Gary James' Interview With Mark Farner of
Grand Funk Railroad
Mark Farner and Grand Funk Railroad had the kind of success that most bands could only dream about. They sold over 25 million records, netting them 12 Platinum and 15 Gold albums in the process.
Today, (2005) there is a Mark Farner Band and a Grand Funk Railroad. And that, is where we started this interview.
Q - Mark, I'm going to ask you what I recently asked Don Brewer. How can there be a Grand Funk without Mark Farner?
A - There can't, not in my head. And see, this is the way it is. It kind of gets you used to the way things are done in the United States. I don't know a politrickster that don't lie and get away with it. But, there's a whole different set of rules for those cats. Anybody that's in a corporation...It doesn't matter that you wrote ninety some percent of the songs that made this corporation that holds the trademark Grand Funk Railroad. The value of that trademark in due to the songs, the music and the three guys, I believe in my mind, that made that trademark popular and that was Don, Mel and myself. I've never gone off and said I was Grand Funk Railroad. I couldn't do that in the first place. I think more of my fans and the people I play music in front of. I can stand there in front of 'em and just pour my heart out and sweat my balls off 'cause it's honest. I couldn't do that if I said I was Grand Funk. I couldn't do it. I wouldn't do it. (laughs) That ain't me. But, I'm sorry for the fans. I have received literally hundreds of e-mails from people who had gone to their shows and found out the hard way that I wasn't in the band and they were disappointed, asked for their money back, all kinds of different scenarios. But, that's the question right there, how can that happen? If the trademark is owned by a corporation, which the three of us are shareholders in, then two out of three is the majority. They voted me out of the corporation as an officer. I'm still a shareholder in the corporation. It seems like every year when it's time to disperse the funds to the shareholders, then I get letters from their attorneys and they want to sue me. Then, I have to defend myself. I have to pay a third anyways; I mean it's crazy. The attacks always come from that side. I've never gone after them for doing anything except for my mouth...why do you guys want to be dishonest? Why don't you just tell fans "the New Grand Funk" or "Grand Funk Revisited". (laughs)
Q - Like Creedence Clearwater Revisited.
A - Thank God. At least those guys gave the fans a clue. They just say "Grand Funk". They advertise it as that. It's crazy.
Q - Mark, why aren't you in the band?
A - The last proposal towards getting the band together came from me. I sat in a Federal courtroom because I had sent several suggestions on how to settle the disputes that they had. One of 'em was to get back together and do 30 or 60 cities as Grand Funk. I said to Don Brewer "What about my proposal for getting back together?" He looks over at me from the side of the room and says "We don't need you. We do better without you." I went, "Oh...OK." End of story. (laughs) It's just ego shit. That's all it is. The world is full of it. Hurtin' people hurt people. Somebody's trying to get back at the world for the shit in their life, so they purposely hurt people. It's hateful. But, some people are motivated that way. I just, for the fans sake, would like to see all this crap stopped. A Federal injunction has been placed against me, a permanent injunction against the way I advertise. It has to be "formerly of Grand Funk Railroad" and the first letters have to be capitalized. If the "o" in "formerly of" is small case, that's a violation. They went to Federal Court with all these violations like that, and then took an hour to explain it was a violation. This judge is just steaming. I could see he's cooking. He was a Federal magistrate listening to this picayone bullshit before him. He told me if I came back before him, he was gonna be severe on me. Just 'cause it was a wasted of time. They never even heard my side of the story, the judge didn't.
Q - Where was your attorney?
A - Sitting there on his hands. You get what you pay for. This guy from Detroit, Rob Kelly, said I'll do this pro bono. That's free. And they gotta do so much pro bono work each year. So, he was doing that. He was a fan more than anything else. He just hated to see the injustice of what was happening. He thought he could do something, but he didn't do nothing, man. But, my offer to get back together was rejected and since then I've got nothing but threatening letters and letters from attorneys that handle the corporation for those guys, saying if there weren't these violations, there would be a distribution to me or some crap.
Q - Just think, in the begining you were all friends, ready to take on the world of music.
A - Yeah. Money does that, I'm telling you. It really does. I think Don really wanted to come out front and be a frontman. From what people tell me, he does some kind of schtick in the new line-up where he comes out in a fur coat and hat. It's really like a big-time wrestler routine... that's not Grand Funk.
Q - What are you doing in this band of yours?
A - I'm the lead singer. I'm the lead guitar player. I'm the guy...the Mark Farner guy, formerly of Grand Funk Railroad if the promoter uses that. Fans that don't know me by my name can relate to who I am at least. Most people know who I am, they know my name, the fans. They hear it advertised and they'll come see me. I've got a lot of dates booked and more coming. In 1996, when we (Grand Funk Railroad) got together, years after our original break-up, Don Brewer requested that I not do any solo shows, because it would be competition for the Grand Funk stuff. I said, I'll do that for a period of two years and two years only, because I will go back and persue my solo career after our little reunion. And they went 'fine.' I actually put in three (years). It was a good time I thought. Then Don Brewer came to me on day and said "Everybody needs to sign their ownership of the trademark into the corporation, for some kind of corporate umbrella." Don's gone to law school. I didn't finish high school.
Q - Law school?
A - Yeah. He was gonna be an attorney after the first Grand Funk break-up. I think he learned just enough to make him dangerous. (laughs) He told me it was for the protection of the corporation. I don't understand any of that stuff. It just confuses me. So, when he recommended it, I said "well, this guy knows what he's talking about, he's been to law school. He's gonna see to it that we don't get screwed." Well, I didn't see it coming. I didn't even consider that two out of three and this whole thing. I never considered it. He seemed friendly enough to me. But then, as soon as it happened, I found out exactly what that means. (laughs) It means I have no say in what happens with that trademark. I have absolutely no input in who they get to look like me, sing like me, do my part.
Q - Mark, you should have had some representation!
A - Oh yeah. But I didn't.
Q - You trusted Don.
A - I actually did not see it coming, buddy. I'm a little that way. (laughs) I trust people too much.
Q - Where were you when you heard about the news about Terry Knight?
A - I was in my kitchen fixin' a cup of coffee and my buddy, who is the head coach for Copper Cove High School, Jack Welch, called and said "Buddy, Terry Knight just died." I went "What?" 'cause his wife works with Terry's ex-wife. He was in Temple Texas, where his ex-wife lives, to see their daughter, to see Danielle, the 17 year old daughter. She was actually living with Terry in his apartment, with the boyfriend. And, the boyfriend was high on drugs and ended up attacking Terry's daughter. Terry got in between 'em in her defence and she ran out of the apartment and down a flight of steps to an apartment of some friends of theirs below and got into that apartment before he could get to her. He had already killed Terry. He stabbed him to death in the apartment and ran down and was kickin' on the door when the cops got there and arrested him. He was gonna come in and kill her. That's what his intentions were. When I got the news I said "Man, you are kidding me" and especially the way it happened. My thought when I first heard it was "the poor guy. All of the stuff that he's gone though in his life and now checkin' out like that...what a way to go." After Jack Welsh told me about Terry's death that morning. I called Don Brewer at his old number and it went through, to my surprise. I told Don of Terry's death and he said "are you kidding me?" After I assured him I was not kidding he said "Well, he's in God's hands now." I didn't know Don even believed in God because when we were putting the band together in '96, I received a letter from Don Brewer's attorney with an affidavid he wanted me to sign stating I would not say "God bless, God, Jesus, or any kind of religeous sayings" or he (Don) would get up and walk off stage and I would have the burdon of indemnifying him and the promoter in any lawsuit that would arise from such an incident. Strange shit.
Q - Why was Terry Knight living in an apartment? What happened to his money?
A - Well, he drugged it away. He was taking heroin and cocaine at the same time. Smoking crack. Terrible stuff. I know that over the years, friends have told me he was on the verge of death. His brother called and was concerned and wanted me to contact him. His brother Dave Knapp. Terry Knight's real last name is Knapp. I would've liked to have talked to him, but he didn't want to talk to me I guess. I tried to contact him a couple of times. I just wanted to tell him that I forgave him. Just so he would know. But, I don't know if it would have made any difference. I just wanted to do it for the sake of my heart. Just to let him know I was past that, even though he screwed us out of millions of dollars. He was a crook, come down to it, telling me I had to publish my songs through his company. If someone would have told me up front "I'm gonna take half of your money for doing nothing", you think I would've gone along with that? (laughs) But, I was 20 years old and my mother had to sign the contract because I was a minor. All that stuff happens to young kids who want their names up in lights, and sign any paper just to make me famous. Just get me out there in front of the girls. (laughs)
Q - Would it be a fair statement to say that without Terry Knight, the world would never have heard of Grand Funk Railroad?
A - Yeah. I've always sung his praises as far as his promotional abilities. He was a great promoter. He had some wonderful ideas. They worked, for the time it was crucial. Put aside he was crooked, his ability as a talent was outstanding for the time. He had some big ideas and the world was ready for them.
Q - According to Rolling Stone's Encyclopedia of Rock, "Grand Funk Railroad was ignored by critics." What did critics not like about your band?
A - I believe...it was Terry Knight's plan to create a mystique. That's what he told us. To keep us from the press. But, really, as it turns out, you can hardly believe what a man says, but you can always believe what a man does. As Terry would do all the interviews instead of the band, Terry pissed 'em off. He claimed to be the mentor and creator of Grand Funk. All of the articles that were pro Terry Knight - he wrote! (laughs) We weren't allowed to speak to the press. I think that kind of pissed 'em all off. In spite of the lack of interest in the band and the body slams we received from a lot of critics, the fans showed up and we were selling out stadiums. It was like a slap in the face for a fan to read a bad review of some show they were at and people where just going nuts, hanging from the rafters. I'm thinking "where did they go? They didn't go to the Grand Funk show they're reporting!" (laughs)
Q - Just think Mark, if Terry Knight was doing all the interviews, he did save you some money on a publisist.
A - Oh, yeah. (laughs)
Q - Is it true that you began playing guitar at 15, after a broken finger and bad knees ended your football career?
A - Yeah.
Q - Is it also true that you were expelled from high school in your senior year?
A - Yes.
Q - Now what was that for?
A - I had a confrontation with a football coach who was an algebra teacher. The Holy Rosary did half a day at Kirsley High School where we attended. At noon, their buses would roll up to the front. The kids would get off the Holy Rosary buses and come into the school. Because I was a football player back then, I hung with my buddies, four or five of us always hung together. Of course this teacher wanted me playing football, but he knew I had my fractured finger and water on the knee. He knew the injuries. He saw the guys I was hanging out with. We all had long hair, but we had to grease it back, put VO5 on it for school to make it look short. We had to plaster it to our head and as soon as we'd get home, we'd take the Prell shampoo and get that stuff out of there and let it down. So, he looks over at me and says "Farner, move your boys." I'm standing across the hallway where they come it, in front of the heater there. I said "These are not my boys, sir." And he comes marching over to me and grabs me by the shirt with one hand and says "I said move your boys!" He shoved me backwards up against the brick wall. They had a brass picture from the Superintendent of Schools there and it had a light on it. My head like, bounces off that picture frame. Man, I knew that it was bleeding. I put my hand back and felt it warm and wet. When I put my hand in front of my face and saw it was blood, and him standing there with that smirk on his face, I nailed him. I tagged him in the eye. It just so happeds that I was a guitar player, bass player. I was in Terry Knight and The Pack, playing bass at the time and I had rings on all my fingers. When I hit him, it unzipped his eyelid right at the eyebrow and it fell down over the top of his eye. It just amazed me 'cause all that happened so fast. When he got up off the floor, he looked at me and I could just see the blood running down. He started throwing haymakers. If he'd hit me, he would have killed me. I mean he was just swinging wildly and I was ducking wildly. Just as I'm gonna drill him again, because I'm thinking the only way this guy is gonna stop is if I stop him, I draw back and teachers grab him and my buddies grab me and that was the end of it right there. I took an attorney with me in front of the school board, so I could get back into school after they expelled me and he told the school board in no uncertain terms here, that if they let me back in, he was gonna quit...resign his job. So, that was it. (laughs) They kept him over me. My attorney did nothing.
Q - Again, a do nothing attorney.
A - Yeah. In fact, when they said "he's got long hair and sideburns" they were trying to rip me up. I went to nightschool for a while 'caues my Mom said "you gotta finish your school." I said "OK, I'll do it. I'll do whatever it takes." I started going to this night school at the junior college in Flint. I was playing music too. So, at night, it wasn't a good time to go to school. I just told my parents "Look, I can make more money playing music and this is what I want to do. I don't need to go to school. I don't need to finish this up." And they agreed with me. They went along with it. From that point, the rest is history. I got better and five years later, Grand Funk had their first major hit.
Q - Did you at one time run an alternate energy store and what's that?
A - Yeah, alternative other than what comes through the meter you pay for. Electricity can be created and is created by many people who are off the grid, by solar and wind, and do a fine job of it. I've always been interested in wind power. I feel the energy of the earth all around me and I'm thinking "why don't we harness this for the generations to come?" Just the things that occur naturally that you could tap into. But, we know that the oil companies and the oil cartels got a strangle hold on the people of this planet. As long as they can keep us using that oil, they can dominate. They can rule. They can set up their global plantation.
Q - How long did it take you to write a song like "I'm Your Captain", "We're An American Band" or any of your hits for that matter?
A - I wrote "I'm Your Captain", that was the first song I wrote lyrics to prior to music. My Mother taught us how to pray - now I lay me down to sleep...I used to do that thinking that in case there is a God, in case there is a Hell, I didn't want to be there, so let me say this. I put a P.S. on the end of my prayer and said "God, would you please give me a song that will reach and touch the hearts of people that you want to touch." I got up in the middle of the night and wrote what I thought was poetry. If I get a thought, it's a napkin in a restaurant or a placemat, it dosen't matter. A piece of Kleenex. Whatever I can get to scribble it down on, I do. The following morning after writing what I thought was poetry or something, I got up. Sitting there in the kitchen on the farm, got my feet propped up on the table, playing my guitar, drinking my coffee, looking at the horses out in back. I'm just kind of watching the sun come up. I'm playing my guitar, wondering if those lyrics are in the other room? If that poem would go with this. I brought it in and started singing it and took it into rehearsal, sang it for the guys and they went "Wow, that thing's a hit!" And they were right.
Q - Oh, the good old days when you all got along.
A - Yeah. We were buddies back then. Mel and I were real tight 'cause we went to school together. We did everything together. Grand Funk never took vacations. We toured, toured, toured and after three years of touring like that we said "damn, we need to take a vacation." I went with my wife and Mel went with his girlfriend at the time and we took off to California. We just camped out on Laguna Beach for a while. We did things like that all the time.
Q - Do you think a band could come along today and rival the success that Grand Funk enjoyed?
A - I don't know if they'd get the heart of the people like we did. Look at the lyrics of the music. What were the people interested in? My sixteen year old is listening to country music, dude! I'm thinking "What motivates you? What are you thinking of?" He said to me "Dad, each song is a story you can follow." It's not this hate shit. It's not all this hate, hate, hate. I'm sick of all that stuff. I think the kids are. I know a couple of bands that are not huge bands, but are provoking peple to think and that was what my intention was with the lyrics of my songs back then and today - to provoke people to think. I don't have all the answers, but I do have some questions. They do ring in the hearts of millions of people - the same questions. If there's a band that is accurately asking those questions and provoking people to think, then they would have a chance to have that kind of success. That's where this thing was coming from. It was heartfelt and we were hoping for some kind of revolution. We wanted to see things change. That's what these kids are so pissed off about that are writing the hate music. They're pissed off. They don't like what they're being handed. I don't like it myself, because I have children and grandchildren. I know what this world is run on. It's not what a man's value is to his family, his community or what he has in his heart, what morals he has. It's about how much money is he worth and how much of that can you get. (laughs) That's what it's about.
Q - So, Grand Funk was hoping for a political revolution?
A - Yeah, man. We wanted a change. We wanted it to get out of the heads it was in and into the people who felt like us, with love and peace in mind.