Grand Funk Railroad hailed from the resolutely working-class environs of Flint, Michigan, and started life in 1965 as a trio – originally called Terry Knight & The Pack.
After one self-titled album (1966) and a number of low-key singles, Terry Knight subsequently became the band’s manager and virtually hustled Mark Farner, Don Brewer and Mel Schacher on to the road to fame and fortune. They were joined in 1972 by keyboard player Craig Frost.
Until Capitol signed them, record companies had shied away from the band. Critics hated them – but the young record buyers loved them.
They appreciated the volume and saw the value in a band who could produce an album track entitled T.N.U.C (read it backwards) on their debut album, On Time (1969).
And ‘loud, white noise’ as it was called at the time, enjoyed a terrific following, particularly in the US.
Their concerts were a sell-out – the strength of their appeal was the aggression of their music, stemming from their origins in the highly-industrialised Michigan.
In 1970, GFR released their two most successful discs, Closer To Home and Live Album. Unhampered by any production values, Live Album was bootleg quality, but all the better for it – because onstage is where their raw energy reached its peak.
Survival (April 1971) was recorded in a relatively luxurious six weeks. Farner’s religious zeal surfaced in Comfort and I Can Feel Him In The Morning, while All You’ve Got Is Money was a fairly blatant dig at manager Terry Knight. Their next LP –E Pluribus Funk – was to be their swansong with Knight.
In firing Knight the band lost not only most of their money but also the right to use their full name (and now performed and recorded simply as ‘Grand Funk’).
With new manager Andy Cavaliere, new keyboard player Craig Frost (ex-Bob Seger Band) and new producer Todd Rundgren, they recorded the album We’re An American Band (1973) – the title track of which became their first #1 single.
In 1976, the group made Born To Die, which they planned as a farewell album, although they did stay together to do sessions with Frank Zappa on Good Singin’, Good Playin’ later that year.
Despite being hugely successful (they were the first US act to have 10 consecutive platinum albums) they were frequently critically vilified (Rolling Stone called them “simplistic, talentless, one-dimensional, unmusical”) and are today largely remembered only by the American blue-collar masses – and Homer Simpson.
In 1996 the original line-up reunited and took to the heritage trail with a sold-out tour, culminating a year later in Detroit with three benefit concerts for Bosnia. Featuring a full symphony orchestra conducted by musical director Paul Schaffer, these shows gave the band a chance to relive their glory days in a more sophisticated environment.
Sadly, this was the last time the triumvirate would play together.
Vocals, guitar, bass