Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Getting Closer To Home : An Exclusive Interview With Founding Grand Funk Railroad Leader Mark Farner

Ever since coming to massive fame and fortune at the tender age of 20 as leader of one of the biggest bands of the 70's, former Grand Funk Railroad guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Mark Farner has been gifted with a rock & roll soul. Born September 29, 1948 in Flint, Michigan, he first played in a succession of high school bands around the area. In 1966 he joined Terry Knight and the Pack, where he would first encounter the mercurical Knight, who later would be instrumental as Grand Funk's manager, orchestrating their meteoric rise to fame. Also notable was the band's drummer, Don Brewer, who along with ex ? and the Mysterians bassist Mel Schacher would join forces with Farner, forming the power trio in 1968.

Upon hearing Grand Funk Railroad, Terry Knight became their manager and started drumming up gigs for the band, most of which they performed for free. Knight persuaded the promoters of the Atlanta International Pop Festival to let them play, unpaid. And play, they did - in front of over 180,000 people, in 110 degree heat, as the only unsigned act of the festival, (which featured the likes of Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter and Led Zeppelin), Mark, Don & Mel went down a storm. More like a hurricane actually, their gale force performance impressive enough so that after their thunderous appearance they were signed to Capitol Records.

In 1971, in an ample demonstration of their mega popularity, the band set the attendance record at New York City's Shea Stadium for a concert, as amazingly they sold out the 57,000 plus tickets to the show in an astounding 72 hours, faster than The Beatles in 1966 - a record which stood until the stadium was demolished in late 2008. Not bad for three boys from Flint. Michigan!

As the band were setting attendance records live and selling millions of albums world wide, they were simultaneously ripped apart by the "enlightened" rock critics of the day. Notably, Rolling Stone Magazine called them "the world's worst rock band," while the working class rock fan embraced them as "The American Band". A critical snubbing which must be noted continues today. Despite many grassroots efforts by fans to get them inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, that honor still eludes them, even as their influence can be heard in not only modern day Detroit bands such as The Muggs and The Universal Temple Of Divine Power, but also a slew of Swedish stoner rock bands. A trend which continues to grow day by day.

Over the first half of the 70's, the band was one of the biggest bands not only in the U.S., but all over the world. With 12 gold and 10 platinum records, 19 charted singles, 8 Top 40 hits including two at Number One both selling more than one million each, total sales in excess of 25 million copies sold world wide, the fans knew what was up. Despite the critical drubbing and the bitter split with manager Knight in '72, these three (four with the addition of Craig Frost on keyboards in 1972) were very much the epitome of a "people's band". Persevering without initially much airplay, at least in the beginning, they truly were a band of the people, for the people - a creed Farner still lives by today.

By 1977, the initial ride was over, with the band going their separate ways shortly after finishing the overdub sessions for the 1976 Frank Zappa produced 'Good Singin' Good Playin''. And for a time, it seemed that was it, with Farner embarking on a solo career and releasing two albums - 'Mark Farner' in 1977 and 'No Frills' in 1978 - while Brewer, Schacher and Frost formed the band Flint, putting out an album of their own on Columbia Records.

None of these offerings matched the success of the original band, and in 1980, minus Schacher and keyboardist Frost, and including bassist Dennis Bellinger, the band reunited for two albums, 1980's 'Grand Funk Lives!' and '83's 'What's Funk'. Although the first reunion disc managed to reach #149 Billboard Album Charts, with new wave and a flood of skinny tie wearing bands like The Knack being the trend of the day, the band found its gritty, no frills hard rock out of favor and the second album failed to chart. Once again they disbanded, but not before Mark, Don and Dennis Bellinger toured throughout 1981-1982, selling out shows in Japan and South America, where the band's no nonsense approach never went out of style. Brewer and Frost joined Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band, while Farner set out on a new career as a Christian Contemporary artist, releasing several albums hugely popular in the Christian music marketplace. He scored hits with the 1988 CCM #2 single "Isn't It Amazing," and a remake of "Some Kind Of Wonderful," which also hit the top 10.

Leaping headlong back into the rock & roll mainstream, from 1994 to 1995, Farner toured with ex Beatle Ringo Starr's Allstars, which also featured BTO's Randy Bachman, The Who's John Entwistle, The Rascals' Felix Cavalaire, Billy Preston, and Ringo's son, Zak Starkey. A tour which saw Ringo introducing him night after night as "Mr. Grand Funk, Mark Farner!".

Soon afterwards, in 1996, the pull of the locomotive lured him back onto the tracks for yet another reunion of the original band. May to July 1996 saw them perform before 260,000 people at 14 sold out shows, with the double live album 'Bosnia' following in January 1997. After another year of touring, during which they played 65 shows throughout 1998 and ranked among the top 10 tours of the year, he left the band once again to resume his solo career, an undertaking which continues to the present day.

Now Farner is back with a new album on Boinkmore Records, 'For The People,' an all original collection which showcases his abilities as a vocalist, guitarist and songwriter quite admirably. Not straying too far from the classic sound of Grand Funk, it clearly reaffirms that four decades on, he remains a musical and vocal force to be reckoned with, and is an offering highly recommended to fans of the mid 70's work of his former band.

Recently I had the fantastic opportunity to catch up with Mark at his home in Michigan, where the topics discussed included the new album "For The People,' the days in Grand Funk, the state of the United States today, the possibilities of a reunion of the original band and much, much more. Read on as we have a revelatory conversation with one of rock's true legends, Mark Farner....Click here to read the exclusive interview

Mark, Don & Mel, "Inside Looking Out"...why are these guys NOT in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame?!

Grand Funk Railroad - Inside Looking Out

1 comment:

Improvedliving said...

well i am big fan of beatles. I just love them.

Beatles Fan

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