Flint native Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad is still bringing the funk

FLINT, Michigan — The year was 1971 and Flint’s Grand Funk Railroad was becoming one of the biggest rock and roll acts in music. What they never imagined was that they would be linked forever with the greatest band in the history of music. “I think about it every single day,” said Mark Farner, frontman of the power trio formed in Flint.

The Beatles set an attendance record by selling out New York’s Shea Stadium in 1965 and on their final tour a year later. However, it took a couple of weeks for Liverpool’s Fab Four to sell all 55,600 tickets for their shows.

Grand Funk Railroad shattered The Beatles record by selling out Shea in just 72 hours. “You have to remember that there were no online ticket sales back then,” Farner stated. “If you wanted to see the show, you had to come to the venue and wait in line for tickets.” 

Over five decades after the record-setting event, Farner continues to make music and play live shows. Now at age 75, he’s excited about his latest release: Rock ‘N’ Roll Soul: Live 1989. The latest album — released Nov. 17, 2023, on vinyl, CD, and all streaming services — is a live performance Farner did at Liberation Hall on Aug. 20, 1989. It’s a recording that Farner didn’t even know existed.
Grand Funk Railroad in the 1970s.
Earlier in the year, he received a call from his manager who told him they had uncovered a tape of a show Farner was part of called Woodstock: 20 Years After.

“I had them email a copy and I was blown away,” said Farner. “The audio was so clean, the video is full of energy and this was recorded prior to all of the new technology. I told them I would be proud to release this.”

The album, which includes a few Farner solo tracks, is also filled with Grand Funk fan favorites and their most popular hit singles of the ‘70s.

Included are “I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” and one of Grand Funk’s two songs to reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts, their cover of Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion.”

Farner, who now lives in Northern Michigan for part of the year says he not only thinks fondly of the early days with Grand Funk, but also of his hometown of Flint and how the city and its people influenced the music they made. “I played football in high school and was in the choir,” said Farner, who attended Flint Kearsley High School.

“I loved hearing my name called during football games, but I ended up getting injured when I was 15.” Therefore, Mark’s mother rented a Kay Flat Top acoustic guitar and paid for six lessons. After only three lessons, his guitar teacher was in a hunting accident and suggested he watch some of the local high school bands play. “I practiced with my sister Diane, who played drums,” stated Farner.

Shortly thereafter, while still in high school, he joined Terry Knight & The Pack. A year later, he also spent time playing with The Bossmen. Shortly after high school, he and Pack drummer Don Brewer left the band, recruited bassist Mel Schacher of Question Mark & The Mysterians, and formed Grand Funk Railroad in 1969. They were still playing locally when their local promoter was able to get them a spot on the bill of the inaugural Atlanta Pop Festival for no compensation on July 4, 1969.

The Grand Trunk Railroad bridge on Fenton Road in Flint from which the band got their name.The bill included already-established acts like Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, CCR, and Led Zeppelin. “It was truly amazing. We went from playing gyms and union halls, and all of a sudden, we were playing for 180,000 people,” said Farner. The performance was such a success, Grand Funk was signed to Capitol Records. 

Rolling Stone Magazine once said, “You cannot talk about rock in the 1970s without Grand Funk Railroad.” The band had remarkable success. Their 1973 album, We’re An American Band, reached number 2 on the Billboard album charts with the title track reaching number 1 on the singles chart.

The band would have three more top-five singles between 1973 and 1975 with “The Loco-Motion” reaching the top of the charts in ‘74 and both “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Bad Time” reaching 3 and 5 respectively in 1975. The band would break up in 1976 and later reunite on several occasions. However, Farner left for good in 1998.

Despite all of the band's commercial and critical success, many Grand Funk fans still can’t understand why they’ve yet to be recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it's something that doesn’t bother Farner. “That doesn’t reflect the choice of the people,” stated Farner. “It’s political, and we won’t and never will bow to that in order to be part of that hall.” 

The Grand Funk faithful are also still hoping for something that Farner would like as well: a reunion with Brewer and Schacher for a tour. “Even though there’s some bad feelings, I would hope it can happen as long as we’re still sucking air,” Farner said.

He used the example of a tour he did with ZZ Top where all three band members had separate tour buses and dressing rooms. “I look at it as an example that it can be done because it’s ultimately for the fans,” he stated.

“I always wanted to see The Beatles when they were alive. I think of the Grand Funk fans and say why don’t we bury the hatchet and hope Don and Mel can get past it for the sake of the fans because there are only three people that can make that noise.”

Farner and his current band are planning to hit the road again in the spring with some Michigan shows on the bill, including one in the Flint area. For more information on those shows, and to order 'Rock ‘N’ Roll Soul: Live 1989' on vinyl, DVD, or CD, visit: markfarner.com
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