Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Getting Closer To Home : An Exclusive Interview With Founding Grand Funk Railroad Leader Mark Farner
Ever since coming to massive fame and fortune at the tender age of 20 as leader of one of the biggest bands of the 70's, former Grand Funk Railroad guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Mark Farner has been gifted with a rock & roll soul. Born September 29, 1948 in Flint, Michigan, he first played in a succession of high school bands around the area. In 1966 he joined Terry Knight and the Pack, where he would first encounter the mercurical Knight, who later would be instrumental as Grand Funk's manager, orchestrating their meteoric rise to fame. Also notable was the band's drummer, Don Brewer, who along with ex ? and the Mysterians bassist Mel Schacher would join forces with Farner, forming the power trio in 1968.
Upon hearing Grand Funk Railroad, Terry Knight became their manager and started drumming up gigs for the band, most of which they performed for free. Knight persuaded the promoters of the Atlanta International Pop Festival to let them play, unpaid. And play, they did - in front of over 180,000 people, in 110 degree heat, as the only unsigned act of the festival, (which featured the likes of Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter and Led Zeppelin), Mark, Don & Mel went down a storm. More like a hurricane actually, their gale force performance impressive enough so that after their thunderous appearance they were signed to Capitol Records.
In 1971, in an ample demonstration of their mega popularity, the band set the attendance record at New York City's Shea Stadium for a concert, as amazingly they sold out the 57,000 plus tickets to the show in an astounding 72 hours, faster than The Beatles in 1966 - a record which stood until the stadium was demolished in late 2008. Not bad for three boys from Flint. Michigan!
As the band were setting attendance records live and selling millions of albums world wide, they were simultaneously ripped apart by the "enlightened" rock critics of the day. Notably, Rolling Stone Magazine called them "the world's worst rock band," while the working class rock fan embraced them as "The American Band". A critical snubbing which must be noted continues today. Despite many grassroots efforts by fans to get them inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, that honor still eludes them, even as their influence can be heard in not only modern day Detroit bands such as The Muggs and The Universal Temple Of Divine Power, but also a slew of Swedish stoner rock bands. A trend which continues to grow day by day.
Over the first half of the 70's, the band was one of the biggest bands not only in the U.S., but all over the world. With 12 gold and 10 platinum records, 19 charted singles, 8 Top 40 hits including two at Number One both selling more than one million each, total sales in excess of 25 million copies sold world wide, the fans knew what was up. Despite the critical drubbing and the bitter split with manager Knight in '72, these three (four with the addition of Craig Frost on keyboards in 1972) were very much the epitome of a "people's band". Persevering without initially much airplay, at least in the beginning, they truly were a band of the people, for the people - a creed Farner still lives by today.
By 1977, the initial ride was over, with the band going their separate ways shortly after finishing the overdub sessions for the 1976 Frank Zappa produced 'Good Singin' Good Playin''. And for a time, it seemed that was it, with Farner embarking on a solo career and releasing two albums - 'Mark Farner' in 1977 and 'No Frills' in 1978 - while Brewer, Schacher and Frost formed the band Flint, putting out an album of their own on Columbia Records.
None of these offerings matched the success of the original band, and in 1980, minus Schacher and keyboardist Frost, and including bassist Dennis Bellinger, the band reunited for two albums, 1980's 'Grand Funk Lives!' and '83's 'What's Funk'. Although the first reunion disc managed to reach #149 Billboard Album Charts, with new wave and a flood of skinny tie wearing bands like The Knack being the trend of the day, the band found its gritty, no frills hard rock out of favor and the second album failed to chart. Once again they disbanded, but not before Mark, Don and Dennis Bellinger toured throughout 1981-1982, selling out shows in Japan and South America, where the band's no nonsense approach never went out of style. Brewer and Frost joined Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band, while Farner set out on a new career as a Christian Contemporary artist, releasing several albums hugely popular in the Christian music marketplace. He scored hits with the 1988 CCM #2 single "Isn't It Amazing," and a remake of "Some Kind Of Wonderful," which also hit the top 10.
Leaping headlong back into the rock & roll mainstream, from 1994 to 1995, Farner toured with ex Beatle Ringo Starr's Allstars, which also featured BTO's Randy Bachman, The Who's John Entwistle, The Rascals' Felix Cavalaire, Billy Preston, and Ringo's son, Zak Starkey. A tour which saw Ringo introducing him night after night as "Mr. Grand Funk, Mark Farner!".
Soon afterwards, in 1996, the pull of the locomotive lured him back onto the tracks for yet another reunion of the original band. May to July 1996 saw them perform before 260,000 people at 14 sold out shows, with the double live album 'Bosnia' following in January 1997. After another year of touring, during which they played 65 shows throughout 1998 and ranked among the top 10 tours of the year, he left the band once again to resume his solo career, an undertaking which continues to the present day.
Now Farner is back with a new album on Boinkmore Records, 'For The People,' an all original collection which showcases his abilities as a vocalist, guitarist and songwriter quite admirably. Not straying too far from the classic sound of Grand Funk, it clearly reaffirms that four decades on, he remains a musical and vocal force to be reckoned with, and is an offering highly recommended to fans of the mid 70's work of his former band.
Recently I had the fantastic opportunity to catch up with Mark at his home in Michigan, where the topics discussed included the new album "For The People,' the days in Grand Funk, the state of the United States today, the possibilities of a reunion of the original band and much, much more. Read on as we have a revelatory conversation with one of rock's true legends, Mark Farner....
Special thanks to Lesia Farner and Mark Bowsher for coordinating, and a very BIG thanks to Mark Farner for doing this interview for Nightwatcher's House Of Rock!
Interview and text by Keith Langerman for Nightwatcher's House Of Rock
December 31, 2008
Nightwatcher's House Of Rock : You have a new album out, 'For The People' on Boinkmore, and on the front cover it's credited to "Mark Farner the Rock Patriot". What does being the rock patriot signify for you?
Mark Farner : Still having rock n roll in the place where it's in the face of the "man". Exposing his dirty deeds and his filthy heart. That's what rock n roll has been all about for a lot of years, for me and for a lot of other people. Prior to any Top 40 success, Grand Funk sold millions and millions of albums because people were ready for a change. They were tired of the B.S. Tired with the war in Vietnam. People were ready for peace back then. We're even more ready today. But they beat that war drum louder and harder, and it seems like the morale of the United States at least, because of what we're shown from Hollyweird... they glorify all this violence, and the use of the gun. Then they tell us the gun is bad, and they're going to ban the guns. And I'm thinking, "This is craziness". These people didn't read the constitution. They don't know who the hell they're supposed to be governing here. It's supposed to be a common people for a common cause, and that is for peace and for freedom for everyone. If our money was working for us man, that's what we'd be exporting. Peace and freedom.
NHOR : Do you see a correlation between what's happening now and what was happening during the Vietnam era?
MF : Yes, as far as the attitude of the general public, and what we're becoming aware of. I think more and more people are getting suspicious of the way things are being handled. That it's for selfish gain, rather that what it's supposed to be about, or what the official story is, whatever it is. I don't trust the official story on nothing. Since the deregulation, we don't have the moral governor that used to be there when the "7-7-7 rule" was there. You had a family mind. You could own 7 AM, 7FM, and 7 television stations prior to 1995. That kept things in the hands of the families who lived in this country.
But when money bought that, and deregulation came under Clinton...well, it's going to go to the highest bidder. And that's what it's done. It's slipped right through the people's consciousness because it was handed off so slick, and so easily, and we've just kind of fallen into the doldrums of where we're at today. We know things are screwed up, but we don't know why. But I'm telling you, I know why. Just trace that money trail all the way to the top. That's where all the evil is. It's always been that way.
NHOR : There are a couple of songs on the album in particular, the title track, and "Where Do We Go From Here" which highly suggest you're none too happy with the state of the nation at this point in time. What do you feel needs to be changed in this country? You hear a lot about change right now, but what do you feel needs to be?
MF : The change has to be in the monetary system because according to the Constitution, it is Congress who are taken from among us, men that are picked, and women, but mostly men. We know this, we admit this, it's a man's world. You'd only be a fool if you said it wasn't. So we trust these men to make moral decisions, but they're just men. They fall for this stuff. They go for the value of money. Mammon is God to them. They've heard about all these other gods, religions and all this stuff, but what they really see working is money. It is supposed to work FOR us, and it's supposed to be out buying for us. Congress is supposed to coin and control for the good of the people. If that was happening brother, our money would be working for us. But because it's not happening, that's not even our money, and it's definitely working against us, because we are indebted to it. The money system that was supposed to be in place by Congress would not put us in debt. We would be the most prosperous piece of real estate on this planet. But that's not the plans of the evil ones who control it, and send our kids off to die in their evil wars.
I'm telling you, I'm over the bogeyman, the devil, and all these excuses we've been given. We've got to get accountable, man to man. But as long as there's this other stuff in play, we think there's something higher and mightier than man itself, but all it is...the Federal Reserve is owned by men. So are all these other banks, all these other men, but they're sick men. They're very sick with this lust for power. It has to be stopped by peace. It has to be stopped by the cry, and has to be embraced by the nation. As soon as it begins to be the life of our bosom, and we embrace it in that way together, we'll revive it. But right now it's at loose ends because of what we've believed in, and what's been projected into our eyes. It's a lot of stuff to filter through.
We all watched the World Trade Centers come down. How many times did you watch that come down? And they told us the "official" story was that it pancaked from detioriating beams, caused by the heat of the jet fuel heating to such high temperatures. This is craziness. It's impossible even to start with. The buildings didn't pancake, they free fell. Don't believe your ears, believe your eyes and just watch what happened. So I don't believe any of it. When you have on the cover of 'Newsweek', the firemen standing on the rubble... the shards of this H beam that was coming out of the rubble behind them, it was like somebody had taken a razor to it, it was a perfect angle. I've heard testimony from demolition experts who say that there's only one thing that can do that, and that Thermite was used to bring the buildings down. This is what I think is plausible. Because what I saw didn't match what my ears were hearing. I've talked with people who were there...eyewitnesses, who tell me stories that don't match that mainstream version of things. I'm sorry that people had to buy into that. I'm really sorry, because we've become so gullible to everything, it's almost like 'The Matrix'.
I tell my wife, and this is a very picturesque description, but I tell her that people need to pretend their television set is their ass, and they need to get their head out of it long enough to get straight. (Laughs) Don't believe it, believe your heart. Your heart will tell you what to believe. Believe in yourself. This is where some goodness is. That little tiny baby that was there when we were born is still there. All the crap that gets piled up on top of us takes us away from that consciousness, and puts us into present consciousness, which is controlled by evil.
NHOR : People need to think for themselves, rather than have some commentator tell them what to think....
MF : Yeah brother, and the only way they can do that is to trust themselves. But they haven't been taught. I think parents have not done the job of helping their kids find who they really are. Instead of just sticking them out into a system that tells them who they are, defines who they are, and grades them upon what potential they may have as human beings according to their little book. (Laughs)
It's like this friend of mine who had purchased a lot, I mean hundreds of Beanie Babies. It was an epidemic around here for awhile. He says, "Man, I've got Beanie Babies that are worth $400, $500 dollars". I said, "How did you get that figure? Where's that come from?" He shows me this book. Well, the book was made by the Beanie Baby company. (Laughs)
NHOR : People can definitely be gullible...
MF : Yeah, and I feel sorry for them, I really do. You've just got to pray for them, I reckon. Thank the spirit that you have, that kind of energy, and that's what's drawing you.
NHOR : One thing that's extremely impressive on the album are your vocals Mark. There are a lot of vocalists who have been around as long as you have and even some who haven't, and they've lost a bit in terms of their vocal abilities. But you haven't. In fact, they're just as strong on this album as they were almost 40 years ago. What do you attribute having your voice in the shape it is today to, and what advice would you give to singers in order to keep their vocal abilities in shape?
MF : I think the overall health that I enjoy is because my wife Lesia and I are into eating and giving our bodies what they need to be healthy. We're conscious of that. Prior to getting that consciousness, having kids and seeing the need for this, in our own family, we ate southern fried chicken, sloppy joes and stuff like that all the time. Growing up, we didn't think about nutritional value, we just thought about feeding the hunger. So, we've become more conscious of that, and we're both living testimonies of what that can do for you. Just to have that mindset to know that yes, there are foods that can give you that acidic condition, and there are other foods that you can eat which will balance your PH, and give you an alkaline condition. Which we absolutely should be striving for in this nation and the world.
Inflammation is a singer's worst enemy. And I know people who take Advil before they go onstage, because it shrinks the membranes and opens up the passageways and the capillaries, so you don't have to work so hard to get going. To get your blood up to percolating temperature for the rest of the show. Anything that's anti inflammatory, like ice, or whatever you've used as a home remedy, I would prescribe more than I would any kind of medication. I'm not really into medication. I'm into enzymes that do the same thing. We take systemic enzymes that replace the enzymes our body has to manufacture to deliver the food that is cooked, because it's dead as far as enzymes go. It has to be processed, so your body has to produce the enzymes from bone marrow and the large organs. It taxes us to eat cooked food. So Lesia and I have learned that by replacing those enzymes at a systemic level, on an empty stomach that are formulated for this very purpose, it rebuilds not only your immune system and your stamina, but it gives you a feeling of well being because you're helping your body deal with the enemy.
NHOR : "Cry Baby" has a definite nod to Jimi Hendrix, particularly the song "Are You Experienced" in the opening and even throughout the song, albeit not as pronounced. Jimi was a huge influence on you from the beginning. What is it about Hendrix's music that turns you on so much musically speaking?
MF : It was the spirit of his music that caught my attention. The spirit of his guitar. The imprint that it left. It was friendly, it was real, and it was from the place where I like to go in my mind with the music. It's very freeing.
NHOR : You haven't strayed that far from the Grand Funk musical aesthetic on this release, with the exception of the long extended jams that were characteristic of the band in the early days, there are quite a few songs here that could've easily fit on any of the Grand Funk albums in the mid to late 70's. Was that a conscious effort on your part or does the music just flow from you that way?
MF : That's just the way it is. I do not try to pigeonhole my efforts for any certain sound or criteria.
NHOR : Speaking of songwriting, what is your usual process when you write songs? Do you bring fully formed ideas into the studio in demo form and have the other musicians flesh out their parts, or do you bring in ideas and bash them out?
MF : When I demo something, it has all the parts on it. But just enough to make you aware of the song. The hook, the chorus, what have you. The rest of it is just electronic. So it needs to be fleshed out, I believe before we take it in. That's what we did with this. I sent everybody the tunes in demo form as I would finish them, then they'd come up with their parts. A lot of the time, Laurence Buckner, my bass player, will go with the bass part, "Man, I'm thinking along these same lines". Because I was a bass player before I was a guitar player. A lot of the lines are just natural to me.
Then the rest of it, as far as the lyrics and music go, most of the time I'll get an inspiration that is just purely a thought which contains the melody or lyrics...the chorus or something. That's what will start it. Once you write that down or record it, then you let your mind look for the rest of it, it falls in. That's the way it happens, to be in that place and access where it's coming from. I wish I had the key to just open that door. (Laughs) However it is that you get there, it's a state of consciousness, but it exists in this real world that we're in.
I think that there's a whole lot more that exists in this real world that we're living in that we don't even know about. Because we have been dumbed down and so burdened by debt in this society. People are so in debt, and even if you're a little in debt to somebody else, then how can you be free? We've got so much debt that we don't even have the hope for freedom anymore.
NHOR : Has that process changed at all versus when you were in Grand Funk?
MF : No, it's been the same throughout.The first one I ever wrote which was the lyrics first prior to any music was "I'm Your Captain/Closer To Home".
NHOR : Speaking of that song, what was the inspiration for "I'm Your Captain/Closer To Home"?
MF : I had gone to bed and prayed. Our mother had taught us kids to pray the "Now I lay me down to sleep", so I finished that part of the prayer, and put a P.S. at the end of it, and I asked the Creator to give me a song which would reach and touch the hearts of people that he wanted to touch. With love, because I just felt the love. I just felt for my good friends, my high school buddies who had died in Vietnam. I saw their parents, and I saw their families, and I think that's what inspired it.
It came in the middle of night to me as words, and I didn't even realize it was a song, because I write words all the time. In fact, my wife has a file that she has where she's picked up napkins and notes here and there that have all these words that come out. At least we have a place to start putting them together, like a puzzle. But I grabbed those words in the morning, because I was playing my guitar in the kitchen of the farm. I was sipping on my coffee, had my feet kicked up in the chair, and I had my flattop guitar. As I was strumming the intro chords to "I'm Your Captain," I went, "Hey man, maybe this is a song". So I went and got the words, and started constructing the song out of it. I took it to rehearsal that day and the guys said, "Man, this song's a hit." And, lo and behold they were right. (Laughs)
NHOR : Was there any sense at all that it was going to be a classic song when you were recording it?
MF : I didn't know that's what it was, but I had the feeling that because Tommy Baker, who wrote all the orchestration for the record did such a great job at expressing what the song was saying, and how it was feeling to him, the French Horns and violins, the things that were standing out, crying out... it was the same thing Hendrix was saying with his crying guitar. That wah wah, that roto vibe that was swirling through your head... it was that kind of feeling, and I knew once Tommy got ahold of it that it was really going to be different. I'm very proud of what he did to it.
NHOR : Let's go back all the way to the beginning for a bit here if you don't mind... What was the defining moment for you when you decided you wanted to be a musician?
MF : I was playing football in school, and I had some injuries which prevented me from playing football, running track or anything like that. So my mother, feeling sorry for me, got me 6 lessons and rented me a Kay acoustic guitar from this music store in Flint, Michigan. So I was taking the lessons, and I had 3 lessons when the guitar teacher called my mother and said that he'd shot his foot with a 12 gauge shotgun, in a hunting accident, and couldn't teach anymore, and that I should just go watch these guys who were in a high school band. They had a rock & roll band, and I should just go watch these guys, because I was picking it up just by watching him, and I would be picking it up by ear. So that's what I did.
NHOR : Do you remember what the first record you ever bought was?
MF : There were a couple of them that I just had to have. "Mind Over Matter" by The Diablos featuring Nolan Strong might've been the first one.
NHOR : One thing which has remained a constant for you is the fact that all throughout your life you've lived in Michigan. Obviously you have the means and the capital to live almost anywhere you would want but you never moved away. What is it about Michigan that has made you stay there?
MF : It's home in the first place. And I love the seasons. My wife and I love snowshoeing. The deeper the snow the better for cross country skiing, but we do a lot of snowshoeing in the winter, and use snowmobiles. And in the summer, we 4 wheel, or get on a dirt bike and ride up in the Upper Peninsula on the thousands of miles of trails that are up there. It's never ending. It's beautiful, and there are places to stop off and get something to eat along the way. There's even an oasis out in the middle of the national forest that's powered by solar wind. This guy's got like a little pit stop, but you're a hundred miles from anywhere, so when you get there, there better be something there. (Laughs)
NHOR : What was it like for you when the band sold out Shea Stadium in 1971, faster than even The Beatles had done 7 years prior? That's a record you must certainly be proud of and one which will forever stand as they're tearing down the stadium soon...
MF : It was the height of our career at that point. I think that because of the love vibe that was associated with that gig, and the voices of the people that were louder than the P.A. system.. we were amplified by the P.A., but the audience was singing over the volume and the amplification of the P.A. That's how loud it was, and that's how strong the love was, and that's what made it an outstanding gig in my memory.
NHOR : There was actually structural damage done to the stadium itself during that show...
MF : Yeah, because the audience was bouncing up and down in the bleachers so hard. But it survived it. (Laughs)
NHOR : Grand Funk opened up for Led Zeppelin in 1969 at Detroit's Olympia Stadium and their manager Peter Grant actually pulled the plug on you guys. What was that like?
MF : I reckon that we were upstaging those boys who were fixing to come on, and they might've had a bit of difficulty after us. In fact, they waited an hour and a half before they took the stage after we left. I think it was just to let the audience cool down, but by that time half the audience had already left. They were pissed off. But that's the power of that three piece funk stuff from Flint, Michigan.
NHOR : How much of a factor do you feel being from Flint had on your sound?
MF : It think it had everything to do with it. Because the people who were in Flint, working at the auto factory came from all over the United States. The factories bring in people because they're high paying jobs, and people want those jobs. My mother's side of the family moved to Flint from Leesville, Arkansas for jobs, and they all got jobs. There were people from all over the South, the East, The West...wherever. But that was a great pool of musicians and musical styles to start drawing and building from. The influence of all that music in each family that came into those towns melded together and produced a lot of good music out of Michigan.
NHOR : Grand Funk was probably the most savagely critically attacked band of the 70's, and perhaps of all time in rock history, especially for a band who were as incredibly popular with the fans as you were then. How did it make you feel when you'd be selling millions of albums, or get done with a packed show where the rafters were shaking, only to have the critics slam you as they did? Did that kind of negativity hurt at all?
MF : No, not really because we would always just look at each other and go, "I don't know what the hell show THEY were at, but they weren't at our show last night." (Laughs) Any honest reporter would just say how rockin' it was. Anybody who was giving an honest assessment of what was happening between the band and the audience would've noted that we were one, and that's what happens when you have a band that's popular with the audience, who were just common folk. We're rockin' together. It's part and parcel together. The band and audience work together.
Part of that is what I'm seeing missing in today's audiences. There isn't that working together going on. It's just entertainment, and the guy gets up there and shows you how bad he is or something. But I believe that's what still attracts people to our shows because there's audience involvement. People are involved with what we're doing. They're feeding us, egging us on, pushing us, giving us the energy, that positive lift.
I think with a lot of bands these days there's a lot of enthusiasm, but it's more infatuation, when somebody first falls in love.There's a lot of infatuation, but you've got to work on the love part. I think, because since I've been working on the love part since 1969, that a lot of people are getting it. Because to all of my audiences it's the same kind of feeling. It's the same thing that ties it back to the beginning and what it is in the first place, which is our love of what music is and its potential, how it so influences us in our emotions and our everyday life. There's some music that will lift me. If I need a lift, I know I can put on certain tunes that'll do that. That's what we all love about it.
NHOR : Do you think there's too much negativity?
MF : I think because there's a departure from what the music used to be and clearly what's on people's mind, there's a lot of negativity that's spawned from the facade of the society we live in. We're trying to teach our kids to be real in a make believe world. They've seen so much computer generated bullshit in movies...the blood and guts in video games, the sharpness and resolution, it almost looks like real blood. Why? What part of your personality will that influence and make you a better person? I think all that has played into our music.
I also think there's been some moral decay, because I think that parents haven't been responsible for raising their kids. They just kind of let 'em go and give up on them. Kids will threaten, "Oh, we're going to take you to Child Protective Services, we're going to sue you." I've heard friends of mine tell me this, dude. That's out of control. There's no respect. I think because of that some of the negativity that we hear in music today has to reflect it. But if that energy was right, and it was spawned by the love that we were receiving, and we wanted that to prosper, then we'd have a lot more.
NHOR : What in your opinion is your favorite Grand Funk or Mark Farner song and why?
MF : Well, my favorite Grand Funk song is "I'm Your Captain" because of what it means to so many people. Because it was the first song as I said where I wrote the lyrics first. Every other song prior to that one came out of a jam. So that one would be it. Plus it means so much. If you played that song as much as I've played the song, for as many people as I've played it for, and received the adulation I've received, that song would just be where it needs to be in your heart.
NHOR : That's something which so many artists live for and never get. Do you feel blessed to have had that?
MF : Absolutely, because I live because of the purpose I live for. My purpose is in peace and in love. It's what's inside of me, and I know the Kingdom of Heaven is in me, and that the Creator is in me. He/She... the Creator creates women and men. It's not a masculine thing, but the way this world is set up, and the way we were born into it... now we certainly didn't have anything to do with how it was when we got here, but it began to influence us in a way that was just unreasonable to anybody who has the ability to desire balance and equality. Because this world certainly doesn't show unconditional love to anyone. But I believe in unconditional love of course, and that's what little babies come from. When they get here those babies are innocent. Tell me someone who doesn't love a little baby to death? Because they're so pure and innocent, and there's an energy which is pure. That is who we really are. That is what I believe we inherit when we exit the bones. I do believe we can have so much of it present with us prior to leaving the bones that we wouldn't even notice. (Laughs) I'm serious dude, that is the power of love. It's almost like what Scripture says about The Rapture. I think that's kind of like what it is.
NHOR : There is some great footage floating around of Grand Funk, particularly the L.A. Forum show in 1974, and The Shea Stadium show in 1971...I know a bit of the Shea Stadium show was released on the DVD which accompanied the 'Greatest Hits' CD, and the version of "Inside Looking Out" from the PBS show, "The Show" from 1969 is just amazing. Is there any chance any of that will get released in their entirety?
MF : Well, I don't know. The problem seems to be, at least partly anyway, that Don and Mel are trying to sell the version of Grand Funk that they have assembled after I left in 1998. That's the group that they're promoting as Grand Funk. But if they put my face on a video out, and those two guys are the ones who control the trademark...when I signed my ownership of the trademark into the corporation, it was at Don Brewer's suggestion, because he said it would give a protective umbrella. Now Don went to law school, and I didn't graduate from high school, so I don't know anything about the law. Only what people have told me. But that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Because ever since then, I've been under the control of that corporation, and the stuff that's in the corporation's hands, such as the release of those things. The things where I'm the leader, the star of the show, running around, they don't want to present that Grand Funk I don't believe. At least it doesn't appear that way anyway. There may be something else involved, but I'm not privy to any of the meetings, or what they have in store for their careers, future or anything. It's like being divorced. (Laughs)
NHOR : Why are you not in Grand Funk Railroad at this time?
MF : When we got back together to regroup in 1996, for the 'Bosnia' album, we were in Punch Andrews' office in Michigan. Punch and Bill Blackwell were in there with us. And we were talking about putting the band back together and going out on the road. This was of course before the 'Bosnia' album because 'Bosnia' was the next year. But the previous year, Punch Andrews, who manages Bob Seger, Kid Rock and some other things, he's there in Detroit... he handled us. We only did like 14 shows that summer, so it wasn't really a good summer.
But we did all agree, in Punch's office, that I was going to do it for 2 years. Because Brewer wanted me to stop any solo shows period because he thought it would be competition for Grand Funk shows. I said, "Well, I'll tell you what. I'll do that, but only for a period of 2 years, because I'm not going to let my solo career, and the audience that I have, go down the drain and just go back to the Grand Funk stuff. I said, "There's a lot of people who depend on that music being there, and depend on me saying what I say." Those guys are not political at all. They run the other way from it nowadays. I think that's probably part of the problem. That's probably why we're not together. Also the fact that they did not honor that 2 year time period that we all agreed upon, and the fact that they were trying to coerce me into going on the road using the leverage of the corporation to force me into playing beyond what we agreed to play. That really didn't work good for me. (Laughs) When somebody tries to put debt on you, it's just like, hey. It ain't worth it.
NHOR : I've got to ask you the inevitable question Mark... what do you feel the chances are of the original Grand Funk reuniting again for even a few shows? When I talked with Don Brewer about it he seemed to tense up at the mention of the subject. What's the situation, and do you ever feel it will happen again?
MF : As for me, I've been trying to put the band back together. I talked to Capitol Records prior to that DVD that you spoke of, with the Shea footage and the companion CD that accompanied it. I sat across the table from those guys in California, and told them I wanted to promote this. I thought that the three original members should be promoting this product, because it would get the most sales. Isn't that what putting the product out there is all about? I went to Capitol because I knew if I went to the other two guys that Don would keep it from Mel, and they wouldn't even entertain it. Just because of what's going on there. I went to Capitol, and they called those guys, Don told them that they didn't want to do it, and that they would use their version of Grand Funk to promote it. And of course, Capitol passed.
NHOR : There are a lot of fans who feel that without you it just isn't Grand Funk Railroad....
MF : Well, I appreciate that, and it isn't. That's what I've always said. Grand Funk has been three amigos and nobody else. There's no other three people on this earth that can make that sound.
NHOR : How do three guys who at one time must've, due to the critical beating the band was getting, had an "us vs them" mentality, go from being as close as you three once had to have been to where it's an acrimonious situation?
MF : I think a lot of things enter into a relationship, whether it's jealousy, envy or whatever. Nobody plans that. (Laughs) But it's the same thing with marriage. If the commitment isn't there... everybody's got to be solid on commitment. Then you can have something. Like Lesia and I are solid on our commitment to one another. For 30 years we've been married. It's because of the grace that's between us. If that grace wasn't there it just would've turned into nothing. I would LOVE for the three original guys to play music for the fans again. Because I love the fans. I see that the fans want that. And I'm a fan too. I mean, wouldn't you have liked to have seen The Beatles play together again dude? All 4 of them? On stage together, the magic that would've been there? Even when they were on 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' the magic that was there, they were anointed for that. But that shit just hits the fan, and the fans get cheated.
NHOR : It's a shame because all three of you are still around, whereas with bands like you mentioned, like The Beatles, there will never be that chance again...
MF : You're right. And in my last letter to those guys, I referred directly to that, in the very same way that you just did. Saying, "No one knows how long we'll all be sucking air, but we are now, all three of us. And as long as we can do it, why not give them the real McCoy?" Let's give them the real Grand Funk. I'm not predicting or trying to philosophize, because I'm not a doctor, I just know how I feel because I'm a fan of music too. I know certain bands who I would love to see, but it won't happen again.
NHOR : What do you feel at this point are the chances of Grand Funk Railroad ever getting into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame? Why do you think the band isn't in there already?
MF : I think it's political. I think it's because we haven't obtained the brown ring around the mouth from kissing somebody's hind end. That's not who I am. I'm not going to bow to that god. It's only important to me at all for the fans, for the sake of the fans. From that viewpoint, yes. Because it is something which is supposed to be representative, but it's the same thing as where the Congress of the United States is supposed to be representative of us by coining and controlling the money. But that ain't happening either.
NHOR : Things went sour between the band and original manager Terry Knight resulting in a slew of lawsuits, but looking back do you think the band would've become successful without his efforts?
MF : Oh hell no. Terry was a genius at what he did. He was a promoter. He knew how to market, and had excellent marketing strategies. But he was a conniver and that worked against him. He would do things that you and I would probably never think of. But he would sear his conscious in regards to it and go ahead and do it for self gratification. I think that's what gets people sucked into all of this in the first place. If we don't fight that demon that thing will take us over
NHOR : Now taking that into account what you just said, and he did claim a lot of the success of the band was due to him... with that in mind, why do you think he never had any success after he and the band parted ways?.
MF : I think that whatever he did after us couldn't live up to the hype.
NHOR : There was a DVD which came out several years ago of Mark Farner and NRG, 'The Rock & Roll Greats - Mark Farner' which you weren't too happy with. What was the situation with that?
MF : It was because the main audio on it was bad. It fades in and out. In fact, when they sent the release form, I said, "I'm not going to sign that. That's a piece of crap. I don't want my fans to end up with something like this." But as we see, a lot of people have been taken advantage of. As it goes though, it's exposure. And even the bootleg stuff, that's exposure. People want it, and they'll pay somebody to get a copy of it. If it doesn't happen to be me, oh well.
NHOR : I suppose it all goes around somehow...
MF : That's where I live with it. That's how I live with it because I sure as hell ain't going to sue everybody and their brother that's doing that stuff. It's a waste of time my friend.
NHOR : Any plans of putting out another DVD in the foreseeable future?
MF : Yeah, somewhere down the road we'll do that because everybody's got their own little ideas. We just finished a couple of shootings not too long ago. The people thought they had good equipment, but it wasn't the level of perfection and professionalism that we were looking for. So we won't allow that to be released, as long as we have any say over it.
NHOR : What advice, if any would you have for a young musician just starting out in the business?
MF : To listen to what you love as far as music. If you're a musician who is a creative type, and you want to come up with your own original songs, use what moves you but make an individual statement that doesn't sound like anyone else. That you're not striving to sound like any one of them, but rather all these people you love. Then I believe you'll be headed in the right direction. If you're not at the edge of coronary arrest when you come off the stage, you'd better go back and give them one more song.
NHOR : Speaking of live performances, what do you feel constitutes a great live performance for you?
MF : The communication between the band and the audience. We move together. No matter how small or big the audience is, this is what we expect. This is what happens because that is my intent. To touch bases with the hearts of those people who are standing out there. To be emotional with them. So when that happens, when that occurs and is fulfilled, buddy we've had a good night.
NHOR : Is there anything else that you'd like to say to all the fans out there?
MF : As far as the patriot thing, to those who hold it it's just like the thing with unconditional love. It's only alive and it's only there where there are people believing. I believe, like Lesia and I say to each other that we serve love, and love is unconditional. Anything the slightest bit outside of that, God is too small and you need to upgrade.
To learn more about Mark Farner, or to find up to date tour dates go to this location :
Mark Farner with Grand Funk Railroad performing "Closer To Home", live at Shea Stadium, New York City 1971 :