By Ray Shasho
Famed- classic rock guitarist for Grand Funk Railroad, Mark Farner, has just announced a stop at Ruth Eckerd Hall on August 27th for the upcoming- Hippiefest Tour.
Mark Farner’s world turned upside- down recently after his 22 year old son Jesse’s near fatal- fracture to the C-5 vertebra in his neck. He remains paralyzed but is starting to show improvement by lifting his head off of the pillow. Farner is one of the 44- million Americans who don’t have health insurance and Jesse is faced with long- term medical care.
A Benefit concert was held for Jesse at B.B. King Blues Club in New York City on January 17th, the show featured Roger Daltrey, (the Who) Three Doors Down, (Kryptonite) Cliff Williams, (AC- DC) and Kip Winger (Alice Cooper).
Donations for Mark’s son Jesse can be made at the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund. Sweet Relief provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age -related problems. http://www.sweetrelief.org/
Mark Farner was the lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter of an unsigned- Flint Michigan garage band called Grand Funk Railroad, when they got their first big break performing at the Atlanta International Pop Festival in 1969. On the way to the concert their U-Haul trailer overturned ripping out wiring inside their equipment. The band had to get out their soldering gun and solder the wires back together before their performance.
After an awe-inspiring performance they achieved instant recognition and were immediately signed to Capitol Records. Some of the big names to play at the Fourth of July weekend festival included, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Credence Clearwater Revival, Johnny Winter, Chicago Transit Authority, and Joe Cocker. An estimated 180,000 rock fans- jammed the Atlanta International Speedway to watch the two-day event.
Later in 1969 Grand Funk Railroad’s first album “On Time” was released. It was one of the first albums to be labeled “heavy metal.”
Two years later on July 9th, Grand Funk Railroad broke the Beatles attendance record for Shea Stadium by selling out in only- 72 hours. Farner described his helicopter flight to the Shea stadium concert,
“We took off from East River, and we were supposed to land in the parking lot, where a limo was going to pick us up, and when we got over the stadium, with Humble Pie already on stage, we could actually see the building bouncing up and down from the fans so excited from the music.”The stage was set-up on second base in the infield. Mark’s inspirational- classic “I’m Your Captain” was the highlight of the Shea concert.
In an interview with http://www.classicbands.com/ Farner talked about writing “I’m Your Captain.” (940,034 views on You Tube)
I wrote "I'm Your Captain," that was the first song I wrote lyrics to prior to music. My Mother taught us how to pray - now I lay me down to sleep...I used to do that thinking that in case there is a God, in case there is a Hell, I didn't want to be there, so let me say this. I put a P.S. on the end of my prayer and said "God, would you please give me a song that will reach and touch the hearts of people that you want to touch." I got up in the middle of the night and wrote what I thought was poetry.”
The band became known for refusing individual band interviews (Because their manager- Terry Knight would personally conduct all the band- interviews himself) so they were slammed by critics and radio stations unwillingly gave them air-play.
But the power- trio of Grand Funk Railroad was a people’s band, and they captured a huge following of Funk- fans anyway through persistent touring and achieving platinum awards with five of their eight releases from ‘69 through ‘72. The rest went gold.
Farner wanted to keep the band as a trio but was out-voted in ‘72 and keyboardist Craig Frost was added to the lineup of Mark Farner- vocals and guitar, Don Brewer- vocals and drums and Mel Schacher -bass.
The band officially shortened their name to Grand Funk and hit number #1 status with their huge single “We’re an American Band,” and after they recruited the musical genius of Todd Rundgren as producer. Their next album- Shinin’ On had a 3D cover that could be viewed with special cutout glasses. The album produced yet another number #1 hit song, “Loco-motion” a remake of Little Eva’s classic tune.
In ‘74 they released the album -All The Girls in The World Beware, spawning the top 5- hits “Some Kind of Wonderful” and ”Bad Time.”
Grand Funk disbanded in 1983. The band sold over 50-million records worldwide.
Mark Farner accepted an invitation to play with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band in 1995. The line-up featured, Mark, Ringo and his son Zak, Randy Bachman, (the Guess Who, BTO) John Entwhistle, (the Who) Felix Caviliere (the Rascals) and Billy Preston.
In ’96 Grand Funk reunited and toured with the original line-up of Mark, Don and Mel. The reunited band produced a 2-CD live, greatest hits package from their sold-out Bosnia benefit concerts. Peter Frampton also joined the band on stage. The show featured the Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Letterman’s- Paul Shaffer.
In 1999 Mark was forced out of the band and Grand Funk continues to tour without him. But for some ungodly reason rock bands are allowed to dump their major stars and continue doing business with the original brand name.
Mark’s voice is as strong as ever on his most recent release “For the People.”
You can check back here to find out when tickets go on sale for Mark Farner’s show at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.
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