Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Grand Funk keeps rolling along

Grand Funk Railroad played at a pair of
shows at the Island Resort and Casino in Harris
last weekend.


Adding to the thousands of performances to their credit, Grand Funk Railroad brought their high-energy live show to the Chip-In Resort and Casino in Harris on Jan. 15.

The veteran rock band has played sold-out concerts around the world since they first took the stage in early 1969.

Taking their name from Michigan's famed Grand Trunk Western Railroad, the group was formed in Flint by Mark Farner, Don Brewer and Mel Schacher.

After performing for free at the Atlanta Pop Festival on July 4 & 5, 1969 Grand Funk was signed by Capitol Records based largely on their energetic live show.

Their debut album, "On Time," was issued the next month.

During the 1970s, they were America's most commercially successful heavy-metal band, selling over 20 million LPs, despite being reviled by critics.

Founding members Brewer (drums, vocals) and Schacher (bass) anchor the current line-up. The remainder of the band consists of Max Carl (lead vocals), Bruce Kulick (guitar) and Timothy "Tim" Cashion (keyboards).

Schacher came to Grand Funk after playing bass for ? (Question Mark) & the Mysterians when they toured the country after "96 Tears" became a hit single.

Brewer and ex-Grand Funk vocalist Farner were members of garage band Terry Knight & the Pack and registered a national hit in 1966 with their version of Ben E. King's "I (Who Have Nothing)," recorded later by Tom Jones.

A former Detroit disc jockey, Knight retired from performing to become manager of the newly-created Grand Funk Railroad. He also produced the group's records prior to being dismissed in 1972.

As my wife Sue and I settled into our seats in the second row, the band opened their show with "Bottle Rocket," a newer number composed by singer Carl, a former member of Thirty Eight Special. The song has a R&B feel and fits well into the Grand Funk repertoire.


"Rock and Roll Soul," written by Farner, continued the party atmosphere. Released in 1972, the single reached No. 29 and featured the keyboard work of Craig Frost, who had recently joined the band. Drummer Brewer and bassist Schacher propelled the band through their live take on the song.

"Footstompin' Music" followed. Like "Rock and Roll Soul" the tune was written by Farner and also reached No. 29 in 1972.

Fans stood for "The Loco-Motion" which Grand Funk took to the top of the charts in 1974. Kulick, who played lead guitar in Kiss for 12 years, provided a sharp solo for the concert rendition.


The group's version was a remake of the Little Eva song which went to No. 1 in 1962. The tune was penned by Carole King and Gerry Goffin who discovered Little Eva when the teenager was babysitting for them.

"The Loco-Motion" propelled sales of "Shinin' On," the group's 10th studio album.

Frontman Carl was featured on the concert's next selection, "Second Chance." He originally sang the track as vocalist for Thirty Eight Special. The song, which reached No. 6 in early 1989, was the southern rock group's biggest hit.

Next, Brewer showed his considerable chops with a crowd-pleasing drum solo as the other band members left the stage. "Are you with me?" the drummer asked. Cheers followed.

At age 61, Brewer proved to be a wild man behind the skins and an inspiration to the audience.

The drum demonstration was followed by an extended take on "Inside- Looking Out" the closing track from Grand Funk's self-titled second LP (also known as the red album). In 1966, British rock band the Animals released a 45 of the song which became a Top 40 smash. Schacher laid down a heavy bass line on stage, earning his "God of Thunder" nickname, while Carl added some tasty harp work.

Brewer left his drum kit to sing "Some Kind of Wonderful," sharing lead vocals with Carl. Originally recorded by R&B group Soul Brothers Six, Grand Funk took their version to No. 3.

The audience sang along with "I'm Your Captain (Closer to Home)," composed by ex-member Mark Farner. Clocking in at 9:58, the epic track is the longest number recorded by Grand Funk and ends the "Closer to Home" album. The song stalled at No. 22 in 1970 but has since become regarded as a rock classic.


Some fans may have thought Grand Funk saved the best for last when they ended their hour-long set with "We're an American Band." Brewer donned a red, white and blue Uncle Sam hat for the tune, about a young rock band out on the road, which he wrote. "We're comin' to your town. We'll help you party down. We're an American band," Brewer sang.

The record, which reached No. 1 in the summer of 1973, was produced by Todd Rundgren. Grand Funk's spirited live version left the crowd cheering for more, but there was no encore.

In addition to the songs on the band's setlist, Grand Funk is also known for "Bad Time," "Shinin' On," "Walk Like a Man," "Mean Mistreater" and "Time Machine."

Founded in 1968, Grand Funk recorded 19 hit singles before the original band broke up in 1976.

A reunion occurred in 1980 including Farner and Brewer, with Dennis Bellinger replacing Schacher on bass. The group disbanded again in 1983.


Schacher joined Farner and Brewer for another reunion in 1996 which lasted three years. The reunited Grand Funk Railroad played at Marion Park in Norway on July 5, 1996 and at the Kewadin Casino in Sault Ste. Marie on Oct. 30 & 31, 1998.

Farner left in 1999 to resume a solo career. He still tours, playing solo and Grand Funk material. The Mark Farner Band performed at Marion Park in Norway on June 24, 2000.

Brewer and Schacher, meanwhile, recruited Carl, Kulick and Cashion in a new edition of Grand Funk which has remained stable since 2000. The band has toured every year since then, including shows at the Chip-in Resort and Casino on Oct. 26 & 27, 2001 and at the Kewadin Shores Casino in St. Ignace on Sept. 21, 2006.

The concerts at the Chip-in on Jan. 15 & 16 were Grand Funk Railroad's first gigs of 2010 and a good indication these road warriors can and, judging by audience reaction, should keep chugging along.

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