An interview with Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad

4 0
Read Time:22 Minute, 33 Second

Recently, we had the pleasure of speaking with legendary guitarist, Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, and Mark Farner’s American Band. Among other things, we touch on what he’s been up to during the lockdown, his early career with Grand Funk, recording and touring with Dick Wagner, going solo, his newest music, and a whole lot more.

If you would like to learn more about Mark Farner, and his American Band, you can head over to his webpage, and dig in. Once you’ve done that, check out this interview with Mark. Dig it.

Anthony:
Mark, how are you doing today?

Mark:
I’m proud to be suckin’ air! How are you doing Anthony?

Anthony:
I’m doing great. How have these past couple of years been for you?

Mark:
It’s been sketchy. We had a lot of gigs that we were on the books that we were supposed to play but…they started on this horse crap, and we had so many cancellations, then some rescheduled, and then, others just completely dropped out, so, it’s still a little sketchy as far as what we’re gonna be doing, we’re just on the ready…

Anthony:
Where did you have planned to go for this tour?

Mark:
Well, we were gonna go back to Chile and in South America to do a South American run. But those countries have got all these same things going on, but even to a greater degree, depending on which country it is, and how much people are kicking back. We had gigs where we were going to open for Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings, they were doing some gigs here in the States and in Canada, and then somebody in their organization got COVID or something, so they just canceled everything. I was like, “Are you kidding me? That’s a lot of dates that got canceled.” So, we’re in this state of shock.

Anthony:
I’m sure that would have been very frustrating to go through as well. So, the concert DVD, From Chile With Love, let’s dig into it.

Mark:
It was a couple of years ago in Chile, in Santiago. But there are sixteen live performance tracks, and there are five bonus tracks of songs that have never been recorded like this before, and two bonus videos on the DVD as well. One is getting quite a bit of attention…it is called “Never and Always.” And there is a free download of the other video “Rock And Roll Soul” at MarkFarner.com, and people can sample it there and check it out, but when people buy the DVD, $3 of the $14.99 price is goes to the Veterans Support Foundation. I’ve been working with these people for years and years. They go way back, and these are veterans who are serving veterans, and these brothers and sisters that run the Veteran Support Foundation, they don’t take any salaries or they don’t take any wages.

What they do is from their heart, Anthony, and this is why I back these guys up, because they don’t allow any governmental interference, in fact, they have people that advocate for our veterans before the Board of Veterans Affairs, and you gotta have somebody who’s qualified, and these people are over-qualified for it because they’ve been doing it for so many years and they’re so successful in getting people help. My heart is for these people, and I really believe strongly in what they’re doing because they’re not asking for anything. They’re just giving, giving, giving. Because when some of the veterans that came home from the Gulf War, they had this radio-active poisoning, they had all kinds of different kinds of things they went through, they had that Agent Orange, all this awful stuff that our veterans are exposed to, and they don’t get very good treatment, in fact, you gotta fight to get them anything.

Anthony:
It’s really sad to see that they have to fight like that just to get the help they both need, and rightfully deserve.

Mark:
So, thank God for the Veterans Support Foundation, and as long as they’re in business, I am gonna support them Mark Farner’s American Band WILL support them.

Anthony:
That’s a very good thing to support, and I support them as well. Now, a little on the tour dates, I know you said it’s very hard to kind of tell what the future holds, but, what does it look like you have planned for tour dates, if and when you can get back on the road?

Mark:
Yeah, I’ve got…right now, I’ve got a few tunes that I’ve recorded with Mark Slaughter from the group Slaughter. I don’t know if you remember them from the 80s, but Mark Slaughter is like my brother. When we did Rock’n’Roll Fantasy Camp together, there was Mark Slaughter on guitar, Kip Winger on bass, Sandy Gennaro from Joan Jett’s band on the drums, Teddy “Zig Zag” from Guns N’ Roses on keyboard. And we had Bruce Kulick, who is playing in the faux funk, that’s what I call them. But we all played on The Howard Stern Show. And Howard loved it because we did “I’m Your Captain,” and we dedicated it to our veterans, and Howard loved it. And when we did that, it was the first time I was able to jam with Mark Slaughter, and he was great, he was hitting all the harmonies, he was hitting them nice and clear, and when it came to the bridge, “Am I in my cabin dreaming?” he was in that range. And I’m going, there are not too many people that can do that. Really, seriously. So, he had my ear and he sent me some music that he had been working on and it sounded just great, man, I mean, the production on it, I said, “Who’s doing the production for you? He says, “I am,” and he says, “And I wanna offer it to you.”

So, he sent me a guitar that he had made, and it’s stars and stripes, red, white and blue, and it’s kind of a look-a-like as far as the body style, like a Telecaster, but it’s got flames on it and it’s oh my God, it’s like just a little over five pounds, so, I’m able to stand there and play my whole set with it, and I had an operation back after the Ringo Starr tour where I had to go in and get two of my vertebrae fused together, and the doctor told me no more Stratocasters or Telecasters, no more Les Pauls, no more Les Paul Juniors, and he starts naming all these guitars. I say, “You are killing me, doctor! That’s all my guitars, what the hell?” And he says, “Well, you’re gonna have to go to something five pounds or less,” and I said, “They don’t make it in that.” I remembered when I was with Ringo, we started in Japan, and every time I get over to Tokyo, I go into this one music shop, and test out what they got going for stompboxes, and guitar rigs. And when I was at the factory testing out some of the stuff, the guy says, “Hey, if you ever played a Parker Fly…” I didn’t know what he was talking about, and I said, “I’ve never heard of a Parker Fly. What is that?” So, he reaches around the corner and grabs this guitar, and he hands it to me, and that one felt like it was made out of balsa, but it was basswood, and it was light, around four pounds, just unbelievable. I remembered that guitar when this doctor was telling me no more heavy guitars, I called Kenny Parker I told him, “I had this operation and I need to play something light, and I wanna see if I can get something from you guys.” And he says, “We will send you guitars if you wanna play Parkers. We will sponsor you.” And so, they did, man. They sent me guitars, and I’ve been playing Parkers ever since.

They’re great guitars, the ones made in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the 30,000 instruments that were made while they were in business, and Cambridge are all fine instruments, but after they changed hands, I think they went to US Music, in St. Louis, but the craftsmanship, the work, and the finish went to pot. I picked up a new one and was like, “Oh my God, this is nothing like the original.” So, I still got my Parker Flys, but I’m gonna play Ms. USA, on the stage because it’s got a neck that is like greased lightning. It is the slickest, and that’s what I need. I don’t need anything that’s hanging up my hand like shellac on the guitar neck next sometimes it just gets sticky. Oh my God, I love it. I can’t wait to get out on stage with it and rock.

Anthony:
Yeah, I bet you’re excited to play that when you get back out on stage. I know what you’re saying about those heavy guitars, I just picked up a Squier Mustang not too long ago, and it is really light.

Mark:
This guy that made mine, his name is Forrest Lee Jr. and he makes guitars down there near Nashville. And that’s where Mark Slaughter lives, about an hour outside of Nashville in Columbia, Tennesee. And so, I saw pictures of it as it was coming together, and Mark was telling me about it, and I was like, “Oh my God, oh my God,” I recorded three or four tracks with Mark Slaughter, and then I came home, and I was texting with Forrest Lee and every part of this guitar, every part of Miss USA is made in the USA. He says, “You couldn’t have picked a better name for a guitar because this baby is all US-made,” and I asked, “Can I plug it in now?” I’m a tone freak…this has just so much tone without even turning any over-drive or turning anything on, just straight guitar. When it sounds that good, you got something to start with.

Anthony:
What kind of pick-ups are in it?

Mark:
There’s one that’s a single coil, it’s got a push-pull boost to it, and that’s the bridge pick up, and it’s very…oh man, it’s bright, but it’s not tinny. Some of these are so tinny that it just becomes thin, and that’s his own hand-wound pick up with that push-pull boost on there on the tone. You know, a Tele has a three-position switch, but with that push-pull, it’s like you got another switch position, and then the humbucker on the neck is a Seymour Duncan.

Anthony:
That sounds like an amazing guitar, and I can’t wait to hear it.

Mark:
Yeah, man, she’s bitchin’!

Anthony:
So, how
did you get your start in music? Where did it all begin?

Mark:
Well, my mother came from Leachville, Arkansas, but they all moved to Michigan, the whole family moved to get jobs in the auto factories my Grandpa Cotton, Uncle Brian, Uncle Woody all these people, Uncle Garland, their families, they got jobs up here, Chevrolet, Buick, Turnstead Fisher Body, Delco, you know all of these shops. So, every Sunday, all my uncles and people that we call our “uncle,” they were no real blood relatives, but they were kinfolk because they could play instruments, and they always got together every Sunday, they had jam sessions, and I was just a little shaver, I wasn’t thinking about playing anything, I was just…I was looking up at all of these tall people around me. I remember they were playing the violin, the banjo, and the guitar, my dad, Delton, played guitar, and blues saxophone, and my mom and all the women, they sang like angels, dude, it was like family. When family harmonizes, oh my God, there’s something magic that happens, and I was listening to this magic ever since I was a little shaver. And then, I joined the band in the fifth grade, I got into music and I started playing the tuba in the marching band, and I’ve never been a big guy, and that’s back when the tubas were made out of brass — that thing was heavy! I would go down the field marching with that thing and swinging it back and forth. But I noticed when we were playing at these football games, I noticed the girls were not looking at the guys playing the instruments in the band. They were looking at the tight ends! [Laughs].

I said, “Man, I gotta get on the football team.” So, in the eighth grade, I started JV football, and in ninth grade, and our team was undefeated. We all hung out together with the guys that played guitar, my mom got me a lesson or six lessons for my birthday, because I had got water on the knee, we scrimmaged the varsity team and they killed us, and I had water on the knee and a fractured finger on my right hand. Anyway, she got me six lessons and rented an acoustic guitar for my birthday on September 29, and so, I started playing. The guy that was giving me the lessons, gave me three lessons, I was supposed to receive six lessons from him, but after the third lesson, he had a hunting accident, shot himself in the foot with a twelve-gauge, and called my mother, and told her that I was gonna have to just go, and watch the guys in the Rock band in the high school, and just pick up from there. He said, “Mark will learn because he’s already learned so much from me, I’m very confident that he will be able to go on.” So, that’s what I did.

Anthony:
So, the guitar came pretty easily for you to learn, and was natural for you.

Mark:
It was. It was just like, ’cause I really wanted to do it, dude, it’s a part of who I am and music… it’s part of who I am, and that gave me…that was like the wake-up call. It gave me the desire to continue and go on, and do something because I loved it. Back when I was playing ball, when they would call out my name on the loudspeaker, “That was Farner number 66 on the pass!” I’d be prancing across that field just picking my feet up high! [Laughs]. I loved to hear them call my name on the loudspeaker, and my mother knew that, and that was part of why she got me…you know, the guitar in the first place because she knew I liked to be recognized. I think all of us guitar players like to be recognized.

Anthony:
Oh, definitely!

Mark:
Like part of the motivation. So, I learned from these guys in the band and I just went…we played local…back then, disc jockeys, would be putting on hops and dance hops. They’d be at this “roll-air” rink, which was this open-air roller skating rink that was in Bay City, Michigan. It was big. So, they put up a stage at one end of it, and we packed that place. I mean, they loved to hear us jam, man, that’s where I got my start doing stuff like that, and do it for disc jockeys. We’d play at VFW halls and we played at some beach outside and set up. Word started getting around. Then I started playing with Dick Wagner, who was a guitar player for Alice Cooper, and he had, before Alice Cooper, he had a band called The Bossmen, and he asked me to join The Bossmen, and be a rhythm guitar player, so I did. And I learned a lot from Dick Wagner, God rest his soul he was a great guitarist.

One night after a gig, we were at his apartment in Saginaw, Michigan, his wife and kids were sleeping in the other room, and we come in, we got our electric guitars. But we didn’t plug them in, and we sat on the couch and just he’s showing me some things, and I just came out and asked him, I said, “Man, you have written…I don’t know how many songs. You write all these beautiful songs. Where did you get that? Where does that come from?” He says, “It comes from inside, Mark. You got it in you.” I said, “I do?” He says, “Yeah, man. I know you got it in you, just because I hear the way you’re singing, and I hear the way you’re playing,” and he says, “All you gotta do is put it together and let yourself write music.” And so, he went to bed, and I stayed up and I wrote my first song, “Heartbreaker,” it was on my first album On Time, and people love to hear that song. Now, today, when I go play, everyone loves to hear that song. Live, it really rocks. It’s kind of a slow song, and it bursts into this thing at the end and takes off, and people are loving it.

Anthony:
Grand Funk started in 1969, so, this was before
Grand Funk. How did Grand Funk get its start?

Mark:
Yeah, 1967-1968, I was with The Bossmen, and then I played bass with Terry Knight and the Pack.

Anthony:
Then not even a year after Grand Funk started. You had your first hit, “I’m Your Captain,” which was top-five on the Billboard Charts that year. So, that’s quite an accomplishment.


Mark:
Thank you. People that came to see us at Shea Stadium in New York City loved that song! There was a billboard that Terry Knight our manager rented, it was in Times Square, and it took up the entire block. The thing was on top of this huge building where the wax museum was, and it cost 50 grand a month. Well, Terry Knight rented it, and the billboard workers went on strike, so, that thing stayed up for an extra three or four months, and it didn’t cost us a cent, but it sure didn’t hurt the attendance records set at Shea Stadium. [Laughs].

Anthony:
Can’t go wrong with free advertising for three months.


Mark:
Yeah, man. It was good, it was a blessing, a stroke of luck.

Anthony:
So, you must have packed out Shea Stadium then…

Mark:
Yeah, with 55,000 seats, there was no room for any more people. This was before Ticketron, or any kind of electronic ticketing, you had to buy the ticket at the box office, so, they slept overnight in their tents, and their sleeping bags on the lawn at Shea Stadium, and got up in the morning, as soon as the box office opened, they were buying tickets. It was a big event

Anthony:
That must have felt very surreal to see all that. All those people camping out and lined up to see you.

Mark:
Yeah, man, and when I saw the pictures and they were telling me about it, and said, “Man, they slept out on the lawn!?” We saw pictures the New York Times had run, and to verify, to validate all the stories that I heard, and then flying over the stadium on our way to the gig, we were supposed to land in this parking lot where a limousine was going to pick us up and take us into the stadium. So, we go flying over the stadium, and the thing is bouncing, dude, the whole damn thing is just bouncing and I went, “Oh my God that thing is gonna fall down!” Humble Pie was on stage, and this was when they had Steve Marriott, and they also had [Peter] Frampton playing…the original Humble Pie…that was a funky band. They opened for us in Europe, when we did our European tour back in ‘71, and we said to our manager, “We need to bring these guys to the United States because they are seriously rocking, and they would do good for us.” And so, that’s how they got the gig to open up for us at Shea Stadium, and they were doing a Hell of a job, they were really rockin’ that audience. When we landed, there was no limo!

This was before cell phones, this was the day of payphones. The guy runs down to the payphone on the corner, makes a call, and within about two or three minutes, we had cop cars and they came into the parking lot, and we jump into the back of these cop cars and escort us over to Shea Stadium, where the limousine was sitting. So, then we get out of the cop car, get into the limousine, and drive into the stadium a few feet, then we get out of the limousine, and the people just went crazy, a great evening for music. And there were no monitors, no on-stage monitors. We were singing and playing down in front of the house, the only thing we had to listen to was us, but it was awesome. It was just awesome. And as I’m telling you about it, I’m getting flashbacks.

Anthony:
These are stories that will last you a lifetime. So, then you debuted solo in 1977, yeah?

Mark:
Yeah, and that was Dick Wagner who produced my first solo album, and it was just titled, Mark Farner. The cover was me on a white horse and had a song on that album that people are still relating to today. It was 1977, and I wrote the song called “Social Disaster,” and I swear to God, dude, it is what we are going through now…what we’ve been going through for the last couple of years here.

Anthony:
A lot of that music is timeless, and relative to today, it seems.

Mark:
Well, this song…when I wrote it up there, I recorded at Nimbus 9 in Toronto, Canada, and Dick Wagner’s in there and he’s going, “Man, this is a beautiful song,” and the verse goes, “Something red is on the way coming closer day by day, threatening the life of every man who reigns in freedom in our land, is there anyone left with spirit here, if you’ve up and gone, and I really fear.” Then it goes into the chorus. “Social Disaster. Stop and think of years ago, our ancestors who didn’t know, that what they found in the Promised Land might be taken away from future Americans, is there anyone who feels the same is there anyone here who can feel the pain of a social disaster.” Then the bridge goes, “They’ll come a day when the country is runnin’ wild, they’ll be a day freedom stands on trial, they’ll try to take us over from the inside, but they’re forgetting about the people’s home Pride let our freedom ring.” And it says, “Can God help’em, yes God can, ’cause God is living in every man who still believes in what we had won’t settle for the US of A gone bad, vigilantes from the past, born again to stop at last, social disaster.” Dude he was going, “Where is that coming from?” I said it’s coming from inside me, Dick. Right where you said it would!”

Anthony:
You mentioned Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band earlier. You were with him for a while, what was that like to work with Ringo?

Mark:
The poor guy, everybody wants his autograph. We’re flying to Japan, we’re up in first class, and these kids come up there with paper and pencil, “Can we get your autograph, Mr. Ringo?” And he didn’t like it at all because he’s plagued with it everywhere he goes, and he even put a thing out on YouTube saying, “Don’t send me any more of these…I’m not signing another thing. Don’t ask me for an autograph because you’re not gonna get one.” He was just beaten up by it. So, when we’re in Tokyo, we’re doing this press conference, a bunch of people there, of course, all of them Japanese press, books, and what have you. And this gal, we’re sitting at a table on stage, and Ringo goes in the middle, and the band is kind of down both sides, kind of like The Last Supper, and Ringo is sitting in the middle.

So, this young gal comes up and she said, “I would like to ask Mr. Farner a question.” And I stand up to hear her, and to acknowledge that she wants me to answer her question, she says, “I wanted to know what is it like playing with a Beatle?” And I say, “Let me tell you something, honey, Ringo puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like anybody here.” And Ringo gets up and says, “Thank you, brother. Thank you.” He comes over and he gives me a big hug because I recognized him to be just a man like the rest of us. He really appreciated that, and he’s a good-hearted soul. He likes to have fun. And I liked being in his band because we had a son, Zak, who was a monster drummer, and he was locking it down, man. It was like, Yeah, this is how it’s supposed to be right here. And the whole band, Billy Preston, ohn Entwistle, Randy Bachman, Felix Cavaliere, Mark Rivera are just locking it down. And Ringo could really play the drums and keep the band right tight. It was good. The only thing is when we got back to the United States, Ringo was so pissed off because somebody had already released a bootleg video that we did at the Buddakan. So, he was pissed off, dude.

Anthony:
Man, that’s crazy! Any final words, or closing thoughts, Mark?

Mark:
I would just like to say to all of the fans, and the people who read this…stay with your heart, and get your eyes off of the lamestream television. Because ever since 1996, the deregulation of the FCC, the TV, and radio has turned to shit, so, you gotta pretend like your TV is your ass and pull your head out of it, that’s what’s got to happen, and everything will turn out fine. So, just stay with your heart, brothers, and sisters, and everything will work out great.

Interested in learning more about the music of Grand Funk Railroad? Check out the link below:

Dig this? Check out the full archives of A.M. Radio, by Anthony Montalbano, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/a-m-radio-archives/

About Post Author

Anthony Montalbano

Anthony Montalbano grew up in New York and North Carolina. Anthony is a baker by day and a contributor to the Vinyl Writer cause by night. With a passion for podcasts, Pop Punk, video games, and more, Anthony brings a unique and fresh perspective to the team. Anthony's column is a catch-all for the things he loves most, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
Happy
Happy
100 %
Sad
Sad
0 %
Excited
Excited
0 %
Sleepy
Sleepy
0 %
Angry
Angry
0 %
Surprise
Surprise
0 %

Average Rating

5 Star
0%
4 Star
0%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%

2 thoughts on “An interview with Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad

  1. great interview with a ledgend of rock,im so sad he never tours UK i would dearly love to see him play live,the beating heart of GRAND FUNK RAILROAD!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: