We’re An American Band

April 20 marks the birthday of Craig Frost, a great musician who was a member of one of the best bands in the history of rock and roll.

In my opinion, anyway.

Grand Funk Railroad emerged from the working-class city of Flint,Michigan in the late 1960’s. Drummer Don Brewer and guitarist Mark Farner, who were members of Terry Knight and the Pack, decided to go out on their own when lead vocalist Terry Knight decided to get into band management. They recruited bassist Mel Schacher, formerly of ? and the Mysterians (although Mel didn’t play on their hit “96 Tears”), and decided to model themselves after one of their favorite bands, Cream. So they became a power trio, managed by Knight. Their name is a play on the Grand Trunk Western Railroad which wound its way through Michigan at the time. Grand Funk Railroad blew away the audience at the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1969, and by the end of 1970 they had sold more albums than any other American band that year. They didn’t get a lot of AM radio airplay, but were staples on FM with hits like “Closer To Home (I’m Your Captain)” and “Footstompin’ Music”.

GFR had an angry split from Terry Knight in 1972, and were being sued for all they had. Craig Frost had been touring with the band here and there, and had played with Brewer and Farner in The Pack, so he was brought in as a permanent keyboards player. They needed a fresh start, so they recruited Todd Rundgren to produce their next album, and named the LP after a song that Don Brewer had just written about being an American rock and roll band on the road: “We’re An American Band”. It became the band’s first number one hit, and is a rock classic. I remember talking to Don about writing the song, and he told me a funny story about the line “up all night with Freddy King, I got to tell ya, poker’s his thing”. According to Brewer, “We were on tour with Freddy. Every person that he hired to play in his band was required to be a poker player, because the man loved to play poker…and we found out why. He would pay the band in cash after every performance, then win back all of his money from the band members by playing poker on the bus!”

The follow-up to “We’re An American Band” was “Shinin’ On”, again taking the name from the title cut of the album, penned by Brewer. If you get a copy of the original album (complete with 3-D glasses on the cover), take a look at the inner sleeve. It contains a complete list of dates and venues from the Shinin’ On tour. About 2/3 of the way down the sleeve, you will read “March 23: Illinois State University-Normal”. What a great way to remember the date of my first concert.

My brother, Randy, was a senior in high school, and had been playing in bands all through his teens. So when Grand Funk announced they were coming to Normal, all the guys in the band got tickets. I begged Randy to let me go along. He agreed, as long as I paid for my own ticket…a total sum of $3.50.

It was a Saturday night show, and five of us all crammed into one vehicle to make the trip to ISU. When we got there, I noticed they were selling all kinds of GFR merchandise, so I bought a poster of Mark Farner playing his signature Microfrets guitar, and raising his fist in the air…that poster still hangs in my basement today.

The show was certainly a memorable one. Wet Willie opened the show, and did a pretty good job. But then the lights dimmed a second time, and a large screen above the stage showed footage of fireworks going off in the air…just as the band kicked into “Footstompin’ Music”. From that moment on, it was hit after hit for me…in more ways than one, as numerous joints were passed down the line for everyone to enjoy.

I think everyone remembers their first concert experience, and I know that I will never forget mine…do you remember yours? 

Here’s a clip from that very tour…maybe it was even shot at ISU!


About groovyrick

I live in a small town in Illinois with my wife and three kids. I am a part-time musician, part-time writer, and full-time dreamer.
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26 Responses to We’re An American Band

  1. Randy Halberg says:

    A good time was had by all. My first concert, also at Horton Fieldhouse, was Black Oak Arkansas. Opening band was Brownsville Station, and I remember watching Henry “H Bomb” Weck playing this huge drum kit on the opening number. A few seconds into it, he broke a stick. I watched the busted one fly into the air and he he grabbed another without missing a beat. I remember thinking to myself “this is coolest f&^$#@* thing I have ever seen!”

    • groovyrick says:

      I remember you going to that show…didn’t you see Edgar Winter and James Gang about that same time? Horton really had some great shows!

      • Randy Halberg says:

        Another good one! Saw Rick Derringer, as he was playing with Edgar Winter at the time. I still remember Tommy Bolin trying to get the crowd going, and he wanted one side of the arena to clap along with the bass drums. I remember him saying “That’s these 2 big suckers, right here.”

  2. John Evans says:

    I didn’t go to the GFR/Wet Willie concert for some reason, perhaps because I wasn’t as appreciative of GFR at the time as I came to be later…

    My first was The Guess Who (with I don’t recall who as the opening) at Horton. Circa 1971 or so, I paid a whopping $2.00 for a bleacher seat. The opening act was mediocre as I recall, they closed with a merely OK rendition of Stephen Stills’ “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” that was pointlessly faithful to the CSN album recording… This was after Bachman was gone from The Guess Who and they had two guitarists (Domenic Troianno and I don’t recall who). But I liked the gig, was immediately drawn to Jim Kale and his Precision bass. Musta stuck with me because years later when I started playing bass, that was one of the images of “cool bass player” for me.

    Thanks for prompting another fond memory!!

    • groovyrick says:

      John, the other guitar player was a big guy, a la Randy Bachman, named Kurt Winter. He always wore a sweatshirt with cut-off sleeves that said “Sound by Gurner” on the front.

  3. Jeez–I think my first concert was Black Oak Arkansas, too; I forgot about them. GFR was a great band; didn’t know they sold so many albums that year. “Heartbreaker” and “Mean Mistreater” are very haunting songs, and I always liked their version of “Feelin’ Alright”, and of course “Closer to Home”, especially when they break into “am I in my cabin dreaming, or are you really scheming……etc.” There was a story in Playboy one time about “Sweet Sweet Connie” of Little Rock; apparently she took her groupie status pretty seriously.

    • groovyrick says:

      Ah, we are cut of the same cloth. Always loved those GFR tunes…saw them again with Brewer and Schacher about 10 years ago (vocalist was a guy from Sherriff, but they had former KISS-man Bruce Kulick playing lead) and saw Mark Farner about 8 years ago…and he kicked ass!

  4. Great post! I had forgotten all about Wet Willie! My first concert was Paul Revere and the Raiders in 1966 at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky. I was eight years old and went with my brother Jim. Tommy Roe and Keith Allison were the opening acts. Years later I met Mark Lindsay at WMBD (I think he was appearing at the fair. Billing: Puppet Show—Mark Lindsay.) I told him that Paul Revere and the Raiders were the first concert I ever saw in 1966. He looked me up and down and said, “God, I feel old.”

  5. belle says:

    I am too ashamed to confess my first concert…


  6. @belle: Please tell, I swear I won’t laugh. This is going to drive me nuts if you don’t spill the beans!

  7. groovyrick says:

    I’m with Marty on this one, Belle…I think you’ll feel better once the cat is out of the bag!

    • belle says:

      Haha! NO chance, gentlemen! I’ll never be able to show my face (so to speak) on WordPress again. Nope-nopidi-nope, my lips are sealed 😉

  8. raginrr says:

    great post…have not checked this in awhile…damn guess it has been quite awhile…i bookmarked you sometime way back when 365 suggested checkin’ you out…any who the first “concert” i went to was a dick clark thin’… i do remember that lou christie was on the bill and i could swear so was dion and the belmonts…thought you were going on a hiatus of some sort that’s why i haven’t been veiwin’…


  9. Belle, there’s no shame whatsoever in admitting your “Teletubbies” and “Spice Girls” obsessions.

  10. groovyrick says:

    I’m thinking Rick Astley…what do you think Kev?

  11. groovyrick says:

    Hmmm…Madonna (known for this hit “Live to Tell”)????

    • belle says:

      Yeah, sorry, Rick, I ballsed up (what a surprise!) – it was actually in the SECOND comment: “….cat…..”
      Anyway, ENOUGH you people! I refuse to divulge!! 🙂

  12. John Evans says:

    Hmm…. so belle’s first concert was Terrible Ted Nugent, wadn’t it?

  13. So Belle’s first concert was the Who! I’d be ashamed to have seen them when Kenny Jones was drumming for them too.

  14. Pingback: Grand Funk Railroad, ‘We’re An American Band’ – Lyrics Uncovered - Ultimate Classic Rock

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