to Humble Pie's management who ensured me a good seat.
Grand Funk insisted on tight security, but I arrived in Humble Pie's limo and was assumed to be part of their management structure. Among the VIPs who turned out were Alexis Korner an Andy Fraser of Free. Both were more interested in the Pie. The other support band was Heads, Hand And Feet, with Albert Lee on guitar. They didn't go down too well. Courteously Terry Knight came out to introduce Humble Pie who were trying hard to make contact with home audiences after long spells abroad. They did well, but the audience were eager and anxious to see the headliners. The theme music from '2001'the space movie welcomed the band on stage and GFR were given a tumultuous reception. From the first few bars they got a good sound-an important point in an age of generally lousy PA systems.
As the group blasted into action I asked a fan behind the barriers what he thought and was chastened by his reaction. "They're the most exciting band I've ever seen." said the 23 year old. "They're almost as exciting as Emerson, lake And Palmer." This was not a view shared by Greg Lake's girlfriend who was standing within earshot. 'Listen to that bass riff," bellowed the fan in my ear. "That's what it's all about" Whenever I interview a 'fan in the audience' they nearly always wind up writing for 'The Mail on Sunday' or owning the London Hippodrome, so I'll just mention that the Grand Funk fan I met in the park that day was Mr. David Phillips, now probably controller of Thames Television.
Also in the audience were Hells Angels who began pushing down a fence and spitting on cops while the band played the Stones' 'Gimme Shelter'. These events were filmed by a crew who employed a bunch of extras holding up 'ban the bomb' signs from the props department. The reels must be lying around somewhere with shots of rampaging Angels and me in the front row looking perplexed.
That same year the band split with their manager, embarrassed by their overkill promotion and doubtless alarmed at the share out of the loot. It was an era of 'sue me, sue you'. Hell hath no fury like a rock manager scorned, Terry Knight set out to wreck revenge.
Writs were issued and Knight attempted to block the band's future progress. It came to a head in December 1971 after the 'E Pluribus Funk' album. He seized their equipment, warned promoters of legal action if they put on Grand Funk concerts and took out huge advertisements in the band think of the papers to point out he owned the copyright on their name. He was very upset at what he saw as an act of treachery and the lawsuit took up most of 1972 to sort out
What did the band think of their promoter and one-time guardian angel?
Said Mark Farner: "We knew Terry could do the right promotion because we knew that he was always a good talker with the gift of gab. It takes promotion and hype and publicity for anybody to make it. You've got to be known and heard of before anybody's going to come and see you."
By the end of the year the band was back on the road in America with a new manager Andy Cavaliere, once their roadie. Craig Frost was also now a full time member, having played on several albums. The music was changing into more of a relaxed vein and they would later seek credibility by working with top producers. They made their without Knight behind them at Seattle Arena in October 1972. Their current album was called 'Phoenix', intended to symbolize the 'new' Funk arising from the ashes of the old. Seattle was the first of 40 concerts which included Christmas back at Madison Square Garden and New Year's Eve in Las Vegas.
The show included 'Heartbreaker', 'I'm Your Captain' and 'Rock 'n' Roll Soul'. Mark Farner was still the star, wearing lime green velvet trousers and sporting a bare, if only slightly hairy chest. He shook his long hair as he strode around the stage while Mel spent most of his time on stage walking backwards and forwards clutching his bass. The audience - by now fifteen or more months older than when Grand Funk had peeked before - sat calmly and coolly watching this spectacle, perhaps wondering what they had seen in them.
The second show at Seattle was better received and Craig Frost's organ solo on 'Heartbreaker' went down well. By the time the band climaxed on 'Closer to Home' and 'Rock 'n' Roll Soul' the audience was on it's feet and cheering and screaming for encores. But only about 4,000 has turned up and the nine month lay off had clearly damaged the band's prospects.
One of those watching the comeback tour in Seattle was their old manager. Terry Knight could not help but be curious to see how they were getting on in his absence. "It's very much the same reason why people stop at accidents. My prediction is that this tour is an accident zone. The audience in my mind are like spectators who stop by the roadside to see the mangled bodies and remains. Once they've seen it, they don't go back to the same accident site again, but rather keep going until they find a new accident. Grand Funk, after all, really was an accident and what the people have just gone to see are the remains of what once was."
Knight was bitter, but there was worse to come. The group were looking forward to winding up the tour at Madison Square Garden. But Christmas 1972 was a gloomy time for Grand Funk. Two days before the holiday, while they were preparing for the night's concert at the Garden, their former manager and lawyer with two deputy sheriffs walked on stage with a judge's order to confiscate all of their equipment
Knight claimed the group owed him a million dollars and the equipment was just part of that claim. He also sued the television network that was trying to film Grand Funk's performance, the tour promoter and even Madison Square Garden to tie up box office receipts from the show. The group meanwhile had already pledged to give all the money to a charity, the Phoenix House drug rehabilitation centre.
Undaunted, Knight walked into the Garden in the afternoon with his deputy sheriffs and approached the group as they rehearsed.
"They just couldn't believe I was there," he said later. "The sheriff said that I am ordered by the Supreme Court of the State of New York to levy upon and attach this equipment, Mr. Brewer. I am advising you that I hereby levy and attach these drums."
Brewers response was swift: "Oh yeah, well I'm gonna tell you that if you touch my drums I'm gonna levy your f**king head." The drummer was advised of his rights and warned he would be placed under arrest if he made one move. A hasty conference was held between the group, promoter, manager and lawyer. Eventually the sheriff was phoned and he agreed to allow the concert to continue but the equipment would be confiscated afterwards. They were afraid that a riot would be caused if the show was cancelled at such late notice. Indeed, it was an act unprecedented in the annals of rock promotion, although apparently Knight carried out his raid on the band with quiet courtesy and no violence.
After the show the deputies took the guitars out of the musicians hands. They even took the straps, guitar strings and picks, as well as Don Brewer's drum kit and all his sticks. Grand Funk went home from the concert without any instruments and without any gate money. They also had to pay the promotor's fees and expenses.
Grand Funk's new manager accepted the situation philosophically: "Terry Knight had every right to do what he did. He slapped a lawsuit down, but being an American he has that right." The reason the band accepted this legal assault with relative calm was the fact that all the while they had a duplicate set of equipment - drums and all - stashed away! And they had another tour set up for January 1973 and their album had just turned gold. Said Cavaliere: "They're going to carry on - as strong as ever." Knight fought back by claiming all Mark Farner's writing royalties. "Once I get my million dollars - I'll be happy", he said. "I mean, a million dollars is better than having them walk out and say we're not giving you anything."
Knight refused to watch the Grand Funk show that went ahead at the Garden but he proclaimed how much he could have done for them, if they had stayed loyal. "I could have groomed them into something. I got a Christmas card from Elvis and the Colonel. It had a picture of Elvis standing in front of a microphone in one his red outfits. It's really El Cheapo with a Christmas tree and Colonel Tom dressed up like Santa Claus".
"My wife Pia said, look at that, isn't that really hysterical. I said you know something, Pia, the truth is that the man would probably stuff himself in a stocking if Colonel Tom Parker told him to, because he's set for life. And if Grand Funk had just not wanted to be so important and be taken so serious, they could have been set for life too."
The following year, though, it looked as if Grand Funk could do very nicely without Knight's help. They played Madison Square Garden once again in April 1974 and drew 20,000 cheering fans who stood on their chairs to greet them.
The band had improved enormously with better songs and even some critics praised them for their 'stage presence, professionalism and classy setup'. They used superb lighting with an electronic Stars and Stripes flag which flashed on and off during their anthem 'We're An American Band'.
On a projection screen they showed a film about the group, showing each member in his 'natural environment', an idea that would reappear in the Zeppelin film "The Song Remains the Same". Various Funk men were shown riding horses, motor cycles, driving a fast white car and water skiing, with spoken commentary by the stars.
Mark summed up why he had kept going through the traumas that surrounded his career since the day that Terry Knight wrote a song back in 1969 called "The Grand Funk Railroad".
"I had faith. It's something that leads me along through life. It's led me to a lot of exciting things and I'm going to hang onto it."
"When I first started out playing I just wanted to get a few beers down and play LOUD. I was expressing through song what people out there wanted to express but couldn't. I could express those things by playing loud. When the band was a success, it was a dream come true."
Casting an ear back over the Grand Funk legacy of albums reveals a band who could play and sing, tried hard and weren't nearly as bad as everyone tried to make out. They certainly weren't blessed with dazzling originality, but at least their hearts were in the right place.
The farewell album 'Grand Funk Lives' maintained the high production standards set by the Zappa effort and on "Queen Bee" could be heard all the years of musical improvement brought together and expressed with pride. Don Brewer's drumming for example was literally years ahead of his earlier caveman efforts, while Mark Farner's vocals and guitar playing were clean, swift and surefooted. But it was all too much - too late.
In the words of the old Chris Farlowe song, Grand Funk Railroad were out of time.
Now if they had had the Terry Knight promotion when they had the music to match - it might have been a different and certainly less frustrating story
Mark Farner, King of Funk
...:::NEW HISTORY PAGES:::...
Circus Magazine January 1970
Madison Garden 1972 Review
The nights they never forget
Bigger than The Beatles
Press Quotes '70 '71