As one of the founding members, lead singer, lead guitarist, and writer of most of the Grand Funk Railroad music catalog, Mark Farner has always been known as the energetic driving force on stage. In a sense, he’s known as the engine that pulled the original Grand Funk Railroad to the top of the charts.
From his soulful voice and power rock riffs, to fueling the Funk with his atomic stage presence. His story and his imprint on music starts with Flint and since 1969 from his humble beginnings and a blue-collar outlook, Farner has captained a global crusade for love and freedom and became a rock ‘n’ roll icon.
50 years later, he still commands the stage with the same intensity performing epic hits that defined a generation – “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)”, “Bad Time”, “Some Kind of Wonderful”, “Foot Stompin’ Music”, “Heartbreaker”, “Locomotion”, “Mean Mistreater” and “We’re An American Band”.
He’s bringing Mark Farner’s American Band, with Windsor guitarist Dusty D’Annunzio to Sarnia’s Bluewater Borderfest on Saturday, August 10 to perform with Dennis DeYoung, formerly of Styx.
Mark sat down with 519 for a chat about music, Detroit and Dusty.
It’s your 50th anniversary for both On Time and Grand Funk albums. Is there anything that you can recall about recording those records?
Well, all that early stuff from ‘69 up to ‘76 was all before the deregulation of the FCC, and so a lot of our music was played not only on the AM, but it was switching over at that time and FM would play I’m Your Captain – it’s nine minutes and something. And, I’ve been complimented and thanked by so many DJs over the years that said, “Dude, you gave me the opportunity to have a smoke, to take a leak, to get a little bite to eat before I had to get back to my microphone.”
You crafted some of the great rock classics like “I’m Your Captain”, with that song specifically, it resonates with the generation of rockers. What’s made that song so unique and special?
I believe that music videos took away from the effect that music was having prior to them, which was all the videos that we had personally as fans listening to this music, and imagining this movie of the song going by in your mind. And, I remember a guy in New York City told me that they polled 100 different people, and asked them the meaning of the song Bridge Over Troubled Water, by Simon and Garfunkel, and they got 100 diversely different definitions. Well, you wouldn’t have that if they watched the video. They’d have one take, and that’s it. And, when somebody reads a book, and they go to see the movie they go, “Man, that movie sucked compared to the book.” It’s because their movie was running through their imagination. And, that part of us, I think, is being stifled by just being entertained to death. We’ve lost our ability to free think and break away from that stuff.
Talking about back then, you recorded about two albums a year. From ‘69 to ‘76, you guys cranked out 12 albums which today, would be unheard of. Do you think that formula either helped or hurt your creativity?
It couldn’t do anything but help because it got more of the Grand Funk out to the fans that were really waiting on it. And, I talked to them at every performance. They’re still there, people. We were just up at a casino on Upstate New York, and people that were at Shea Stadium were there, and showed us the tickets, and it was great. It’s all about the influence of people in what we were listening to back then on the radio, but now we have no influence on what we’re listening to on the radio because it’s corporately, conglomerately controlled, and I’m sorry, but those guys got no ears.
You’re 100% American and proud. Where does that sense of pride come from?
My father was a War II veteran, and a fireman for the city of Flint. He died when I was nine years old, him and a fellow fireman were broadsided by a train, and they were both killed. So, my mother anyways, was the first woman to weld on Sherman tanks, which was the type my father was driving of course. And, at Fisher Body in Flint, Michigan, and so, their involvement, and the love that they had through it all, and was passed to us children is what drives me, and it’s my patriotism for family, and for the freedom to have family, and to express love, and to express it unconditionally, and to have the freedom of religion, and to have the safety of this freedom. This is what makes me proud to be an American.
This year, a judge ruled in your favor to deny Grand Funk’s injunction to stop you from using the name American Band.
It sure hasn’t prevented them from trying to prolong this thing and trying to tell me we’re going to do depositions. It’s all a bunch of horse crap because they’re getting their butts kicked right now, and I never went out and proclaimed that I was Grand Funk. I wouldn’t do that. I am honest, I wouldn’t do that to a fan. But, other people will, and I don’t condone it, I never have, but they just jumped on the bandwagon of a bunch of other bands, a bunch of fake bands that are out there.
They advertise as a certain name of the band, and there’s not even an original member in there. It’s because someone owns the copyright of that name. And, when that is registered like that, federal registration, there’s one guy, Gunnar Nelson from the Nelson Twins, we were doing a radio interview, and he told me. He said, “Farner, there’s 126 groups that’s called The Platters that go out, and this one guy licenses all of them, and he gets a chunk of whatever their take is collectively.
And, they can do it legally because it’s corporately owned. It’s just crazy. To me, it’s crazy because any real Grand Funk fan knows that that’s not Grand Funk that goes out that way without the guy that wrote and sang over 90% of the music. How could somebody say that?
But, there’s a lot of fans that just are following the name. They don’t know about the individual members. They’re not really hardcore fans, so they go to see all these other fake bands. We call the guys that used to play with, The Faux, F-A-U-X Funk. But, I really want to take it back, and give it to the fans.
I’ve been trying to give the fans back because I’m a fan of The Beatles. I was disappointed because those guys could not put whatever it was to bed. They couldn’t bury the hatchet, and just do it for us fans. Just get back together, and go out and play, so we could come and see them. And so, I have that within me, and I know for the fans’ sake that we could make a hell of a lot more money as Grand Funk, the original Grand Funk, and going out and doing what we should be doing, than separately going out. And, I’m going out, Mark Farner’s American Band, but I do a lot of all my Grand Funk music because that’s what the fans know me for, and that’s what they expect.
I can’t imagine the pressure something like that causes, especially from old friends and band mates.
Absolutely, but the guys that I have with me, we all feel the same. We’re just blessed to be able to take that stage, and we’re very thankful to be where we’re at. There’s no kind of start them trips or posing as something that we’re not. We come in, and we eat lunch with the crew. There’s none of the separation that takes place in our industry that I see, but I don’t want to be that part.
I always wondered if the Detroit R&B and Motown-vibe lead to your recording Locomotion?
Actually, what lead to that recording was Todd Rundgren was in the studio, and we were recording, doing the bed tracks for the album at our place which was lovingly called The Swamp. And, it was a little recording studio that we had a tape machine, but it was out in the country. And, I went across the road, I walked up the driveway, it was a snaky, little driveway, so people wouldn’t just be able to look back in there, and, I’m walking back from lunch, and I start singing, “Everybody’s doing a brand new dance now” And, I hear the guys that are out having a smoke in the parking lot, they’re doing the backgrounds, “Come on, baby. Do the locomotion …” And, Rundgren, because the door was open to the studio, they were letting some fresh air in, and, Rundgren comes out, and he goes, “What the hell was that?” And we said, “What do you mean what was that? That’s Little Eva, that’s The Locomotion.” He says, “Everybody in here right now, come in. We’re doing that song.” And, it was we got on it instantly, and we just did it off the top of our heads, and it was a big hit. I mean, it was just a party song. He came out, he was clanging ashtrays, he was singing all like real high falsetto stuff. We were having a blast, and it really transferred to the tape.
Being so close to Windsor, did you ever come on to the Canadian side?
Oh yeah. I’ve been in Windsor, I’ve been to a few of the clubs. My partner is out of Windsor, Dusty D’Annunzio goes out, and does the acoustic gigs here in the States, and Mexico, wherever we get booked. I first saw him at The Dugout up there in Windsor. It’s a funky club, and, when I walked in, he was doing the song, Superstition, and the place was rocking. And I’m going, “Yeah man, this guy has got it together.” And, I ask him if he wanted to go out, and do some of my solo stuff because I was doing it by myself, and I thought, “Geez, a two-part harmony would be better than just one guy singing this stuff.”
And then, we got my bass player from the band going with us now. So, we got three-part harmony, and we go and do acoustic stuff all over the place.
What does Dusty bring to the music?
He brings an energy that is seasoned by youth. He plays every day, he goes to bed playing, wakes up playing, and early on, somebody says, “If you’re going to add to what you’re doing, make sure you get somebody that’s better than yourself.” So, I got somebody who’s a better player than I am. So, he can express that even beyond my expectations, and he has because he’ll play the bass part, he plays the flute part, and the harmonics on the guitar.
He plays all the parts, and very convincingly in time. It’s crazy, but a very good addition, and a great guy really. He’s historically plugged in. He’s a patriot to who he is, and the country of Canada, and I appreciate him for his knowledge of what’s really going on.