An American Band

Grand Funk Railroad thought it could, and did, as the quintessential rock band

By Lana Sweeten-Shults

Thursday, September 13, 2007

If he had listened to his mom, Don Brewer would be an accountant.

Luckily, he didn't listen to his mom.

Brewer had other plans. They involved a set of drums, drumsticks and a savory smattering of rock 'n' roll.

Brewer, the kid from Flint, Mich., who should have become an accountant but didn't, instead became part of American rock 'n' roll history as a member of the quintessential American band, Grand Funk Railroad.

And he, along with that American band, will be part of the two-day celebration of the city's parks, called FallsFest, when Grand Funk Railroad takes the stage at Lucy Park for "rock night" on Sept. 29. They'll be headlining the evening along with Wichita Falls hometown boys (and Grammy nominees) Bowling for Soup.

"My mother was always pushing me to find a real job," said Brewer, 59, from his home in Florida. "She was pushing me to go to college and get my accounting certificate … But I've always wanted to be a musician ever since."

And so that's what he did.

He formed Grand Funk Railroad in 1969 with vocalist Mark Farner and bassist Mel Schacher. The group was named after the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, a well-known rail line in Michigan.

By 1970, the group had sold more albums than any other American band. The group even broke the attendance record set by The Beatles at Shea Stadium. They sold out the stadium in just 72 hours.

The band scored their biggest hits with "I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home" (1970), "We're An American Band" (1973) &emdash; written and sung by Brewer &emdash; and "The Loco-Motion" (1974), and would follow up with other radio standards like "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Bad Time" in the mid '70s.

Brewer said those days were pretty crazy.

"Back in the day, people used to throw joints on the stage," he said of the band's heyday. " … But the audience has gotten a lot tamer, and so have we."

In fact, Brewer himself has found a more Zen place onstage.

When the band was at its height, the drummer wowed the crowds with his dazzling drum solos &emdash; solos that would sometimes last 10 minutes or more. He would throw his drumsticks into the audience and use his hands for the remainder of his solo, smashing them on the cymbals. It was a crowd-pleasing move for those big-arena '70s audiences.

"The drum solos aren't as long as they used to be," he said. "In the '70s … you'd have drummers that would take 10-minute drum solos. My drum solo is maybe 5 minutes long (these days)," he said with a laugh.

Grand Funk Railroad would end up disbanding in 1976, after joining with Frank Zappa for a stint, and would reunite and break up a few times after that.

In the interim, Brewer and bandmate Schacher and a later Grand Funk member, Craig Frost, would form the band Flint, which released just one album before disbanding.

The group last reunited in 2000 and has been performing mostly summer dates ever since. While he lives in Florida, his band mates call Arizona and California home. In addition to original Grand Funk Railroad member Brewer, the band also includes original band member Schacher, along with singer Max Carl, formerly of .38 Special, lead guitarist Bruce Kulick, known for his days with KISS (he has also played with Michael Bolton, Meatloaf and Billy Squier), and keyboardist Tim Cashion, who has played with Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band and with English soulster Robert Palmer.

In the time that Brewer isn't playing summer and early fall shows with the band, you can find him sometimes taking up with Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band. He joined the group recently for its 2006-07 tour.

He lives with his wife in Florida now, an empty-nester whose daughter and stepdaughter are grown and out of the house (they didn't follow in dad's footsteps as a musician).

Grand Funk Railroad plays about 35 to 40 shows a year, heading to summer fairs and festivals mostly, giving fans their necessary dose of classic rock. There are no plans, he said, to record a new CD.

"We really focus on being a live act and making sure we give the audience what they want, which are the hits," Brewer said.

Arts and entertainment editor Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at (940) 720-3462 or by e-mail at shultsl(at)TimesRecordNews.com.

 

Railroading tidbits

Grand Funk Railroad is Homer Simpson's favorite band.

"We're An American Band" has been used in numerous ads, like in Disney's animated film "The Country Bears" and in a General Motors TV ad campaign.

A 1971 performance at New York's Shea Stadium sold out faster than the Beatles.

No. 1 singles "We're An American Band" and "Locomotion" sold more than 1 million copies each.

The group has 13 gold and 10 platinum records with record sales in excess of 25 million copies worldwide.