Grand Funk Railroad is back on track

'The American Band' to perform at 9 p.m. Saturday at Central Park

The sound is the same but the line-up is slightly different.

After all it's been nearly 40 years since Grand Funk Railroad first took to the stage and recorded memorable songs like "Closer to Home," "Shinin' On," "Some Kind of Wonderful," and the band's trademark song, "We're An American Band."

Enter original founding members Don Brewer, vocals and drums, and bassist Mel Schacher.

With them is an impressive entourage of "Who's Who" in rock and roll music — Max Carl who sang with 38 Special, lead guitarist Bruce Kulick who played for 12 years with KISS and has Michael Bolton, Meatloaf, and Billy Squier on his list of credits, and keyboardist Tim Cashion who played with the likes of Bob Seger and Robert Palmer.

Brewer, the writer and singer of the band's trademark song, is glad to be back on the road and performing.

"It always feels good," Brewer said. "We're doing 35-40 shows per year. It's terrific to perform to multi-generations of people."

It is different this time around, compared with the 1970s when the band was new.

"We're a lot older," Brewer said. "We've got different people in the band. A whole different generation."

He continued that when the band performed in 1970-71, it was the one of the hot new bands.

"A little bit later, we were an established act. When we re-formed in the 1990s, we were a classic rock act. We've very happy that we've been able to keep a career going for almost 40 years."

So, how is it for Brewer and Schacher to perform with a new group of musicians?

"It's really terrific. We all get along. Max (Carl) sings lead for us. He wrote 38 Special's biggest hit, "Second Chance." He's an incredible front man and incredible singer. He's probably one of the last blue-eyed singers on the planet.

"Bruce (Kulick) was the lead guitarist for Kiss for 12 years when they were taking off their makeup. He's an old friend of mine back from the 1980s. A great guitar player."

Brewer continued that keyboardist Cashion and the rest of the members have a great time performing.

"We just have a ball," Brewer said.

So, how did Brewer come to write the hit song, "We're An American Band?"

The story goes like this.

The band was in the process of separating from the manager who had stolen all of their money.

"We had just gone through six albums, all of them turned gold. We were a huge act and we got into this huge lawsuit. We had to continue on and move on from that situation and change everything that we were all about," Brewer said.

He said the band was an "album band," and during this time FM radio was changing to become a hit-oriented radio.

"We had to change everything we were doing to stay on the radio while we were going through this lawsuit."

Brewer thought about what he and the other band members were doing — "We're coming to your town to party it down . . . we're an American band."

He worked on it, brought it to the band, and recorded the song in Miami, Fla.

"The song was released with the first single. It was an immediate smash. Todd Rungren (of "Hello, It's Me" fame) was the producer at the time. Everything gelled and it worked.

"We had to survive and that song made us make the transition to the hit formula on the new hit radio.

"It kind of saved our souls."

So, what about some of those anti-war lyrics from the late 1960s and early 1970s? Was the band politically-minded?

"In 1969, (former band member) Mark Farner was the chief song writer. In 1969, it was the whole anti-war movement. The band came to life in 1969 and that was a very big part of our lives. Those were very important concerns for us as a band and to our lyricist. It was, 'People, let's stop the war.' Mark wrote what he felt strongly about."

Now being nearly 40 years later, Brewer considers it to be a different generation.

"Instead of singing anti-war protest songs and marching the streets, the thing now is to elect a president to do that for us. We're lucky that we have people running for president who do want to stop the war."

For now the band will continue to tour. The band has been on a break during the winter, only doing one or two shows per month. With summer a few weeks away, the band is gearing up for more shows as it continues to tour the country.

As for recording new albums, "We'll record when we get around to it," Brewer said.

Those who go to the show Saturday night should be ready for a high-energy rock and roll show, Brewer said. There'll be a few new songs but count on hearing the classic hits.

"We are a classic rock act and we love to tour. It's always been our strong point — to go out and play live. We really like to play all across America — small towns, big towns."

In the beginning . . .

The band was formed in 1969 in Flint, Mich., by members Mark Farner, Don Brewer, and Mel Schacher. The band was named after the Grand Trunk Railroad that ran through Flint.

In all, the rock and roll band released 14 studio albums and five live albums, selling more than 25 million records, and earning four gold records.

Though often panned by critics, audiences loved them. In 1970, they had sold more albums than any other American band at that time and became a major concert attraction.

A year later, the band broke the attendance record at Shea Stadium that had been set by The Beatles by selling out in just 72 hours.

Songs that hit number one on the charts were "We're An American Band," and "The Loco-Motion." "Some Kind of Wonderful" got as high as number three and "Bad Time" climbed all the way to number four on the charts.

Popular songs like "Closer to Home/I'm Your Captain," "Shinin' On," and "Gimme Shelter" weren't chart-toppers but earned the band a loyal following of die-hard fans.

The band has disbanded and regrouped several times during the 1970s and 1980s, and left the music scene until 1996 when it again reunited.

Re-forming in 2000, the band is beginning a new chapter in the legacy of Grand Funk Railroad.