Firsts are always easy to remember.
It must have been in 1968 sometime. I was a junior in high school and just starting to gain an appreciation for popular music. I would spend every cent I had in the local record store, spend hours at home recording the songs on a cheap cassette tape recorder, and take the music in to play in the locker room after football practice. It was a special time in my life and music played an important role.
The first time I ever saw a band play live was almost an accident. I believe it was in Spanish class where I was talking about some of my musical interests one fateful afternoon (I know, I should have been studying Spanish). A fellow student overheard me talking and said that he was in a band. That sounded pretty cool, so I asked if I could come to a rehersal. I was curious to see what happened on the other side of those vinyl discs that were having such an impact on my simple but limited financial status.
A few days later, he drove me to their rehersal site at a house in Hamilton!, Ohio. I remember sitting in the corner, scanning the room, and being fascinated by all that was going on around me. Of course the guitar caught my eye being the lead instrument and always out in front of the music; the bass gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling that made me want to get up and move around -- to dance; and the saxaphone added a bright sparkle to the sound that somehow made the music better. For some reason, I found my attention continually being drawn to the drums and thinking that they didn't look all that hard to play.
That's really all it took. The rest, as they say, is history. Well, my parents had to finally give in. I was beating on everything and anything that looked like a drum in the house. The first kit was a set of red-sparkle Ludwigs -- bass, snare, one mounted tom, and one floor tom. The set came with a single ride cymbal but no hi-hat cymbals. I spent every spare moment I could muster (and some I couldn't afford to loose) behind those drums trying to tap out the beats on all of my favorite records.
That first set got me into my first band (after I convinced my parents that I had to have a pair of hi-hat cymbals and a crash cymbal). To tell you the truth, I don't even remember what we called ourselves but we had a good time and played a few sock-hops and other small gigs around Oxford, Ohio where I lived. We played a variety of music styles -- songs that made the top-40 and some of the FM-style rock that was becomming popular.
Then came another series of firsts. The lead guitar player and his girlfriend were feeling a bit sorry for me because I had never been on a date. So, they decided to hook me up with one of her friends and double date at a club down in Cincinnati. This was my first date, my first visit to a Cincinnati night club, and it was my first concert. It was February of 1970, the venue was The Ludlow Garage, and the bands that played were Green Light Sunday and Grand Funk Railroad.
It wasn't too long after that that I came upon a copy of On Time -- and I was hooked! The drums on this album -- as they were live -- were like nothing I'd ever heard before. It was only a three-piece band but the music had such a strong power and energy that I just had to learn more. That album kept me practicing on the drums over and over again while I tried to capture some of that same style and feeling in my own playing.
The date was a flop, the band I was in eventually folded, but the music of Grand Funk made a lasting impression on me. The bass player and I kept in touch and, soon, we found another guitar player looking to form a band. The most unique thing about this new musical marriage was our decision to play the songs of only one band, seemingly everybody's favorite band: Grand Funk Railroad. In fact, before it was all through (garage bands seem to have this short-lived fate), our little trio was covering every song off of the first four Grand Funk albums. If it didn't require a keyboard, we tried to play it -- literally every song from On Time through Survival. And, thus began a life-long "addiction" to the music of Grand Funk Railroad.
Now, you may remember that Grand Funk wasn't a popular dance band nor did they get any credit from the popular music press of the day. So, we didn't get to play out much. We practiced a lot, tried to learn the new songs as the new albums came out, and played in front of an audience every once in a great while. We had fun.
Even though the second band didn't last a very long time, I continued in my passion for everything Grand Funk. Every time a new record was released, I was down at the little record store in Oxford, OH within days to get my copy. Every time a GFR song come on the radio, I would crank it up to listen to it at the appropriate volume. Every time the DJs played a Grand Funk song at the little radio station my mom worked at, I would thank them. Every time a second, double promotional copy of a GFR single came in, I got the record. Whenever I was truly in the Grand Funk mood, I would put a pillow on the floor, one of the stereo speakers on each side of the pillow, put Grand Funk on the turntable, and lay down and loose myself in that ecstatic sound that is the American Band.
I still remember the special thrill I got when the coin-shaped E Pluribus Funk arrived at my local record store and how the music touched me at the core. I remember the sadness I felt over the legal troubles the band had with their manager, Terry Knight and wondering if my favorite music would no longer be available. I also remember the gladness that came over me as Phoenix was released and the special feeling that was achieved by adding a keyboard to the original Grand Funk mix.
Every time the band came to Cincinnati or Dayton, I
would make the attempt to attend. Even though I was
unable to attend their magical appearance at the
Cincinnati Pop Festival, I do remember appearances
at both the Cincinnati Gardens and Dayton's Hara
Arena. I like to think that I am musically inclined,
but I never took a drum lesson in my life. I am fond
of saying that I don't know a flam from a paradiddle.
But, by watching Don play I was introduced to some of
those rudiments and particularly the multi-limbed
triplet that he pioneered. It was, of course, at one
of these concerts that I was finally able to figure out
how to do that special Brewer triplet that has been
copied by so many drummers over the years (even if I
do them backwards
Watching Don in action was like watching poetry in motion. And, watching him play live was an invaluable aid in trying to figure out exactly how he was sticking those beats that were so hard to understand from just listening to the records. In fact, I was so enamored with Don's playing that I did everything within my power to imitate him. I even went as far as to try to copy -- stroke for stroke -- the famous drum solo from T.N.U.C. on the Live Album. After too many years of trying, I still don't have it "down." But, in my opinion, it is the greatest rock drum solo of all time and well worth my continuing to try to emulate it.
I was fortunate, in my senior year, to attend a social studies class that was taught by the wife of Bill Albaugh. Bill was fairly famous around the little town of Oxford as were several other local musicians in his band. Bill was the drummer for the Lemon Pipers who had several top-40 hits on the charts.
The Lemon Pipers had just broken up after being disillusioned by the music industry. They were fairly hard-rock -- almost psychadellic -- in their live performances but their record company forced them to record, what at the time was called, bubble-gum music. Bill had decided to sell his set, his wife knew of my interest (from banging all over things in the classroom), she hooked us up, and I bought his drums.
That kit was a silver-sparkle set of Ludwigs with bass, a chrome snare, two mounted toms, a floor tom, and a complete complement of cymbals. I combined this set with my red-sparkle set and tried to play double bass for a while. And, I was really full of myself in the next band as I set up for gigs around town carrying in fibre cases with "Lemon Pipers" stencilled on the side.
My Grand Funk passion carried on as I continued to try to copy Don's solo, bought every new album that came available, and attended concerts where I could and when I wasn't playing a gig myself. Unfortunately, I couldn't pass my passion to the other members of the band. Although we played a GFR tune here and there, it was inevitably one of the top-40 tunes and little more. It seemed that, although the concerts I attended were sold out, I was the only Grand Funk fan I knew.
With all due respects to Don McClean, I still remember how I felt "the day the music died" -- hearing that the Railroad had "derailed" and Grand Funk was together no more. It was a very, very sad time for me.
As it is often said, "the only 'constant' in the universe is 'change.'" Grand Funk broke up, I grew up, got married, had children, and so on, and so forth. But, every time I was able to play some music -- jam with some other musicians, listen to the stereo, whatever -- I would get, what I can only call, that Grand Funk urge. I even remember FAXing a four- or five-page "request" to a local radio station trying to plead my case for a sort of Grand Funk tribute special. I remember typing it up on my computer and including a copy of the cover of the famous "red album" called Grand Funk. But, it seemed that nobody had the Funk-fever that I had.
As it is with most musicians and music lovers, I would often find myself wondering around a record store from time to time. There was one of those mega-warehouse-type stores that seemed to be popping up all over near where I was living in Cincinnati in the early 80s. As was my way, I was scanning the bins looking for titles of groups whose music I had played or listened to: Cream, Yes, Emerson Lake, and Palmer, and so on. On a hunch, I went over to the bin labeled Grand Funk.
Now, I had all of the albums, and I hadn't heard anything from the band in literally years. I don't know what I expected as I scanned through some of the well-know titles. But, to my surprise, there was a brand new title in the bin: Grand Funk Lives. It got me excited all over again. I started listening to the radio more carefully and started watching the concert listings again. Certainly this was going to be the comeback of the decade; certainly that special soulful rock sound would shake the music industry once again. But, the "railroad" soon derailed once more.
Then, there was that business trip to a suburb of Chicago in the early 90s. I had just recently entered the digital music age and finally popped for a CD player back home; I was bored sitting around the hotel room one night; and I had noticed one of those new all-CD stores that seemed to be popping up all over the place just down the street. As was my way, I scanned the bins looking for titles of groups whose music I had played or listened to: Cream, Yes, Emerson Lake, and Palmer, and so on. On a hunch, I went over to the bin labeled Grand Funk.
Again, I don't know what I expected, but much to my surprise, I found a new title: Capitol Collector's Sereies -- Grand Funk Railroad. Certainly this was the sign I had been waiting for; certainly this was a sign that the "boys from Flint, MI" were getting back on track; certainly the band would once again rise from the ashes like the old Phoenix and play some more Footstompin' Music with that trademark blend of Rock & Roll Soul!?!
Now, I had a mission ...
I started working on my Grand Funk Web site in early 1996 -- in March or April. It was a simple page (instead of a "site") back then with just one picture and a brief description of the band's career.
The "why" of it is simple. In 1995 I had heard rumors of a possible GFR reunion. And, after scouring the 'Net with every search tool that I had available, I found nothing. Well, almost nothing -- there were a couple of rock-band discography sites, a few bad lyric transcriptions, and one or two guitar tablatures. But, that's about it! There was no detailed description of "the best band in the land," no discussions about the American Band, there was absolutely nothing of substance to be found anywhere on the 'Net about Grand Funk Railroad.
So, I set out to rectify the problem.
Although I am UNIX-literate and know C up one side and down the other, this Web-thing was absolutely new to me. So, I learned enough HTML to get started, and put together a home-page with a link to a Grand Funk Railroad page. I put up the home page and a few others just so that I wouldn't look completely like a geek. But, in actuality, the entire learning exercise was started solely for the purpose of getting something about GFR up on the 'Net.
Shortly after I got my GFR page up, as was my habit back then, I did another Web-search for Grand Funk and found two other people who had the exact same idea at almost the exact same time. One of those folks was, the by now famous, Donna Wightman who has had the honor of having her personal site morph into the band's official site.
Over the years of its existence, my site has evolved from a single page to dozens of inter-linked pages that work together to describe the career -- as well as the recent reunion -- of Grand Funk Railroad. In addition to the band's history, I am working on completing a lyric archive of all of the band's songs. Also, I have dozens of photographs contributed from fans around the world showing GFR in action. And, I try my best to incorporate links to other fan sites as well as other 'Net sites that discuss Grand Funk.
My work is simply an effort to help everyone understand the effect that Grand Funk Railroad has had on the music industry. And, to help them receive the recognition they deserve in music history.
The fan reaction was nothing short of incredible!
To this day I still get e-mail from fans around the world expressing their appreciation for helping them remember the American Band. I've received notes from Spain, Brazil, Finland, Russia, Australia, Singapore, Japan -- literally from every corner of the globe as well as from hundreds of fans here in the States.
Many of the messages I receive simply thank me for putting up my site and providing current information about what is going on with the band. But, I've answered many different types of questions as well. From "what equipment did the band originally use," to "are they still touring and will they becoming to my town," to "what are the lyrics to this particular song," to "is there any video of the band performing." You name it and I've probably been asked it -- if I've answered one GFR-related e-mail, I've answered hundreds.
And, it has been one of the best experiences of my life! Through these interactions I have received a number of invitations to "drop by if I'm ever in the area" and have made several long-lasting friendships. As a result, I can say that Grand Funk Railroad is truly "The People's Band."
But, my Internet-quest was not complete. If there were so many fans around the word who shared my passion for Grand Funk and their music, then there had to be a way for us to communicate.
In early 1996, when Donna's site and my site hit the 'Net at almost the same time, I started looking for a forum where Funk fans could come together and chat. Donna got there first with her "guestbook" page and, soon, Jeff Cochran's site came up with a guestbook as well. Now I had been on the 'Net for a couple of years and, although good, these two forums just didn't feel right to me. To me, the best way to accomplish the interactions I was looking for was through a mailing list.
So, I set out on a quest. I started looking for a node
on the Internet that would host a mailing list for me.
Now, finding a host for a mailing list is incredibly
easy -- a quick Alta Vista search turned up dozens of
companies that would be glad to do the work. However,
finding someone that would host the list inexpensively
) was something else. I found a few --
very few -- folks who would consider free list hosting
but there was always some sort of catch.
Then, there came a fateful day early in 1997. On January 28, I received a note from a fan that had been paging through my lyrics section and was surprised that some of the words he thought he had heard were actually something completely different. He told me that they had been discussing this phenomena -- called mondegreens -- on another mailing list devoted to Todd Rundgren. Seeing an opportunity, I mailed back asking who hosted this other mailing list and if they would be interested in hosting another.
Well, the reply I received was not encouraging. But, the sender suggested I contact Andy Burnett at Roadkill Consulting.
What did I have to lose? I fired a note off to Andy to ask if he knew of anyone who might want to host a music-related list. Andy got back to me the next day and his questions were simple: what was the list about, how many subscribers did I expect to have, what did I want to call it, and such. I answered the questions in my usual book-like form and, to my surprise, the next day I got another note from him saying the list was up, available, and active.
The list that is affectionately known as "roadkill," is on one of the machines owned by Andy in his consulting business which he calls Roadkill Consulting. And, he lets us Funk fans use these resources for free.
Well, my "addiction" has received it's "fix." And my Web-site and mailing list have allowed me to receive a few privileges. I have seen the band thirteen times over the first three years of the current reunion:
In Paso Robles, I was able to fulfill that life-long fantasy of meeting and talking with Don Brewer and we were able to chat a few minutes. I was also privileged to meet and talk with Mel Schacher that night. The next evening, in Reno, I was able to meet Mark Farner.
In Louisville, Don invited me to the sound check to try and demonstrate the part of the drum solo that I didn't understand. In Dayton, Don again invited me to the sound check -- this time to sit behind his drums for a bit and tap around. In St. Joseph, MI I and several other "roadkill"ers were invited to sit on-stage among the packing crates and watch the show from an unusual but exciting perspective.
And, my discussion would not be complete if I failed to mention meeting three other people who have complemented my Grand Funk experience: The band's keyboard player -- Howard Eddy, Jr. -- who actually recognized me in Las Vegas and stopped to say "hi;" the band's road manager -- Kuch -- who has been wonderfully patient with the sometimes seemingly obsessed fans; and, the author of a book about GFR fans -- Sunny Quinn, Don's significant other -- who is one of the most wonderful human beings I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Then there have been the dozens of "roadkill" subscribers that this journey has allowed me to meet and find out for sure that I was not the only person in the world who was truly a Grand Funk Railroad fan(atic).
Thanks to each and every one of you. And, as I am often wont to say in closing, may you always grok in fullness.
This story, along with over 100 others, is available in book form. The book is titled Tales of the American Band -- Grand Funk Railroad and was compiled by Sunny Quinn.
Another book is being written about the history of Grand Funk by rock-author Billy James. The book is titled An American Band -- The Story of Grand Funk Railroad and is scheduled for a summer 1999 release date.
Grand Funk Railroad Web
© Erazor Bits