Interview by Danny Coleman
“We’ve been touring with this band now since 2000 and the show has changed considerably over the years but really we focus on doing the hits,” said an upbeat Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad as he discussed the band and their upcoming February 24 show at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, NJ.
“We know the people who want to see Grand Funk, they want to hear, “Rock & Roll Soul,” “Foot Stompin’ Music,” “Heartbreaker,” “Inside Looking Out,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “The Loco-motion,” “I’m Your Captain, (Closer To Home),” “We’re An American Band;” so we focus on doing the hits and then we work in a few new things along the way, not too much to bore everybody but everything we do work in has got some show appeal. Like the drum circle thing that we do in the middle of the show; so yeah, it’s going to be good.”
The fact that the band has been around for multiple decades is not lost on Brewer and he often marvels at other acts covering their material; something he takes pride in yet finds somewhat amusing. “I recall hearing the Dead Daisies version recently of “We’re An American Band” because our guitar player Bruce Kulick used to be in a band with John Corabi called Union. I think it’s great when others cover our material and not to take away from anyone who has ever covered that song but I’ve heard that Bon Jovi has done the song live, a big country singer has done it; tons of people have done the song. What’s interesting to me is that nobody has come up with a unique updated version of the song. Everybody who does the song kind of does it like Grand Funk (Laughs), which is fine but I’m surprised that nobody has stepped off the diving board and said lets do a different take on this thing; that would be interesting to me. The song really kind of revolves around that signature riff, you know, Da da da and then the cow bell and the rest of it is all melody and so you can put that melody to anything; it’s not like it’s so unique that something else couldn’t flow over a different style track.”
With so many hits and such a rich heritage, Brewer fondly recalls the early days of the band when times were not so easy and how they built the group into giants of their genre through hard work and perseverance. “I was thinking about that the other day, I’m a lucky guy; I’ve been doing this my whole life. When I listen to those early recordings even pre-Todd Rundgren, you know the stuff from ’69,’70, ’71, it was just, you know, honest rock ‘n’ roll. We were three guys playing our hearts out, playing heart and soul and everything you’ve got was in there and it didn’t matter if the recording was the best recording in the world or if the performance was the best performance in the world; it was camaraderie and making it work, making it happen and those were the most memorable times to me. Going against adversity, you know like when Terry Knight took all of our money and the lawyers were suing us and everybody was suing us and we mustered through and came up with hit records and hit albums after it and kind of gave him the finger (Laughs); those are the most memorable times to me.”
Continuing a look back, Brewer is more of a traditionalist when it comes to recordings and making music; preferring the old method of the entire band in one room versus today’s piece meal technology. “There’s a lot of stuff from the ’70’s and the early ’80’s, it really got over the top as the ’80’s progressed and recording techniques got better and everything was pitch corrected and everything was done with a drum machine and it was just like, you know, now everything is done with a click track. I still listen to recordings on, “Classic Vinyl” and “Deep Tracks” and all that kind of stuff. I heard a Foreigner track the other night, I think it was,“Dirty White Boy” or one of their big hits and there are mistakes all over the place in there but what a great feeling track! That’s what we used to do is go in and record multiple tracks of a song and you really kind of stopped paying attention to any mistakes and just listen to the overall thing and if that track has it, if it has it, you know “IT” that’s what you go with, you don’t go with perfect. You go with something that’s got it and nobody does that anymore, everybody is sitting in a room someplace and they’re flying all of their parts in and somebody in Los Angeles is e-mailing his part to some guy in New York and you know, c’mon (Laughs). It takes away from the musicians being in the studio at the same time playing live; mistakes make great progress on songs. You rewrite a song with mistakes, it’s good mistakes (laughs).”
Unfortunately, original member and bassist Mel Schacher can not be with the band on this tour but Brewer says the temporary replacement is doing just fine. “Yeah, my brother and longtime bass player Mel Schacher is not able to appear with us right now. He’s got a family emergency going on and he can not leave home, so the only change right now is a temporary fill in and he’s a great guy, Stanley Sheldon from Peter Frampton‘s band is playing bass. He’s a long time friend and we are very fortunate to have nabbed him but right now it’s kind of up in the air as to when Mel will be back but right now he’s got to be home with his wife and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
After Saturday’s Atlantic City show, the band will head out on a cruise to Curacao and Aruba and upon returning have an engagement in Las Vegas. Brewer chuckles as he thinks of his good fortune in this, the group’s forty ninth year of their existence, “Yeah, not a bad gig huh? I think I’ll take it!”
To discover more about Grand Funk Railroad and their Tropicana appearance, please visit www.grandfunkrailroad.com.
Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)