Grand Funk Railroad Biography

Formed in 1968, Grand Funk Railroad was the first American heavy rock ‘power trio’ to achieve massive fame, while alienating another large segment of the rock audience and critics at the same time. The group was a spin-off of Terry Knight And The Pack, a popular soul rock group in the Michigan area in the mid-60s, and originally comprised guitarist Mark Farner (29 September 1948, Flint, Michigan, USA), bass player Mel Schacher (b. 3 April 1951, Owosso, Michigan, USA) and drummer Don Brewer (b. 3 September 1948, Flint, Michigan, USA). Farner and Brewer had both been members of the Pack, while Brewer had also belonged to the Jazz Masters. Following a single release on the small Lucky Eleven label, ‘I (Who Have Nothin)’, which reached number 46 in the US chart, the Pack were joined by Schacher, formerly of ? And The Mysterians. At this point Knight stopped performing to become the band’s manager, renaming it Grand Funk Railroad (the name was taken from the Michigan landmark the Grand Trunk Railroad). The new trio signed with Capitol Records in 1969 and immediately began making its name by performing at several large pop festivals. Their first singles reached the charts but Grand Funk soon proved its real strength in the album market. On Time reached number 27 in 1969, followed by the number 11Grand Funk in 1970. By the summer of that year they had become a major concert attraction, and their albums routinely reached the Top 10 for the next four years. Of those, 1973’sWe’re An American Band was the biggest seller, reaching number 2.

Grand Funk Railroad’s huge success is often attributed to the public relations expertise of manager Knight. In 1970, for example, Knight reportedly paid $100, 000 for a huge billboard in New York City’s Times Square to promote the band’sCloser To Home, which subsequently became their first Top 10 album, reaching number 6 and spawning the FM radio-staple title track. That promotional campaign backfired with the press, however, which dismissed the band’s efforts despite spiralling success with the public. In June 1971, for example, Grand Funk Railroad became only the second band (after the Beatles) to sell out New York’s Shea Stadium. Their recordings sold in greater quantity even though many radio stations ignored their releases. 1970’s Live Album reached number 5 and included another concert and radio favourite in Farner’s ‘Mean Mistreater’. The next year saw the release ofSurvival and E Pluribus Funk, the latter most notable for its round album cover.

In 1972 the band fired Knight, resulting in a series of lawsuits involving millions of dollars (they hired John Eastman, father of Linda McCartney, as their new manager). In 1973 the band shortened its name officially to Grand Funk, and added a fourth member, keyboard player Craig Frost (b. 20 April 1948, Flint, Michigan, USA). Now produced by Todd Rundgren, they finally broke into the singles market, reaching number 1 with the album title track ‘We’re An American Band’, a celebration of their times on the road. In 1974 a major revision of Little Eva’s ‘The Loco-Motion’ also reached the top (the first time in US chart history that a cover version of a song that had previously reached number 1 also attained that position). In 1975, with their popularity considerably diminished, the band reverted to its original name of Grand Funk Railroad. The following year they signed with MCA Records and recordedGood Singin’, Good Playin’, produced by Frank Zappa. When it failed to reach the Top 50, Farner left for a solo career. The others stayed together, adding guitarist Billy Elworthy and changing their name to Flint, a unit who failed to find commercial success with their solitary album.

Grand Funk, this time comprising Farner, Brewer and bass player Dennis Bellinger, re-formed for two years in 1981-83 and recorded Grand Funk Lives andWhat’s Funk? for the Full Moon label. Failing to recapture former glories, they split again. Farner returned to his solo career, before joining Adrenalin. Brewer and Frost joined Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band. The band reunited for a benefit for Bosnian orphans in 1997. Farner continues to perform the Grand Funk catalogue all over the world as a solo artist.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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