For a most classic rock fans Grand Funk Railroad was Mark, Mel and Don. The original trio from Flint, Michigan who became huge fast in the early 70s with their energy, their volume and their string of hits and classic albums. The band though broke up in 1976, briefly was resurrected in the early 80s [minus founding bass player Mel Schacher], but made a huge comeback in 1996 with the original trio and a live album titled “Bosnia”.
A few years later singer / guitarist Mark Farner left the band, and it was up to Mel Schacher and drummer / singer Don Brewer to carry on the band’s legacy. With a revamped Grand Funk line-up, that boasts a few impressive rock names The American Band has been touring each summer, and playing numerous festivals, casinos and outdoor events. I recently had the opportunity to talk with founding member Don Brewer about the current band and what they’re up to in 2007.
Q] Can you update us on the current happenings of the band?
DB: Well, the band is a touring band now. We really haven’t been doing a lot of recording or that kind of stuff. Without radio, we’ve become a touring band, which is great because we can still do some new songs in our show and we can work on the show and tour and perform, which is what we love doing. So, we really focus on that at this point. We’ve got new guys in the band now, we’ve got Max Carl from 38 Special singing lead for us, Bruce Kulick – who played for Kiss for 12 years is playing lead guitar, Tim Cashion from Bob Seger’s band is playing keyboards and singing back-ups with Mel and myself – founding members of Grand Funk.
We’ve had this incarnation of the band now, this is our 7th year. We go out and tour 35 to 40 shows a year, not a real heavy schedule, but it’s mostly over the summer with fairs and festivals, and we really have a good time doing it.
Q] You said you include a few new songs. Do you have any outside chance that you might release a live DVD or a live album from these shows?
DB: Yeah, we’ve talked about doing it. And we may. We’ve been gathering footage from different places around the country and we could possibly put together a compilation of stuff at some point that would encorporate the new live thing and the new songs in the show. We just haven’t gotten around to it. It could happen, but once again, we just really focus on being a live act.
Q] Bruce Kulick, I’ve followed for years and have interviewed a few times. Can you tell me a bit about how he came about? I guess it was the Michael Bolton connection!?
DB: when we started looking for people back in 2000, he’s the first guy that came to my mind. I had toured with Bob Seger back in the 80s and Bruce was the guitar player for Michael Bolton, and Michael Bolton was the opening act on that tour. I just remembered everybody loving the way Bruce played, and Bruce is just very versatile as far as being able to play both rock and soul and whatever it is. He’s just a very versatile guy. So he was the first guy that I called to get in contact with, and he got right back to me and he loved the idea of putting this thing together with Max Carl. So it just kind of went from there.
Q] Was it an easy or a hard decision when Mark left the last time to carry on or was there ever doubt that you keep it going?
DB: Oh yeah. When Mark left the band in ’98 and Mel and I didn’t really immediately consider putting another act together and going back on the road. But as the time was going by, we were talking to each other and we made the hypothetical that ‘if we could find the right people to do it – then we would consider doing it’. And that’s when we started looking around to see who was available and who’d be willing to jump in to this thing. When we got Max on board, we knew right then that that was our front-guy and we got very excited about that, and then when Bruce signed on it was ‘Oh man, this is going to be a great band!’ And then Tim Cashion who’s another great singer and keyboard guy; so it just really exceeded our expectations. So we got very excited about it and we put a show together, played the first show up in Michigan and the audience was on their feet the whole time. So, we felt comfortable about continuing on, and we’ve had real good success ever since.
Q] So you’re really not interested in recording right now?
DB: Yeah, we’re not in a big hurry to put together a CD and put it out there. I mean, we could sell it off the website, we could sell it from our shows. But the state of the recording business right now is that it’s very difficult to get a big record company behind you. All the record companies are going under and bankrupt and are closing up. The whole thing with CDs is, as you know, it ‘s not really much of a business anymore. Everything’s gone to downloads and that kind of stuff. It’s just a different business than we’re used to and we’re not exactly sure how to approach it. So, like I say – that’s why we focus on the live act.
Q] With the current band, can you tell me some of the biggest shows you’ve done and how it compares to the early 70s when you guys had just started out with a couple of the huge festivals that really got you guys off the ground back then?
DB: Well, sometimes it’s like that. Playing some of the festivals we play is very similar t what we were playing back in the 70s, where it’s outside and you’re in front of 20 thousand people. It’s very similar to that kind of a vibe. We’ve done Comstock Nebraska 3 times; we’ve done Rockfest up in Wisconsin, I think we’re doing it again this year and that’ll be our fourth time out there to do that. And they’re very similar. And of course we do the whole gambit from Casino showrooms to community theaters to city festivals and big rock festivals, we kind of cover the whole spectrum of what’s available out there for classic rock artists to play. The only way that I can compare it to what it was to what it is now is the audience is much older and much more mature and there’s less drugs involved. [ha ha]
Q] Do you see a big cross-generation of fans out there?
DB: Yeah, we see a lot of multi-generational audiences. Teenagers, college age kids, and parents bringing their little kids to see Grand Funk and Grandparents and parents showing up together. It’s all over the board. It’s kind of what classic rock has become. Classic rock is no longer for one demographic of people. It reaches a lot of different people.
Q] Why do you think that is?
DB: Music is different today and I don’t think anybody’s creating the same kind of music that was created back in the 70s and 80s and that’s why there is such a thing as ‘classic rock’. It’s great music and it was all going hand in hand with radio and radio was promoting all of these acts and turning them in to stars, and the record companies were into making acts in to big stars. They weren’t just looking for one-hit wonders; they wanted careers. They were willing to spend the money to make the careers, and that’s why a lot of great music was created back then that I don’t think is being created now, because that kind of situation doesn’t exist. There’s no the system in place where record companies are creating acts that’ll last more than one record. And since that isn’t in place, it’s very difficult for artists to create great stuff. Plus radio has changed so drastically, that it’s almost impossible for anybody to get anything new on the air. So what’s left is to put it on the Internet and hope that somebody stumbles across your site and hears what you’re doing. It’s a whole different system.
Q] So I take it you’re not a fan of modern technology!?
DB: Oh, I’m a fan of modern technology. I just think it’s really disrupted the recording business and the creation of good music. I think eventually the pendulum will swing and it’ll all get worked out, but for the time being I don’t hear a lot of great music being created today.
Q] Do you keep up with some of the other 70s acts out there? And are you ever surprised by who you come across?
DB: No. We come across a lot of different acts playing festivals and stuff. We’re good friends with the people in Night Ranger and Loverboy, and a lot of the bands we run in to all the time. We play shows with the Doobie Brothers...but it’s kind of like ‘Hey, how ya doing?’ and then they’re moving on to some place else and we’re moving on to some place else – those kind of things.
Q] Is there much stuff that you guys never did before [live] that you’re trying out with this line-up?
DB: No, we really focus on the hits. Other than from putting in the new stuff we focus on the hits because, as we were talking earlier, it’s a multi-generational audience who’s not necessarily familiar with the album cuts – they know the hits. They know ‘Footstompin Music’, ‘Rock n Rock Soul’, ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘Inside Looking Out’, and even Inside Looking Out – people remember it, but it wasn’t a huge hit, but it is a great show tune. What people really know, the multi-generational people know of Grand Funk, unfortunately are the hits. ‘American Band’, ‘Locomotion’, ‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’ and ‘I’m Your Captain / Closer To Home’ – those are really the ones they know. And secondarily they’ll know some of the other ones – Footstompin Music, Walk Like A Man, Shinin’ On…so we focus on the stuff people know, and then for us – we throw in the new stuff. We have done some little arrangement changes in some of the songs from what they were originally because then it’s more exciting for us to be able to stretch out and do a different arrangement now that we’re this incarnation of the band.
Q] You were a big part of Billy James book – ‘An American Band’. How did you get involved with that?
DB: I think he contacted me and he wanted somebody to kind of go over his outline, his sketch-up book. And he wanted to get the facts right, and he contacted me and wanted me to go through it and throw out the stories that were just made up stories, fabricated stories and try to focus on the ones that were actually true. So as we got going back and forth on the thing, I got a little more involved in the development of the book. And that’s kind of how that went. He approached me more from a ‘Gee, I don’t know if all this information I have is correct. Can you help sort out what is correct?’ and I said ‘sure’.
Q] Do you have any plans of your own to put out anything, like an autobiography?
DB: No, I really hadn’t planned on it. My wife did a compilation of stories from the fans at one point. She didn’t really get in to writing, but she has gotten in to writing some books in the past on radio, because she’s a radio and media person. So I would probably go to her if I ever wanted to do that, but I really haven’t considered doing it.
Q] One thing that’s changed with CDs is you don’t have the cool album covers that you could get in the 70s. And you guys had a lot of neat album covers, a lot of interesting designs and that. Would you have any favorite album covers?
DB: I loved the fact that album covers used to be a major competition between artists, bands and record companies. There was a lot of thought and a lot of stuff that went in to it, because you had this nice big format to be creative. And now that it’s down to CDs, I’ve noticed through dealing with Capitol and putting and these repackages that they do, these greatest hits, that you’re really dealing with a very small area and everything has to go in to a booklet or something on the inside. And it’s really difficult to be overly creative with that kind of stuff. So yeah, I miss album covers; I really miss that whole format. Of course that’s gradually being thrown out the window anyway with downloads. Pretty soon there won’t be anything.
I loved the ‘Shinin On’ thing, with the 3-D stuff, and I loved ‘Survival’ where we went out in Hollywood, in this canyon and got all made up as cavemen. The ‘Closer To Home’ album cover, I thought was great, with the real eyes staring out through the drawn people. It was really fun to do that stuff.
Q] Do you have anything else going outside of Grand Funk?
DB: No, that’s it. I was on the road with Bob Seger this past winter. I did 50 shows with Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band. That was a thing I did back in the 80s, and when they called and said Bob was interested in going back out I said ‘Sure, as long as I can work it out around Grand Funk’s schedule.’ And they were very open to doing that. So that was a lot of fun to do. But I really focus on Grand Funk. I do a lot of the business with Grand Funk. So we’re going to get cranked back up here and get out and do about 40 shows this year and that’ll keep me busy!
Q] Aside from the re-masters and compilations, is there anything else in the vaults that can be made available?
DB: There’s still the Shea Stadium film in it’s entirety that has never been released. On the newest Greatest Hits DVD/CD, which is a combination, there is 1 piece from there on that. And there are a few other things that are in the vault that may potentially come out - may Or may not! You never know.
Q] What’s Craig Frost up to these days?
DB: Craig is still playing with Bob Seger. He’s been Bob Seger’s keyboard player for the past 27 years. It was a lot of fun for me to be out with Craig on the Bob Seger tour. It was a good reunion for us.
Q] Now he [Craig] wasn’t brought in when you guys reunited in the mid-90s.
DB: No, we decided to focus on the 3 original guys, and of course he was still involved with Bob, so of course, he wouldn’t give up his chances with Bob to come out and do his thing with us.
Q] Can I get a few of your favorite songs, of your own, aside from the obvious like ‘We’re An American Band’?
DB: ‘Please Me’ off the Shinin On album, I really loved doing that. One of my all-time favorites that never really saw much light of day was ‘Pass It Around’, that we did with Frank Zappa on the ‘Good Singin’, Good Playin’ album. I loved that song! Farner came up with the chord changes and I started working on the lyrics and the vocal on that, and by the time we were done, it was one of my favorite things that we ever did.
Q] Have you guys had any contact with Mark since he left?
DB: He’s still involved with the corporation, so we still have some business dealings with him. We don’t get on the phone and talk buddy buddy any more. But yes, we still see Mark every now and then.
Q] If I could run some names by you and if you’d have any stories or mentions…..
A Canadian guy – Carl Dixon?
DB: Oh, Carl is with the Guess Who. He is a great guy. He gave me his solo CD the last time we did a show with them. And we’re doing a show with them in Austin, coming up in a couple of weeks.
DB: I don’t have a lot of stories about them. We played a show way out in South Dakota or North Dakota or some place, a couple of years ago. But we didn’t have a chance to sit down and talk.
Three Dog Night?
DB: We did a show with them in Denver, I think last year. But once again, a lot of times we do these shows and one band is on at one time and we’re on at another and we rarely get to see each other.
Q] What else have you guys got in the future?
DB: That’s about it. We’re just going to continue on doing shows until we’re in wheelchairs! [laughs]
*For more info check out the following:
www.kulick.net [Bruce Kulick]
www.cottagelakemusic.com [Tim Cashion]
Interview: ©Kevin J. Julie [May 2007]