Grand Funk Railroad, now in its 45th year, has earned its claim to being an American band.
The veteran blues-rock outfit, whose signature hit is “We’re An American Band,” will perform 7 p.m. Friday, March 21, at House of Blues at the Showboat Casino-Hotel in Atlantic City.
The five-piece group is aiming to do 45 shows this year, but otherwise isn’t making a big deal out of its milestone.
“We’re not doing any big surprises, other than it’s a surprise that it’s been 45 years,” says drummer Don Brewer, one of two original members remaining with Grand Funk. “I never dreamed at age 19 that I’d be doing this at the age of 65. I feel blessed that I can do it. To be able to show my kid what I do and now my grandkids –– it’s been pretty amazing.”
Grand Funk has released 13 studio albums, charting hit singles such as “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Bad Time,” “Closer to Home” and a No. 1 cover of “The Loco-Motion.” The band has taken several breaks over the years, with the longest being a 15-year hiatus in the ’80s and early ’90s.
Ahead of the band’s A.C. appearance, Brewer talk about the band’s Michigan roots, his side gig touring with Bob Seger and how “American Band” came into being.
Q: How have you and bassist Mel Schacher been able to maintain Grand Funk’s musical spirit with replacement players?
A: It’s a high-energy rock ‘n’ roll show, which we’ve always done. It’s take no prisoners and we go after the audience — that’s what Grand Funk Railroad has always been about. The music is uplifting –– that’s the approach we give to the show.
Q: You came out of Flint, Mich., so you weren’t part of the Detroit scene, which spawned many Motown greats, as well as Iggy Pop and The Stooges and Ted Nugent.
A: We were the outsiders — we were that band from up north in Flint. Nobody around the Detroit scene would really take us seriously until we got to the Atlanta Pop Festival (in 1969) and then we were were playing all over the South and ended up playing the Fillmore East in (New York).
We were able to come back to Michigan and then they were ready to claim us. Before that we were that band from Flint.
Q: Still, it must have been a great time to try to make it in the music business?
A: It was a wonderful time to come up in music. You were able to build up a local following. You could record something and take it over to the local radio station. All of a sudden you would have more people come to the teen hop.
You would build up a following and pretty soon you were breaking out. You were in two or three states, and the next thing you know, you have a major label looking at you. It all made sense. Now other than going on “American Idol” or “The Voice,” I don’t know how anybody comes out any more.
It’s all on the Internet, but it’s hit or miss whether anyone can find you.
Q: You’ve toured with Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band off and on since the mid-’80s. How does your role as Seger’s touring drummer fit in with Grand Funk?
A: It’s a fun thing, it’s a money thing, it’s a bunch of stuff. I’m flattered to be asked to do it. It’s a luxury and a dream to be able to play with both bands.
In one I’m a primary performer, in the other I’m just a player. I’ve looked at the gig in Bob Seger as a learning experience. He’s had had 20 drummers over the years. When you’re playing his stuff, you’re learning all these chops and licks other people have done.
Q: Why do you think “We’re An American Band” has become such an enduring radio hit?
A: When I first wrote the song, I wasn’t really sure about it. It comes out of you, but you don’t know what people are reacting to.
It has something about it — the combination of the song and the recording. It sounds like a hit, it’s very uplifting. It has that thing right from the cowbell to the ooh oohs at the end. It gets you there and takes you there.
I didn’t have the “American Band” tag for it until I had written the song. I had other lines, but I didn’t have a tag for it. It dawned on me, “We’re an American band,” and it just sounded great.