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Grand Funk Railroad’s back on track

Grand Funk Railroad, the self-professed “people’s band,” is ready for another go at it.

Lead singer-guitarist Mark Farner, now touring with Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band, says he and Grand Funk originals Don Brewer (drums-vocals) and Mel Schacher (bass) have rehearsed new material for the first time in 14 years. Spurred by the recent reissues of its back catalog on CD, the trio hopes to be out on the road next summer.

“When we got together three months ago in Michigan,” Farner said recently, “I didn’t know if Don or Mel could still play. I mean, I’ve been playing since ’86 with my own band and my chops are still up.

“But when we got back together, it was like getting back on the bicycle and riding down the street. The feel was there, the chemistry was there, the guys are playing well and it just feels really good.”

One of the most successful American rock acts of the early ’70s, Grand Funk Railroad was reviled by rock critics but was clearly a commercial gold mine. The Flint, Mich.-based power-rock trio had an assembly line of six million-selling albums from 1969 to late 1971, most notably “Closer to Home” – no small feat.

After a bitter split from manager Terry Knight in 1972, things only got better. They teamed with Todd Rundgren, who produced their “We’re an American Band” (1973) and “Shinin’ On” (1974) albums and scored a pair of No. 1 hits – “We’re an American Band” and a cover of “The Loco-Motion.” (The group disbanded in ’76; Farner and Brewer reformed briefly in ’81.)

“Our music had a touch of soul,” Farner said, “and we wrote about things people wanted to hear, especially in the early days because of the Vietnam War. We were talking about crooked politicians and bringing things to the table that rock groups didn’t usually do.”

As for the rock press’ hatred for the band, Farner said most of that can be attributed to Knight, who tried to cultivate a mystique about the group and make them inaccessible to the media.

“He was telling us ‘If I keep you from doing the press stuff, it’ll create a mystique about the band’ and really it was an avenue for him to proclaim himself as a mentor,” Farner said. “He didn’t mind burning bridges. He had a vindictive attitude and I think a lot of the music industry is built on that kind of vindictive, ‘I’ll show you, you s.o.b.’ thing. As a result, we suffered a lot of lambasting.

“It didn’t affect us because we were playing to full houses in Madison Square Garden and the baseball stadium in Tokyo. Every place we went, it was more than a show, it was an event.”

To those skeptical about a reunion, Farner is quick to point out that Grand Funk isn’t on a nostalgic trip.

“This is just to say that this is where we’re at in the ’90s,” he said. “A lot of the music that we hear today, especially the alternative stuff, got its roots from the ’70s era. It has a certain feel to it. It gets to your soul.

“In our situation, we would go into a studio, set up and play the songs until we got the take right, and there would be mistakes. You could hear them on Grand Funk records. There wasn’t an exact perfect take, but the feel was there. That’s what we were going for. That’s where we’re at today.”

BWF (before we forget): Farner is no longer touring with the group. … The reunited Grand Funk Railroad released a double-live CD, “Bosnia,” on Nov. 4, 1997, on EMI-Capitol Entertainment Properties. … Get Grand Funked on the Web @ … The Grand Funk Railroad album discography – “On Time” (1969, Capitol); “Grand Funk” (1970); “Closer to Home” (1970); “Live Album” (1970); “Survival” (1971); “E Pluribus Funk” (1971); “Mark, Don & Mel 1969-71” (1972); “Phoenix” (1972); “We’re an American Band” (1973); “Shinin’ On” (1974); “All the Girls in the World Beware!!!” (1974); “Caught in the Act” (1975); “Born to Die” (1976); “Good Singin’ Good Playin’ ” (1976, MCA); “Grand Funk Hits” (1976, Capitol); “Grand Funk Lives” (1981, Full Moon); “Bosnia” (Capitol/EPROP, 1997); “Capitol Collector Series” (Capitol, 1999).

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