By John Jeffrey
If one were to look up Grand Funk Railroad on Wikipedia, they would read how the "American rock band," made a name for themselves by "touring extensively" in the 1970's. Although it's been nearly 50 years since the group's formation, and founding front man Mark Farner is no longer in the band, 2016 is shaping up to be Grand Funk's busiest year for touring in over 15 years. While the whole concept of the "record then tour" cycle has been thrown out the window for many years now, GFR would usually resign themselves to summer fly-in dates, however, this year, the band have been doing dates since January, and are booked all the way up through October of 2016.
Western New York has been a regular stop for 'Railroad' for many years, and this year is no different, as the band will be playing just across the way, when they perform at the illustrious Fallsview Casino, in Niagara Falls, ON on April 30th.
Prior to the gig, original drummer/founder, Don Brewer, provided Rock Music Star with an exclusive "one on one," discussing all things in the happening at the station of the Grand Funk Railroad.
Rock Music Star: Don, I'm really looking forward to seeing you play at the Fallsview Casino on Saturday. I have to be honest though, I never really followed Grand Funk Railroad until Bruce Kulick joined the album, as Bruce has always been one of my favorite guitar players. I was really surprised by how great the band sounds live and GFR is still one of the best sounding live bands on the circuit today.
Don Brewer: Well, great. I appreciate that. Thank you. We enjoy playing live.
RMS: And in today's world, where most band's are playing to click tracks, with pre-recorded vocals and music, to see you guys, doing it 100% live, makes it just that much more special.
DB: That's true. I think a lot of the younger kids come and see the show and they're surprised.
RMS: Looking at your touring schedule, 2016 has been your most active year as a touring band for many years, as previously, your tours would essentially be a handful of summer dates. Was it intentional, on the band's behalf, to do more touring this year, or did you just get more offers than in the past?
DB: It's just the way the dates and offers have come in. It's been a really good year for us. We're probably looking at our best year in 16 years, and again, I think it goes back to the live thing. I think we've built quite a reputation as being a great live act, and that's what going around right now. Usually, we slow down over the winter, and don't do as many dates, and then we usually have a real flurry of dates over the summer. It's kind of averaged out a little differently this year, where we're doing about 4 or 5 every month. It's nice. It's gonna work out good.
RMS: Having done Grand Funk for so long, what motivates you today as opposed to when you first started?
DB: I enjoy getting out in front of an audience and getting them all cranked up. That's what it's all about to me. I can do that, night after night, and never get tired of it. When I see an audience light up, there's just nothing better than that. That's the big reward. And to see the generations of people that now know the words to the songs, it's fun and it's exciting.
We don't go out and do 100-150 shows, like some other bands do every year, and that would burn it out for me. So the way we do it, a show or 2 a week, and we still have some breaks in there, and it really keeps it fun.
RMS: I always found it ironic, that in KISS, Bruce Kulick had the daunting task of replacing Ace Frehley and the other subsequent guitar players in the band and then when he joined GFR, Bruce was once again, in the similar situation of filling Mark Farner's shoes - in the aspect of being the lead guitarist (as Farner was also the main vocalist and front man). Do you still have parts of the GFR fan base that refuse to support the current lineup out of their dedication to the original band?
DB: I think there is a little bit of that out there, but I really don't pay attention to it anymore. We've been touring with this band for so long, that it's now an entity all it's own. I really don't pay any attention to it and it's such a small percentage of people that might have any misgivings about that situation, that's irrelevant to me anymore. I don't pay any attention to it.
RMS: I've spoken to Bruce about this several times, and being a fan of the current lineup, I think it would be great to see a live CD or DVD of the band. Is that something that will ever come to fruition?
DB: Well, we're always thinking about that, and now it's coming around to the right circumstances and the right time, to put something like that together. Over the course of the 16 years that we've been doing this, we've had a lot of new material that's come and gone in the show, because we like to introduce a few new songs, every now and then. Then after we played them for awhile, we got tired of them and then replaced them with something else. It might be nice to, at some point, to put out a live DVD of this band, with some of the new stuff and old stuff.
RMS: Speaking of mixing new and old stuff, how do you work out coming up with your set list?
DB: It's a pretty standard set list that we've been using, and we've worked on tweaking it for 16 years. And we finally decided what would be the basis for the show. It pretty much stays the same and we adjust it, depending on the length of the show we're playing. If we're on a festival show, and they want a shorter show, then we have to drop a few songs, but we still keep true to what the "show" is. We hang on to the basic pattern that we use and then we'll just kind of adjust it on what the night may hold.
RMS: You mentioned doing festivals, I noticed GFR recently performed as part of one of those 'rock cruises.' What was that like?
DB: It was out first year of doing a cruise and it was fantastic. I think we were the 'hit' of the ship. (Laughs) Everyone was talking about Grand Funk after we played the first night. It was a great experience for us, we had a good time. It was nice being out there with some of our colleagues, some of the guys we know. Peter Frampton's band, Greg Allman was on the ship, America - who we know, we've done several shows with them, Foghat, it was nice to be out there with those guys.
RMS: Being on the subject of band/artists you respect, if you could hand-pick the bands for a Grand
Funk type festival, who would you like to see on the bill?
DB: (Laughs) How 'bout Bad Company, the Doobie Brothers, America....Let's see, who else would I put on there? Cheap Trick...Cheap Trick is a fun show to watch. War, that's one of my favorite bands. That would be a great lineup.
RMS: To wrap things up, give me one attribute of what each member of GFR brings to the band.
DB: Certainly, Max Carl is just a great, great front man. Great singer, great songwriter, we well as being a great guy. You're gonna find that runs within the same thing I say about each guy.
Bruce Kulick is a great guitar player - he can cover it all. Whether it be Rock, R&B, Blues, Jazz, you name it, he can play it. Again, a great guy.
Tim Cashion, terrific singer, terrific keyboard player, he's a song-writer on his own, and again, a great guy.
Mel Schacher and Don Brewer, of course, you know, are great guys!! (Laughs) So we've been fortunate to have the same band now, going on 17 years, and it's because of a bunch of great guys...I must say that!!
Special thanks to Jennifer Murphy and Anne Leighton
By John Jeffrey