By Thom Jennings
Niagara Gazette — This Friday, the legendary rock band Grand Funk Railroad returns to the region for an 8 p.m. performance at the Seneca Niagara Casino Showroom.
Google the term “American Band,” and atop the results you will find Grand Funk Railroad. Known for great party hits like “We’re an American Band,” and “Some Kind of Wonderful,” GFR is the quintessential American rock band. Their history has ties to Western New York, including their first performance under the GFR moniker which took place in Buffalo.
“I remember the show well, Mark (Farner) and I were just coming out of a band called The Pack and converting it from this five-piece ‘60s thing to a power trio. It was interesting doing that first gig because it was a mishmash of the old and new arrangements. It was kind of funny,” recalled GFR’s drummer and lead vocalist Don Brewer during a recent phone interview from his home in South Florida.
Brewer also recalled an early performance at Kleinhans Music Hall when the band opened for Arlo Guthrie (an odd pairing to say the least). He also has fond memories of performing at the Canal Concert series in North Tonawanda and later in Lockport.
The band’s current lineup has been together for 13 years, and features Brewer, founding GFR bassist Mel Schacher, former .38 Special vocalist/rhythm guitarist Max Carl, former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick and Tim Cashion from Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band (of which Brewer is also a member of).
The band’s roots are in Flint Michigan, where Schacher, Brewer and former member Mark Farner formed one of rock music’s first great power trios.
“In the early days GFR was kind of a jam band thing. Every night we would go out and play these extended jams and we never played the songs the same way twice. Back then “Inside Looking Out” was never the same. I’m not sure when that went away, but at some point people wanted to hear songs just like the records. I mean bands like Dave Matthews still do the jam band thing, but it’s kind of a shame most of that went away,” Brewer said.
GFR went on to become one of the biggest bands of the early seventies, as a testament to their popularity; they sold out Shea Stadium in 72 hours, breaking a record set by The Beatles. They were trailblazers in what became known as arena rock.
“When we started the arena thing we were playing rodeo places with dirt floors in towns like Des Moines Iowa and here in South Florida. We’d come in with a big PA system, which was really loud so it filled the place, but had no quality, and three Super Trouper spotlights, one for each guy. That was our light show.”
Things are much different now, and the surroundings are cleaner. The band also isn’t “out on the road for 40 days,” as the legendary opening line of “We’re an American Band” states.
“Back then it was 40 shows in 40 nights, it didn’t matter if you were sick, you played night after night. But to me it was great for the creative process. We were under the wire, we had to produce two albums a year and tour. That was our contract. We didn’t have time to dissect the recordings or do a big production.”
Out of that era, some of the greatest classic rock songs were produced, including “We’re an American Band,” a song that grew out of a discussion with members of the English Rock group Humble Pie, over which country produced the best rock bands.
Ironically, GFR would later ask one of Humble Pie’s former members if they wanted to join GFR. His name was Peter Frampton.
“When we separated from our manager Terry Knight we were looking to go in a new direction and FM radio began changing too. We wanted Peter to write, sing, and add harmonies. We knew him because Humble Pie opened for us, and he was thrilled we asked him, but he was just getting started with his solo career, and we know where that went.”
Tickets for Grand Funk Railroad at Seneca Niagara Casino are available at the casino box office or online at Ticketmaster.com. The show is close to a sellout, so call ahead to make sure tickets are available the day of the show.IF YOU GO • WHAT: Grand Funk Railroad • WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday • WHERE: Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel, 310 Fourth St., Niagara Falls • MORE INFO: Call 299-1100, senecaniagaracasino.com