Wednesday, June 29, 2011

23 Jun 11 - Interview with Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad

"...You kids don't know Grand Funk Railroad? The wild shirtless lyrics of Mark Farmer? The bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher? The competent drumwork of Don Brewer? Oh, man!"
Homer Simpson

Since the early 70s, this legendary rock band has been comin' to your town, blogspot readers, to help you party down because they're the American band who can known as Grand Funk Railroad. And soon the Railroad five-piece band, featuring two of the original founding members - Don Brewer (vocals/drums/writer and singer of the hit song, We're An American Band) and Mel Schacher (bass), will be making a special stop at Naperville's Ribfest ( - show approximate time is 8:30p) on July 3rd. Helping Don and Mel recreate that famous Grand Funk are a group of legendary all-stars Max Carl (singer, 38 Special), Bruce Kulick (lead guitarist, 12 years with KISS), and Tim Cashion (keyboardist, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Robert Palmer). Recently SouthSide had the extreme pleasure to chat with Don Brewer (via telephone) about the band's early years to his thoughts about the music industry today as well as the inspiration behind Grand Funk's mega hit, We're An American Band.

While doing some intense research on Grand Funk Railroad for this interview, SouthSide found a distinct discrepancy on the band's originating birth year. Some say "...found in 1968..." but on the flipside others have it as "...found in 1969..." in which Don Brewer kindly set the record straight for her, blogspot readers. Grand Funk Railroad was founded in Flint, Michigan in 1969 out of its former incarnation, Terry Knight & The Pack. With that mixup cleared, SouthSide then asked Don when was the moment that Grand Funk felt they achieved recognition. Because they weren't being accepted in Michigan as Terry Knight & The Pack, Terry, lead vocalist then turned band manager, renamed the band after a well-known Michigan rail line called Grand Trunk Western Railroad but changing a word and a couple of letters. Don stated the moment happened when Grand Funk first appeared on stage at the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival as an unknown band however finished with an ovation (the band was asked to perform during the rest of the festival). "...for three guys from Flint, Michigan, we were like whoa..." Soon the band was playing at over top venues like Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium in which they topped the record held by The Beatles for selling out the stadium.

SouthSide also noted another interesting fact about Grand Funk Railroad, blogspot readers, that had her asking Don why the critics were so negative despite the band being popular with fans. Don replied saying "...Terry wouldn't let us [the band] talk to the press..." eventually rubbing them the wrong way i.e. bad concert reviews that they (critics) never attended as well as disfavorable album reviews. " was a political thing..." since Terry acted as Grand Funk's svengali with the theory "...that any publicity (good or bad) is good publicity..." Yet with Terry's finesse in marketing, Grand Funk created its own popular rock style and sold more albums than any other American group. SouthSide asked Don what was the inspiration behind the famous rock anthem - We're An American Band. Don said the inspiration came from Terry suing Grand Funk in every city/town they were playing. The lyrics "...we're comin' to your town to help you party down..." was the first to be written while the rest of the song was gradually pieced together through Grand Funk's experiences on the road touring (with some literary embellishment), blogspot readers. Don also cleared up some misconceptions about the song for SouthSide stating it's not about rallying behind the American flag or a fight they had with some English band either. On a personal note, she wanted to know Don's favorite Grand Funk song and/or album besides We're An American Band which coincidentally is his favorite titled track off the album. He replied saying "...E Pluribus Funk..." (1971) because it "...has foot-stompin' music..." This particular album celebrated Grand Funk's Shea Stadium concert featuring a die-cut depiction of the stadium on the reverse side of the album cover.

Having paved the way for other bands like KISS, Foreigner, Van Halen and Bon Jovi during the course of their 40 plus years within the music industry, SouthSide wanted Don's opinion about how it has changed. Don said he has noticed "...major changes ...don't recognized it anymore..." adding it doesn't have that recording company-band-radio relationship like it used to "'s virutally gone..." She asked as a side question if he saw the old "dinosaurs" (i.e. record companies) disappearing with the independent scene on the rise. He didn't see them going away but in time, they will if people continue to download the music they want to hear instead of purchasing CDs/albums. Speaking of technological advances effecting the music industry, she asked if that has changed the way Grand Funk connects with its fans. Don replied saying "...other than the website in which fans can access for upcoming shows [and more] ...not really using Twitter or YouTube..." He however noted how the internet has changed the way people search and access music. Don personally has seen four generations of Grand Funk fans (including younger fans who weren't even born) attending Grand Funk Railroad shows as well as singing the word to their songs. This response led to SouthSide asking him how it felt beng immortalized by television's iconic superfan, Homer Simpson. He felt it was great adding "...a terrific way to introduce this generation of kids to classic rockers like Grand Funk...", blogspot readers. During the 7th season episode titled Homerpalooza, fans will hear the song, Shinin' On being played in which Don Brewer co-wrote with Mark Farmer. Yet that wasn't the only time Grand Funk's presence was felt in The Simpsons' universe - in the 12th season, Homer gives a list of songs to The Who to play during the episode, Tale of Two Springfields however they're actually Grand Funk Railroad songs and in the 18th season, Otto the bus driver ignores Lisa when complaining about Bart not sharing his seat with her by singing We're An American Band.

So what's the final word amongst the diehard fans about the "new" Grand Funk Railroad band lineup? Don said "'s a mix bag..." because some are stuck on the "old" Grand Funk originals while many others, according to him, like and follow the "new" American band. Currently, the band does about 30 to 40 shows a year reproducing the classic Grand Funk records as well as performing some newer material. Though never having a chance to see them perform live (as of yet), SouthSide wondered what she would hear and see during their performance. Don merely summed it up in six simple words for her "...high energy, all hits Grand Funk Railroad..." show. In other words, blogspot readers, "...a pretty much straight forward..." rock concert without any flash, pyro techniques or glam. On another personal note, this reviewer finally stumped her interviewee. SouthSide asked Don if there was one artist and/or band Grand Funk would like to rock out the stage with. He answered saying they (Grand Funk) has toured with greats like the Doobie Brothers and Lover Boy because they like their music and vice versa. However the one band he would like to see Grand Funk rockin' the stage with is - (after a few minutes of thinking of an answer) - The Beatles. What a rock concert that would have been. Before officially ending this interview, she asked Don for his final thoughts or comments to disclose about Grand Funk Railroad. He had only this to say - "...Chicago, be ready to sweat and smile..."

Rock fan of all ages should head to the Ribfest in Naperville this weekend especially on July 3rd to see the legendary American band, Grand Funk Railroad and sing along to other songs like I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home (one of SouthSide's favorite classic rock songs), Footstompin' Music, Some Kind of Wonderful (one of SouthSide's favorite classic rock songs), Loco-motion and many more. For more information about Grand Funk Railroad and where they will be partyin' down next after Naperville, visit

SouthSide wishes to thank Don Brewer taking time out of his busy schedule for this interview and Anne Leighton of Leighton Media for setting it up.

Until next time, support your local scene,

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