Grand Funk Railroad (also known as Grand Funk) is an American blues rock band that was highly popular during the 1970s, touring extensively and playing to packed arenas worldwide. David Fricke of Rolling Stone magazine once said, "You cannot talk about rock in the 1970s without talking about Grand Funk Railroad!" Known for their crowd-pleasing arena rock style, the band was well-regarded by audiences despite a relative lack of critical acclaim. The band's name is a play on words of the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, a railroad line that ran through the band's home town of Flint, Michigan.
Originally a trio, the band was formed in 1969 by Mark Farner (guitar, vocals) and Don Brewer (drums, vocals) from Terry Knight and the Pack, and Mel Schacher (bass) from Question Mark & the Mysterians; Knight soon became the band's manager, as well as naming the band as a play on words for the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, a well-known rail line in Michigan. First achieving recognition at the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival, the band was signed by Capitol Records. After a raucous, well-received set on the first day of the festival, the group was asked back to play at the Second Atlanta Pop Festival the following year. Patterned after hard rock power trios such as Cream, the band, with Terry Knight's marketing savvy, developed its own popular style. In August 1969 the band released its first album titled On Time, which sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold record in 1970.
In February 1970 a second album, Grand Funk (aka "The Red Album"), was awarded gold status. Despite critical pans and a lack of airplay, the group's first six albums (five studio releases and one live album) were quite successful.
The hit single "I'm Your Captain (Closer to Home)", from the album Closer to Home, released in 1970, was considered stylistically representative of Terry Knight and the Pack's recordings. In 1970 Knight launched an intensive advertising campaign to promote the album Closer To Home. That album was certified multi-platinum despite a lack of critical approval. The band spent $100,000 on a New York Times Square billboard to advertise Closer to Home. By 1971, Grand Funk equalled the Beatles' Shea Stadium attendance record but sold out the venue in just 72 hours whereas the Beatles concert took a couple of weeks to sell out. Following Closer To Home, Live Album was also released in 1970, and was another gold disc recipient.Survival and E Pluribus Funk were both released in 1971. E Pluribus Funk celebrated the Shea Stadium show with an embossed depiction of the stadium on the album cover's reverse.
By late 1971 the band was concerned with Knight's managerial style and fiscal responsibility. This growing dissatisfaction led Grand Funk Railroad to fire Knight in early 1972. Knight sued for breach of contract, which resulted in a protracted legal battle. At one point Knight repossessed the band's gear before a gig at Madison Square Garden. In VH1's Behind the Music Grand Funk Railroad episode, Knight stated that the original contract would have run out in about three months, and that the smart decision for the band would have been to just wait out the time. However, at that moment the band felt they had no choice but to continue and fight for the rights to their career and name.
In 1972 Grand Funk Railroad added Craig Frost on keyboards full-time. Originally they had attempted to attract Peter Frampton, late of Humble Pie; however Frampton was not available, due to signing a solo-record deal with A&M Records. The addition of Frost, however, was a stylistic shift from Grand Funk's original garage-band based rock & roll roots to a more rhythm & blues/pop-rock-oriented style. With the new lineup, Grand Funk released Phoenix, its sixth album of original music, in 1972.
To refine Grand Funk's sound, the band secured veteran musician Todd Rundgren as a producer. Their two most successful albums and two No. 1 hit singles resulted: the Don Brewer-penned "We're an American Band" (from We're an American Band) and "The Loco-Motion" (from Shinin' On, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and originally recorded by Little Eva). The album We're an American Band topped out at No. 2 on the charts. "We're an American Band" was Grand Funk's first No. 1 hit, followed by Brewer's #19 hit "Walk Like a Man". 1974's "The Loco-Motion" was Grand Funk's second chart-topping single, followed by Brewer's #11 hit "Shinin' On". The band continued touring the U.S., Europe, and Japan.
In 1974 Grand Funk re-engaged Jimmy Ienner as producer and reverted to using their full name: "Grand Funk Railroad". The band released the album All the Girls in the World Beware!!!, which depicted the band member's heads superimposed on the bodies of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu. This album spawned the band's last two top ten hits, "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Bad Time".
Although they were highly successful in the mid-1970s, tensions mounted within the band due to personal issues, burn-out, and disputes over musical direction. Despite these issues, Grand Funk forged ahead. Needing two more albums to complete their record deal with Capitol, Grand Funk embarked on a major tour and decided to record a double live album, Caught in the Act.
The double album should have fulfilled the contract with Capitol; however, because it contained previously released material, Capitol requested an additional album to complete Grand Funk's contractual obligation. While pressures between the band members still existed, the members agreed to move forward and complete one more album for Capitol to avoid legalities similar to the ones that they endured with Terry Knight in 1972. The band recorded Born to Die and agreed not to release any information regarding their impending breakup in 1976.
However, Grand Funk found new life via interest by Frank Zappa in producing the band. Signing with MCA Records, the resulting album Good Singin', Good Playin' yielded little success. After this, Grand Funk Railroad decided once more to disband in 1976.
Late 1970s and 1980s:
Following the breakup, Farner began a solo career and signed with Atlantic Records which resulted in two albums: Mark Farner (1977) and No Frills (1978). Brewer, Schacher and Frost remained intact and formed the band Flint. Flint released one album on Columbia Records; a second record was finished but never released. Grand Funk Railroad reunited in 1981 without Frost and with Dennis Bellinger replacing Schacher on bass.
The new line-up released two albums on Irving Azoff's Full Moon label, distributed by Warner Bros. Records. These releases included 1981's Grand Funk Lives and 1983's What's Funk?. Neither album achieved much critical acclaim; however, the single "Queen Bee" was included in the film Heavy Metal and its soundtrack album. After they disbanded a second time in 1983, Farner continued as a solo performer and became a Christian recording artist and Brewer went on to tour with Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band.
1990s and 2000s:
In 1996 Grand Funk Railroad's three original members once again reunited and played to 250,000 people in 14 shows during a three-month period. In 1997 the band played three sold-out Bosnian benefit concerts. These shows featured a full symphony orchestra that was conducted by Paul Shaffer (from the David Letterman Late Show). The band released a live two-disc benefit CD called Bosnia recorded in Auburn Hills, Michigan. This recording also featured Peter Frampton who joined the band on stage. In 1998, after three years of touring, Farner left the band and returned to his solo career.
After this, nearly two years passed before Brewer and Schacher recruited some well-regarded players to re-establish the band. Lead vocalist Max Carl (of 38 Special), former Kiss lead guitarist Bruce Kulick, and keyboardist Tim Cashion (Bob Seger, Robert Palmer) joined the two remaining Grand Funk members. In 2005 the band drew 20,000 people to their show in Albany, NY. In 2006 a Grand Funk show in downtown Orlando, FL drew 20,000 fans. In July 2011 the band drew 25,000 people to their Molson Canal Series Concert outside Buffalo, NY.
Grand Funk Railroad continues to tour 40 shows a year and kicked off their "45 YEARS OF GRAND FUNK" tour January 25, 2014.
Don Brewer - drums, lead vocals (1969-1976, 1981-1983, 1996-present),
Mel Schacher - bass guitar (1969-1976, 1996-present),
Max Carl - lead vocals, guitars (2000-present),
Tim Cashion - keyboards (2000-present),
Bruce Kulick - guitars (2000-present),
Mark Farner - guitars, lead vocals, keyboard, harmonica (1969-1976, 1981-1983, 1996-1998),
Craig Frost - keyboards, backing vocals (1972-1976),
Dennis Bellinger - bass guitar (1981-1983),
Howard Eddy, Jr. - keyboards (1996-1998)