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Keep on chugging
Keep on chugging

Still going strong nearly 40 years on, Grand Funk Railroad rocks into fair

For those of you who were disappointed last year when Blue Oyster Cult vocalist Eric Bloom failed to break out the cowbell during "Don't Fear the Reaper," fear not. Don Brewer won't be making that mistake.

When the drummer and vocalist for Grand Funk Railroad fires up the group's most famous anthem, "We're an American Band," on Friday, Aug. 3, at the Benton County Fair, it will be with cowbell intro fully intact.

"We wouldn't dare do the song without the cowbell," Brewer says laughing. "It sets the mood."

Coming chugging out of Flint, Mich., in 1969, the group recorded a string of classic rock albums as a power trio, including their debut, "On Time," which features soulful rock classics such as "Heartbreaker" and "Are You Ready?" The epic "I'm Your Captain (Closer to Home)" is another fan favorite from this period and continues to move the crowd when they play it live.

What made Grand Funk Railroad so successful, says Brewer, was their synthesis of rock and R&B sounds. For those of you that think of R. Kelly when you hear "R&B," it used to mean something quite different. It stood for rhythm and blues, two things Grand Funk have always incorporated.

"The whole thing was to take that R&B feel and just crank it up and make it loud and make it rock," Brewer says. "Similar to what Hendrix and Cream were doing with blues, but we were doing it with R&B. That's what makes Grand Funk unique."

In 1972, FM radio, which had previously been the underground format playing a variety of alternative musical genres, shifted gears and became the dominant bandwidth. This change brought about a shift in the marketplace, Brewer remembers, and the group began mining for a hit single to keep them going strong.

After hooking up with producer and musician Todd Rundgren, they dropped the word Railroad from their name and recorded the album "We're an American Band" in 1973, which yielded the smash single of the same name. They would follow it up with other mega-hits such as "Some Kind of Wonderful" and their cover of "The Locomotion."

The group ended up disbanding in 1976, but would reunite in 1980 for a short stint without founding bass player Mel Schaecher. They shortly disbanded again, however, and didn't again reunite as the classic power trio until 1996. Their current incarnation features both Brewer and Schaecher, as well as former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick; Tim Cashion, who played with both Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band and Robert Palmer; and 38 Special's Max Carl, whom Brewer calls "one of the best blue-eyed soul singers on the planet."

While the music industry and styles might have changed over the years since Grand Funk Railroad first charged onto the scene with their mix of heavy riffs, catchy hooks and steam-powered rhythms, the band's approach to playing live hasn't. They still belt out all of their fans' favorite songs along with a sprinkling of classic R&B covers. And they still make it loud and make it rock.

Sounding very Zen, Brewer reflects that there are only two things that truly matter in rock: "The song and the performance."

To listen to an interview with Don Brewer, click below.

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