- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

What the Golden Gate Bridge was to flower power, the River Rouge bridge in Detroit was to rock's unhinged metal revolution, a charge led by a cadre of such Motor City bands as the MC5 and Ted Nugent's Amboy Dukes.
Although some musicologists snub Grand Funk Railroad as part of that anti-social mayhem, its legacy was some hard-rockin' songs and a legion of followers for this band from Flint, Mich., just a quick 40-minute drive up Interstate 75.
Guitarist Mark Farner, drummer Don Brewer and bassist Mel Schacher formed a power trio of a higher order when they banded together in 1969.
They looked like they sounded: bluejeans-clad and rough around all the edges; the smell of pot and Marlboros on their jackets; leader Farner bare-chested with his long, straight hair bound by an Indian headband, his two cohorts sporting curly Afros.
The band quickly released a series of tooth-rattling yet soulful albums, punctuated by a raw live recording in 1970 that summed up the trio's first three studio releases in one double-disced frenzy.
Somebody in a suit knows all of this.
In a remarkable stroke of homage, Capitol Records is reissuing Grand Funk's storied past on CD, bit by bit, until the good and the bad of the Funk's entire catalog for the label from 1969 to 1974 is available to a new generation.
The bombast starts Sept. 17 with the release of "Trunk of Funk," a box set including the bluesy debut "On Time" and the follow-up "Grand Funk," plus "Closer to Home" and "Grand Funk Live." The releases are scheduled to end in February with the sadly deficient "Born to Die" and "All the Girls of the World Beware."
For Mark Farner, it means another resurgence of fame.
"I still have 'em all [on vinyl], including sealed copies," the guitarist says of the original releases in a phone interview from his 1,600-acre farm in Petoskey, Mich. "And I still listen to those old records."
Mr. Farner is 53, the father of four sons, and a grandfather to boot, a born-again Christian whose hair is still long but a little thinner, whose appearance is a bit more mall-friendly. Although Grand Funk Railroad as it was is no more, he still plays to live and lives to play.
"I'm not the kid I was, but my music is still important to me to communicate with my brothers and sisters," he says, sounding like a '60s child still full of altruistic spirit.
His rebel heart made Grand Funk big, so big that the band in 1971 shattered a record the Beatles had held for seven years by selling out New York's Shea Stadium in 72 hours.
His motto was loud.
"The idea is to create an atmosphere where only the music exists," Mr. Farner told a reporter back in the day. "Nobody should be able to talk."
His hearing is fine, he says, even though bassist Schacher "knew only one way to play, and that was with all the knobs on his amp turned all the way to the right."
Grand Funk later a quartet with keyboardist Craig Frost split up after 1976's "Good Singin', Good Playin'," produced by Frank Zappa. The band reunited briefly for two albums in the early '80s and for an ill-advised three-year run in the '90s.
Mr. Farner persevered, delving into Christian rock, latching onto nostalgia tours and playing on his own. Much of his repertoire is still Grand Funk material, including such hits as "Closer to Home," "We're an American Band," "Walk Like a Man," "Shinin' On" and "The Loco-Motion."
"The garage-rock appeal is what makes people still like the old stuff," Mr. Farner acknowledges, his voice still strong and earnest if a bit raspy from the years. "I still play these songs. They still have the same meaning to me that they had when I wrote them."
His saga is as simple as his love for the wilderness: Country boy with Arkansas roots migrates north with his family, learns to play guitar, gets in a band, shoots to the top and makes a million, falls onto desperate musical times, emerges as an icon for having weathered it all.
It's so simple, in fact, that he knew exactly what to do when, as a 22-year-old, he got his first fat royalty check.
"I told my girlfriend, who I was living with, that I was going to sell the house we were living in and buy a farm I knew about that was for sale. I talked to the people directly and took a down payment to them, and I had 190 acres isolated from the world."
Just another day in the life of an international rock 'n' roll star, one who easily recalls the night of July 9, 1971.
"We flew over Shea in a helicopter," Mr. Farner says, "and the place was rockin' I mean full, even the bleachers, and I looked down and saw [opening act] Humble Pie on the stage. I couldn't hear 'em, but I sure could see 'em.
"This was the first big one that we had sold out on our own, and we were ready."
Some 55,000 people were there to see him. His name, his band, his songs.
"And we just put on that stage face and walked out there."
The band was iconoclastic but slammed as untalented and simplistic and later as pop sellouts by stuffier peers. Rolling Stone magazine once called Grand Funk the worst band in America.
The boys partook of no illicit drugs stronger than marijuana. They lived on farms when they weren't touring. They played benefits for drug-rehab centers and charities. They actually were pretty good guys.
"Listen," Mr. Farner says, "I am lucky that I went through the whole thing with a clear head and there but for the grace of God go I I am still able to keep my feet in the dirt with no shoes or socks.
"I wouldn't change one second or one day of what I did if I had it to do over again."

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