Whether you knew them as Grand Funk Railroad or just Grand Funk, if you listened to music in the late 60’s or 70’s, their sound found you. From rock anthem We’re an American Band to soulful Some Kind of Wonderful, they could run the gamut of musical style. Don Brewer, who wrote and sang the first and is one of the singers on the second, let us in on his career with a band that’s sold more than 25 million albums and also talked about another gig he’s enjoyed—drumming for Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band.
MWB: How did you get into music?
DB: My parents were very open to me getting into music and I remember as a young kid seeing Elvis Presley doing Blue Suede Shoes on Ed Sullivan and I did an imitation. Dad went to a bar and put a nickel in the jukebox and had me do my impersonation for everyone. Mom said get in a band and do guitar lessons. We were always encouraged to follow our dreams. My sister had her own dance studio at 15 or 16 and I got to gravitate towards rock, towards people like Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.
MWB: You’ve had a lot of hits, but We’re an American Band gets played so much. How did you end up writing it?
DB: True little snippets of what was going on when we were on the road. Radio format called for a three-minute or four-minute song so we weren’t doing seven minutes or longer like we did on Inside Looking Out or I’m Your Captain. I remember the thought came to my mind: we’re coming to your town, we’ll help you party it down. Being in Little Rock, four young chiquitas in Omaha, up all night playing cards with Freddie King—they were all things that happened and that got into the lyrics.
MWB: And then Some Kind of Wonderful is just completely different from that song.
DB: We were a heavy metal trio, though that term wasn’t really used back then. But we also leaned a lot toward R & B, even the funkier stuff. Some Kind of Wonderful came from the Soul Brothers Six and our imitation of their record. It was growing up in Michigan and being influenced by Motown. Before we recorded it, we used it as a warm up—we’d get into our car at the hotel on the way to a show and I would a cappella, do the harmony. Finally our manager Andy Cavaliere said, “You should record that song.” He was right!
MWB: Now, the instrument you’re known for is drums. Some people don’t know that Bob Seger, a Michigan guy like you, has had you drumming in his band. How did that come about?
DB: We came up in the late 60s and Bob Seger and the Last Heard were playing at many of the same places we were. We’d just run into them…Bob was always influenced by R&B and looked for a drummer who was an R&B guy. He’s had so many different drummers and learning how to play that style was a fun challenge. Bob has so many hits, just one song after another. The toughest to play is Hollywood Nights, it’s a real workout because when he did the recording, if you really listen, you’ll hear two drummers were on it. Two drum tracks so, me being one guy, I’ve got to do many things.
MWB: I was talking with Lee Loughnane of Chicago about trying to stay healthy on the road. Sounds like you also have to stay in good shape.
DB: If I don’t exercise and I don’t practice and eat right, it gets very tough. I try to walk four miles a day, go to the gym, work on shoulders, arms…and practice! I do the business for the band, I’m always doing something. I think when you sit around all the time that’s when you’re done.
MWB: How much touring is Grand Funk Railroad doing these days?
DB: Our current lineup has been together for 12 years and we do 35-40 shows a year. You can catch us at fairs, festivals, casinos, we have a lot fun. We don’t want to burn out by doing 100 shows—keeping it to this many keeps it to weekends, most of it over the summers. And everyone can be home for the holidays and pick up again sometime in the Spring which is great…It’s amazing to see the number of young faces that come to the shows. I love that we’re still bringing people enjoyment even today!