Grand Funk Railroad: ‘We were heavily influenced by Motown and all R&B’

Samedi 1 Mars 2014

Interview. Grand Funk Railroad is celebrating its 45-year career. A good time to talk about Grand Funk Railroad with Don Brewer, drummer, singer and founding member of the band.

There is a lot of blues and rhythm & blues in Grand Funk Railroad’s music. What were your musical influences?

We were heavily influenced by Motown and all R&B. Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Howard Tate.

Growing up in Flint was just a short drive to Detroit and Motown and we had a black radio station in Flint that we always listened to, WAMM. That is where we first heard the Soul Brother Six version of "Some Kinda Wonderful" that we covered in 1975. It has been a huge hit for us.

As a drummer I was influenced most by Dino Danelli (The Rascals), Mitch Mitchell (Hendrix), and Ginger Baker (Cream).

Grand Funk Railroad was famous for its live performances. Is it true that you made Led Zeppelin jealous?

For the first few albums we did starting in 1969 we struggled in the studio trying to capture what we felt we were doing live on stage. The studios and engineers were not good at recording "loud raw rock" and we excelled at that live. It wasn't until 1972 and working with Todd Rundgren that I felt we were being recorded properly.

And yes, Led Zeppelin kicked us off their tour because they did not like that the audience responded so well to our live show.

In 1973, Grand Funk Railroad’s music radically changed. It became more sophisticated. What dictated this choice?

In 1973 we had to change our musical direction for a few reasons. We were battling Terry Knight (our former manager) for the right to use the name Grand Funk Railroad, and because of this conflict, we were also broke. Music radio was changing in 1972 and 1973 from being an "AOL" (album oriented) to "POP" music formatting. Songs needed to be commercial and short. In order to help make a transition from our album style music to a more commercial style we enlisted Todd Rundgren to produce and I started to do more writing, arranging, and singing. It was "sink or swim" time and we chose to swim.

The Born to die album was very dark and disillusioned. Why? What was happening?

Born to Die was indeed intended to be a closing chapter for Grand Funk. We were struggling internally for direction and we also wanted out of our contract with Capitol. The combination produced the attitude on the record.

The band did not move to Los Angeles were the musical business used to be. Did you want to stay outside the system?

We saw what happened to many artists that got caught up in the "New York,"" LA" scene and chose to stay in Michigan with our families friends. I think it was a wise choice.

What are your plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Grand Funk Railroad? And is there a change to see the band live in France?

Well our fiftieth anniversary is five years off. Many things can happen, so we will just wait and see.
No plans presently to come to France.

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Boris Plantier