When it came to American arena rock in the 1970’s, you didn’t get a whole lot bigger than Grand Funk Railroad. Formed in Flint, Michigan in 1968, the band racked up million-selling album after million-selling album in the years between 1969 and 1976. Though they were never critical darlings, the public’s voice was heard loud and clear: Grand Funk Railroad were very much the people’s band.
The MusicNerd Chronicles recently had the pleasure of speaking with Grand Funk Railroad drummer and vocalist Don Brewer about the history of the band, what they are up to these days in addition to Brewer’s work with fellow rock legend Bob Seger.
Looking back at the Grand Funk catalogue, which records do you feel best exemplifies the band?
Brewer: I think that there was a couple of time periods that would have to be taken into consideration. We underwent a major transition between the time we started in 1969 as a power rock trio through to Closer To Home where we worked with an orchestra. 1971’s E Pluribus Funk is probably the record that I feel best represents us playing as a trio.
Then of course, we underwent a major transition trying to stay with pop radio in addition to a lawsuit that we were dealing with. We added a fourth band member and undertook more of a pop direction As a quartet, I would say that We’re An American Band was one of our best efforts.
Your first three records were released in the span of 18 months. Was working at that pace coupled with the band’s live commitments taxing on you as a group?
Brewer: We were actually under contract to deliver records as often as we did. Looking back, we ended up releasing 11 or 12 records in the span of six years. Of course, things were different back then than they are today. Tours generally consisted of approximately 40 shows; they didn’t last for months on end like a lot of tours do today. By the time we would wrap up a tour, we would come home, take a couple of weeks off and than start rehearsals for the next record. By the time that 1976 came around, we were completely burned out. We were totally fried. Things had changed quite a bit as we got closer to the 1980’s. It wasn’t rock n roll anymore, it was far more corporate and it seemed as though bands simply started using a formula for success.
How many shows is Grand Funk Railroad playing per year?
Brewer: We are still playing 35 to 40 shows per year. It is a good pace. Everyone is really comfortable with it. And even at that, the bulk of the shows we play fall in the summer and fall. Our schedule naturally slows down over the winter.
How was the run of shows you played with Bob Seger earlier this year?
Brewer: We did 28 shows this past March, April and May and have another run of about 20 shows coming up this fall. Bob is still as popular as he ever was. While he has never really toured much in the past, I think that he has toured more than perhaps what he is accustomed to in the past six years. We are all getting up there in age but just like Grand Funk, Bob is still doing it because he wants to do it and enjoys it.
How are relations with Mark Farner these days?
Brewer: We still have business dealings together with him but things ended on a bad note between us so we are not actively in contact with him.
Do you think it is possible that you will play with Mark again someday?
Brewer: I would never say never but for the time being, I do not see anything happening.