Don Brewer Of GRAND FUNK RAILROAD Talks About Creating The Perfect Set List
FM: MITCH SCHNEIDER/ANDREA FAULK
DON BREWER OF
GRAND FUNK RAILROAD
TALKS ABOUT BUILDING THE PERFECT SET LIST
AND DISCUSSES SET HIGHLIGHTS
THE LEGENDARY ROCK & ROLL POWERHOUSE
IS CURRENTLY ON ITS 2021
“SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL TOUR”
Grand Funk Railroad (Pictured L-R: Bruce Kulick (guitar), Mel Schacher (bass guitar), Max Carl (vocals), Don Brewer (drummer), Tim Cashion (keyboardist))
Photo credit: Allen Clark
“You cannot talk about rock in the 1970s without talking about Grand Funk Railroad!”
–David Fricke, Rolling Stone Magazine
Legendary rock & roll powerhouse GRAND FUNK RAILROAD is currently on its 2021 “Some Kind Of Wonderful Tour,” performing 30 shows this year and dynamically underlining their trademark “Rock and Soul” classics. Recently, original founding member Don Brewer (vocals and drums, writer and singer of the multi-million selling hit, “We’re An American Band”) took the time to talk about building the perfect set list and also discuss highlights of the GRAND FUNK RAILROAD set list. *See the two Q&A’s below.
Q&A with DON BREWER
–Is there a secret sauce to creating the perfect set list?
We have been working on our show for over 40 years. You learn what works and what doesn’t work by trial and error. Spreading out the hits during the show keeps the audience involved beginning to end. Always try to leave them wanting more!
–How do you determine a set list that satisfies both the audience and the musician?
Everybody in the band loves the music we play. I guess you could say we’re all Grand Funk fans. We don’t do a lot of new material because we know the audience wants to hear the classics. We have a spot in the show that we have experimented with new songs over the years and the songs keep changing. Helps keep it interesting for us.
–Can you talk about figuring out which song to open with? This has to be a challenge as a band wants to come on strong but some of the audience is still finding their seats and the sound may not be at its best near the beginning of a set.
We have tried several different songs as openers over the years, even doing an unknown original of ours. The two openers we do now, “Rock & Roll Soul” and “Footstompin’ Music,” are classic GFR hits and always get the audience going even if they don’t know Grand Funk.
–In coming up with the list, do you think about the various tempos of songs and
which keys they’re played in?
Don’t really worry too much about what key a song is in, but yes, tempos need to blend between songs. Our goal is to have the show flow from high to low and back to high again with a few sparkles in between. Entertainment needs to be entertaining.
–Finally, what goes into choosing which song will be the last one and which song
will be the encore?
The last song and the encore can be interchangeable. In other words, you can switch them and it won’t really make a huge difference. In our case we could close with “We’re An American Band” and come back with “Closer To Home,” Depends on how you want to leave the audience.
THE GRAND FUNK RAILROAD SET LIST HIGHLIGHTS,
ACCORDING TO DON BREWER
“Rock & Roll Soul”: The phrase “rock and roll soul” is an apt description of the band’s music + mission. Why does this song light you up when you perform it?
“Rock & Roll Soul” was our first single after leaving our crooked manager Terry Knight who had stolen all our money and was taking us to court over the name Grand Funk Railroad. Having a top 40 hit with Rock & Roll Soul was our first step to freedom. The song is truly descriptive of GFR’s Rock/R&B blend. The opening line “We’re havin’ a party, everybody’s invited” is a perfect opening statement.
“Footstompin’ Music”: This song has a ferocious rhythmic groove and it’s another one that pumps up the listener/concert-goer. What inspired you to include it here?
After doing the song live as a three-piece band, in 1971 we tried recording this song in the studio a few times until we captured the final version on our album E Pluribus Funk. The drums, bass and organ track is a blast to play and the vocal lines are awesome: “Come on everybody, we’re gonna have a good time.” The song works well as an opener or as we do it now as our second song of the show. Gets the audience going every time.
“Shinin’ On”: This is another song that underlines how Grand Funk Railroad wrote and performed positive anthems that galvanized people. Why does the song continue to resonate for you?
“Shinin’ On” was fashioned after Freddy King’s great blues song “Goin’ Down.” After having Freddy open for us on our “Phoenix Tour,” we were so impressed with his music and style that the influence was clear. The song has a great R&B feel and switching up with me on lead vocal adds to the flavor for the show.
“The Loco-Motion”: This song’s an important one for the band, hitting #1 in 1974 on the pop charts. It’s the definition of a feel-good tune, a pop song that you guys really Grand Funk-ized, making it heavy. Can you talk about the joy in performing this one?
GFR doing “The Loco-Motion” came about as a funny episode. We were in our studio in Michigan with Todd Rundgren producing and working on the album Shinin’ On. We felt we needed another “hit” type song for the album and started throwing around ideas. Grand Funk doing “The Loco-Motion” was such a silly idea we thought we would try it. The result was a # 1 hit. I love watching the audience get up on their feet and start dancing as soon as we sing the opening lines. They even do a “Loco-Motion” line dance through the crowd. Fun to watch!
“Walk Like A Man”: This song is another instant anthem, highlighting the band’s rhythmic rock, with some progressive rock touches. What’s it like to perform this one?
This is a nice follow up to “The Loco-Motion” in that it stays in the same tempo and pop style as “The Locomotion.” Switching lead vocals again with me on lead gives it a little more texture in the show. Just a great GFR/Todd Rundgren-produced rock record.
Drum Solo/“Lightning and Thunder”: Can you talk about what goes into your classic drum solo? Lots of skill + athleticism…how do you pull this off so successfully?
I’ve been working on my solo for over 50 years. It is a true reflection of how I play drums and my “Rock” personality. It really is who I am when onstage with Grand Funk. I must say that at 73 it takes some added work in my lifestyle, and I do try to exercise and eat right. During the pandemic I continued to practice drumming as well as walk four miles and work out in the gym daily. Love It!
“Inside Lookin’ Out”: You guys put your own spin on this song The Animals originated…doubling down on its urgency with a monster groove courtesy of you and Mel. It’s a real working-class song that underlined the band’s relationship with its fans. So many years later, can you talk about how it fits into the Grand Funk Railroad set?
“Inside Lookin’ Out” has been a staple in Grand Funk’s show since our beginning in 1969. We originally did a cover of the Animals song in our previous band The Pack. When we changed to a three-piece as Grand Funk Railroad, we adapted the song to our new power trio style, slowed it down, and stretched out the guitar solo over the simple bass and drum groove. With Bruce Kulick on guitar, the song becomes a great show piece.
“Some Kind Of Wonderful”: This is another fine example of how the band merged rock with R&B and you took it all the way to #3 on the pop chart. It’s a real crowd-pleaser live. Why is it one of the set highlights for you?
We used to sing this a capella in the limo from the hotel to the venue as a warm-up on our way for a show. Our manager liked it so much that he suggested we record the song and we did for our All The Girls In The World Beware!!! album in 1975. It became a huge hit and is probably the most played song at wedding receptions around the world. I love to watch the faces in the audience light up when Mel starts that chugging bass line. We can usually see four generations of people in the audience singing along to the song. Amazing feeling!
“I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home”: How do you feel this song works in the set list? It was a song that resonated with many people including American troops in Vietnam. Musically, it has such an epic feel to it. Can you talk about why the song is key to have in the set?
“Closer to Home” is a true Rock Anthem. It seems to have a different meaning to everyone and it is definitely spiritual. I have seen men in the audience brought to tears when we play it. We use it as our closing song because it deserves a prestigious place in our show and it is easily recognized and sung along with by every audience.
“We’re An American Band”: This song you wrote, another #1 pop hit, really defines the freewheeling rock star lifestyle…it still makes everyone want to be a rock star, and your vocals on it capture it all perfectly. And of course, the cowbell is part of its charm. This is the song you close with. What’s going through your head when you perform it night after night?
“We’re An American Band” came to me when we were flying from town to town on our “Phoenix Tour” in 1972. We were being sued by our former manager Terry Knight and he was trying to stop us from performing. The line “We’re comin’ to your town, we’ll help you party it down” came to me first and I wrote the song around that line. Taking snippets of things going on during the tour at that time, like staying up all night with Freddy King playing poker, four young chiquitas in Omaha, sweet sweet Connie in Little Rock, and finally the declaration, “We’re An American Band,” because it sounds great and sings well. I feel lucky and blessed every time we play it live.
ABOUT GRAND FUNK RAILROAD:
After playing to millions of fans on the band’s tours from 1996 to 2019, GRAND FUNK will continue to reach both new and long-time fans on the “Some Kind Of Wonderful Tour,” named in honor of their 1975 Billboard pop smash. Originating from Flint, Michigan in 1969, this top-selling American rock group of the 70’s is “Comin’ To Your Town To Help You Party It Down.” Notably, this year marks the 50th anniversary of when the group’s show at New York’s Shea Stadium sold out faster than the Beatles.
Known as “The American Band,” the high-energy five-piece group GRAND FUNK RAILROAD includes original founding members Don Brewer (vocals and drums, writer and singer of the multi-million selling hit, “We’re An American Band”) and bassist Mel Schacher, “The God of Thunder.” Joining Don and Mel are true “All Stars.” Singer Max Carl is a rock veteran from 38 Special. Max penned and sang 38’s biggest hit “Second Chance” and was co-founder of California’s legendary Jack Mack and the Heart Attack. Don refers to Max as “the best blue-eyed soul singer on the planet.” Lead guitarist Bruce Kulick is best known for his 12 years with KISS and has credits with Michael Bolton, Meatloaf and Billy Squier. (KISS members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley were influenced early on by Grand Funk.) Keyboardist Tim Cashion has a master’s degree in music from the University of Miami. Affectionately called “Dr. Tim,” his credits include stints with Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band and English soul man Robert Palmer.
Grand Funk laid the groundwork for such bands as Foreigner, Journey, Van Halen and Bon Jovi with its signature hard driving sound, soulful vocals, muscular instrumentation and forceful pop melodies. The fact that Grand Funk’s legacy still reigns over the Classic Rock landscape 50 years after is a testament to the group’s influence and staying power. Mega-hits “We’re An American Band,” “I’m Your Captain/Closer to Home,” “Locomotion,” and “Some Kind Of Wonderful” still receive continuous airplay on Classic Rock radio. “We’re An American Band” has received notoriety in recent years being used in movie soundtracks and in television/radio advertising. The huge hit was featured in a General Motors national TV ad campaign and in Disney’s animated feature film The Country Bears. “We’re An American Band” was featured in the Cuba Gooding Jr. film Radio, and in the swash buckler Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey.
Internationally acclaimed Grand Funk has toured the world, selling out in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan and South America. A 1971 performance at New York’s Shea Stadium sold out faster than the Beatles. The group’s widespread appeal is also evident in its prestigious recording achievements. Over their career, Grand Funkhas had 19 charted singles, 8 Top 40 hits and two Number One singles (“We’re An American Band” and “Locomotion,” both selling more than one million each). The group has now accumulated 13 gold and 10 platinum records with record sales exceeding 25 million copies sold worldwide. The most recent gold CD award was presented to the band for their greatest hits package Grand Funk Railroad the Collectors Series.The multi-talented band carries on the tradition of Grand Funk hits and creates a new chapter in the legacy of Grand Funk Railroad. GFR drew 25,000 people to their Molson Canal Series Concert outside Buffalo, 20,000 in Albany, New York, and 20,000 fans to downtown Orlando, Florida. EMI/Capitol (Universal Music) released a new Grand Funk Greatest Hits package that includes a bonus DVD of rare concert footage. Grand Funk Railroad’s 2019 “50 Years Of Funk Tour” was a huge success and now, with the group’s 2021“Some Kind Of Wonderful Tour,” seasoned Grand Funk lovers and contemporary rock fans discovering the group for the first time will be able to celebrate 50 Years of Funk with Grand Funk Railroad.
Grand Funk Railroad 2021 Tour Dates
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