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Grand Funk Railroad

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The working class ensemble turned mega-rock band from Flint, Michigan sold more albums than any other American band in 1970 (a triumph later celebrated by its #2 hit “We’re An American Band”) and the following year became the only group besides the Beatles to sell out Shea Stadium. But the group’s most notable achievement, at least according to the Billboard charts, came at the expense of the admiration of critics and many fans alike—hitting #1 with a hardcore reworking of “The Loco-motion,” which marked the first time in U.S. chart history that a cover song of a previous #1 also hit that position. The success of this and other Todd Rundgren produced hits seemed promising, but a few years later, guitarist Mark Farner left and the remaining group could hardly crack the Top 50.

The band, in the latter part of its heyday called Grand Funk before a switch back to the original name, began with the story of popular Flint-Detroit DJ Richard Knapp (later known as Terry Knight) who wanted to join The Jazz Masters, one of the local bands he worked with. This group, consisting of drummer Don Brewer, guitarist Al Pippins, keyboardist Bob Caldwell and bassist Herm Jackson, thought his connections (though sometimes exaggerated) could help, and they renamed themselves “The Pack.” When Jackson was later drafted, “Terry Knight and The Pack” recruited local guitarist Mark Farner. In 1968, following the locally successful single “I (Who Have Nothin),” which hit #46 on the U.S. chart, Knight stopped performing and became the band’s manager. Mel Schacher of ? and The Mysterians joined, and Knight renamed the band Grand Funk Railroad (after the Michigan landmark Grand Trunk Railroad).

Now a trio, GFR—after an unforgettable performance at the Atlanta Pop Festival July 4, 1969--signed with Capitol Records and immediately began making its name on the rock festival circuit. Their first singles reached the charts but Grand Funk soon proved its real strength in the album market. On Time reached number 27 in 1969, followed by the number 11 Grand Funk in 1970.

Sometime during/after the recording of 1971’s E Pluribus Funk, the group fired Knight, resulting in a series of lawsuits involving millions of dollars (they hired John Eastman, father of Linda McCartney, as their new manager). In 1973 the group shortened its name officially to Grand Funk, and added a fourth member, keyboard player Craig Frost.

With the production expertise of Rundgren, they finally broke into the singles market and enjoyed a solid succession of hits, including “Bad Time.” As their fortunes waned and lawsuits were settled, however, the group went back to its original moniker. Grand Funk Railroad signed with MCA and recorded Good Singin’, Good Playin,’ a Frank Zappa produced project whose ultimate failure on the charts led Farner to leave for a solo career. The remaining members added guitarist Billy Elworthy and released a single, unsuccessful album under the name Flint.

Grand Funk, this time consisting of Farner, Brewer and bassist Dennis Bellinger, re-formed for two years in 1981-83 and recorded Grand Funk Lives and What's Funk? for the Full Moon label. After another split, Farner joined Adrenalin and Brewer and Frost joined Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band. In 1995, Farner joined Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band, and soon the three principles reformed for a few East Coast reunion concerts. After adding multi-instrumentalist Howard Eddy, Jr. in 1997, the band announced that it was back for good. Teaming up with Ringo’s promoter David Fishof, Grand Funk played three Bosnia benefit concerts in 1997 and released a new live album.

In 1999, their record company released a box set, Thirty Years of Funk: 1969-1999, which spanned their entire recording career.

© 2004