Saturday, March 28, 2020

From Grand Funk to Grace by Kristopher Engelhardt

I've been a fan of Grand Funk Railroad at least since I first saw them on the In Concert TV show, in the early 70's. I loved their hit "We're An American Band" but really was knocked out by their early records where they were a high-energy, raw, rockin' rock'n'roll band (thanks to Kenne Highland for turnin' me on to at least a couple of those!). I even did a GFRR cover band for a while called TNUC. But, while I knew the basic info about the band, i never really heard the details of their story so I have been interested in books on the band, but this is the first that I have bought'n'owned (thanks Savers!) and while it is officially a Mark Farner bio obviously his time in GFRR figures prominently.

Despite their relatively young age, all three members of GFRR had played in various bands for a several years (including Mel's stint in ? and the Mysterions, where Mark and Don plundered him from) but once the formed GFRR and got Terry Knight to manage them, they were playing festivals within their first few gigs! An opening slot at the Atlanta Pop Festival was a ravin' success which solidified their status as a powerful live act. Their prestigious recording output - 10 (!!) albums in their first four (!!) years - gave their fans plenty of product to purchase when they weren't seeing the group live. The band became one of the biggest draws in the country, if not the world, and earned themselves plenty of money - or so they imagined. It turns out that manager Terry Knight had some underhanded financial doings and he was getting the bulk of the money - including over a million dollars from a single tour that he stashed away - while the band was still on salary. After years of acrimonious lawsuits, they eventually extricated themselves from him, but only after giving him almost everything that he wanted, except for the GFRR name (which Knight did coin).

Of course, the band then had their biggest radio hits - "We're An American Band", "Loco-Motion", "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Bad Time To Be In Love" - before things started to go sour between the members and after a couple of more albums (one produced by Frank Zappa, of all people!), the group split.

More of the book than I would care for focuses on Mark's life after GFRR, including his breakup with his wife and various girlfriends before he - now in his 30's - started dating a 15 year old high school girl! Kinda creepy! He does marry her, but then has infidelity issues (on both sides) and on and on. They both find Jesus, which is a big focus of the book (hence the title) and that is fairly dull for me, as well. There is another large section that is focused on his ultra-right-wing politics and conspiracy theories, which makes for somewhat eye-rollin' reading and, along with Mark's friendship with Ted Nugent (although this was 20 or so years ago so who knows if they are still friends considering Ted's modern insanity), makes me wonder as to his current state of mind (and some family members seem to agree with me).

Unfortunately, this book is fairly low budget and does not really flow well - that coupled with the preachiness and right wing politics makes it hard to recommend. Sorry! Regardless, make sure you check out early GFRR recordings for some excellently trashy Detroit garage rock'n'roll!