Classic Rock Corner

"Rock Patriot" Mark Farner Can't Fake The Funk

As the lead singer and guitarist for Grand Funk Railroad, Mark Farner has powered songs like "I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home," "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "The Loco-Motion" into the Classic Rock Canon.

Along with drummer Don Brewer (who sings on "We're An American Band") and bassist Mel Schacher, the three men from Michigan moved a lot of vinyl in the '70s and - at their peak of popularity - sold out Shea Stadium faster than the Beatles did. Oh, and according to an episode of The Simpsons, they are also Homer's favorite rock band.

And while Farner split for good from his bandmates, who continue to tour under the GFR moniker, more than a decade ago, he continues to perform and record, arriving at the Arena Theatre Friday as part of the "Hippiefest" package tour.

Rocks Off spoke with the "Rock Patriot" about gunfire in the Bayou City, his messy musical divorce, and where politics, God and car engines come together.

Rocks Off: I was just listening to the Deep Tracks channel on Sirius, and they played the Grand Funk Railroad song "People Let's Stop the War." It could have been written this year. Any plans to pull it out for the show?

Mark Farner: We're stickin' with the hits because that's what the people want to hear, but you're right. Those words could have been written today. The words apply, and it's the still the same creature. We just haven't caught up to it yet.

Rocks Off: Any specific memories of being in Houston over the years?

Farner: Oh yeah, Houston was always a big city for us. There was a lot of love there for Grand Funk. I remember one time we were doing this theatre in the round, but out back, after the show, people were scuffling around and there was some gunfire. As it turns out, a couple of the cops were shooting at each other. So that's how I remember Houston! That had to have been in the early '70s.

Rocks Off: Grand Funk's music was always hugely popular with listeners, but never so with critics. In the end, are you glad it has turned out that way rather than vice versa?

Farner: Oh yeah. Because in the end, being true to one's self is the ultimate goal and not try to measure up to someone's expectations. Because then you're in debt consciousness and to be free, you need to be debt-free. Even the crap that people put on you because you didn't fulfill some expectation and they get you on some poo-poo list. The music is coming from a place that's void of that.

Rocks Off: Any plans for more live archival GFR releases?

Farner: Well...I would hope so. But the other two guys are trying to promote a different image for Grand Funk Railroad with their current lineup of three others guys and them. They don't want to release that stuff because they don't have anything to compare it to.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero