Grand Funk Railroad
BRINGING THE FUNK – The “American band” Grand Funk Railroad will headline the Sept. 7 concert in downtown Martin as part of the 19th annual Tennessee Soybean Festival, which kicks off with the Carson and Barnes Circus Friday. Grand Funk Railroad will take the downtown main stage in Festival Park, next to the gazebo, at 9 p.m. for a free concert. Festival-goers are welcome to bring chairs and blankets for the concert. Bowling for Soup will perform Sept. 6 and Travis Tritt will headline the Sept. 8 line-up of concert events.
They were railroaded into it – becoming one of the nation’s top rock bands 40 years ago. And they are still at it.
Grand Funk Railroad will appear Sept. 7 at Festival Park in Martin, bringing the hard-driving, but soul-stirring sound that has defined the group since 1969 to a free Soybean Festival concert.
GFR, whom Homer Simpson proudly claims as his favorite band, played on the name of a railroad line running through their hometown of Flint, Mich., – Grand Trunk Railroad – when the group set out to make music that would rock the world. They registered million copy sales the same year they were formed with the band’s first album, “On Time.” Sharing the honors were Don Brewer, Mel Schacher and Mark Farner.
The band has gone through personnel changes through the years, but when they take the stage at the Soybean Festival, fans will be seeing and hearing two of the original rockers, Brewer and Schacher. They will be joined by singer Max Carl, co-founder of “Jack Mack” and a rock veteran of 38 Special; lead guitarist Bruce Kulick, who claims musical experience appearing with KISS, Michael Bolton and Meatloaf; and keyboardist “Dr. Tim” Cashion. The latter earned his title with a master’s degree in music from the University of Miami and honed his talent by stints with Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.
Brewer, who wrote the band’s signature song, “We’re an American Band,” takes charge of vocals and drums, while Schacher is the band’s bassist. Brewer also wrote hits such as “Walk Like a Man” and “Shinin’ On” and sings lead on these songs. His is the main voice, too, on “Some Kind of Wonderful,” a cover of the 1960s soul hit by The Soul Brother Six.
GFR claims 19 charted singles, eight Top 40 hits and two songs – “We’re an American Band” and “Locomotion” – that came in at No. 1. The rocker team boasts 13 gold and 10 platinum records, with sales in excess of 25 million copies worldwide.
Brewer cites the influence of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Motown artists from start to finish, the Beatles and Elton John in his work and points out that while Dr. Tim has a formal degree in music, the collective musical education of the group can’t be quantified.
Asked to point to a performance that will always live in his memory, he talks about the 1971 concert at Shea Stadium in New York. The show sold out faster than the Beatles and the band made their grand appearance via helicopter. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared before a performance,” Brewer says, but fear must have added its own special impetus to the successful show.
The same kind of excitement continues to drive Brewer and the band.
“I love being able to entertain an audience, love to see people stand up and cheer, sing the words to our songs, smile and sweat, bring their children to see the band. What’s not to like?” says the veteran GFR spokesman.
Through the years, Brewer says the musical equipment the band relies on, the type stages they perform on, the lighting they use to highlight every aspect of an appearance, the sound technology that allows them to take their talent to new and exciting levels has crossed barriers no one in the business even conceived of when GFR was starting out.
However, the one constant – the most important aspect of any show – has stayed the same: the songs and their performance are what bring people to the concert and, then, to their feet in appreciation.
A drummer to the depths of his soul, Brewer also has a fine appreciation for the craft of song writing.
“When you write a song, it is always best to reach for something you have personal experience with. Even a totally fictitious subject can come from a dream.”
Looking back at the group’s phenomenal staying power, Brewer says it would be hard to define GFR by just one song.
“The band has gone through so many styles that one song just can’t say it all. Certainly ‘We’re an American Band’ and ‘I’m Your Captain/Closer to Home’ are the songs people seem to most closely associate with us, though.”
Soybean Festival excitement that is centered around Grand Funk Railroad will begin at 9 p.m. Sept. 7, and Brewer says, “I’m looking for an audience that wants to have a good time.”
Editor’s note: Glenda Caudle is special features editor at The Messenger in Union City.