Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad
Grand Funk Railroad owned the 1970s. They started out with some soulful hard rock like "Heartbreaker" and "I'm Your Captain". Then they ratcheted up the rock a few notches taking over the charts for a slew of radio staples, "We're An American Band", "Walk like a Man", "The Locomotion" and many more. Original vocalist Mark Farner left the band 10 years ago but the other staples of the band, drummer Don Brewer and bassist Mel Schacher recruited some other musicians and still tour steadily today. I've been a fan since day one so it was a great thrill to speak to Don Brewer recently to find out what the band is about these days and also to reminisce a bit.
antiMUSIC: Mr. Don Brewer. I can't tell you what an honor and pleasure it is to speak with you. Grand Funk has always been one of my all-time favorite bands so man this is excellent.
Don: (laughs) Ah, great
antiMUSIC: I have to tell you that Caught in The Act is my favorite all-time live album.
Don: Oh, wow.
antiMUSIC: And all through the mid '70s there was no way I could leave for high school without blasting Walk like a Man, so I could air drum the ending.
Don: (prolonged laughter) That's cool.
antiMUSIC: So how are you doing?
Don: I'm doing good... how are you doing?
antiMUSIC: Terrific thank you. So tell us about Grand Funk in 2007. In your mind is the band recreating the hits for the people or are you still a creative force with eyes on the future?
Don: I wish we could be. (laughs) That doesn't sound too promising. Yeah, I mean, you know, we're victims of you know, the same things as everybody else as far as classic rock is concerned. I mean, you know, now it's called classic you know. You've got the stigma of being a classic rock artist and of course classic rock radio won't play anything new by their classic rock artists. They only play the classic stuff. And since we are classified as a classic rock act we can't get air play on new music radio or any of that kind of stuff, or adult contemporary. It's very difficult. Sometimes there's cross-over stuff butů. So radio and making records and radio and all that kind of stuff have REALLY drastically changed, especially for you know us old guys. (laughs) We consider ourselves very fortunate to be able to play live and to be able to do some new material live and to you know, entertain our fans that way and that's what we focus on.
antiMUSIC: It seems you're still touring fairly heavy every year. I take it that the world is still in need of Grand Funk on a regular basis?
Don: Oh, yes. You know, we got a new incarnation of Grand Funk; this is the seventh year we've been touring with this particular line-up. We got Max Carl singing lead for us. Max is they guy that wrote Second Chance and sang it for .38 Special. He's also from Jack Mack and the Heart Attack, you know, he's a great front man, great singer. I like to say he's probably one of the last blue-eyed soul singers on the planet. So we all share this real love of R&B music. And you know, that's kind of where we all came up and you know, we really kind of hit it off that way and you know, he's just a great guy. And we've also got Bruce Kulick from KISS playing lead guitar with us. Tim Cashion from Bob Seger's band is playing keyboards and singing back-up. And myself and Mel Schacher, and you know, it's a great band. We really focus on doing the hits as well as a few new things. We do like four or five new songs every night. And other than that we really focus on the hits, the stuff that Grand Funk fans, Grand Funk people, especially classic rock people will know what we're doing.
antiMUSIC: Where do your tours take you? Do you concentrate on North America, or are you still popular overseas?
Don: We are an American band. We really focus on the United States. We've gone up to Alaska, we do a couple of things generally in Canada, you know, every year. But other than that we stay right here. We've had some offers to go to Mexico, and to South America and go over and do a couple of European festivals and stuff, but we've just said, "You know, let's just stay here." The climate the way it is outside the country, I don't know how to describe it, but the feelings that are being brought about by the war and stuff, you know, towards Americans, you know, we'll just stay here. (laughs)
antiMUSIC: So it's been a few years with this lineup. We know about you and Mel and but tell us about Max, Bruce and Tim. What does each member bring to the table that makes it such a successful union?
Don: Well, you know, Max is a great front man, great singer and a great musician. He plays keyboards. He play drums. He plays harmonica. He plays guitar. Plus he writes great stuff. He's either written or co-written most of the new stuff that we're doing in the show. Bruce is just an incredible guitar player as far as, whatever kind of music you want to go to, whether it be R&B, whether it be rock, any kind of thing in there, he's the guy. He has the right feel. I remember playing with Bruce back in the 80s, this how I actually went looking for Bruce when this situation came up. I played with him. He was with Michael Bolton's band, and I was with Bob Seger's band. We were touring and they were opening up for us. And everybody in the Silver Bullet Band was just totally blown away by Bruce Kulick's guitar playing, you know. I knew he would be a great guy for this situation. Tim Cashion, when we went looking for a keyboard guy we wanted a guy that could sing because we wanted to have really strong 3 part harmony on stage so we could pull off any kind of thing we wanted to do. We've got strong 3 part harmony. I actually hooked up with him throughout the Bob Seger organization. They recommended Tim to me and I called him on the phone. Just a great, sweetheart guy. He's the only real schooled musician we have. He's a graduate of the University of Miami. We call him Dr. Tim, now that he has a doctorate but he's the only schooled guy that we have. (laughs)
antiMUSIC: One of the highlights of the Grand Funk show has always been your drum solo especially when you go at it with your bare hands. Is that still part of the set?
Don: Well I still do it, yeah. I still do a little drum solo. It's a little cut down from what it used to be. I remember looking at some of the Shea Stadium footage, and I did a drum solo on that was like, it last, it must be 20 minutes long or something. (laughs) I'm not doing 20-minute drum solo anymore. I do like a five minute kind of condensed thing that kind of gives the highlights and I get to do my little triplet deal which I've always been known for. I don't really get into smashing my hands on the cymbals any more. I still every now and then do the head banging deal where it appears that I'm striking my head against the drum. It just kind of depends on the night whether I'm going to do that shtick. (laughs) But you know, the whole show that we do now is really, it's really kind of, it's a spirit of Grand Funk Railroad kind of thing, you know, where the songs are a little bit faster than they should be, and the energy level is just over the top. It's an attack band, you know, I mean, Grand Funk was always an attack band. We would never go on stage with a real laid back, Jackson Browne kind of attitude. (laughs) We went on stage, and it was like, alright, you're coming with us. (laughs) And that's the way it is today. We have that attitude when we take the stage.
antiMUSIC: How did your solo evolve and when did you do start doing the bare hand thing, which I would like to point out, sort of led the way for guys like Tommy Aldridge who came after you?
Don: Well you know, it kind of developed. It kind of turned into an act thing. As we were playing bigger places and stuff, you try to get a little more dramatic in what you're doing. And I would try different things every night, and all of a sudden I came into that head banging thing---actually I got the head banging thing from watching Saturday morning wrestling, you know. I'm watching all these wrestlers, you know, they're hitting their head on stuff, you know, guys taking another guy's head and smashing it into the corner, you know, and you know it's all phony, it's fake, and I'm going: I can do that!. (laughs) I can do an act like that, you know. And of course I had the big huge afro. And when I leaned back and then I'd come down toward the snare drum with my head, and the afro would continue to go down, whether I hit my head on the drum or not it certainly looked that way because the afro would continue to come down you know. It was a shtick. And the hands, playing with the bare hands, I'd like to say I'm original but I actually stole that from, remember Lee Michaels?
antiMUSIC: Oh yeah, for sure.
Don: His drummer Frosty, he was the first guy I ever saw do that, you know, actually Jon Bonham ripped off from Frosty. And John Bonham later started doing that. Cause I remember playing shows with Lee Michaels opened the show, Grand Funk played and then Led Zeppelin. And then of course John Bonham wasn't doing that kind of thing in his drum solos, but Lee Michael's drummer Frosty was doing it. And two nights later I see Jon Bonham's doing it, you know, I (said) Oh! Okay.
antiMUSIC: Might as well get the sticky question out of the way. May I ask what the differences are between you and Mark and why he isn't part of the band anymore?
Don: Well, you know it was his choice. He, you know, we got the band back together in '96 and we toured '96, '97 and '98. We did some compilation stuff. We did some new recording. We did a Behind the Music thing. And then Mark announced you know toward the end of '98, he wanted to continue on with his solo career and he was done. You know, Mel and I kind of went, oh, okay. And we stood back for a few years, and Mark went on his own. We weren't really ready to put Grand Funk back together. We had had conversations about it you know just like, if we could find the right guys you know, if we could make an attempt to put another rendition together. And then I happen to do a drum clinic for Peavey drums at the time and this guy Steven who was the inventor of the peavey drums situation that they had for a while, was telling me about a guy Max Carl and he gave me his phone number. And he was ranting and raving about this guy, he does all of these drum things, and this, you know, this drum and fife stuff, and he's a great singer. So I started checking out Max and I called him on the phone and we started talking for a while and I realized that Max was, like I said before, one of the last blue eyed soul singers on the planet. He had this thing that is really what Grand Funk is. This combination of R&B and rock. And so you know, we got together with Mel and jammed a little while and you know, it was like: this is great. Not only can we do the Grand Funk stuff, we can also do new stuff. Once that piece came into the picture, it was simply a matter of can we find other guys of similar quality. And of course, we were really lucky with the Bruce Kulick thing, and Tim Cashion, just great guys, great players. All of sudden Mel and I are looking like: man, this is a great band. And we went out and stated playing and audiences loved it. So we just continued on from there. That's really all there was.