Published on May 13th, 2019 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Grand Funk Railroad’s Don Brewer On New Music, Touring With Bob Seger, Goals & Living In Florida
In the often-quoted words of Rolling Stone Magazine writer and editor David Fricke: “You cannot talk about rock in the 1970s without talking about Grand Funk Railroad!”
Formed in 1969 in Flint, Michigan, Grand Funk Railroad is celebrating its 50-year milestone this year. Known as “The American Band,” the high-energy five-piece group will play 40 shows all over the States this year. The current lineup of the band, which has been in tact for about two decades, includes original founding members Don Brewer and bassist Mel Schacher, in addition to singer Max Carl (38 Special), guitarist Bruce Kulick (KISS) and keyboardist Tim Cashion (Bob Seger, Robert Palmer).
Within those 50 years, Grand Funk Railroad has been part of sold-out tours of the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan and South America. The group’s 1971 performance at New York’s Shea Stadium sold out faster than that of The Beatles. Overall, Grand Funk has had 19 charting singles, eight Top 40 hits, two #1 singles, 13 gold records and 10 platinum records, with over 25 million copies sold worldwide.
I had the pleasure of speaking with drummer Don Brewer by phone last month, and highlights from that chat are below; the full interview will be released on May 15th as part of the Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz podcast. Interestingly, Brewer has been Bob Seger’s drummer on and off for decades, and he will be doing double-duty for a number of Seger/Grand Funk co-bills this summer, including May 16th in Charlotte, May 23rd in Raleigh, and May 30th on Long Island.
More on Don Brewer and all things Grand Funk Railroad is online at www.grandfunkrailroad.com.
The current lineup of Grand Funk has been in place for a couple of decades. Are there any plans to record an album? Or at least some new music with this lineup?
Don Brewer: We’ve been doing new stuff now for the past 19 years with the band. We’ve got a lot of stuff written that we’ve got in the can. So at some point possibly we would do a live recording that would include some new stuff.
You yourself have been writing all these years whether or not the music has been coming out, I take it.
Don Brewer: That’s true. Max is also a writer, Bruce… We’ve got some great songwriters in the band. Actually Tim, the keyboard player, does some writing as well.
The intro to “We’re An American Band,” a lot of people think that it’s one of the greatest drum licks ever recorded. Was that something that you came up with yourself? Tell me a little more about that.
Don Brewer: I brought the song “We’re An American Band” into a rehearsal… I wrote the song around the line “We’re coming to your town, we’ll help you party down.” Going through a whole lot of lawsuits and everything else at the time, and radio was changing from being underground to being a hit format. So we needed to come up with hip material, you know? Three minute long kind of stuff. One day in rehearsal we came up with the idea of using a cowbell at the beginning of the song, and I always played a double kind of a bass drum, but it was on a single bass drum. That was my thing to do, that kind of thing… That intro for the song really came later as we had we had pretty much finished working out the arrangements of the song. But we added on the cowbell, “Hey, we need a cowbell at the beginning of this.”
So you were doing cowbell way before it was cool…
Don Brewer: Absolutely. Before before the line “more cowbell” came about.
Well going back to that era, the Shea Stadium footage is very very popular. The entirety of what was filmed has not come out. Is there any chance it still might come out, the whole Shea film?
Don Brewer: There’s a possibility. It’s amazing what the Maysles Brothers did there and we got that whole thing in the can, as they call it. I don’t know at what point it would ever come out. But yes there’s a possibility.
In general is there a lot of material from over the years in the vault? Things that you’re hoping might come out one day?
Don Brewer: Not really. Pretty much everything that is worth putting out there is out there except for the Shea Stadium show… There are bits and pieces of that out there now.
In terms of these Shea material, is the hold-up more the label? Or is that director’s estate entirely?
Don Brewer: There’s really not a distinct reason for not releasing it. It’s just, it hasn’t come time yet. There hasn’t really presented the right time.
In terms of you and your legacy, Grand Funk is considered one of the most popular bands of all time, but is there an accomplishment that you’re most proud of personally?
Don Brewer: Yeah, my daughter.
So the most popular or most important accomplishment has nothing to do with your music, in other words?
Don Brewer: I would say so. My daughter and my family I am the most proud of that. Yes, absolutely.
Well when exactly did that realization come about? Because of course when people decide that they’re going to be professional artists, obviously the eye’s on the prize at the beginning.
Don Brewer: Well I’ve always pursued music ever since I can remember seeing Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show doing “Blue Suede Shoes.” That’s always been my dream, to be involved in rock & roll, and I’ve had the good fortune to live my dream, really. Being 70 years old and I’ve been able to do what I love my whole entire life. But like I said, my family’s is the most important thing to me.
So is there anything that you haven’t accomplishment that you’re still hoping to accomplish one day?
Don Brewer: I’d like to fly a plane by myself. I’ve always had a dream to be a pilot. And at some point I’m going to take the time and and do that. I know that I better hurry up because I don’t know if you can still get a license at the age of 80. So it’s going to come pretty quick.
So in closing, any last words for the kids?
Don Brewer: Anybody that wants to get into the music business, you have to keep in mind, and this has always been the case whether it was 50 years ago or it’s now. You’ve got to have thicker skin. You’ve got to remember everybody is gonna tell you you can’t do it and you just have to go forward and say, “I can do it.” Just do it and do it and do it, and be willing to sacrifice and sacrifice and sacrifice. That still holds true. Everything else has changed, all of the recording techniques have changed, all of the music outlets have changed, whether it be a record company or the Internet or whatever it is. Now it’s all changed but the one thing that has never changed is the fact that you have to sacrifice and you have to really want it.