Showing posts with label Grand funk railroad. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Grand funk railroad. Show all posts

Monday, October 31, 2011

Exclusive Interview: TODD RUNDGREN Talks UTOPIA Reunion With Ray Shasho

By Ray Shasho

The melodious ingenuity of Todd Rundgren will be evident when he reunites the progressive rock multi-instrumentalist ensemble Utopia for a Capitol Theatre appearance on Saturday November 5th in Downtown Clearwater.  After 35 years most of the original members of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia will be joining together on stage once more, a truly amazing feat in itself.

The tour kicks off in Hollywood, Florida on November 2nd at Hard Rock Live Seminole Casino followed by performances in Ft. Pierce, Clearwater and Jacksonville before heading north.
Todd Rundgren was inspired by virtuoso trendsetters Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Michael Bloomfield and Harvey Mandel. The Philadelphia native directed his creativities into launching the bands Money and Woody’s Truck Stop achieving regional success.

Rundgren then organized the nationally recognized Nazz in 1967. Initially formed as a psychedelic-blues rock band it discovered an array of eclectic musical styles. Todd Rundgren’s huge hit single “Hello It’s Me” was originally recorded with the Nazz in 1968. The Nazz became successful with the psychedelic tune “Open My Eyes” while opening shows for Jim Morrison and The Doors. After Nazz broke up Rundgren recorded several solo albums under the name Runt and Todd scored commercially with his first big solo hit “We Gotta Get You a Woman” in 1971.

The genius of Rundgren became even clearer with the release of his certified gold double album masterpiece Something/Anything? The album spawned the huge Top 40 singles “I Saw The Light” (#16 Billboard) and Nazz original composition “Hello It’s Me” (#5 Billboard).

Utopia was formed in 1973 but the band’s foundation was established in 1974. Rundgren magnified his musical inventiveness by fusing progressive, pop, psychedelic and hard rock into euphonious orchestrations. The band featured Todd Rundgren on guitars and vocals, Kevin Ellman on percussions, Moogy Klingman on keyboards, Ralph Schuckett on keyboards and John Siegler on bass and cello. After 1975 the band had numerous personnel changes. Kasim Sulton bassist/keyboardist joined the band in 1976. The 2011 Utopia lineup has added guitarist Jesse Gress (Tony Levin Band). Original Synthesist Jean-Yves “M. Frog” Labat was later replaced by Roger Powell in 1975. (These members will not be joining the 2011 tour)

Utopia’s signature anthem “Just One Victory” from the 1973 release A Wizard, A True Star is usually played at the end of every concert. Rundgren’s penned “Love Is The Answer” from Utopia’s Oops! Wrong Planet album in 1977 became a huge hit for England Dan & John Ford Coley in 1979 reaching number #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

Todd Rundgren maintained a highly successful solo career while recording and performing with Utopia. In 1978 Todd Rundgren released the sentimental “Can We Still Be Friends” becoming #29 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

Throughout the 70’s and 80’s Todd Rundgren established himself as an industrious musical genius in the recording studio producing and engineering for legendary artists including classic albums Straight Up by Badfinger, Stage Fright by The Band, The New York Dolls, We’re An American Band and Shinin’ On by Grand Funk Railroad, Bat Out Of Hell by Meatloaf and Skylarking by XTC. A full list of Todd’s credits are listed here on allmusic. Rundgren also contributed his extraordinary skills as a first rate musician and composer to a legion of legendary artists.

Utopia’s progressive rock improvisations landed the group cult status throughout its tenure. The groups lone Top 40 hit was “Set Me Free” from their most commercially successful album Adventures in Utopia in 1980. However the band held numerous AOR (album orientated rock) successes including “Caravan,” “Love In Action” and “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” a proverbial favorite on MTV.

In 1983 Todd Rundgren wrote “Bang The Drum All Day” All the instruments on the song were performed by Rundgren. The tune is widely heard at professional sporting events around the country and used on TV commercials and movie trailers.

Utopia split up in 1986 and reunited briefly in 1992. But now in 2011 Utopia is back!

Last week I had the rare privilege of speaking with Todd Rundgren from his home in Kauai Hawaii.

Here’s my interview with legendary musical innovator/ musician/singer/ composer/ multi-instrumentalist/ record producer/ recording engineer/computer programmer/ and just a cool guy Todd Rundgren.

Mahalo Todd!


I spent my honeymoon on Waikiki Beach and I’m assuming that Kauai is nothing like Oahu?

“Yea Waikiki is the big city it’s pretty rural in the outlying islands and nice and quiet.”

When I visited Honolulu, it was a much bigger city than I had imagined.

“It gets busy down there and they have some of the world’s finest (Laughing) street women, the ladies of the night. It’s all a Waikiki phenomenon.”

You’ll be performing the first four dates of the tour in Florida including a stop at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater on November 5th. For some reason Florida is usually last on the totem pole when it comes to concert tours but that’s not the case with a Todd Rundgren tour.

“I’ve had a degree of work in Florida for reasons that I can’t fully explain. There’s a whole gap of states that I barely ever get to Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and places like that and for me the south is like Richmond Virginia and Atlanta and it’s kind of an outpost and we don’t always get to it because the routing doesn’t always work out but fortunately we’re kicking off this tour in Florida.”

I understand your son Rex has been trying to make a career in baseball, does he still play ball?

“Yea he still plays but is in an Independent League now. He’s actually on a Canadian team this year. It’s a league that kind of spans borders I guess they merged together a bunch of Independent leagues and they’ve got teams in Canada and other teams on the west coast a team or two in Mexico and they even go as far west as Hawaii.”

What position does he play?

“Shortstop he’s always been a middle infielder. He handles it well he’s good at it and that’s why he’s still playing.”

Did you help coach him while he was growing up?

“No I can’t say that. (Laughing) I was never much of a baseball fan so I didn’t even know what to look for it was his high school coach that discovered his talent and lead us into it.”

How many children do you have?

“I have five and they’re all pretty much grown now the youngest is nineteen.”

Are you a Grandpa now?

“Yes I am and have been for quite a while now.

Many of the original Utopia members will be reuniting for the first time in 35 years or so?

“I don’t know if we’re celebrating an actual date when the band came together it was kind of an organic thing anyway we don’t even remember what the first date was I do recall many of the band members played on a gig that we did in Central Park that was mostly around my material we had yet to record an actual Utopia record. As I recall I did have most of the members that would actually end up in the band. A lot of the guys were playing on my records and doing gigs with me so Utopia kind of came together as a process I guess rather than declaring that we were a band.”

It’s quite an accomplishment just getting everyone back together again.

“Yea it is remarkable that everyone is still playing. And I don’t want to say it’s remarkable that everyone is still alive but most of us are up in our 60’s. But the fact that everyone is still doing gigs and is ready to play this music again like it’s suppose to be played that’s probably the most remarkable thing.”

You know it’s a real shame that there is so much bitterness that still exists between members of those legendary bands. A group that comes to mind is Grand Funk Railroad all the original members are still  playing and touring yet I spoke with Mark Farner recently and the vibes that I got were they’ll never get back together again and it’s a shame because the impact would be huge. 

“Yea I wonder baggage I guess for some acts and sometimes people don’t see the musical necessity they might be doing other things and I could understand that. This version of Utopia certainly hasn’t worked together for more than thirty years and it wasn’t like I was sitting around wishing the band would reform it was a series of circumstance that made it possible. Most likely this will be the only time that we ever do this it’s not going to turn into an endless string of touring.”

Were there intense rehearsing and preparations for this tour?

“We have yet to do our rehearsing. Well we played together for over two nights in January last year it was a benefit for one of the guys in the band who is having some medical issues and particularly the audience response that’s what spurred the idea of possibly doing more and it’s taken this long to find the circumstance to do that and one of the objectives was to play at better than we did over the two nights."

"Essentially because of me having flights cancelled on consecutive days we were supposed to get like three days of rehearsal in and instead only got a couple hours of rehearsals in. So as much as everyone was sort of enjoying the performance I know I spent the whole time just trying to grab fragments out of the air and not really feeling that confidant in what I was playing. So that was kind of the number one thing for me if we were going to do this again we would get some serious rehearsal in and that starts next weekend. So we’re going to get hopefully at least three solid days of rehearsal in before we do that first gig in Florida.”

Progressive Rock Music is so convoluted I compare it to working complicated mathematics problems.

“Part of Progressive Rock is the challenge of playing it physically but the other significant aspect is remembering. (Laughing) There’s lots of little details often and for me the biggest challenge is what comes next and making sure that I’ve got my head in the right space.”

That’s got to be a huge challenge after all these years to be putting all the pieces back together again right?

"Yea, as I said fortunately the other guys in the band they don’t tour as much as I do but they do get together with some regularity in a club in New York City and play this music so they’re pretty well familiar with it if I’m not."

Is the show going to be all Utopia material or will there will some of your solo material as well?

“Well we did do other material other sort of non Utopia material when we did the gig in New York. We have essentially two albums worth which where if you add them together it’s about a two hour show. So we’re going to try and learn everything that we use to know. (Laughing) And play that as well as we can and that of course includes certain oddments like our version of The Move’s “Do Ya” and “Something’s Coming” things that aren’t necessarily Utopia originals but we enjoyed playing live.”

It’s got to be great fun playing Progressive Rock Music because there’s plenty of room for improvisation.

“Well that was kind of the issue with our shows back in the day our shows use to go on for four and half hours sometimes because we had a guitar player and three keyboard players and everybody would take a ten minute solo on every song. The thing that’s different nowadays is that in all likelihood most of the audience won’t be on acid. (All Laughing) So they will notice how much time is going by compared to the old days when nobody noticed when five hours went by.”

Like earlier Pink Floyd concerts. I witnessed the heaviest intake of drug at Floyd shows, more than any other event. 

“And Grateful Dead shows were notorious for the combination of both the consumption of the contraband and the shows that go on forever.”
“But I think part of the appeal of this is the music of people’s youth and it’s an opportunity for them to go out and relive that youth in a way.”

Veteran musicians like Tony Levin continue to push the envelope with new Progressive Rock styles and collaborations. Do you hear Progressive Rock in today’s youth? 

“I guess there’s some contemporary bands that you could say qualify as Progressive Rock like Coheed & Cambria and some that aren’t actually Progressive Rock but base themselves on Progressive Rock bands of the past. It all depends on what the kids are into. Music is driven pretty much on what a younger audience wants to hear. So if they get bored with their Lady Gaga’s and such maybe they’ll see Progressive Rock is hip.”

I’ve enjoyed the way technology has evolved and I know that you have as well. Of course it’s much easier now to record and view the music that we love so much and the sound is incredible. But there are other aspects of the music industry that should probably go back to the basics.

“It’s hard to get like a traditional sort of record deal like multimillion dollar seven album deals don’t exist anymore. It’s also an era where there’s a lot more opportunities to promote yourself that didn’t exist during the heyday of the record labels. There’s YouTube now and people build entire careers on one video phenomenon or something like that. So while it’s kind of sad that it isn’t the way we remember it it’s really kind of what the record industry decided to do and I guess the evidence now is what they decided to do was not a good thing for them I mean the music will survive even the music industry.”

“But I think the biggest difference is there are eras in which music is kind of a center of life especially for younger audiences formative and developing an image of themselves but most important have the disposable income so fashion and music and film and everything tries to appeal to them and when we were growing up music was like the most important thing and there have been occasional eras where the music might have been the most important thing for a segment of the youth population like when Punk Rock was out and everybody wanted to put glue in their hair that’s youth and rebellion.”

“I guess the bigger problem is that youth actually runs things now. Everyone’s come to realize in a relatively wealthy society in which children are kind of doted upon and they don’t get a dollar for an allowance they get a hundred dollars for allowance and when kids have that much disposable income everything is kind of designed to appeal to them. When we were growing up it was like you young hippy kids don’t know anything blah-blah-blah so that created a polarization with the older generation and made music take on a greater significance. It’s like the South Park episode where Stan’s dad insists that he is going to like the kid’s music because that keeps him young even though listening to it makes him puke. So he likes it anyway. If you like what the kids like you’re automatically young.”

You’re right it doesn’t seem like the music is important today as it was with us. To me most of the popular music played today resembles dance music and just a variation of Disco.

“Yea that’s because there’s no sort of real fad like Grunge or Gangster Rap or whatever it is. We’re kind of in like a space in between and dance music is always there. It goes and like hides in Europe. Mostly it hides until there’s a barren space for it to come back again and that’s what’s been happening recently there’s no real kind of movement in music.”

Every time I have this discussion I always blame radio’s lack of effort for promoting good music.

“Well there is satellite radio which does really well for me. I get played a lot on satellite radio probably way more than terrestrial radio. But the part of the reason why the whole musical milieu is the way it is -is because of decisions that radio and record labels made in collusion with each other that they thought it was a great way to make money but all those decisions weren’t based on musical merit they were only based on advertising models and things like that. How do we coax money out of these kid’s pockets even if the music that we’re playing is really horrible. And ultimately what they did was engineered their own demise. At the same time they were refusing to adapt to new ways of listening to and acquiring music that have become the daily habits of listeners nowadays and that’s why people don’t listen to albums anymore because its impractical to download an entire album into your phone. So people are going back to just downloading songs. But I don’t think things are going to get stuck in that rut forever.”

The entertainment value of Radio and Television has also suffered because of the excessive advertising. I know the original idea for creating Radio and Television was to sell advertising but the entertainment side of it is all but vanished. 

“Radio threw itself whole heartedly into that when they started doing things like applying market analysis for the radio listening audience. Every time a potential single was going to get released the very first thing that they would do was to send it to Arbitron to get rated and if it didn’t get a high enough number then the single wouldn’t come out. I lived through that. I lived through the excuse of while we paid them five thousand dollars that people with little dials listen to the music and tell us whether they liked it or not. So everything is a product of a so called representative audience and nothing unusual ever finds its way onto the airwaves.”

I always questioned the validity of the Arbitron and Nielson rating system anyway. We were selected to be a Nielson family once and it was kind of an antiquated way to truly rate the programming.

“And they don’t really care if you like the shows or not they just want to know if you’re watching. So they figure if people are watching then we keep doing this and if people aren’t watching then we change what we’re doing. It’s been proven time and time again that it doesn’t necessarily always recognize things that are going to appeal if not to the entire audience to a very intensely devoted audience. It’s like what happened to Family Guy they got dropped from Fox and built an entire new audience from the ground up on The Cartoon Network. And nobody realized that they could have the potential of this incredibly devoted fan following. That’s more important than numbers of people it’s really important to have really- really devoted people because those are the ones who can be counted on to watch the show every time it comes on and be subject to all the advertising.”

I talked with Tommy James (Shondells) recently and he believes that we’ll see some kind of music subscription on your television one day soon where you can download all types of music from your TV remote.

“I think he’s substantially right in one regard and that is that in the long run people will prefer to have a subscription kind of model to music as opposed to this song at a time model which is kind of what killed the music business in the first place. How did the music business wind up so on the ropes and yet Television keeps expanding and adding more programming and stuff like that. Of course TV is based on a subscription model you pay a monthly fee and you watch as much or as little as you want and what that does is guarantee income to all the producers of Television just by virtue of the fact that somebody is paying a monthly cable bill and music needs the same kind of thing. What a subscription based model does is exposes more unusual things to a broader audience because people aren’t thinking this is going to cost me money to listen to they can listen to anything they want all they have to do is pay their ten dollars a month. I have a Rhapsody subscription and it’s the only place that I go to get music and I never have to think do I want to listen to this or download this or download that I can download all of it. I can just forget it and it will still be there if I want to go find it again later.”

“But the whole idea of being able to instantaneously purchase stuff is not simple but you can easily sort of do that they’ve got APS like SoundDogs where you hear something in a restaurant and you say hmm I like that I wonder what it is and you just hold up your cell phone and it identifies the music that’s playing. And then usually the next step is okay now that you know what it is there’s a button there that’ll take you to Amazon or the Apple store or something like that then to complete that transaction. So that’s becoming a more common place thing. The underlying model though is the one that I’ve always been concerned with which is whether it’s a subscription based thing or a commoditized thing and I’ve always felt that the commoditized model was the ultimate downfall of the music business.”

Napster comes to mind when you speak about the demise of the music business.

“Napster was the first service to sort of demonstrate that delivery was possible and that there was audience demand. And the music business did what it always done and they’re incredibly stupid in this regard. What they’ve always done is try to impede progress rather than try to understand the audience dynamic. How is this going to change the audience is the audience going to adapt to this. There’s always some unruly thing that they’ve been trying to control. And they just completely misread it or decided no we’re going to not allow the system to change and therefore no one will have any of these choices and that’s when somebody like Napster steps in and says hey anybody with a computer you can now download music regardless of what your freakin’ record company say. And suddenly the audience once they realize they can do this takes to it so avidly that the record companies are caught so completely flatfooted they have no idea how to exploit it because their only strategy was to try to prevent it from ever happening. And there it is it’s happened already. You can’t put it back in the bottle. And unfortunately instead of adapting to it and trying to figure out how to use it by the time they got hip to what was going on their lunch was already eaten and they were out of business.”

Is there any way to get that excitement back in music again the way it was back in the 60’s and 70’s, is it even possible?

“Like I said I think a lot has changed so nothing is going to be exactly like we remember it. It’s going to be potentially some variation like I said about The Beatles when they came out it was more than simply a new musical phenomenon they had their hair long and suddenly everybody wanted to grow their hair and this came up against a whole cultural means about what you were allowed to look like in public. People don’t recall but everybody pretty much was striving to be identical up until The Beatles appeared and then everybody was striving to grow their hair. But there’s something that goes completely counter to the current means and that is driven by a musical subculture. It isn’t necessarily musicians but a subculture that makes music.”

“The Viet Nam war and essentially what characterized youth attitudes and things like that were old people sending young people off to die and that’s enough to get your dander up.”

I’ve always admired Producers like you who are brought in to work on an album and then it becomes a classic. Very few people can do that and you seem to have a knack for it. 

“Well I can’t always do it. It’s just that sometimes you have all the necessary pieces. Sometimes you do have the necessary pieces but it just doesn’t work out. I’ve had some great albums come out by various artists and they don’t for some reason connect with either with the audience or the people who have to expose it to the audience that’s always disappointing but it is a phenomenon. There are lots of superior products that fail in the marketplace for whatever reason like the DeLorean.”

Who were some of the Producers that you admired?

“Well of course no one knew who a Producer was until George Martin so you would have to like start there. Nobody thought about what goes into making a great record even Producers historically especially in the U.S. had a different kind of function they were mostly in the studio to see that the recordings did not go over long and over budget. And I know that the very first Producer that I worked with I had high expectations of what his role was and finally discovered once we got into the studio that he was this old school Bean Counter and really contributed nothing. So I think in the long run becoming a record Producer and that whole definition changed as time went on and plus what the role of a Producer is -is completely different depending on the context. I know Producers who know very little about music per se but know how to get it out of people. They know how to get people to perform in the studio and that’s as important as anything.”

“A lot of Producers who’s works I’ve appreciated and maybe even gone to some lengths to incorporate Steve Lillywhite was a great Producer he had a characteristic sound at the time that he was at his height of Producer nobody else was able to recreate. And plus more importantly I think an ear for talent I guess knowing what a good song is knowing what it takes to make a good song I’ve always felt the material was the most important aspect that the Producers ear has to first of all focus on the material and then second of all worry about how it sounds.”

I’ve watched a lot of Beatles documentaries and had the rare privilege of attending a live lecture by Sir George Martin and it is truly amazing when he demonstrates the before and after on a Beatles album in the studio. He was definitely the fifth Beatle.

“Also the records that he was not involved always seemed to have less of certain things that you were expecting like The White Album as opposed to Abbey Road. The White Album what it seemed like was a disorganized jumble of ideas and when you learned later how they actually did the record you realize it was a disorganized jumble of ideas. I mean they would come in one at a time maybe two at a time and play something on one of the tracks probably half the tracks on the record involved one Beatle only doing everything himself and maybe asking just for a little bit of help on something or sing some background vocals on my song so it still sounds like The Beatles.”

“Then you take a record like Abbey Road which everyone thinks is maybe the height of The Beatles skills in the studio and that was when they decided to get back together again with George Martin.”

Todd you’re somewhat of an enigma because you compose and can play all the instruments on your recording and then produce it.

“I grew up in an era where you could. The costs for recording equipment was going continuously down and so I was able to relatively early part of my career build a studio of my own and to do sort of like experimental things that weren’t possible or encouraged at other studios and learned a lot that way because it was such a hands on experience.”

How did you first learn how to work in the studio was it basically just diving in and then trial and error?

“Pretty much you’ve got to put your hands on the console. I recall when we were first doing demos and things like that trying to get signed as the Nazz we’d be in a lot of union studios where nobody was even allowed to touch anything on the console or they would call union breaks every two and a half hours. You’d just starting to get hot and then they’d say we’ve got to call a session here that sort of thing. So the idea of having free reign in the studio total Carte Blanche that was relatively new I guess and I took some of the first money that I ever made and reinvested and built a studio for myself and it made a big difference.”

Didn’t you do a cover album recently devoted to Robert Johnson tunes?

“Essentially I did an album called Arena when we found a distributor for it they said okay we’ll put this record out but we want you to record an album of Robert Johnson songs because we’re administering the publishing and that’s a way for us to make some money and also we could possibly get master licenses so I said okay I’ll do that and then for like two years I promoted the record on the road and they kept pushing the release date back. So finally I gave up promoting on the road then they released the record last spring and since then I’ve been doing other things. Yea I did my stint as a blues man for awhile. So now I’m back to less bluesy concerns. I actually had another album come out this year and I’m not promoting that one either.” (Laughing)

Is that the [re]Production album?

“Yea it’s mostly dance versions. I wanted to make a contemporary sounding record so it’s kind of like a study in production and that also was a record that was done under a more or less unusual mandate it was a recording camp so the record also includes performances by campers who showed up and auditioned on various parts of the record. The problem is that it is a dance record and I have no idea how to promote it. (Laughing) It’s just out there and we’ll see if anything happens if it does happen I’ll figure out a way to turn it into a show.”

The album is essentially covering the music of the bands you produced in the studio, artist like Grand Funk Railroad, Meatloaf and you do a remake of XTC’s “Dear God,” I was on a huge Dukes of Stratosphear kick back when they were releasing albums and most people never realized that they were actually XTC.   

“They had no touring life. Andy had this debilitating stage fright so the band members never went out on the road they only made records. When they put out an XTC record and it’s not time for another one then they just changed the name of the band.”

One last comment, I really enjoyed the segment you did on Live from Daryl’s House with Daryl Hall.

“And that’s going to be on the air now on the actual Television. I’ve done the show twice and the latest one was at my house. The first one was from Daryl’s house in Connecticut and more recently from my house here in Kauai.”

It was cool to watch you singin’ and chillin’ at your home in Kauai.

“The reality of it is I can’t get any work out here so I’ve got to hit the road.” (Laughing)

Todd thank you so much for chatting with me today it was a great pleasure.  I’ll see you in Clearwater Florida on November 5th.

“Thanks Ray I’ll see you when we get there.”

Special Thanks goes out to Lynn Robnett of Panacea Entertainment, Mary Lou Arnold and Billy James.

Todd Rundgren’s Utopia will be performing at the historic Capitol Theatre on Cleveland Street in Downtown Clearwater on Saturday November 5th. I have been advised that Todd Rundgren's performance at the Capitol Theatre is SOLD OUT!
More Utopia Florida dates
November 2nd Hollywood, Fl -Seminole Casino- Hard Rock Live
November 3rd Ft. Pierce, Fl -Sunrise Theater
November 6th Jacksonville, Fl -Florida Theater

Order Todd Rundgren’s latest album [Re] Production at

Todd Rundgren official website-

Order columnist/author Ray Shasho’s great new book Check the Gs -The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business at,,, or Great holiday gift!

“I found Check the Gs to be pure entertainment, fantastic fun and a catalyst to igniting so many memories of my own life, as I too am within a few years of Ray.  So to all, I say if you have a bit of grey hair (or no hair), buy this book!  It’s a great gift for your “over-the-hill” friends, or for their kids, if they are the history buffs of younger generations trying to figure out why we are the way we are.”~~Pacific Book Review

Contact Ray Shasho at

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At the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater 11/5/2011


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.

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