When Don Brewer looks back on his life with Grand Funk Railroad, he sees 40 years of incredible highs - and plenty of lows, too. But right now, Brewer says, he's somewhere in the middle.
When Don Brewer looks back on his life with Grand Funk Railroad, he sees 40 years of incredible highs - and plenty of lows, too.
There were moments of success, like stepping out in front of 200,000 people at the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1969, the performance that changed everything for the unknown group from the industrial town of Flint, Mich. But there also were bitter lawsuits between the band and its management, along with the scathing words of critics. And there were some years (the hiatus of 1982 to 1996, for example) when the band was completely inactive.
But right now, Brewer says, he's somewhere in the middle. He's happy to be performing for folks that show up and sing along to hits like "We're an American Band," "Closer to Home" and "Some Kind of Wonderful." The band will perform at 8 p.m. July 2 at CEFCU Center Stage at the Landing.
"We never dreamed that, 40 years later, we'd still be out here or that there would be things called CDs and classic rock radio," Brewer said by telephone during an interview with the Journal Star. "So to have it happen and to have sort of a second career and to be able to look at it from this end of life, it's pretty amazing."
Grand Funk Railroad was formed in 1969 by Brewer, Mark Farner and Mel Schacher. Farner left the band for solo work, and these days the lineup includes Brewer on drums and Schacher on bass, along with singer Max Carl (38 Special), guitarist Bruce Kulick (who spent 12 years with KISS) and keyboardist Tim Cashion (who has worked with Bob Seger and Robert Palmer).
While the original lineup has changed, Brewer said the band still concentrates on hits from back in the day.
"I think that's our responsibility," he said. "I never cared going to see artists that kind of poo-poo their hits. I never appreciated that, so I'm not going to do that to an audience. We're entertainers, we're supposed to give them what they want."
One of Brewer's fondest memories is when the band played the Atlanta Pop Festival on July 4, 1969. They were just starting out, and hadn't ever seen a crowd so large; 200,000 people were in attendance.
"I remember talking to everyone before we went on stage, and it was like, 'Let's not have any expectations about what's going to happen here, because nobody even knows who we are.' And then as we got to the end of the show, we got a standing ovation from all these people. It was mind-boggling, because we were just a little band out of Michigan that nobody had ever heard of. Everything just snowballed from that point on."
The band got signed to Capitol Records not long after. And then came the low points. They fired their manager, Terry Knight, and were bogged down by lawsuits over royalties and even the band's name. And then there were the critics, which seemed to have it out for them.
"When we first came out, our manager Terry Knight wanted to make us look like he was the Svengali and we were the puppets," Brewer said. "He wouldn't let us talk to the press; it was a way to create a bigger-than-life image for Grand Funk, and I think the critics did not like that and they didn't like Terry. So they took it out on the band, they just really let them have it.
"I'll never forget playing Madison Square Garden one night and reading the review the next day in the New York Times from some famous critic, and I know from what he wrote that he probably wasn't even there. He just wrote a spiteful, hateful kind of thing."
Not that it matters anymore. The band's music has outlasted the drama. Brewer said there's no better feeling than stepping on stage to sing a hit and seeing teenagers and grandparents alike knowing the words.
"For us to still be around 40 years later, and for three or four generations of people to know the words to our songs, I feel vindicated," Brewer said with a laugh. "It's a whole different thing. We're now a classic rock act. I guess when you get old you get respect, maybe that's what it is."
Danielle Hatch can be reached at 686-3262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.