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From Flint to LI on Grand Funk Railroad

The 70s classic rock band Grand Funk Railroad

The 70s classic rock band Grand Funk Railroad will be performing at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center in Westhampton Beach on Sunday, July 10, 2011. (7/5/2011) Photo Credit: Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center

Busting out of Flint, Mich., in the late '60s, Grand Funk Railroad may not have invented hard rock, but heavy, sludgy singles from "Closer to Home" to "We're an American Band" have defined that sound for generations on the radio. Drawing from earlier power trios such as Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Grand Funk was at first under the control of producer and manager Terry Knight; the band extricated itself from him in court in 1972, then hired Todd "Hello, It's Me" Rundgren to help make even catchier singles.

Still touring -- and appearing Sunday at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, albeit without original lead singer Mark Farner -- drummer Don Brewer discusses the band's beginnings by phone from his longtime home in Jupiter, Fla.

This is the 40th anniversary of Grand Funk's famous Shea Stadium show. What do you remember about it? Aside from just the sheer number of people, how was it different from any other show the band played at that time?

I just remembered how scared we were. We'd never done anything like that before. Once we got out on stage, it was terrific, but leading up to it was pretty frightening. We flew in a helicopter, saw the sold-out crowd. We flew over the stadium. Humble Pie is playing. There was a large "Mark, Don and Mel" flashing behind them [in] white letters. And we're saying to each other, "Pinch me, is this real?" After the show, we got in limos, got in the helicopter and flew back to Manhattan.

Fellow Flint native Michael Moore dropped Grand Funk's name in "Roger & Me" -- was that good or bad for the band?

We've known Michael for many years. . . . I really appreciate where he's coming from. He's actually come to see the band a couple of times.

When you hired Todd Rundgren as a producer in 1973, he adjusted your sound into shorter, tighter radio singles like "We're an American Band." Why Todd?

When we parted ways with Terry, not only were we looking for a change emotionally, [but] radio had changed . . . from when they played seven-minute songs like "Closer to Home." We had to make hit singles. That was the only way we'd be able to stay on the radio. We purposely tried to make three-minute, 33-second songs. We needed a producer who was radio-conscious, and we picked Todd. And it worked. We had to make a change. We were flat broke.

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You've toured with Max Carl, former frontman for Jack Mack and the Heart Attack, since the late '90s, but can you see the band ever reuniting with Mark Farner?

We've kind of worked out a relationship, but it's strictly a business relationship. Our personal relationship is pretty strained. It's just one of those unfortunate things. I don't know if that'll ever change and come back around to anything other than what it is right now or not.

You live in Florida, but Grand Funk is still considered a Flint band. You're OK with that?

Yeah, sure! We are. We're somebody that made it out of Flint. Not too many people do.


WHO Grand Funk Railroad

WHEN | WHERE 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Westhampton Performing Arts Center

INFO $80-$115; 631-288-1500, whbpac.org

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