Saturday, October 8, 2011

Grand Funk Railroad’s Captain Mark Farner Raps With Music Journalist Ray Shasho

Mark Farner with Ray Shasho

By Ray Shasho

Hippiefest 2011 cruises into Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Saturday August 27th with a Groovy stage lineup of Legendary Classic Rock Musicians. Grand Funk Railroad’s Coolest singer/guitarist/songwriter Mark Farner will join Dave Mason(“We Just Disagree,” “Hole In My Shoe,” “Feelin' Alright,” “Only You Know and I Know”), Rick Derringer (“Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” “Hang On Sloopy”), Felix Cavaliere (“Good Lovin',” “Groovin'” and “People Got To Be Free”) and Gary Wright (“Dream Weaver,” “Love Is Alive” and “Really Wanna Know You”) for an outta sight night of kicking out the Jams.
So load up the van let the hot chick ride shotgun and get truckin’ over to Clearwater and “Let’s Party Man!”  
Hippiefest 2011 launches August 3rd from San Diego.
Mark Farner was the inspirational leader for the hard rock band Grand Funk Railroad. The band along with Black Sabbath is considered to be the Grandfathers of Heavy Metal music. The string of hits that the band produced included “We’re An American Band,” “I’m Your Captain,” “Heartbreaker,” “Footstompin’ Music,” “Mean Mistreater,” “Walk Like A Man,” “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “The Loco-Motion” to name only a few.
The band has sold over 50-million records worldwide. Mark Farner accepted an invitation to play with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band in 1995.
Mark’s voice is as strong as ever on his most recent release “For the People.”

Here’s my recent interview with Grand Funk Railroad legend Mark Farner.

Hi Mark, how are you doing?

“I’m doin’ but not mildewin’.”

(Lot’s of laughter from both of us)

I’m calling from little Michigan. The Sarasota/Bradenton area here in Florida probably has more Michiganites than Florida natives living here. How’s everything?

“Good Brother got a sunny day here in Michigan and it’s almost 70.”

Mark, the first thing I’d like to talk about…I have a 23 year old son and when I first heard the news about Jesse I was heartbroken. How is Jesse’s progress? (Mark Farner’s world turned upside- down when his son Jesse (at 21) fell and sustained a near fatal- fracture to theC-5 vertebra in his neck.  The last update before this interview was that he remained paralyzed but was starting to show improvement by lifting his head off of the pillow).

“Jesse is doing good. He’s got a little movement now in his shoulders. He can actually when he’s sitting in the chair, he can actually lift his shoulders up which is, he wasn’t able to move this when he came home from the hospital. He couldn’t even move his head so he’s gaining on it little by little, but the best gain is the fact that his night nurse and him have fallen in love.”

Wow Mark you’re kidding me that's awesome.

“No dude it is like unbelievable. But it’s happening and it’s real. She was engaged to be married when she first started working here and she is of course no longer engaged to be married and she’s just goo goo ga ga over Jesse and he’s the same way about her. I’m not kidding you, these two wow… and it’s just unbelievable.”

That’s a great love story. You know I’m an author, I just wrote a book maybe I can write the story. How old is she Mark?

“She’s 25 I believe and he just turned 22 so she’s got a few years on him but that’s all to his benefit.”

That’s great news Mark, I’m very happy because I was really worried and my heart and prayers go out to Jesse and your family. And I wasn’t aware that he could sit up in the chair at this point?

“Oh yea, he’s got the puff and sip, we use a sling to get him from the bed into the chair and during that time he has to be disconnected from his life support and so it’s a swift motion and we’ve got the Hoyer lift in the ceiling, we got one used, you know medical equipment is expensive, I don’t care if it’s used or not. We got this to make it as easy as we can on him, get him into the chair and once he’s in the chair he can drive it with his puff and sip that he put’s in his mouth with a straw and he can manipulate that thing and turn it around on a dime. It’s amazing to see what he can do with that chair.”

It sounds like to me that he’s going to come out of this, it may take a little time but the progress he’s made so far is extremely encouraging and again my prayers are with your whole family.

“I appreciate it Brother Ray.”

I think Hippiefest 2011 is one the best lineups ever.

“I appreciate that yea, I can’t wait to throw down with these Brothers. You know Rick Derringer and I are buddies from way back.”

Yea, Rick lives about 10 minutes from me here in Bradenton. You’ll have to come down after the tour and visit with him.

“If I ever get a chance I’ll be there because I am a fishing fool. I love Florida fishing.”

One guy I could see you hanging out with would be Ted Nugent.

“You know our schedules are such we’ve always wanted to be hanging out together, we do on the phone and we even collaborate a little bit but as far as doing the governor’s hunt, when I would do the hunt he would be on the road and when he would do the hunt I would be on the road. It’s just the way it worked out.”

You had a supportive family growing up because you quit school to go into music?

“Actually I was laid off. Yea, I was laid off from high school and this was Flint Michigan you know, the town that invented layoffs. But I was asked to leave; it was because of an altercation with one of the teachers who was the football coach. I use to play ball before I played music. When I was on the team that team was tight we were all buddies that hung together and we never lost a game. We were just undefeated because we were tight. We played together. Anyway we got into a confrontation and he threw me up against the wall and my head busted open on this brass picture frame and I reached back and felt the blood and when I pulled my hand around to in front of my face and I saw the blood on my hand it just immediately went into a fist and started traveling for the teachers eye. And you know I mean seriously that is what it was, it was reaction to aw man I’m hurt BAM -you know and that was it. Then I went to night school after I was asked to leave school because I went to the school board meeting after the algebra teacher who was the football coach said if they let me back in school (because I went with an attorney to this meeting to get back into school after I was thrown out) and he said if they let me back in he was going to quit his job. He didn’t want me back in that school dude.”

I really felt that the rock and roll hall of fame should have been in Michigan. Not only were there so many legendary rock artists that hailed from Michigan, there was also the genius of Motown.

“Yea, I hear ya. The music that came out of this state, it was like a music capital in America. And I think largely due to the fact that people from every state in the union moved into Michigan to get the jobs, auto factory jobs and higher paying jobs. My mother and her family moved from Leachville Arkansas where my granddad had a tailor shop down there he was a tailor, but moved to Michigan to get a job at Buick. And Turnsted was hiring, Fisher body was hiring, my mother was the first female welder to weld on Sherman tanks made by Fisher body in Flint Michigan. And my dad was a tank driver in the 7th Armored Division.”

It’s such a shame what has happened to cities like Flint and Detroit economically.

“It is coming back more like Ann Arbor or a college town and the University of Michigan, The Mott Foundation putting a lot of money into Flint, God Bless them. But we need more than anything is money that works for us, the money that we use works for the families that own the Federal Reserve, the European families that have no patriotic interest in this country what so ever. And you think about the Federal Reserve bank in New York is owned by five merchant banks in London that were chartered by the bank of England and the bank of England started in 1694 under the crown of those families surrounding the crown that were the descendants of those families that control this country by the issuance of our currency. And if you think about it, it’s the same powers that we declared ourselves independent from in 1776, but they’ve been whipping our butts ever since 1913 for telling the king to go shove it up his.
Our money doesn’t work for us it works for foreigners. And until our money works for us again we’re just going to watch this thing keep going down, down, down, down, down. When we finally wake up and say hey we got to have our money system back and work for this country and we got to patronize our factories and our products and we got to protect our workers and not allow all this crap that’s going on but that’s the reflection of those who are actually governing those families who owned the Federal Reserve that are actually governing this country and even using the war machine against their enemies.”

I watched an interview you did with Mike Huckabee on Fox news. As you know he’s decided not to run for president disappointing many of his followers, do you have anyone in mind that you may support for the next presidential election?

“If Ron Paul ran again at least he’s somebody that wants to audit the Fed which is pointing in the right general direction. Our money has to work for us and if it did we would be exporters of peace and goodwill because this is the collective heartbeat of the majority of us Americans. When we get the collective heartbeat of this country back, that’s what I petition for with my music, I want to provoke people to think about this.”

I should probably turn my Q&A from politics into the music. How did Grand Funk Railroad get their gig at the Atlanta Pop Festival that led to your first record contract in 1969? (An estimated 180,000 rock fans- jammed the Atlanta International Speedway to watch the two-day event).

“Attorney’s that we were using at the time which was the same attorney’s as our manager Terry Knight - there in was the big conflict but they had some legal work, it was there law firm in New York City that was doing the legal work for this concert. And they proposed to those who were putting this concert on that Grand Funk Railroad opened the event at noon and go on for free. They didn’t even have to pay us, just let us go on and open and so they agreed to it and the rest his history Brother. It worked!”

I heard on the way to the Festival your U-Haul carrying all the equipment flipped over?

“Yea, a friend of ours lent us the van and we rented where they use to chain that bumper hitch to your bumper and you would pull the U-Haul places, well that’s what we had. And I woke up, I was sleeping and riding shotgun and I’m up there at the front end of this van and the guy says I’m fine, I’m fine so I try to catch a little snooze and I look up and say “Dude that’s I-75 that way.” So he turns right at the same speed that we we’re going and tried to make the turn and that U-Haul didn’t fare so well. It came off the chains rolled down through the ditch…oh my God.”

You guys must have been panicky.

“Oh man because we knew that stuff was pretty fragile, you know tube amplifiers with big heavy transformers on the chassis. Well the transformers completely ripped right off the chassis of the amps. Our roadies had to solder those amps back together and the transformers were left outside sitting on top of the boxes. And they just made the wires work. So they soldered it all back together and when we went on stage it was amazing but that stuff was working, it was pumping.”

Grand Funk’s original manager-producer Terry Knight, was it a safe assumption to say that he was both good and bad for the band?

“Yea, he was an excellent promoter, his scruples were just bad. He could take advantage of someone without conscious. You know, I’m just not made that way, that ain’t the way I roll so it’s offensive to me to have encountered some people like that but it sure has been a lesson. And now I kind of know what I’m kind of looking for and I have spiritual discernment, thank God to head some of it off at the pass. But you can’t take away from the guy’s creativity; my God, you know the album covers and the presentation of Grand Funk Railroad to the people and his hype. But the idea of keeping us from the press to create a mystique that was really giving him the opportunity to tout himself as being the mentor and creator of Grand Funk Railroad. And it backfired in a lot of ways because critics just hated us. But for him it was successful in that it gave him that platform, he took out a Billboard/ Cashbox ad, a full page you know where you open up with the centerfold of him flipping the bird to everybody. That was his ego, the money that he made I don’t know what it cost him but that was a lot of scratch for that ad. It’s too bad about that but it kind of indicates a personality flaw there."

Did he mess you guys up at all with receiving royalties for your music?

“Well, yea, he published all my songs and told me that I needed to publish my songs through his company which he had affiliations throughout the world and what have you, I didn’t know I was twenty years old my mother had to sign the contract because I wasn’t legal. But if he would have just come right out and said, “Do you want all your money or half of it,” I think I could have made a pretty sane decision based on that. Outside of that and anything short of that I got snookered."

Mark, I need a good rock and roll story from back in the day?

“I’ll tell you one about Janis Joplin getting into the helicopter after we played West Palm Beach, The Stones were supposed to close out the show. So we went back in the helicopter with Janis because she’d stayed and watched the Grand Funk show. She played prior to us. We watched her and she stayed and Janis and I always hung together. So I’m down and I’m going up to the hotel and went where’s Janis? Where’s Janis? And nobody knew where she was, so I go back down to the chopper and it was darker than inside of a boot and I look up in there and she’s rubbing on the seat and I crawl up on the ladder and I said, “What the hell are you doing?” and I looked and she’s got Hershey bars and she’s smearing chocolate all over those seats and I said, “What the hell are you doing?” She said, "Well The Stones are on next and I want to mess up Mick’s britches," because they all used to wear those white satin pants.
And there was this brown spot on the back of his white pants, there was no way to avoid it.”

(Laughing hard) That was a great story.

I think Grand Funk Railroad’s appearance at Shea Stadium in 1971 was a monumental point in the band’s career. You sold-out the show in just 72 hours breaking The Beatles record. And your magnificent performance of I’m Your Captain/ Closer To Home ranks in my Top 10- defining moments in rock and roll history. Talk a little bit about the Shea Stadium experience.

“Well we were picked up on a heliport at east river, took off and flew directly over Shea stadium. Humble Pie was on stage which was set up at second base. And as we flew over you could see the bleachers were flexing with the rhythm of the music. I didn’t know what song it was but I could tell they were rockin’. Man I had goose bumps on my goose bumps upon goose bumps. And when we landed in the parking lot where the limousine was supposed to have met us it was empty. And I asked the guy. “Are you sure this is where we’re supposed to be?”  So one of the guys that was with us ran down to the corner phone booth, this was long before cell phones, and he makes the call and within two or three minutes the parking lot was full of cops with lights and sirens going. We all jumped in cop cars and rode into Shea stadium with the lights and sirens going and when we got out the people went nuts. It was crazy.”

The performance by Grand Funk Railroad, especially by you Mark was so electrifying.

“I appreciate it. Yea they energized with that compassion, there’s something about when you have something that has brought people together a song like I’m Your Captain, when they started singing they were loader than the PA I guarantee you and this was the day before monitors.”

Could you hear yourselves playing, I know The Beatles use to have a hard time hearing themselves over the screaming crowds.

“It was a little difficult but with our West amplifiers we could hear. But when we started singing “I’m getting closer to my home,” the audience and sheer volume overcame the PA system. It was louder than we were.”

I’ve been to hundreds and hundreds of concerts Mark, and I’ve never seen a crowd so in sync to the show like that Shea stadium crowd was.

“Well it was a very fulfilling moment and the emotional continuity, the synergy, because there were a lot people thinking in the same direction right there in New York City that night. And that’s what makes this consciousness, the evolution in our consciousness and moments like that. We were all elevated to this place. To be there was like Woodstock II, another consciousness another moment that brought people a little closer to reality.”

Mark thank you very much for everything you do man. And again my thoughts and prayers go out to Jesse and your family. No doubt he’ll get stronger and stronger every day.

“Say a prayer for him. Thank you Brother Ray.”

Watch Mark Farner perform all of his Grand Funk Railroad classic hits at Hippiefest on Saturday August 27th at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Tickets for the show can be purchased right here. It’s Gonna be a Gas Man!

I want to thank Jeff Albright from The Albright Entertainment Group for arranging this interview and so much more.

Order my new book called Check the Gs The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business.  Its My Big Fat Greek Wedding meets Almost Famous meets Seinfeld.



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You can contact Ray Shasho at rockraymond.shasho@gmail.com

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