Circus Magazine January 1970
Oddly enough, the first question that come to mind writing about Grand Funk Railroad is, why don't people like them?" This is followed quickly - Why do people like them? A question that is bound to be asked, about a group that sells a million copies of all albums, and fills up arenas the size of Madison Square Garden, all across the countrv. Their new album, Grand Funk Live, will be their fourth gold album in less than half a year, a sales performance which is completely unique in current times. (Square business people, Grand Funk Railroad is the biggest American rock group. Period.) This is pretty amazing considering that a year and a half ago the group didn't even exist. What is more, they' made their climb without the benefit of press coverage, AM radio (until lately), critical acclaim, association with another famous group, or a gimmick.
GRAND FUNK JET
Grand Funk was born on the festival circuit in the summer of 1969, they played their first concert at the Atlanta Pop Festival on July 4, 1969, before fifty thousand people. In the fall of that year, ten festival appearances later, "On Time," the group's first album, was released, It started to sell immediately, particularly in the cities where the group had played. So why don't people like them? Well, it depends on what you mean by "people," The rock scene, as it is now, is quite incestious. Most new groups that "make it" are either the friends of groups that have already made it, or have members of groups that didn't.
Between the people and the groups stand a network of rock writers, managers, publicists, agents, promoters, producers and record companies, most of which operate on the basis of who is friends with whom. Even in the relalively hip sections of the business, the same rule applies, There are so many performers: so whenever a new name breaks on the scene, the people involved are usuallv familiar names to business insiders. Not so with Grand Funk.
Terry Knight, their producer and manager, was in Flint, Michigan visiting his old friends Don Brewer and Mark Farner, who had been making music together. They had each just quit playing with Hailey shit type dame groups and were fed up. Terry had been a disc jockey in Detroit and a moderately successful producer. Farner plaved guitar and sang, Brewer played drums. Together, they tried plaving with a lot of different bass players. When Mel Schacher came along, things magically, jelled and under Knight's guidance, a music started to emerge. Instead of hassling with advanced press, or small clubs, the group went directly to the big festival audiences and won them over.
Grand Funk has never been known to play a bad gig, so why don't people like them?
People don't like Grand Funk because the group is revolutionary in terms of the record business. The group doesn't hang out with other groups, or for that matter, with anyone, "The guys are so much into each other" says Knight, "that they can communicate without really talking. Nobody else may know what they're talking about, but when they go on stage they know what they're doing,
Knight's office is filled with Beatles posters and the success of Grand Funk. The consequential backlash of jealousy, that has resulted, is yery similar to that of the early Beatles, Grand Funk played at the Fillmore East when their first album had only been out for three weeks. But, regardless of this, the audience was screaming out their favorite songs for the group to play. Like the Beatles, Grand Funk started out with a variety of influences and a style that seemed fairly common. They did not appear to be extraordinary musicians; their lyrics were not outstanding and yet, they droye audiences wild from theoutset. The group communicates on an entirely different level; they just know what the people in the audience want and give it to them. They have fewer illusions than almost any other rock group.
Most rock performers, even if they are successful, are insecure and come armed to an interview with a philosophy, and an "image." This writer met Grand Funk while working at a trade magazine called Record World. He was tired, bored, and hoping to get over with it as last as possible. He had never heard of them, and had been too busy writing about rock to go to any of the, festivals were they played. The album had just been released. Grand Funk didn't even want to talk, they just told the interviewer to listen to the album. Terry Knight lingered for a minute: - “Do you know who Grand Funk Railroad is?" he asked. They knew. They had seen the crowds and they knew. Just like the Beatles knew. 'They didn’t need to read articles about it or to hear their music on the radio. 'They knew. It's interesting.
True rock and roll always starts out with the audience and then catches up to the critics. The Beatles didn't officially become "art" until Rubber Soul. The Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berrv, The Stones, The Animals, and The Rascals were all appreciated by the audience first and the critics much later. Early criticisms are always the same:" bad musicianship, imitative, too loud. .. But none of these things has anything to do with rock and roll. Rock and roll has to do with getting it on. "If you want to know what rock and roll was, you can ask me, but if you want to know what rock and roll is, you have to ask a fifteen year old kid".
Richard Meltzer has said: Grand Funk brings hack much of the essence of rock and roll that disappeared when it became so fashionable. "People come in here" at St. Marks Place - record store owner said," and they are embarrassed to ask for it, but it's the best selling record we have." Underground.
Brewer and Farner are both 22 vears old and live in the country, in Michigan, when thev are not on the road. Schacher is 19. Farner is more or less the leader of the group. He plays organ, piano, harmonica and lead guitar. He writes and sings all material. He recently bought a 110 acre farm in a small town in Michigan, so small, in fact , that it's actually not on the map. He grows his own food and is a vegetarian, and likes to ride horses. On stage he works so hard that he has been known to collapse after performances. All in Grand Funk use incredible energy on stage; and the physical work involved in performing is a huge drain.
All three of GFR have motorcvcles and enjoy riding with each other as much
as making music. While they are typical of the new culture in al1 of their opinions, the pollution situation is especial1y painful to them. Mark has been known to get very upset when he thinks that the airplane the group flies in, and the cars they ride in are contributing to the problem. Like all of us, they're stuck in a world that they can't control". I think they would throw it all away in a minute if they thought it would do any good," says Knight.
All this space is on image and history mainly because good music can't be written about too coherently. The Live album has 80 minutes of music, mostlv familiar material, and lists for only 5.98, an incredible gesture. The songs on it are "Paranoid," "Are You Ready," “In Need" "Heartbreaker," "Inside Looking Out," "Words of Wisdom,"
"Mean Mistreater," "Mark Says Alright" (which is the only new tune), "T.N.U.C." and "Into the Sun" (which takes up an entire side). "Mean Mistreater," will be the single. It is quite a performance of the ballad. During the soft part you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium which is amazing for a crowd of 13.500 people. Grand Funk's music does have its influenses; you can hear a bit of the Temptations in "Hooked On Love" and Farner's vocals seem to have been influenced by Stevie Winwood. And of course there have heen comparisons with the Cream, largelv because there are three members of GFR. In a sense,
"MAGIC MARKIE" FARNER
GFR has inherited much of the Cream's audience, but historically they will probably be more interesting in performance. As R. Meltzer might put it, GFR is great, while Cream was merely excellent. The other fabulous thing about GFR which makes them unique, in this time, is that they actuallv do care about their audience. Even after the box office had sold out for their Madison Square Garden concert, GFR added Little Richard to the bill because they wanted "to give the audience a better show." When they played at Randalls Island Festival, they got a lengthly ovation. They played, even though the promoters couldn't pay them, while many supposedly revolutionary artists refused to go on. At one point, on the live album, you can hear Mark admonishing the kids in the front row to sit down so that everybody can see; at another point he warms the brothers and sisters that" there are peopIe out there who look like-but who are not-so please don't take anything from anybody you don't know tonight."
Under Terry Knight's guidance and daring promotion, the group's sales are already up to a million per album. But an odd sense that they are just beginning prevails. Next on line is an international tour, that wvuill include Australia , Japan, Scandinavia, France and England. In the past, Grand Funk has needed no foreplay to drive audiences into ecstasy. There they will go with the support of a reputation can only be guessed.
Andy Warhol once said" art is anything you can get a wa y wi th. " For those who do not like Grand Funk, merely beause they are loud and popular, try this suggestion: Draw down your shades, get a pair of earphones, sneak into another neighborhood, get ahold of a Grand Funk album and listen to it!
In “Sin 's A Good Man's Brother" Mark screams:
"Ain' t seen a night when things work out right - go by. Things on my mind and I just don't have the time - and it don't seem right.
Ain't seen a day that I don't hear people say that they know they're gonna die - This may seem a little bit crazy, I don’t think you should be so lazy – if you think you’ve heard this before - Stick around......
The Railroad is just getting under way. On the Closer To Home album cover you can see three pairs of bloodshot eyes looking out through the black and white masks of the Grand Funk Rai1road. Could it be Grand Funk Railroad themselves? It's a very confusing business to be both famous and real. The media being what it is. But GFR know that the game that they pIay so weII is only a game. And as thev get closer to themselves, closer to home, as they say, the rock and roll light they shed should have no boundary.