Grand Funk Railroad (also known as Grand Funk) is an American rock band that was highly popular during the 1970s. Grand Funk Railroad sold more than 25 million records, toured constantly, packed arenas worldwide, and received four RIAA gold albums during 1970—the most for any American group that year. The current Grand Funk Railroad lineup uses the nickname "The American Band", a reference to its 1973 hit "We're an American Band". A popular take on the band during its heyday was that, although the critics hated them, audiences loved them. The band's name is a play on words of the Grand Trunk Railroad, a railroad line that ran through the band's home town of Flint, Michigan.
The band was formed in 1968 by Mark Farner (guitars, keyboards, lead vocals) and Don Brewer (drums, lead vocals) from Terry Knight and the Pack, and Mel Schacher (bass guitar) from Question Mark & the Mysterians. Terry Knight, a former band-mate of Farner and Brewer, soon became the band's manager. Knight named the band after the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, a well-known rail line in Michigan. First achieving recognition at the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival, the band was signed by Capitol Records. After a raucous, well-received set on the first day of the festival, Grand Funk Railroad was asked back to play two additional days. Patterned after hard rock power trios such as Cream, Grand Funk Railroad, with Terry Knight's marketing savvy, developed its own popular style. In 1970, they sold more albums than any other American band and became a major concert attraction. In 1969, the band released its first album titled On Time, which sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc in 1970. During the same year, a second album, Grand Funk (aka the Red Album), was awarded gold status. The hit single "I'm Your Captain (Closer to Home)", from the album Closer to Home, was also released in 1970 and was considered stylistically representative of Terry Knight and the Pack's recordings. The band spent $100,000 on a New York Times Square billboard to advertise Closer to Home. By 1971, Grand Funk broke The Beatles' Shea Stadium attendance record by selling out in just 72 hours.
Despite critical pans and a lack of airplay, the group's first six albums (five studio releases and one live album) were quite successful. In 1970, Knight launched an intensive advertising campaign to promote the album Closer To Home. Reportedly, Knight paid $100,000 for a huge billboard in New York City's Times Square. That album was certified multi-platinum despite a lack of critical approval. Following Closer To Home, Live Album was also released in 1970, and was another gold disc recipient. Survival and E Pluribus Funk were both released in 1971. E Pluribus Funk celebrated the Shea Stadium show with a die-cut depiction of the stadium on the album cover's reverse.
By late 1971, the band was concerned with Knight's managerial style and fiscal responsibility. This growing dissatisfaction led Grand Funk Railroad to fire Knight in early 1972. Knight sued for breach of contract, which resulted in a protracted legal battle. At one point, Knight repossessed the band's gear before a gig at Madison Square Garden. In MTV's "Behind the Music" Grand Funk Railroad episode, Knight stated that the original contract would have run out in about three months, and that the smart decision for the band would have been to just wait out the time.
In 1972, Grand Funk Railroad added Craig Frost on keyboards as a full-time member. Although Farner and Brewer had known Frost from the Terry Knight and the Pack days and Frost had both recorded and toured with Grand Funk as a sideman, he was not the band's first choice. Originally, Grand Funk attempted to attract Peter Frampton, late of Humble Pie; however, Frampton was not available due to signing a solo-record deal with A&M Records. The addition of Frost, however, brought a stylistic shift from Grand Funk's original garage-band based rock & roll roots to a more rhythm & blues/pop-rock-oriented style. This newer sound was not universally accepted by the band's original fan base. With the new lineup, Grand Funk released its sixth album of original music Phoenix in 1972.
To refine Grand Funk's sound, the band secured veteran musician Todd Rundgren as a producer. Two successful albums and two #1 hit singles resulted: the Don Brewer penned, "We're an American Band" (from We're an American Band) and "The Loco-Motion" (from Shinin' On, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and originally recorded by Little Eva). The album We're an American Band topped out at #2 on the charts, while the "We're an American Band" single, released during summer 1973, was Grand Funk's first #1 hit. "The Loco-Motion" followed in 1974 as Grand Funk's second chart topping single.
In 1975, Grand Funk switched to Jimmy Ienner as producer and reverted to using their full name: "Grand Funk Railroad." The band released the album All the Girls in the World Beware!!!, which depicted the band member's heads superimposed on the bodies of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu. This album spawned the top ten hits "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Bad Time."
Although highly successful in the mid 1970s, tensions mounted within the band due to personal issues, burn-out, and musical direction. Despite these issues, Grand Funk forged ahead. Needing two more albums to complete their record deal with Capitol, Grand Funk embarked on a major tour and decided to record a double live album, Caught in the Act. The double album should have fulfilled the contract with Capitol; however, because it contained previously released material, Capitol requested an additional album to complete Grand Funk's contractual obligation. While pressures between the band members still existed, the members agreed to move forward and complete one more album for Capitol to avoid legalities similar to the ones that they endured with Terry Knight in 1972. The band recorded Born to Die, and agreed not to release any information regarding their impending breakup in 1976.
In 1976, the band reunited and joined forces with musician Frank Zappa, which renewed the band's spirits. Deciding to continue, Grand Funk signed with MCA Records. This reunion, however, was short-lived. Shortly after finishing Good Singin', Good Playin's (1976) overdub sessions, Grand Funk Railroad disbanded in 1977.
Following the breakup, Farner began a solo career and signed with Atlantic Records which resulted in two albums: Mark Farner and No Frills in 1977 and 1978 respectively. Brewer, Schacher, and Frost remained intact and formed the band Flint with the addition of Billy Ellworthy. Flint released one album on Columbia Records; a second record was finished, but was never released. Grand Funk Railroad reunited in 1980 without Frost and with Dennis Bellinger replacing Schacher on bass. Originally, Schacher had planned to rejoin the band; however, because of reservations regarding the current management, he bowed out at the last moment citing that he had developed a phobia concerning flying. The new line-up released two albums on Irving Azoff's Full Moon label, which was distributed by Warner Bros. Records. These releases included 1980's Grand Funk Lives and 1983's What's Funk?. Neither album achieved much critical acclaim; however, a single "Queen Bee," was included in the Heavy Metal (film) soundtrack album and movie. After disbanding a second time in 1983, Farner continued as a solo performer and became a Christian recording artist. Brewer and, former Grand Funk band-mate, Frost joined Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band.
In 1996, Grand Funk Railroad's three original members once again reunited and played to 250,000 people in 14 shows during a three month period. In 1997, the band played three sold-out Bosnian benefit concerts. These shows featured a full symphony orchestra that was conducted by Paul Shaffer (from the David Letterman Late Show). The band released a live two-disc benefit CD called Bosnia recorded in Auburn Hills, Michigan. This recording also featured Peter Frampton who joined the band on stage. In 1999, after three years of touring, Farner acrimoniously left the band and returned to his solo career. Although Farner had originally agreed to reunite for one year, he remained because of the original trio's comeback success. Old issues, however, re-emerged and these necessitated his exit from the band. Brewer and Schacher continued without Farner and sought new members as replacements.
In 2000, Brewer and Schacher recruited lead vocalist Max Carl (of .38 Special), former Kiss lead guitarist Bruce Kulick, and keyboardist Tim Cashion to continue as Grand Funk Railroad. The band has toured steadily since then. Mark Farner also tours with his band NRG, and continues to record under his own name.
In 2005, Grand Funk Railroad was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame. The band has had three of its recordings voted Legendary Michigan Songs: "We're an American Band" in 2008, and "Closer To Home/I'm Your Captain" and "Some Kind Of Wonderful" in 2009.
On the long-running animated series, The Simpsons, Grand Funk Railroad happens to be Homer Simpson's favorite band. He has alluded to the fact in the season seven episode "Homerpalooza", in which, upon hearing Bart and Lisa do not know anything about GFR, says "You kids don't know Grand Funk? The wild shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner? The bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher? The competent drumwork of Don Brewer? Oh, man!" and in the season twelve episode "A Tale of Two Springfields" when he gives The Who a list of songs to play, Roger states that most of the songs are by GFR, and that they don't know "Pacman Fever".
In the series premiere of season 18, "The Mook, the Chef, the Wife and Her Homer", Bart and Lisa get on the school bus, and Bart won't share his seat(the last availible one) with Lisa. Instead of dealing with her problem, Otto puts a Grand Funk tape into his walkman and sings to "We're an American Band".
- Max Carl – lead vocals (2000–present)
- Don Brewer – drums, lead vocals (1968–1977, 1980–1983, 1996–present)
- Bruce Kulick – guitars (2000–present)
- Timothy "Tim" Cashion – keyboards (2000–present)
- Mel Schacher – bass guitar (1968–1977, 1980–1981, 1996–present)
- Craig Frost – keyboards (1972–1977, 2005–present)
- Mark Farner – guitars, lead vocals, keyboard (1968–1977, 1980–1983, 1996–1999)
- Dennis Bellinger – bass guitar (1980–1983)
- Howard Eddy, Jr. – keyboards (1996–1999)
(Grand Funk Railroad disbanded)
|(1996)||*Mark Farner – guitars, lead vocals
|(1996–1999)||*Mark Farner – guitars, lead vocals
|(2000–2005)||*Max Carl – lead vocals
|(2005–present)||*Max Carl – lead vocals