If you’re a fan of classic rock music, then you’re a fan of Grand Funk Railroad.
The five piece band that made it big in the 1970’s is a staple on any classic rock radio station you listen to.
Formed in 1969 in Flint, Michigan, GFR is celebrating their 48th year in the business and will be playing slopeside at Holiday Valley in Ellicottville on Sunday, July 2 as part of the village’s annual Summer Music Festival.
I recently caught up with original member and singer/drummer, Don Brewer, from his home in Florida, to talk about the festival, the band and the music. I had interviewed Brewer a few years ago before one of their performances that had them playing in Western New York in a very snowy January, to which he had asked if I could get rid of that white stuff before they got here. Although I was not able to make good on that request then, I have assured him that this time around he should be fine … I hope. That made him think twice before he chuckled and said, “That’s a joke, right?”
With the backing of 13 gold records, 10 platinum records, two #1 singles and their signature driving beat, the band still tours and packs them in wherever they play. In July of 2011 over 25,000 showed up to “party down” with this “American Band” at the Molson Canal Series Concert in Tonawanda, which Brewer recalled as being one of the best shows they’ve played.
The current band consists of Brewer, bassist and original member Mel Schacher, singer Max Carl, lead guitarist Bruce Kulick, and keyboardist Tim Cashion … “all of who have been with GFR since 2000,” said Brewer.
Asking what we can expect from their upcoming show, Brewer said, “I like to say we play the hits plus. We do play some new stuff, but we really concentrate on the hits like “American Band”, “Locomotion”, “Some Kind of Wonderful”, “I’m Your Captain” … we give the audience what they’re there for … the hits.”
For ticket information, call the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce at 800-349-9099 or visit www.ellicottvilleny.com.
A CONVERSATION WITH DON BREWER
HULICK: You’ll be playing the Ellicottville Summer Music Festival this year on Sunday, July 2 on the foothills of the slopes at Holiday Valley.
BREWER: Yes! We are really looking forward to this show. We drove through that ski village on our way to a show at the Seneca Casino a few years back and it was just so beautiful, so we are excited to be able to play outdoors in such a remarkable place.
HULICK: You’ve been in the business for over four decades and your music is played on classic rock stations to this day.
BREWER: Yes, we’re celebrating 48 years this year …
HULICK: Did you ever think, starting out, you would be at this point all these years later?
BREWER: I never dreamed this. All you wanted to do back then was to make a hit record and go for a couple years. We were fortunate to have a great career. Even back in the 70’s and then continuing into the 80’s and then we reunited in the 90’s and we’ve been going ever since. It’s pretty amazing. I love the fact that I can go out on the stage and see three or four generations of people that know the words to our songs.
HULICK: There is a lot of music history in the band, as far as the newer members. They’ve played with KISS, Michael Bolton, Meatloaf, Bob Seger …
BREWER: (laughs) And 38 Special.
HULICK: (laughs) How do you go from KISS to Michael Bolton? That’s incredible!
BREWER: (laughs) We got a great bunch of guys. We’ve had the same group since 2000, so we’re going into our 17th year this year. It’s a great cast of characters, as I like to say. It’s a lot of fun. We all get along and it’s a talented bunch of people.
HULICK: You got started in music at a very young age.
BREWER: Yes, I had my first band, The Red Devils, when I was 12. We played at the elementary school gymnasium at lunch time. (laughs) My dad was a former drummer and my mother was a former dance instructor, so they were totally into me getting involved in music. My sister went on to be a dancer on Broadway. So I had all the support I needed. It was with my second band, The Jazzmasters, that I started playing the drums and singing at the same time, which made me one of a few who did that. We had some regional success with that band and from that we took me and Mark Farner, and when we enlisted Mel Schacher we became Grand Funk Railroad.
HULICK: How did you come up with the name?
BREWER: There’s a railroad in Michigan called the Grand Trunk Western Railroad that, as we were growing up waiting for the train to pass, you kept reading Grand Trunk Western Railroad, and in the 1960’s this new music came along called funk. So we thought we’d do a play on words and call us Grand Funk Railroad rather than Grand Trunk. Back then it was a little risqué, but nobody thinks much about it today. Back then people would ask, “What did you say the name was?” People thought you were saying the F bomb. It was a powerful name back then because you combined the use of funk music with the sound of a train.
HULICK: That constant beat a train makes as it passes you on the tracks …
BREWER: Right. Exactly.
HULICK: Who were your musical influences?
BREWER: There have been tons of them. As far as the drummers I was influenced by, I would have to say Dino Danelli from the Rascals, Mitch Mitchell from Hendrix’s band and Ginger Baker from Cream.
HULICK: What’s your favorite song to do live?
BREWER: Well I really get a kick out of doing “Some Kind Of Wonderful”. A lot of times I’ll see little kids on their grandparent’s shoulders singing the words to the song. It’s so adorable and you think to yourself … Oh my God, that little kid knows the words to “Some Kind Of Wonderful”! I think that’s just awesome!